Wait, don't kill me! I can be useful! I can teach you this lindy hop I learned in my dance class!
We said last week we'd get back to British actress Susan George. Above you see her on a poster for Die Screaming Marianne, along with the claim that the movie is the ultimate in suspense. Well, if that's the case, how could we say no? George plays a nightclub dancer hiding out from her father, a former judge who took bribes during his long career. He lives in a villa in Portugal with George's half sister. When George turns twenty-one she'll receive her mother's inheritance, which is in a Swiss bank account along with papers proving her father was a crook. Her half sister wants the money, which amounts to $700,000, and her father wants the documents. Both decide that killing George is the only way to achieve their goals.
The filmmakers, including cult horror director Pete Walker, primarily come at all this via a somewhat elliptical route that brings to mind giallo cinema, where you aren't sure what's significant, or really what's even going on at first. But by halfway through, it all begins to make sense and the story boils down to the very conventional question of whether George's father and half sister can get away with murder. We won't answer that, but we'll tell you we can't fully recommend the movie because of its obtrusively oddball style. George definitely made better films, a few of which we mentioned in our previous post on her. That being the case, we'll see her again. Die Screaming Marianne premiered today in 1971.
They're as real as ink printed on paper can be.
Above is the cover of a fun vintage nudie magazine called Mirage, made in London by an outfit known as Swanedge Publications. We like the name of the magazine. Glamour photography implies the ephemeral. You know what else is ephemeral here? Pubic hair. The muff-munching airbrush monster has struck again, removing the fuzzy bits and vaginal convolutions of a couple of models. Pubic regions as obscenity is something we talk about often here because we share a lot of Japanese nudes in which those areas are banned. The difference is that in Japan the models covered those parts in various clever ways so they still looked human. In the West underpaid guys in pre-press removed nether regions entirely and made the models sexless like Barbie dolls. We'll talk about this more later.
Mirage's cover star, who's typing in the nude very much the same way we write this website, is identified only as Anna. Inside the issue is a tri-panel centerfold of a model the editors call Alicia, and she's bracketed by other models named Wendy, Kismet, Jan, Ella, Sylvia, etc. All of those are professional names, we assume. Meanwhile the photographers work under probable pseudonyms too, we suspect, such as Don Pleasance and Len Humber. There's no copyright on the magazine, therefore only someone who was around at the time could say for sure when it appeared, and that leaves us out. However, the look of it says mid-1960s to us. It's a nice publication. There are more pages, but only so much scanning time in the world. Maybe we'll return here later and do a more thorough job.
You never know when your time is up. Usually.
Above: Veronica Lake stars in a menacing promo photo made for her 1944 spy movie The Hour Before Dawn. She plays a pure femme fatale, a bad woman living in London as a double agent in the employ of the Third Reich. The movie was poorly reviewed, but we give this image five stars.
Plane lands on autopilot after pilots spend entire flight in passenger cabin hanging with Swedish actress.
What is it about flights to London? First Rita Hayworth arrives a mess from Los Angeles, then Swedish star Christina Lindberg arrives missing some clothes. We've shown you three other photos made of her on the Heathrow tarmac that were shot the same day (today in 1972) which indicate that she did not in fact travel in this outfit. But we do enjoy imagining the reaction on the plane if she had. These photos were used as press handouts promoting both Lindberg and her 1970 movie Rötmånad, which played in England in 1972 as What Are You Doing After the Orgy? We watched it several years ago and it's an odd little film, meant to be comedic, we suppose, about a very bad mother who tries to turn her daughter into a prostitute. The ’70s, right? There was nothing filmmakers wouldn't try back then.
The rear of the photos both say the following: In her native Sweden, Christina Lindberg has fashioned a successful career for herself almost overnight. Less than one year ago she was an unknown schoolgirl with Latin and archeology as special interests. Then, suddenly she was discovered by one of Sweden's biggest weekly magazines. They widely publicised her as a pin-up girl and she created a tremendous stir with her innocent yet voluptuous beauty. Soon she was discovered by leading Swedish film directors, and now plays the part of Sally in the new film What Are You Doing After Orgy?, a very black comedy set in the Swedish archipelago. Christina is twenty-one, unmarried, and at one time girlfriend of Prince Gustav. The film opens at the Cinephone, Oxford Street, January 6th.
When you're a movie star you can't simply have a bad day.
When you're a celebrity, even in professional decline or retirement, you can always make news with a public misstep. Such was the case with Rita Hayworth when she was helped from a TWA flight after it landed in London today in 1976. Hayworth had caused a disruption by directing an angry outburst at a flight attendant. The press was on hand at the airport, so Hayworth was photographed from arrival terminal to limousine looking as tired as if she'd walked instead of flown to London.
