Landis brings her usual touch of glamour to a not-quite film noir.
Above is a poster for the Carole Landis vehicle Behind Green Lights, a mostly forgotten film that she headlined in 1946. When the body of a shady private dick turns up outside police headquarters, the resulting investigation pulls in a prominent politician's daughter (Landis), and gets the city tabloids scenting scandal. As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that influential people want Landis arrested so her father's re-election campaign will be derailed, which forces Gargan to fight his way upstream to crack the case. Landis may be top billed and better known than Gargan, but she's criminally underused and her role is one-note all the way. It's Gargan who gets most of the screen time and is tasked with bringing a tough edge to the movie. He mostly succeeds, and Landis is fine too, as far as she's allowed to go, but on the whole Behind Green Lights is nothing special. It's categorized on many websites as a film noir but—and you know what we're going to say next, because we say it all the time—it isn't really. Yes, it's on the borderline, but it's basically a procedural police drama with a few flashbacks shot in film noir style. The American Film Institute agrees—it categorizes the film as a police drama. Noir fans should approach this uncomplicated little thriller with tempered expectations. Behind Green Lights premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.
As far as they're concerned no crime means no fun.
The 1994 romantic action movie I Love Trouble is unrelated to the original from 1948, for which you see a beautiful promo poster above. The first I Love Trouble is a film noir, a neglected one not often mentioned as an entry in the genre. Franchot Tone stars as a detective hired by a politician to look into his wife's background. He's been getting anonymous notes implicating her in some sort of illegality. As Tone chases clues from L.A. to Portland, his investigation uncovers blackmail and hidden identities, and of course a love interest pops up in the form of the wife's sister. With its smug private dick and regular interjections of humor the movie feels derivative of The Maltese Falcon, and its romance angle is incongruous, but Tone is cool in his detective role and carries the weight of the narrative nicely. The cast is a who's-who of stars and soon-to-be stars, including Adele Jergens, John Ireland, Tom Powers, and Raymond Burr. If that doesn't pique your interest you just don't love trouble. I Love Trouble premiered today in 1948 and went into to wide release January 15.
Yep, from now on I think all my problems are behind me.
First published in 1945 with this Bantam paperback appearing in 1951, Dorothy Macardle's The Unforeseen deals with a woman who installs herself in a quiet Irish cottage to work on a book about birds, but begins having a series of hallucinations. The main character Virgilia at first thinks they're manifestations of second sight, especially since more than a few of her visions come true. But they're such minor predictions that it's easy for her—after seeing a psychiatrist friend who offers rational explanations—to dismiss them as imaginings brought on by fatigue and stress. But the doctor's psychic researcher son believes the visions are supernatural, and covets Virgilia as a prospective case study. Things get darker when the visions at the story's center go from basically harmless to darkly frightening, but are they actually real? We won't tell. The Unforeseen is pretty entertaining, all in all, especially considering we picked it solely because of the cover art by H.E. Bischoff. However, pulp fans may find the book slow, as it owes more to du Maurier than to any crime or adventure writers.
Film noir with an Irish accent.
Odd Man Out, for which you see the promo poster above, is a beautifully shot thriller about a group of Irish political separatists who rob a mill in order to help finance their organization. The group is obviously based on the Irish Republican Army, whose actions helped fuel the Troubles—that period of violence that engulfed Ireland mainly during the 1960s The film takes no sides, at least not overtly, while presenting the separatists as fully realized, complex human beings. Needless to say, a movie of this depth and thoughtfulness would never be made today on the subject of terrorists. James Mason is the titular odd man out, the leader of the gang who's left behind after the robbery and must somehow survive alone, wounded and sick, as the police close in. The bad luck, deceptions and palpable sense of doom are standard for film noir, but what isn't is the location work in the backstreets of Belfast. The screen grabs below are all from around the forty minute mark, and their deep shadows, angular light, and inky blacks show how much planning and effort director Carol Reed and cinematographer Robert Krasker put into making the film visually perfect. We doubt it's the most exciting motion picture ever made, as claimed on the poster, but we recommend it. Odd Man Out premiered in the UK in January 1947 and opened in the U.S. today the same year.
They say the truth sets you free, but a Jaguar roadster helps quite a bit too.
A great title cannot go unborrowed forever. The Fast and the Furious would be a good name for a film noir, a war movie, or even a romantic melodrama (young and restless, anyone?). So it was a good fit for the action franchise starring Vin Diesel. But it was first used for a little crime drama released today in 1955 starring John Ireland and Dorothy Malone. In the film, Ireland, who's been framed for murder, breaks out of jail, takes Malone hostage in her convertible Jaguar XK 120 roadster, and enters a cross-border road race hoping to get into Mexico. That's a killer concept for an action movie, but this is American International Pictures, which means it's done low budget, with lots of projection efx and stock footage in the action scenes, and minimal work on the script. But while the movie isn't great, it's certainly suitable as a Saturday night popcorn muncher. Invite witty friends, enjoy the cars, laugh at the repartee, and marvel over Dorothy Malone.
Peggy Cummins hit Hollywood with guns blazing.
According to a story yesterday in The Hollywood Reporter, Wales born Irish actress Peggy Cummins died in a London hospital December 29 after suffering a stroke. She was ninety-two years old. Cummins, who was born Augusta Fuller, played the morality challenged Annie Laurie Starr in Gun Crazy, a low budget film noir that rose above its humble station over the decades to eventually be included in the U.S. Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. While the film is often characterized as a breakthrough fro Cummins, it was actually her eleventh screen role, and did not lead to a career of top notch offers. However, she ultimately appeared in more than twenty-five productions, with her last coming in 1965. The above photo was made a promo for Gun Crazy and dates from 1950. You can read more about the film here.
