Sinbad may be the star but it's the dancers who shine brightest.
Howard Hughes had an entire slate of personal flaws, not least of which was that he was a frothing racist, but in terms of filmmaking he understood the concept of value-added cinema. He often battled censors, because if he had a beautiful actress on hand he'd build something around her that was as provocative as the market would bear. Jane Russell is his most famous protégée, but he shaped projects for Jean Harlow, Gina Lollobrigida, Faith Domergue, and others. In Son of Sinbad he wanted to show Lili St. Cyr to great advantage, and along the way, in typical fashion, added more, more, and more. He brought aboard MGM dancer-actress Sally Forrest and famed peelers Nejla Ates and Kalantan to compliment St. Cyr, made them all ornately clad harem girls, and ended up with a movie that was nearly banned.
The stars of Son of Sinbad are Dale Robertson as the fictional Sinbad's son and Vincent Price as the historical figure Omar Khayyám, and in the story, which is set in Baghdad, horny Sinbad is busted making time with one of the Sultan's harem girls and is imprisoned along with Omar. In exchange for his freedom Sinbad reveals the existence of Greek fire, a dynamite-like explosive, which could come in handy because the Sultanate is at war with the Tatars. Sinbad doesn't actually have the secret to this weapon himself—it's locked inside the head of his friend Kristina, who can only reveal the process for making it while hypnotized. The Sultan is suitably impressed after a demonstration and agrees to free Sinbad and friends, but due to some palace spying third parties have learned about the weapon, and from that point forward more complications ensue.
While Son of Sinbad is a fantasy adventure with elements of comedy, audiences also knew to expect titillation from RKO Radio Pictures, and the movie leans into that expectation with its sexy costumed dance numbers. Any movie that offers St. Cyr in motion is automatically recommended, and you'll get a sense of why she was probably the most famous burlesque dancer in America, though neither she nor the other dancers remove much clothing. Even so, it's a nice showcase of the burlesque arts, and the dancing offers reason enough to watch the film, and would even if the movie were terrible.
However, the bonus here is that the movie isn't terrible. The lavish sets, beautifully painted backdrops, and colorful costumes transport the viewer—not to ancient Baghdad, but to a magical, soundstage-bound, Technicolor realm similar to that from old Bible flicks. Robertson is fine as Sinbad Jr., but Price, as he tended to do, excels in his second banana role. The man was a born star, and a born ham. As long as you don't expect a masterpiece you'll be entertained. And as a point of added interest, Kim Novak makes a quick and uncredited appearance as a Tatar woman. It was her first screen role, but because the movie was delayed—like many Hughes projects—it was not the first time audiences had seen her. Son of Sinbad did eventually hit cinemas, though, premiering after more than a year of delays, today in 1955.
The deeper you go the tighter it gets.
We've all seen movies about the long con, the elaborate, drawn-out, multi-participant scam. The Crooked Web, aka The Big Shock, starring Frank Lovejoy, Richard Denning, and Mari Blanchard, is an early example of the sub-genre. The plan is for a group of crooks to sell a cache of gold one of them found in Germany during World War II, but the con takes an unexpected twist early, and we learn that the trap being set is deeper than it first seemed. We can't share more details, but we can tell you the film strives greatly to rise above its b-movie constraints with plenty of exterior shooting and a script with international scope. The plot even takes the principals to post-war Germany—which looks a lot like Southern California even with matte work designed to put the foreign illusion across. But you have to forgive budget woes. The flaw that's difficult to overlook is the unbelievable carelessness of the central scam artists, who are posing as brother and sister, but are really lovers and can't keep their hands off each other even when their mark is just around the corner. They're almost busted while in the clinch multiple times, which is a laughable lack of restraint when there's so much at stake. But the shortest route to dramatic tension is to make characters behave like morons. We've talked about it before. It's lazy screenwriting, but that's okay—The Crooked Web is still a fun movie. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1955
Why did the girl cross the river? For a chance at a better future.
This issue of Adam published this month in 1952 is the second oldest issue of the magazine we've scanned and uploaded, and we gotta tell you, this thing was fragile as butterfly wings. But we got it done, and the magazine survived. The beautiful cover painting is signed by Phil Belbin, and it illustrates longtime pulp western writer Bob Obets' tale “Señorita Spitfire's Kisses”—let's just pause and enjoy that title, shall we? There's all sorts of promise in a title like that. It's simultaneously evocative and ridiculous, which often bodes well. The story is an adventure set on the Texas/Mexico border just after the U.S. Civil War. Basically, it's about a Mexican woman named Carlotta O'Farel y Cavazos who enlists the aid of a mercenary named Ricardo Ruby to cross the Rio Grande into Texas in search of a cache of money buried there. She plans to use it to buy guns for Mexican soldiers, while the captain is thinking maybe to have it for himself.