It was bad day for Hayworth, but it was only the latest in a long run of them. She had been deeply affected by both her brothers dying within a week in March 1974, had been drinking heavily since then, and in fact was allegedly intoxicated on the flight. When news of the disturbance hit the papers she took a public relations beating and, of course, back then the press wasn't circumspect about attacking a woman's looks.
It wasn't until several years later that Hayworth was diagnosed with the still largely unknown ailment Alzheimer's disease, which helped explain her increasingly erratic behavior. Aging is difficult, there's little doubt. Aging as a sex symbol must be incredibly hard. Some would say growing old in public is back payment for fame, fortune, and undeserved adoration, and that may be so, but to us it seems like a mighty high price. We have a few more photos below.
An American con man in London.
Amazing that we haven't talked in detail about Night and the City yet, but all things in good time, and the time is now. Directed by Jules Dassin, this is one of the top entries in the film noir cycle, featuring Richard Widmark playing an American named Harry Fabian who's trying to hustle his way to riches in postwar London. Being a hustler, he long ago gave up the idea of working a fair job for a fair wage, and instead has been involved in so many spurious get-rich-quick schemes that nobody believes in him anymore. But when he stumbles upon the greatest greco-roman wrestler of all time, he cooks up a plot to take over wrestling promotion in London—and this scheme is a sure thing.
Widmark's performance hinges upon nervous energy and emotional desperation, as he shapes Harry Fabian into one of the greatest characters in the film noir annals, a man who's equal parts pitiable, ridiculous, and dangerous. He's the ultimate noir loser, a man who simply cannot see the forest for the trees. Gene Tierney, who any normal man would worship twenty-four hours a day, plays his girlfriend, beautiful and forbearing, but whose presence Fabian warps into yet another reason to grift his way to a fortune. He feels that a guy in his meager circumstances doesn't deserve her—which completely overlooks the fact that he already has her.
As Widmark tries to hold his caper together the rug is pulled from under him multiple times, yet like any serious hustler he manages to stumble improvisationally onward with lies and wishful thinking. His constant sowing of the seeds of his destruction is hard to watch, because as viewers we can see where and how he's going to fail—or possibly, just possibly, fate will grant him a miracle though he very much deserves to fail. One of the cool things about film noir is that its leads tend to be terribly flawed, but here Widmark is a human clearing house for bad character traits, and the worst of them is the one he has no control over—he was simply born under a bad star.
All in all Night and the City deserves its reputation. We have a few quibbles, but they're purely personal. For example, female leads in these old films often perform a song and Tierney's is atrocious, sadly. And if we were going to be very picky we'd add that it's also hard to buy the wonderful Tierney and the unctuous, work-averse Widmark as a couple, but of course, willing suspension and all that jazz requires that we go with it. The movie works even if Widmark refuses to. Give it a watch. You won't regret it. Night and the City had its world premiere today in 1950.
From moment to moment everything can change.
Donald MacKenzie's Moment of Danger, also known as Scent of Danger, appeared in 1959 as a Dell paperback with a front painted by the busy Robert McGinnis, always the man to employ for elevated cover art. In this case, his pistol packing, sarong clad femme fatale lounging behind a spider plant stands as a top effort. And by the way, we only know what a spider plant is because we have six large ones busily propagating around palatial Pulp Intl. HQ.
The tale follows a double-crossed jewel thief named Macbeth Bain (you gotta love that) who vows revenge on the partner who ditched him after a big heist and put the cops onto him. The double-cross is only half successful. The partner gets away with the loot, but through a stroke of luck, the evidence that was supposed to put Bain behind bars never materializes. Now he's free, furious, and tracking his missing partner from London to Gibraltar, Tangier, and Malaga, seeking to even the score. Along for the adventure is the partner's wife, also intent upon revenge after being ditched for another woman.
This is a densely written tale, heavy on narrative and light on dialogue, told from Bain's point of view as he struggles with fear of his uber-competent partner, and attraction toward his beautiful sidekick. He's a curious character, hard to like at first because his emotions range from anger at his betrayal to resentment that a woman is tugging at his heart, but you eventually root for him. The book ends almost anti-climactically, mid-scene at a crucial moment, but it remains a decent whirlwind thriller that passes through several exotic cities, and is worth the reading time, imperfections and all.
Hollywood agreed. The big brains out in Tinseltown liked Moment of Danger enough to option it and make it into a 1960 movie titled Malaga, starring Trevor Howard and Dorothy Dandridge. We'll definitely watch it because it's a noteworthy film, representing a rare leading role for an African American actress, and in fact was Dandridge's last movie. Our film watching résumé is a bit thin on the Dandridge front anyway, so we now have a good reason to address that. We'll of course report back.
