French publisher borrows a face for L'assassin anonyme that isn't anonyme after all.
We did a double-take before reaching an inescapable conclusion—this is Jack Palance on the cover of the thriller L'assassin anonyme, published by the French group Éditions du Champ de Mars for its Collection Moulin Noir. After recognizing the face it was easy to find the photo you see below, a promo shot made for the 1950 movie Panic in the Streets. We thought the book might be a novelization of the film, but nope—it's straight up unlicensed usage of Palance's mug. The book was written by J. Scotland, which is of course a pseudonym, in this case for the prolific Viviane Cambon, who also wrote as Liane Méry, Cesar Valentino, and—our definite favorites—Harry Mitchum and Mickey Spolane. Rumor has it she created or shared up to forty pen names. This effort is copyright 1959, and the art is uncredited.
Delon and company play cops and robbers in the City by the Bay.
Once a Thief opens with a San Francisco nightclub drummer playing a cracking solo, cymbal crashes synched to quick edits, and we immediately think we're in for some sort of revolutionary beat generation noir, with the edgy rhythms and nervous energy that idea entails. But the movie quickly subsides to conventional pacing, telling the story of a former thief gone straight suspected of a recent murder, and the cop determined to put him away—guilty or innocent. Alain Delon plays crook-turned-family man Eddie, and Ann-Margret is his wife Kristine. Even if the movie doesn't live up to its jazzy opening, getting Sweden's hottest actress and France's hottest actor together should be a can't-miss proposition.
Though Eddie is innocent of the murder, police harassment costs him his job. But when you're broke you can always count on family—to make things worse, that is. Eddie's criminal brother shows up and wants help with a bank robbery. After a few fraternal preliminaries, Eddie decides to partner up with his erratic bro, which is when his troubles really start, because his darker nature emerges and it isn't a pretty sight. Ann-Margret, working from the hysteria-as-acting playbook, is not pleased with these developments and over-emotes her displeasure at every opportunity. Even if criminal conspiracy doesn't do Eddie in, marital strife might.
Once a Thief oozes cool, but in the end it's a middling heist drama that asks a bit too much of its principals. It didn't do well in 1965, and we suspect it'll be the least liked offering at Noir City. Audiences may respond to a few aspects, though: there are some nice San Fran exteriors, Lalo Schifrin's soundtrack is top notch, and character actor John Davis Chandler knocks his role of the druggy hepcat villain Jimmy Sargatanas out of the park, over the promenade, and into McCovey Cove. His line, “I don't dig women,” paired with a sneer and a fatal gunshot, will probably bring the house down. As for Delon and Ann-Margret, well, at least they look good.
The Big Knife could be sharper but its lessons about Hollywood ruthlessness resonate.
Above you see a poster for the 1955 drama The Big Knife, which, along with The Bad and the Beautiful, plays on tonight’s dark-side-of-Hollywood double bill at the Noir City Film Festival. Based on Clifford Odets’ play of the same name, The Big Knife tells the story of a star actor who wants to expand artistically, but is being tormented by his studio boss to ink a new deal locking him into more of the unfulfilling schlock that put him on the map. The studio has leverage because it helped the actor—played by Jack Palance—hide his role in causing a fatal car accident years ago. The studio boss—Rod Stieger, shamelessly hamming up the place (see photo below)—will stop at nothing, including blackmail, to get the contract signed. The stage-based origins of The Big Knife are clear, as the action rarely leaves one room and the dialogue is at times florid, but the question of whether Palance has the constitution to stand up to Stieger’s abuse offers some tension, and Ida Lupino as Palance’s wife helps elevate the exercise. Above average, we’d call this one, but we think festivalgoers will like The Bad and the Beautiful a lot better.
Confidential climbs the stairs and creeps down the bedroom hall.
This January 1958 issue of Confidential, with Anita Ekberg and Gary Cooper starring on the cover, was released in the magazine’s prime, during the heyday of its special brand of slash and burn journalism. You can really see why Hollywood focused its efforts on neutralizing the publication—celebs and important figures get knocked down like ducks in a shooting gallery. Examples: Tita Purdom is caught cheating by her husband, Kim Novak got into movies with the help of a sugar daddy, Lili St. Cyr tried suicide twice and both times was saved by her husband Paul Valentine, and millionaire Bobby Goelet is dropped from the Social Register for dating a non-white woman. We'd like to get into each of those stories, but while we do have time to read them all, sadly we don't have time to write about them all.
