The past is never dead. It's not even past.
Long review short—Act of Violence, which premiered today in 1949 and starred Van Heflin and Robert Ryan, is as solid as film noir gets. You have a comfortable middle class protagonist whose good life will be screwed if he doesn't take drastic action to deal with the repercussions of a past decision. You have characters whose motivations, as they are revealed to the audience, shift those characters' positions on the spectrum of good and evil. You have three female co-stars who each nudge the plot in different directions. And you have top notch film noir stylings brought to life by director Fred Zinnemann and cinematographer Robert Surtees.
The plot involves a terrible event from the war to which Heflin and Ryan are the only surviving witnesses. They're pitted against each other because of this event, and while one hopes to let the past die, the other is driven to force a reckoning. We'll leave the plot description there. Acting-wise, Heflin is good, Ryan is solid as always, and you get to see Janet Leigh near the start of her film career and Mary Astor near the end of hers, legends passing in the noir. We haven't seen Act of Violence ranked among the top films in the genre, but for our money it's up there with some of the best. See it.
Let me feel your neck for a second. Don't worry, I've gotten over your devastating betrayal.
Some people need a mental health day every day.
We were going to post an assortment of covers we thought were scary, but when we came across these Psycho fronts we realized they were all we needed. The creation of veteran horror author Robert Bloch and originally published in 1959, one of literature's early homicidal psychopaths remains frightening even today. When Bloch wrote Psycho the concept of psychopathy was little known in American culture, but after Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 movie adaptation, as well as the real-world Dahmers and Specks and Bundys, that naïveté evaporated. Now everyone knows psychopaths are real and live among us.
Bloch's man-child Norman Bates, a sadist and misanthrope with lust/hate feelings toward women, was able despite his dysfunctions to operate in society with a veneer of civility, and was capable of love, but only a stunted and twisted variety instilled by an emotionally violent forebear from whose shadow he could never fully escape. Sound like anybody you know? We have mostly front covers below, along with a rear cover and a nice piece of foldout art we found on the blog toomuchhorrorfiction. These are all English editions. We'll show you one or two interesting non-English covers later.
Robert Taylor plays the bad cop blues.
Here you see a nice blue promo poster for Sur la trace du crime, better known as Rogue Cop, with Robert Taylor, George Raft, and Janet Leigh. We talked about this last year. Shorter version: decent but not great. It opened in France today in 1955.
To protect and serve—his own self-interest.
As bad cops in mid-century cinema go, Robert Taylor is not close to the worst, but he's pretty bad. Rogue Cop gives its take on an archetypal story—two brothers, played by Taylor and Steve Forrest, end up on opposite sides of the law. Both are cops, but Taylor has been dirty for years, moonlighting for gangsters. When they tell him to make his squeaky clean brother refuse to testify against one of their assets, the brother answers no. This, of course, makes Taylor's gangster pals resolve to plant baby brother under the dirt. Taylor turns against his puppetmasters, instead resolving to bring them down. Or try, anyway.
Taylor and Forrest as the good and bad brothers (complete with black hair on Taylor and golden locks on Forrest) are solid, George Raft co-stars as the mean-ass, woman-beating, head hood, and Anne Francis goes against type to play an (almost) irredeemable drunk. An extra attraction here is a young Janet Leigh, and she's good too, though the script makes her out to be unrealistically weak. Hey, but no film is perfect. Well, actually some might be. Just not this one. But it's good enough. It premiered today in 1954.
Hold very still. This is the first time I've tried this.
Janet Leigh prepares to demonstrate her dagger throwing skills in this promo photo made when she was filming the action comedy The Spy in the Green Hat. The movie was actually an episode of the hit television show Man from U.N.C.L.E. expanded to feature length, and starred Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo, with Leigh playing a dangerous vixen who loves torturing her enemies. This was the fifth time one of the show's episodes was expanded for cinemas. We've seen none of them, but we may check this one out just to see Leigh do her knife throwing act. The shot was made in 1967.
Lawless border town brings out the worst in its inhabitants—and in its screenwriter too.
We've shared some promos from the Orson Welles film noir Touch of Evil before. Those were worthy efforts, but we think this Belgian poster is the best. We don't have a Belgian release date but we can guess at one. The movie premiered in the U.S. in early 1958, then crossed to Europe during the summer, with premieres in the UK in April and France in June—in fact today. The film won the FIPRESCI (Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique) Prize at the Brussels World Film Festival that year, which was held from April 21 through June 13, but we think the movie showed after its French premiere. So we're guessing sometime between June 8 and June 13 for its Belgian unveiling.
So about the film. We've hinted at this, but now we'll come out and say it: It isn't as good as many claim. Award winner, yes, but one that hasn't aged well. Visual masterpiece with numerous breathtaking shots, certainly, but one in which the script (written by Welles) lacks narrative logic. We could choose a dozen examples of this problem, but we'll give you just one. Early in the film Janet Leigh, who's married to a cop and thus shouldn't be naive, allows herself to be led down dark streets by an unknown male at four o'clock in the morning. And she does this in a Mexican border town Charlton Heston describes as “bringing out the worst in people,” which we can assume to mean “not safe.” Leigh traipsing off into the unknown with an obviously dodgy character is absurd. The movie lost our girlfriends at that point. "Oh, come on!" was the general sentiment.
The truth is Touch of Evil flirts dangerously more than once with being laugh out loud silly. Dennis Weaver's motel desk worker is Norman Bates from Psycho two years earlier, several degrees twitchier, and immeasurably hammier. Even the staging of the film is bizarre at times, with various characters required to physically orbit the central action so they can be glimpsed or encountered at just the right moment. We know, we know—our complaints are total sacrilege. Don't get us wrong. The movie is still entertaining, but people who call it a masterpiece have decided to overlook Welles' screenplay. And generally these people will also call you stupid for disagreeing with them, so be prepared for that. But don't take our word on Touch of Evil. Watch it and see what you think. And if you're interested, we discussed other aspects of the film a while back here.
Low visibility and even lower survivability.
Yes, we're tripling up on films this lovely Thursday because all three premiered today in some year or other. This third poster is the Spanish promo painted by Macario Gomez for John Carpenter's horror flick The Fog, about a town beset by a ghost ship filled with murderous lepers. It's an oldie but a goodie, we'd say, with Jamie Lee Curtis, her real life mom Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau, and Hal Holbrook. Couple of takeaways from this one—Jamie Lee will hook up with any old schlub, and haunted fog really scoots. Think you can outrun it? Forget it. If you hated the 2005 remake (and who didn't) give this one a try. There are some legit chills here. The Fog premiered as La niebla in Spain today in 1980.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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