Rat-a-tat-tat, all the men fall flat.
Above is a promo image of the wonderful Jennifer Jones, made for her 1948 Cuba adventure We Were Strangers, in which she played a character with the amazing name China Valdez. Wanna see her use that gun? If you watch the film, which was directed by John Huston, you'll see it happen during one of the most action packed climaxes in ’40s cinema, though the actual movie isn't one of Jones's nor the great Huston's best.
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world it was an adventure film.
Above, a beautiful poster for John Huston's love-it-or-hate-it comedic African film Beat the Devil, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1954 and starred Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones, and Peter Lorre. This poster, while cool, is completely misleading. Beat the Devil is not an adventure. When it was made there was no category for it, but today such movies are called "camp." Only over time have audiences come to understand it. We wrote about it awhile ago and shared a Belgian poster, here.
Post-noir classic's reputation keeps soaring even as its director's keeps falling.
Nearly ten years into this website we've mentioned Chinatown only once—when we wrote a few lines while sharing two Japanese promo posters. The above poster was made for the film's Australian run, which began today in 1975. The film has been discussed everywhere, which means we can't add much, so let's just call it an all-time masterpiece, and one of the most watchable and re-watchable movies ever made, filled with details you notice over time. For example, it didn't strike us until after a few viewings that Jack Nicholson does his own stunt in that culvert scene, the one where the water rushes down the sluiceway and pins him against a chain link fence. You wouldn't see many modern day stars get wet and cold for a moment that lasts five seconds onscreen. We also failed to notice the first few times that the police lieutenant, Escobar, is Mexican-American. It just didn't strike us. But he would have been an extreme rarity in the 1937 L.A. of the film, and the writing and/or casting choice there was certainly deliberate. Other details continue to emerge, and we've seen the movie five or six times.
As far as director Roman Polanski goes, we've talked about him before. But we'll add that art stands on its own, and people stand on their own too. Having created superior art should not absolve someone of crimes; having committed crimes should not serve to denigrate superior art. That's just our opinion. Plus, a director isn't the only one responsible for a film. The hundreds of others involved, including the select group pictured below, and especially the unpictured screenwriter Robert Towne—who is just as responsible for Chinatown as Polanski and won an Oscar for his screenplay—deserve credit. We will always criticize art for being inaccurate when it pretends to be truthful, or for promulgating false or harmful beliefs. Chinatown doesn't do that. Quite the opposite—it offers sharp insights into how and why Los Angeles became what it is. Meanwhile its subplot somewhat foreshadows Polanski's own crime, which makes the film ironic in the extreme. If you haven't seen it you simply must.
Gold may fill the pockets but it can also empty the soul.
We wanted to show you a bit more work from German artist Rolf Goetze. We settled on this West German poster for the quasi-western drama Treasure of the Sierra Madre because the film premiered in West Germany today in 1949. This is Goetze at his best. For that matter, it's Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, and John Huston at their best too. That isn't just our opinion—Walter Huston won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance, and John Huston won both Best Director and Best Screenplay. If you're not familiar with the film, we'll just tell you it's a cautionary tale about the lust for riches, and it contains this classic and oft-mangled quote: “Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges!” More Goetze poster work to be seen here and here.
It's nobody's Asphalt but their own.
The best poster for the movie The Asphalt Jungle was, beyond doubt, the one we showed you a while back painted by the Italian artist Angelo Cesselon. But that one came a bit later. The above poster was made for the film's initial release in 1950. We think it's very nice as well, if remarkably different from Cesselon's masterpiece. As for the movie, we could tell you it's a top effort, but you already know that. If you haven't seen it, definitely do. It's showing at the Noir City Film Festival tonight, but even at home it's worth a screening.
The law of this jungle is steal or be poor.
