French crime drama throws Caution to the wind.
Here you see two posters for the 1953 French crime drama La môme vert de gris, which was called Poison Ivy in the U.S. This was adapted from a 1937 novel by Peter Cheyney that featured his recurring character FBI agent Lemmy Caution, who onscreen is played by Eddie Constantine. When two million dollars worth of gold goes missing Constantine is sent to Casablanca to determine its disposition and identify all malefactors involved. He finds himself pitted against a criminal mastermind of sorts, and a hive of henchmen that occupy a nightclub, a yacht, and a hideout in Casablanca's old quarter. Constantine deals with all comers by applying the time-honored advice: when in doubt, punch them out.
Film buffs the world over associate Casablanca with the Humphrey Bogart film of the same name, but the city you see here is different from the one made famous by Bogart and Co. ten years earlier. The Casablanca of this film is a maze of L.A.-style roads, white skyscrapers, and an industrial port the size of Long Beach. We checked population figures and learned it was already a major city of more than 500,000 people during the early 1940s, which means that Casablanca's village feel is really just a clever cinematic fantasy. Poison Ivy's Casablanca is real, and the many location shots mixed into the movie prove it.
That's Dominique Wilms on the top poster, and she's the reason we watched the movie. In this, her cinematic debut, she plays a femme fatale named Carlotta de la Rue, which of course indicates that she's a woman from the street. If that isn't enough to warn the men away, her friends call her Poison Ivy. Why? Because she burns. Hopefully that's meant figuratively, and above the waist. A character bringing so much heat must of course perform a torch song, which she sings with detachment, while the lyrics—as they usually do—indicate deeper issues: “I wander with my sorrow, along with my memories, looking for my old joys, which I've seen fade and die.” See? She just wants to be loved, assuming a man isn't thwarted by her acid tongue, that ironic right eyebrow, and the barbed wire encircling her heart.
The movie is certainly watchable, though it's nothing special aside from its exotic setting. But you have to appreciate the French love for U.S. crime fiction. In fact, director Bernard Borderie got the band back together and cast Constantine, Wilms, and her prehensile eyebrow in the next Caution movie, 1954's Les femmes s'en balancent. Constantine and Wilms also co-starred in 1957's Le grand bluff, another Caution adaptation, but helmed by Patrice Dally. Constantine went on to make Caution the signature character of his career. Wilms, who at age ninety is still out there somewhere, had about a dozen more roles before leaving cinema behind, but we think she had “it,” and will definitely check out some of her other work.
Can you keep a secret? I'm way ahead of my time.
Above is a fantastically beautiful Serge Jacques photo of Belgian actress and model Dominique Wilms that dates from the early 1950s. Wilms appeared in films such as Poison Ivy, Banco à Bangkok pour OSS 117, and Les femmes s'en balancent, aka Dames Don't Care. Looks like Dom don't care either, as this is a very provocative nude for a working actress of the 1950s. Just a glimpse of pubic hair was enough to get photographers and vendors sent to prison, even in France, where Jacques was based. The shot surfaced years after it was made, we suspect, and we should rejoice that it saw the light of day, because daring Dominique is all that and a box of hot tamales.
I want the cash, the jewelry, and the licensing fees or I'll blow your brains out.
We're back to charting Horwitz Publications' unlicensed usage of celebrity images for its paperback covers. We've already talked about Joan Collins, Senta Berger, Elke Sommer, Lili St. Cyr, and others. This time the company borrows Belgian actress Dominique Wilms. The image chosen was originally used as a promo photo and the basis of the promo poster for her 1953 film debut La môme vert de gris, aka Poison Ivy. We're convinced now that Horwitz, which was based in Australia, did this because copyright agreements were lax or nonexistent regarding image licensing across international borders. And even if some rules were on the books, it's very possible Wilms and her management never saw the above cover, and if they did decided it wasn't worth a legal fight. The Horwitz guys were sneaky bastards. But as we've asked before, why bother? Wilms was so obscure at this point that Horwitz gained nothing from using her face. Don't get us wrong—she has a great face. But Horwitz could have simply used local models and produced identical results. That's the part we'll never get. But we've queried an expert about stolen paperback imagery and we'll share his answer soon.