Wait, wait, wait! Why don't we settle this like real men? By blaming the woman!
Howard Baker, born Arthur William Baker, is an Irish author sometimes referred to as W. Howard Baker, and who also wrote as Peter Saxon, William Arthur, W.A. Ballinger, and Richard Williams. The Big Steal involves a typical cast of misfit thieves trying to make off with a cache of gold bullion from Heathrow Airport, mixed with a plot thread about a killer on the loose. Baker also wrote war fiction, sci-fi and supernatural tales. The great cover art for the 1964 Mayflower Dell paperback you see here was painted by Peff, aka Sam Peffer.
How I got here is a long story. It starts with me not knowing how “penile” is spelled.
Above, the cover of Penal Colony, written for Ace Books by Robert S. Close, 1957. The story was inspired by real life Irish convict Elizabeth Callaghan, who in the 1820s was sentenced to the incredibly harsh sentence of death for forgery, then had the sentence commuted and was shipped off to colonize Australia along with one hundred other criminals. She stayed in trouble most of her life and was finally stomped to death in a barroom brawl in 1852 in Geelong. This “lusty” novel is, of course, only loosely based on fact, which is good, because what a downer her real life was. Cover art by uncredited.
She may not be a champion of the ring, but she’s a winner just the same.
This photo of Elsie Connor looked to us as if it had been Photoshopped in a very interesting way but it wasn’t—we found a version on Getty Images and it was identical to what you see above. The image and the fact that she’s identified as an Irish boxing champion on various websites made us curious about her career, but after a bit of digging we discovered that she was actually a dancer and chorus girl, and appeared in the 1930 musical Earl Carroll's Sketch Book, the 1929 shows Fioretta and Earl Carroll’s Vanities, and the 1928 production Here’s Howe. That’s a pretty short career, and one that lacked any starring roles, but thanks to the internet she’s famous again, looking like a real world beater. The only thing is, we doubt she was ever a boxer. We can’t be 100% sure, but with no evidence that she ever stepped into a ring, as well as a very clear understanding of how often the world wide web is world wide wrong, we suspect this is just a very, er, striking publicity photo. It dates from 1931.
Some decisions don’t need explaining.
Top Secret packs several top celebs onto the cover of this issue published today in 1958, but gives center position to the relatively unknown Elsa Sorensen, the 1955 Miss Denmark referred to here as “that nude model.” Sorensen was indeed a nude model—she was a 1956 Playboy centerfold under her own name, and afterward continued to model nude as Dane Arden. Top Secret editors claim to know why multi-million-selling pop singer Guy Mitchell married her, but we don’t need their help to figure that out. See below:
The magazine also spins the tale of how the calypso/caribbean themed NYC club the African Room sued Eartha Kitt for more than $200,000. Allegedly, one night while Kitt and some friends were in attendance to see house act Johnny Barracuda, aka the King of Calypso, she flew into a rage, poured Champagne on patrons, shattered glassware, and kneed one of the owners—an ex-homicide dick named Harold Kanter—in the gonads. The lawsuit claimed Kitt shouted, “This is nothing but a clip joint! You are nothing but thieves!” Supposedly, this was all over a $137.00 bar bill. In case you’re wondering, that’s about $1,100 in today’s money.
Kitt’s side of the story was simply that her group ordered three or four splits (mini-bottles) of champagne—though none for her, as she never drank alcohol—and when presented with an exorbitant tab asked for an itemized bill, only to be met with major static. We’re siding with Kitt on this one, since Kanter, who somehow had enough money to leave the police force and buy a share of the African Room three years earlier at age twenty-five, had already been busted for watering down his liquor, then trying to bribe his way out of trouble. Kitt said succinctly of the episode, “To me a $137 bill was preposterous. I asked for the bill so I could have it sent to my office. They would not give it to me. That’s all there is to the whole story.”
And that’s all there is from Top Secret today, except to say that for us the most interesting part of the Kitt saga—aside from the tantalizing allegation by Kanter that she “disported herself onstage in a lewd and suggestive manner”—is the fact that she’s pasted-up on the mag’s cover with Sidney Poitier, when in fact her date at the African Room that night was Canadian actor John Ireland. Poitier was nowhere in sight. We'd love to know why Top Secret tried to drag him in, however obliquely, but we're not counting on ever getting the answer. When you dig through the past, unanswered questions are not the exception, but rather the rule.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1986—Jimmy Cagney Dies
American movie actor James Francis Cagney, Jr., who played a variety of roles in everything from romances to musicals but was best known as a quintessential tough guy, dies of a heart attack at his farm in Stanfordville, New York at the age of eighty-six.
1951—The Rosenbergs Are Convicted of Espionage
Americans Ethel and Julius Rosenberg are convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage as a result of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. While declassified documents seem to confirm Julius Rosenberg's role as a spy, Ethel Rosenberg's involvement is still a matter of dispute. Both Rosenbergs were executed on June 19, 1953.
1910—First Seaplane Takes Flight
Frenchman Henri Fabre, who had studied airplane and propeller designs and had also patented a system of flotation devices, accomplishes the first take-off from water at Martinque, France, in a plane he called Le Canard, or "the duck."
1953—Jim Thorpe Dies
American athlete Jim Thorpe, who was one of the most prolific sportsmen ever and won Olympic gold medals in the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon, played American football at the collegiate and professional levels, and also played professional baseball and basketball, dies of a heart attack.
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