Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.
When we saw Jean Peters in 1953's Pickup on South Street, it was our first exposure to her, and we immediately knew we'd be seeking out more of her work later. Last night we watched another film of hers from 1953—the mystery Vicki, which is based on Steve Fisher's 1941 novel I Wake Up Screaming. Peters plays an up and coming New York City model and actress who's found murdered. The rest of the film, told partly in flashback, details her rise from obscurity to celebrated It girl, and the investigation that follows her killing. Jeanne Crain plays Peters' sister who's dedicated to finding the truth, and Richard Boone takes on the unusual role of an emotionally unstable lead detective whose assumptions affect his objectivity.
The movie plays like a partial retread of 1946's Laura, and like Gene Tierney's famed character Laura Hunt, Peters' aspiring superstar Vicki Reed has a profound effect on people even after her death, from broken hearts to poisonous resentment. But Vicki doesn't have the same atmosphere and narrative heft as Laura. Even though it's a mystery, there are no real surprises. Still, we've seen far worse films, and Peters' performance is fine, if not quite as enjoyable as her jaded working class beauty from Pickup on South Street. We recommend that film unreservedly, and Vicki cautiously. It premiered in New York City today in 1953 before going into national release on October 5.
Big shot attorney finds his defense strategy in tatters.
Above is a poster for The Tattered Dress, an unexpectedly entertaining flick about a craven New York City lawyer who ventures to smalltown Nevada to defend a local big shot against murder charges, only to find that the acquittal breeds a dangerous new enemy. The film stars Jeff Chandler, and amazingly this was the first thing we've seen him in. We were thinking, “Why wasn't this guy a huge star?” He could act, he had presence, and he was great looking. And then we internetted him and learned that died at age forty-two after complications from back surgery. Apparently his surgeon botched the job, cut an artery, and Chandler only survived the operation with the help of 55 pints of infused blood. But he never made it out of the hospital, as subsequent side effects laid him low. What a way to go.
You'd almost think Chandler originally hurt his back carrying The Tattered Dress, because the movie rides almost entirely on him. He gets a nice assist from Jack Carson, and co-stars Jeanne Crain, Gail Russell and super-hottie Elaine Stewart certainly don't hurt, but it's Chandler who's asked to handle all the toughest elements of this heavy courtroom drama, including two long cross-examinations and an emotional closing argument. And it's no wonder he's emotional—thanks to his new enemy that closing argument comes as he's serving as his own counsel, defending himself in court against bribery charges. They say the man who serves as his own counsel has a fool for a client. Chandler has to prove that adage wrong or he's prison toast.
The Tattered Dress goes the route of portraying defense lawyers as devoid of morals, when in the real world it's often prosecutors that are the dodgy ones, but it's still fun to see Chandler progress from pure mercenary to a man with newfound respect for his profession. The “tattered dress” of the title at first seems to refer to a torn dress worn by co-star Elaine Stewart that becomes crucial in the opening case, but we later learn it really refers to dress worn by Lady Justice. Chandler finally understands that the law needs to be protected above all. Too bad it doesn't seem to work that way anywhere except on the silver screen. The Tattered Dress premiered in the U.S. today in 1957.
Don't worry, baby. We have a stand-your-ground law in this state, so theoretically my stalking and murdering this guy shouldn't be a big deal.
Hypothetically speaking, if I botched your husband's defense, would that increase or decrease the odds of the two us having hot filthy sex? So, long story short, banging guys in this convertible has become sort of a way of life. Objection! Melodramatic! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client is extremely rich. Defense rests.
She's the reason you should have disaster insurance.
Above, a great promo image of U.S. actress Gail Russell from the 1957 drama The Tattered Dress, in which she co-starred with Jeff Chandler, Jeanne Crain, and Elaine Stewart. We aren't kidding about disaster insurance, by the way—she once crashed her car into a bar.
David Janssen takes aim at a mystery linked to his past.
Twenty Plus Two premiered in the U.S. today in 1961. We got interested in this one because it starred David Janssen, who was the central character in the television show The Fugitive, but who we remember from the obscure flick Birds of Prey that used to pop up on cable when we were in high school. We loved that movie, but it was the only thing we'd seen Janssen in. Twenty Plus Two is billed as film noir on some websites, so that interested us too. First things first—it isn't a film noir. Not even close. It's a black and white crime drama with a few night sequences, but no noir stylings or iconography, except for a single flashback. People get this twisted all the time, but we'll say it again: just because it's a black and white crime movie doesn't mean it's a film noir.