Alan Ladd plays white knight in India.
Above: a really nice paperback cover featuring U.S. actor Alan Ladd, made for the novelization of his 1946 film noir Calcutta. If a Hollywood movie is set in any warm foreign land you can count on the white suit making an appearance. Ladd certainly looks nice in his. Sadly, with only the front cover scanned, no author listed, and the internet absolutely packed with Calcutta references, there's no chance to find out who wrote this unless we were to recognize the publisher's logo—which we don't. We generally don't share covers without complete information, but this cool item? We made an exception. Eventually someone will sell a copy of it and we'll update this post with author and publisher info. Until then, if you're interested in our musings about the film Calcutta, you can find those here.
Update: Well, we are amazed and pleased. Thirty minutes? That's the fastest ever, thanks to Rhea. She even found it on Ebay for us. The author here is Alex Morrison, the publisher is London based Hollywood Publications Limited (what is that WFP logo on the cover?—no idea), and it came out in 1947. The movie premiered in England in 1946, and novelizations usually coincide, but because the premiere was 20 December, the book can carry a 1947 copyright and still have been more or less simultaneously relesased with the film. Should we buy it? We're very tempted.
Calcutta is heavy on looks but light on substance.
We'll tell you right out that Calcutta came very close to being an excellent movie, but doesn't quite get over the hump. It deals with a trio of pilots flying cargo between India and China on fictional China International Airways. The trio, Alan Ladd, William Bendix, and John Whitney, stumble upon a highly profitable international smuggling ring and quickly find that the villains play for keeps. Along with the fliers, the film has Gail Russell as Whitney's girlfriend, and June Duprez as a slinky nightclub singer. While the exotic setting marks the film as an adventure, it also fits the brief as a film noir, particularly in Ladd's cynical and icy protagonist.
As we said, the movie isn't as good as it should be, but there are some positives. Foremost among them is Edith King as a wealthy jewel merchant. She smokes a fat cigar, the masculine affectation an unspoken but clear hint of her possible lesbianism, and with a sort of jocular grandiosity simply nails her part. Another big plus is the fact that the miniature work (used in airport scenes), elaborate sets and props, and costumed extras all make for a convincing Indian illusion—definitely needed when a movie is filmed entirely in California and Arizona (Yuma City and Tucson sometimes served as stand-ins for exotic Asian cities, for example Damascus in Humphrey Bogart's Sirocco).
On the negative side, Calcutta has two narrative problems: the head villain is immediately guessable; and Russell is asked to take on more than she can handle as an actress, particularly as the movie nears its climax. Another problem for some viewers, but not all, is that the movie has the usual issues of white-centered stories set in Asia (or Africa). However, within the fictional milieu the characters themselves seem pretty much color and culture blind, which isn't always the case with old films. Even so, the phalanxes of loyal Indian servants, and the dismissiveness with which they're treated—though that treatment is historically accurate—probably won't sit well with a portion of viewers.
Here's what to focus on: Alan Ladd. He's a great screen presence, a solid actor in the tight-lipped way you often see in period crime films, and the filmmakers were even smart enough to keep him shirtless and oiled for one scene. We swear we heard eight-decade-old sighs on the wind, or maybe that was the Pulp Intl. girlfriends. They'd never seen Ladd before, but immediately became interested in his other films. We were forced to tell them he was a shrimpy 5' 6” and they were a bit bummed. But he had it—and that's what counted. His it makes all his films watchable, but doesn't quite make this one a high ranker. Calcutta had its official world premiere in London today in 1946.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1952—Chaplin Returns to England
Silent movie star Charlie Chaplin returns to his native England for the first time in twenty-one years. At the time it is said to be for a Royal Society benefit, but in reality Chaplin knows he is about to be banned from the States because of his political views. He would not return to the U.S. for twenty years.
1910—Duke of York's Cinema Opens
The Duke of York's Cinema opens in Brighton, England, on the site of an old brewery. It is still operating today, mainly as a venue for art films, and is the oldest continually operating cinema in Britain.
1975—Gerald Ford Assassination Attempt
Sara Jane Moore, an FBI informant who had been evaluated and deemed harmless by the U.S. Secret Service, tries to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford. Moore fires one shot at Ford that misses, then is wrestled to the ground by a bystander named Oliver Sipple.
1937—The Hobbit is Published
J. R. R. Tolkien publishes his seminal fantasy novel The Hobbit, aka The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Marketed as a children's book, it is a hit with adults as well, and sells millions of copies, is translated into multiple languages, and spawns the sequel trilogy The Lord of Rings.
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