We don't need to tell you anything about The Asphalt Jungle because you've seen this film classic, right? So today we're all about the poster. Look at this beauty. It was painted by Italian artist Angelo Cesselon, complete with his distinct signature and its supersized “O”. Cesselon worked for many studios and mastered a distinct style featuring large character portraits such as the one you see here. His work is among the most immediately identifiable of the mid-century period. As for the film, when you get John Huston directing a heist story you can't go wrong. Don't let the poster fool you, though—Marilyn Monroe is a bit player. Why is she starring on the art? Because Cesselon painted it a few years after the film's initial release—by which time Monroe was world famous. The Asphalt Jungle premiered today in 1950.
Mitchum finds himself second to nun.
Above is an Italian poster for the World War II drama L’anima e la carne, which would translate as “the soul and the flesh,” but was better known as Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. It was directed by John Huston, who was one of the greats and the man behind what many consider the first film noir The Maltese Falcon, but he wasn’t a strong stylist. He looked at himself as more of a technician, and often took on projects merely because they offered an opportunity for travel. He shot Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, with Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr, in Trinidad and Tobago, and it’s an African Queen-like tale of a marine marooned on a Pacific island with a nun, and the romantic feelings that develop.
The movie did well at the box office, but while there’s plenty of entertaining action, the romantic aspects are generally tepid. When a man and woman are marooned together, possibly for life, we accept that thoughts of romance can develop, but it would have been nice if there were some other reason for it to happen than the fact they’re—for all intents and purposes—the last people on Earth. Mitchum loves Kerr, but she’s not funny, or charming, or unusual in any respect. She’s just there, behaving exactly as you’d expect a real nun to behave. If she had a spark that lit Mitchum’s flame we’d have liked the film a lot more. The romance angle is a red herring anyway—Mitchum’s Corporal Allison has zero chance to woo Kerr’s Sister Angela, and considering the lack of heat between the characters, it’s probably for the better.
As an aside, the movie has a terrible title, don’t you think? Not that it matters in terms of the final product, but you’d never think a film called Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison features two stranded Americans dealing with serious hunger, nearly drowning, and generally being put through a wringer reminiscent of Naked and Afraid (but without the naked). Later they dodge Japanese troops, almost get bombed, and barely escape being blasted by a grenade. The title came from Charles Shaw’s novel, but it should have been changed. We can thank the movie for one thing, though—it made Mitchum fall in love with Trinidad and Tobago’s calypso, and led directly to him releasing an album of the music.
Hey ho! Hey ho! Huston and Ferrer must go!
Today in 1952 protestors comprising members of the 17th District American Legion Un-American Activities Committee demonstrate outside the Fox Wilshire Theater in Los Angeles against director John Huston and actor José Ferrer, whose new film Moulin Rouge was premiering that night. Why was the American Legion pissed? Basically because in 1947 Huston helped form the Committee for the First Amendment to protest the House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings (HUAC), and because Ferrer was a liberal. The anti-communist hysteria was in full swing at this point, and more than five-hundred names had been added to anti-communist blacklists.
Today there are numerous HUAC apologists, and their arguments boil down to nothing more than: “But there were communists in Hollywood!” Certainly that was true, but U.S. government incompetence and opportunism destroyed many more innocent people than communist spies were ever caught. A moral effort in crime fighting never hurts more innocent people than criminals. When it does, history laterlabels such periods tyranny. HUAC has been labeled exactly thus, an assessment that is extremely unlikely to change. And of course, it’s worth pointing out that being a communist was not equivalent to being a spy, nor was it a criminal offense. At least not yet—two years later President Dwight D. Eisenhower made communism illegal in the U.S. with the Communist Control Act.
I have dysentery, I’m covered with mosquito bites, and there’s a leech on my balls. Next time let’s do the all-inclusive cruise.
Above, a thoroughly pulped out cover for C.S. Forester’s 1935 adventure tale The African Queen, published in this Bantam paperback edition in 1949. This is a great book with a letdown of an ending, in our opinion, but when John Huston made it into a film in 1951 he greatly improved the last act and the result was an all-time cinema classic. The beefcakey art here is by Ken Riley.
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