Here's a fun exchange (Ricardo refuses to call Carlotta by name at first, preferring to make up nicknames):
Ricardo: “Look, Flame of the River, just tell me where that eighty thousand is—and how come you know about it.”
Carlotta: “I was tellin' you, brains-of-a-donkey, the money is in this place call Corpus Christi, where my brother wait for the sheep to take this money to Cuba.”
Her insult really amused us for some reason. “Sheep,” by the way, is “ship” pronounced with an accent. Genre authors sometimes use phonetic spellings to portray accents, but it can cross the line into making the speaker sound stupid. It's something to avoid. After all, the presence of an accent means the speaker knows at least two languages, not just one, like most Americans. The most elegant authors, like Cormac McCarthy, write accents without alternate spellings. Obets opts for the clumsy method, having Carlotta say things like “sometheeng,” and “fineesh,” but he's a good writer anyway. In fact the story is good enough that we checked his bibliography. He's written at least two novels—1958's Blood Moon Range and 1965's Rails to the Rio. We may pick one up. In the meantime, we have a few scans, which include photos of Marie Windsor and Mari Blanchard. More Adam to come.
Vaudeville goes to outer space.
Occasionally we deviate from pure pulp to share something amazing and this Japanese poster for Abbott and Costello Go to Mars falls into that category. Not that the movie is light years from pulp—it's sci-fi, sort of. The twist is that Abbott and Costello don't actually reach another planet—at least not at first. Instead they accidentally land in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and merely think they're on an alien world. Cute in parts, but stupid as hell in most, the movie is strongly Vaudeville influenced, with everything that term implies. Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, with the lovely Mari Blanchard co-starring in film and on poster, opened in Japan today in 1953.
I’ve got a match for you—my fist and your face!
The National Police Gazette devoted more space to boxing than most magazines of its time, and Gazette editors especially loved using boxing photo-illustrations on their covers. The above, from January 1953, is yet another example—albeit an unusual one. You may think that this is actually just a bad painting, but no—it’s a colorized and retouched version of a famous photograph of heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott losing to younger, hungrier Rocky Marciano. It happened September 23, 1952 in Philadelphia, and Walcott—having scored a knockdown in the first round—was ahead on points in round 13 when he walked into Marciano’s right hook. Walcott was a guy who had fought hard all his life. He was the son of Haitian immigrants and had gone to work in a soup factory when he was only thirteen. He had won a lot of bouts, but had lost quite a few as well. He was also the oldest heavyweight champion ever at age thirty-seven. But even with all his experience, guile and drive, he had no chance of surviving the destructive power of a full-force Marciano right. Walcott hit the canvas, and the fight—as well as the best part of his career—was over.
But Jersey Joe Walcott didn’t just fade away—that would have been completely out of character. He had friends in Hollywood and three years later appeared on the silver screen with Humphrey Bogart in The Harder They Fall. He followed that up in 1962 when he acted in the television series Cain’s Hundred. He also became a boxing referee, and was in the ring when Muhammad Ali beat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title in 1965. Walcott was heavily criticized for his officiating during that fight, which meant the end of his career as a ref. But he proved that some men are impossible to keep down when he became sheriff of Camden County,
New Jersey, and later head of the New Jersey State Athletic Commission, a position he held until the age of 70. In 1994 Jersey Joe Walcott died at age 80. He had been neither the greatest nor the least of boxing champions, but he had certainly been one of the most persistent.
The women inside the movie camera.
Below are eighteen timeless Hollywood leading ladies, some well-known, some less so, but all gleamingly beautiful. They are, top to bottom, Mari Blanchard, Carmen Phillips, Grace Kelly, Jane Adams, Joan Vohs, Martha Hyer, Laurette Luez, Tippi Hedren, Marguerite Chapman, Janet Leigh, Venetia Stevenson, Annabella, Muriel Barr, Lana Turner, Kim Novak, Paula Drew, Ann-Margret, and Vera Miles. Happy New Year.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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