Janssen stars as an investigator who's drawn into a murder case involving a movie star's secretary. She possessed material on a missing heiress, and Janssen finds himself investigating both the missing person and the murder. Mixed in are complications from his past in the form of his ex-fiancée. Janssen never quite figures it all out, but that's okay—the villain explains it in detail for him at the end. The whole production comes across like a television movie, complete with the type of punctuative trumpet blasts you'd hear on an old cop show. We can't recommend it, but if you're a fan of Janssen you won't be disappointed. He's about as reliable a star as you'll find, and he makes Twenty Plus Two watchable all by his lonesome.
And it isn't even Christmas yet.
American actress Jeanne Crain, whose many film include Gentlemen Prefer Brunettes (which we talked about here), Pinky, and Cheaper by the Dozen, looks like a gift or a piece of candy in this promo photo of her wrapped in various colors of cellophane. It's one of the more unusual vintage images we've come across. It dates from 1955.
And as far as gentlemen go, they’ll take whatever they can get.
Above is a brilliant poster for the film musical Gentlemen Marry Brunettes starring Jane Russell and Jeanne Crain. Both Brunettes and 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes had begun as novels written by Anita Loos, in 1927 and 1925 respectively. Blondes (it was actually the second time the book had been filmed) was of course a smash with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in the leads. A year later Monroe was unavailable to reprise her role as Lorelei Lee, so both leads were rescripted into entirely new characters and Jeanne Crain scored the new part opposite Russell. Gentlemen Marry Brunettes appeared in 1955, but the result wasn’t quite as electric as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Same old story—it’s almost always pointless trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice, and a sequel without Monroe was destined to disappoint, at least artistically. But it did become one of the top box office movies of 1955. Amazing, considering it’s almost forgotten today. Seems the audience has stated its preference rather clearly. Well, even if Brunettes fell short of Blondes in the memorability department, there’s nothing forgettable about its Japanese poster.
Everyone loves a Parade.
Since we were just talking a couple of days ago about websites where it’s possible to download vintage magazines, we thought we’d shine the spotlight on two more. Vintage Girlie Mags and Dad’s Stash, which are basically alter egos of each other, both have full scans. The main difference is vintagegirliemags gives away the scans for free, while dads-stash charges a minimal amount for downloads. The May 1950 issue of Beauty Parade you see above is available at the latter site, though ours didn’t come from there. The cover art on this issue is by the great Peter Driben, and inside you get Yvonne de Carlo, Denise Darcel, Ann Sheridan, Lana Turner, and page after page of other beauties. Many scans below for your Friday enjoyment.
Britain may have colonized the island, but it was Hollywood that colonized the film culture.
Above are six issues of Hong Kong’s West Point magazine, named for a geographical feature of Hong Kong Island. The insides of these are not as visually interestings as the outsides, owing mainly to the poor quality printing and coarse paper stock, but if you’re curious you can see some interior pages here. You may also be wondering if West Point had coverage of Asian celebs. Yes, but unfortunately they weren’t allowed within light years of the magazine’s cover, as far as we can tell. These issues, top to bottom, date from the early-’50s to 1967 and feature Barbara Lang, Ann-Margret, Rock Hudson, Jeanne Crain, Michèle Girardon, and Julie Andrews.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1941—Williams Bats .406
Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox finishes the Major League Baseball season with a batting average of .406. He is the last player to bat .400 or better in a season.
1964—Warren Commission Issues Report
The Warren Commission, which had been convened to examine the circumstances of John F. Kennedy's assassination, releases its final report, which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy. Today, up to 81% of Americans are troubled
by the official account of the assassination.
1934—Queen Mary Launched
The RMS Queen Mary, three-and-a-half years in the making, launches from Clydebank, Scotland. The steamship enters passenger service in May 1936 and sails the North Atlantic Ocean until 1967. Today she is a museum and tourist attraction anchored in Long Beach, U.S.A.
1983—Nuclear Holocaust Averted
Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov, whose job involves detection of enemy missiles, is warned by Soviet computers that the United States has launched a nuclear missile at Russia. Petrov deviates from procedure, and, instead of informing superiors, decides the detection is a glitch. When the computer warns of four more inbound missiles he decides, under much greater pressure this time, that the detections are also false. Soviet doctrine at the time dictates an immediate and full retaliatory strike, so Petrov's decision to leave his superiors out of the loop very possibly prevents humanity's obliteration. Petrov's actions remain a secret until 1988, but ultimately he is honored at the United Nations.
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