Note: Very soon. See here.
Murder comes a-creeping.
A little something from Argentina today, a poster for Abismos, which was originally released in the U.S. in 1947 as Ivy. Most sources list the movie as a film noir, but it's also an Edwardian costume drama, which is a detail you'll want to know going in. Basically, what you get here is a woman in a love triangle whose husband dies under suspicious circumstances, prompting a police investigation of her lover. Joan Fontaine plays the eponymous lead character and does a bang-up job, which is no surprise for such an acclaimed performer. Her Ivy is nervous, elusive, and frustratingly indecisive—or is she? Strong noir elements accumulate as the movie progresses and the ending is a classic exclamation point. Well worth the time spent.
Minor noble causes major scandal.
On the Q.T. labeled itself “The class magazine in its field.” In practice that was less than true. This cover from September 1962 offers teasers about Liz Taylor’s inability to be made happy, the fatal ring beating of boxer Kid Paret, and the inside story about Ivy Nicholson’s suicide attempt. But the banner goes to the nude countess who shocked America. That would be Christina Paolozzi, aka Christina Bellin, who was a New York City fashion model and the offspring of United Fruit Company heiress Alicia Spaulding and Italian conte Lorenzo Paolozzi. The photo was shot by Richard Avedon and appeared in Harper’s Bazaar. Paolozzi was already considered “the first of the ’60s free spirits” by the tabloids, and by stripping for Avedon she became the first recognized fashion model to pose nude, a practice that is now common.
While Avedon earned widespread recognition for the shot, which you see at right, Paolozzi was dropped from the New York City Social Register, shunned by Manhattan’s upper crust, and subjected in the press to what is today sometimes called “body shaming.” Columnist Inez Robb wrote that Paolozzi was “no more favored by nature than the average daughter of Eve,” and added for good measure, “Harper’s Bazaar, with its excursion into overexposure, has unwittingly proved that not diamonds but clothes are a girl’s best friend.” If that wasn’t bad enough, just imagine what people wrote in the comments section. They had those then, right?
In any case, Paolozzi was a bold personality, and she went on to make waves yet again with her many wild parties and open marriage to cosmetic surgeon Howard Bellin, commenting in a mid-1970s newspaper article, “[It’s] just the way life is today—one man is simply not enough.” But she didn’t just spend the years having a good time. She also raised money for hospitals in Cambodia and Gabon, orphanages in Afghanistan, and supported eighteen foster children. In a sense, she gave the shirt off her back. Twenty-eight scans from On the Q.T. below.
You wanna see something reeeeally scary?
American nuclear test Ivy Mike, Eniwetok Atoll, conducted today, October 31 (some sources say November 1), 1952.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1971—Corona Sent to Prison
Mexican-born serial killer Juan Vallejo Corona is convicted of the murders of 25 itinerant laborers. He had stabbed each of them, chopped a cross in the backs of their heads with a machete, and buried them in shallow graves in fruit orchards in Sutter County, California. At the time the crimes were the worst mass murders in U.S. history.
1960—To Kill a Mockingbird Appears
Harper Lee's racially charged novel To Kill a Mockingbird
is published by J.B. Lippincott & Co. The book is hailed as a classic, becomes an international
bestseller, and spawns a movie starring Gregory Peck, but is the only novel Lee would ever publish.
1962—Nuke Test on Xmas Island
As part of the nuclear tests codenamed Operation Dominic, the United States detonates a one megaton bomb on Australian controlled Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. The island was a location for a series of American and British nuclear tests, and years later lawsuits claiming radiation damage to military personnel were filed, but none were settled in favor in the soldiers.
1940—The Battle of Britain Begins
The German Air Force, aka the Luftwaffe, attacks shipping convoys off the coast of England, touching off what Prime Minister Winston Churchill describes as The Battle of Britain.
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