Because we have to pick and choose, we're limiting ourselves today to Confidential's domestic violence stories. This was a regular focus of the magazine, and a very good example of just how untouchablepublisher Robert Harrison thought he was. First up is Rita Hayworth, who allegedly walked out on husband Dick Haymes because he beat her. Here's scribe Alfred Garvey: “Haymes' favorite form of assault was to grab Rita by her world-famed tresses and slam her head against a wall until her sense reeled. And the brutal beatings were part and parcel of their schedule wherever they went.” We should note here that Confidential was in no way a defender of women—the magazine published anything that made a celebrity look bad. It didn't publish this story to expose Haymes, but to expose Hayworth. She's the star—the reader must be left asking what's wrong with her.
For evidence consider the story that appears a bit later in which Confidential accuses actor Jack Palance of beating women. “You can't win all your fights, though, even with dames. One talked, and squawked, after a bruising evening with the ungentlemanly Jack and the result has been a tide of whispers [snip] literally a blow-by-blow report of how he conducted at least one romance.” The text goes on to describe theassault in first-hand detail, but even though the writer seems to know every word spoken in that closed room, he never names the victim. This is not because Confidential cares about protecting her identity—if editors can name Hayworth they certainly can name a random aspiring actress—but because she doesn't matter. Her identity would distract the reader.
The point to absorb is merely that Confidential had no compass, no aim at all except to generate terrible publicity for the famous. Some may have deserved it, but moral justice was never the goal. If the two previous stories weren't enough, Confidential hits the trifecta with yet another domestic violence story about Bob Calhoun and big band singer Ginny Simms. In this one Calhoun gets a co-starring role—he was rich, thus worthy of mention. “Grabbing his shrieking bride by her pretty unmentionables, Calhoun yanked her off their nuptial bed and, in the same swift movement, uncorked a right that spun Ginny across the room like a rag doll.”
As far as we know nobody mentioned in any these stories sued. Confidential was impervious—at least for the moment. Celebrities just hunkered down and hoped the stories would fade. But Confidential'scirculation kept growing. Soon it would be one of the most widely read magazines in America, the indisputable king of tabloids. Hmm… king of tabloids has a nice ring to it. We’re going to use that—Pulp Intl. is the king of tabloid websites. You can work your way through more than three-hundred individual tabloid entries here.
Mexico may be vast, but it’s never big enough to avoid what you’re running from.
With a poster this amazing you’d expect a pretty good movie. It promotes the Japanese run of the thriller Second Chance, which opened there today in 1953 after premiering in the U.S. in July. The film is near impossible to find, but we already possessed a downloaded copy from years back because we long ago sought out all Robert Mitchum’s work due to his utter coolness. Second Chance has not only Mitchum, but the always excellent Linda Darnell, exteriors shot in the Mexican towns of Cuernavaca and Taxco, color film stock (which lost its vividness in the intervening decades), and a 3-D process (of course not replicated for the home viewer).
So, is it any good? Well, when technical innovations arrive in Hollywood, filmmakers often use them as gimmicks, with diminished regard for story flow and physical logic. You see the same phenomenon today with CGI. Because this was RKO Radio Pictures’ first 3-D movie, and it was in Technicolor, many scenes take advantage of those aspects, but fail to build characterization or advance the plot. So there you go. But the locations in hilly Taxco look great, the musical interludes are grandly staged, and it all climaxes with an extended cable car set piece where down-on-his-luck prizefighter Mitchum gets a chance at redemption by taking on hitman Jack Palance. We’ve seen better. But we’ve seen far worse.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1954—Communist Party Outlawed
In the U.S., during the height of the Red Scare, President Dwight Eisenhower signs the Communist Control Act into law. The new legislation bans the American Communist Party, and prohibits people deemed to be communists from serving as officials in labor organizations.
1968—France Explodes Nuke
a two-stage nuclear weapon, codenamed Canopus, on Fangataufa, French Polynesia.
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
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