The courtship is dangerous, but the engagement is murder.
A Kiss Before Dying should perhaps be titled “A Xanax Before Dying,” because Robert Wagner and co-star Joanne Woodward both perform as if they've gotten into the medicine cabinet. They play a young couple that accidentally conceive. Wagner envisions his life's ambitions going up in a haze of diapering and 6 a.m. feedings, so he decides to get rid of the baby. Abortion is out of the question, of course, so he tries gently nudging Woodward down a set of bleachers at the local university. When her tumble fails to produce the desired miscarriage, Wagner decides to up his game with a pharmacological solution—and murder.
Best exchange of dialogue, as Wagner parts one evening with an unsuspecting Woodward:
Wagner: “Good-bye, baby.”
The attraction in this film is Wagner, who's so smarmy and eely he might make you laugh out loud—at least until you realize how brutal he's prepared to be. Only in a vintage movie can a guy be so obviously evil yet have nobody take notice. A sign around his neck reading, “I think about nothing but homicide 24/7,” would have been ignored. But of course Woodward, while remaining studiously oblivious to her mortal peril, is harder to kill than expected.
Each year the Noir City organizers try to get audiences to take a fresh look at a few non-noir films, but their choices have occasionally been dubious. A Kiss Before Dying is a solidly but unspectacularly directed Deluxe Color production that lacks pretty much any noir iconography, but in terms of script and characterization it's a good fit for the festival. Plus Mary Astor plays Wagner's mom, and she's noir enough to satisfy us any day of the week. Put this in the flawed-but-interesting bin.
Newman and Poitier show Paris how to sizzle.
Remember last week we said you should watch the movie Paris Blues? We took our own advice. Above is a nice Rolf Goetze poster promoting the film's run in West Germany, which began today in 1961. The movie features a couple of jazz horn players portrayed by Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier who are having a grand time in Paris playing the clubs and escaping the political unrest in the U.S. Both meet American women, and both fall in love. Poitier's girlfriend Diahann Carroll is deeply concerned with civil rights and goes about convincing Poitier that he's running away from his responsibility to make America better. Pretty soon he feels heavily pressured to go back, even though it means giving up his wonderful life for hatred and turmoil.
Okay. Forgive us. Here's the thing. As foreigners abroad we think this is utter horseshit. We feel no particular allegiance to our birth country, and it's only fair, because the people who really matter feel no allegiance to it either. If they did, then how could captains of industry ship millions of jobs overseas, people who have enough money to live fifty lifetimes constantly dodge taxes, and corporations suck public money out of the federal government until it can't pay for schools and roads? They obviously don't care, so why should we? And why should Sidney Poitier's character care? We don't think an actual man in his situation—especially an African American man who's escaped rampant racism—would let anyone make this an issue for him, not even Diahann Carroll, who's sweet looking, yes, but certainly nothing unique in Paris.
But it's in the script, so Carroll's constant harping on this provokes an inner crisis and Poitier frets and wonders if it's right to live an idyllic life playing jazz music in Paris while his brethren are suffering. Will he go back? Only a viewing of the film will reveal the answer. We'll encourage you to watch it by adding that on the way to his big decision you'll get cool Parisian scenery, lots of scenes in nightclubs, a jazz cameo or two, and an equally complex love story between real-life spouses Newman and Joanne Woodward. While Poitier and Newman aren't actual jazz musicians, their pantomimic musical sequences mostly work, and the movie is fun, exotic, and insouciant most of the way through. Just try not to fall for the Hollywood social engineering that suggests any life outside the U.S. is one filled with the blues.
Sidney Poitier chases the Blues away.
There are plenty of movies about Americans in Paris, and even a few about American jazz musicians in Paris, but for our money Paris Blues is one of the best. It starred Bahamian born actor Sidney Poitier, along with Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, and Diahann Carroll, and above you see Poitier having a turn on the drums in the nightclub set where much of the movie's action takes place. In the film he doesn't play drums. He's actually a saxophonist. But you know how it is with drums—if they're sitting there vacant somebody's going to start pounding on them. We say that speaking as drummers—yes, both of your Pulp Intl. scribes are drummers, and if we had a dime for every time we found some hoser whaling away uninvited on our expensive gear, well... we'd have a lot of dimes. Anyway, we recommend you check out Paris Blues.
Always wear clean undies in case you end up in the hospital.
Often, early true crime magazines aren't very useful for sharing online due to their tendency to short-shrift the art, but Police Detective is a very visual exception, well worth uploading. Above is the cover of an issue from 1956, and below are assorted scans of the interior photo-illustrations, all eye-catching. Of the stories, probably the most interesting deals with hitchhiking women who are in reality brutal thieves. The magazine makes this sound like an epidemic but we seriously doubt it was ever a problem. According to the editors, men who picked up these highway hooligans were hit over the head with wrenches or tire irons, robbed, stripped down to their size 38 tightie whities and left unconscious or dead in a ditch while the thieves found the nearest pawn shop to sell off whatever they'd acquired. The description of the hapless men's heads being “crushed like eggshells,” according to the magazine, creates a disconcerting visual image, especially after that whole Sunday night Walking Dead baseball bat incident the entire internet is buzzing over. Not a good way to go. We have about thirty images below and many more true crime magazines inside the site.
Look at the state of this guy's underwear. How disgusting.
I don't think he was driving with them that way. I think he crapped himself when you crushed his skull.
You think so? Oh. Still though.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1919—Pollard Breaks the Color Barrier
Fritz Pollard becomes the first African-American to play professional football for a major team, the Akron Pros. Though Pollard is forgotten today, famed sportswriter Walter Camp ranked him as "one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen." In another barrier-breaking historical achievement, Pollard later became the co-head coach of the Pros, while still maintaining his roster position as running back.
1932—Entwistle Leaps from Hollywood Sign
Actress Peg Entwistle
commits suicide by jumping from the letter "H" in the Hollywood sign. Her body lay in the ravine below for two days, until it was found by a detective and two radio car officers. She remained unidentified until her uncle connected the description and the initials "P.E." on the suicide note in the newspapers with his niece's two-day absence.
1908—First Airplane Fatality Occurs
The plane built by Wilbur and Orville Wright, The Wright Flyer, crashes with Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge aboard as a passenger. The accident kills Selfridge, and he becomes the first airplane fatality in history.
1983—First Black Miss America Crowned
Vanessa Williams becomes the first African American Miss America. She later loses her crown when lesbian-themed nude photographs of her are published by Penthouse magazine.
1920—Terrorists Bomb Wall Street
At 12:01 p.m. a bomb loaded into a horse-drawn wagon explodes in front of the J.P.Morgan building in New York City. 38 people are killed and 400 injured. Italian anarchists are thought to be the perpetrators, but after years of investigation no one is ever brought to justice.
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