Everybody, listen up! Grace is having a nap, so I guess the whole production has to grind to a halt until she's done.
Online you see this photo captioned something like, “Grace Kelly has a nap in Africa on the set of the 1953 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie Mogambo." It's clear, though, that the shot is staged. See all those footprints around Kelly's mattress? Grips, best boys, production assistants, and other species of cinematic wildlife have been constantly trekking through there lugging heavy gear. If she were really in need of a catnap we feel she'd be off to the side, somewhere under shelter from the brutal African sun, for example in a tent reserved for her, so we suspect she and the good folks at MGM chose this spot for a quick photo op. But it's a fun shot. In Africa or out of it, Kelly was hella hot.
Charisse strikes a perfect pose on MGM mailer.
We have something a bit different for you today. We say that every time we have something from Israel, don't we? Well, in our experience items from there are pretty rare. And like our many Japanese discoveries, they're inherently interesting because of the different alphabet used. What you see here is a promotional postcard for the 1957 MGM musical film Silk Stockings, which starred Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire. It's not a film we'll talk about, as it falls outside our purview, but we love this item, which we spotted on an auction site. It's crudely printed, but beautiful just the same, thanks to Charisse, who was one of the special beauties of her era.
According to the vendor, the text says, “See you this week in the Esther cinema hall in the magnificent musical film, Silk Stockings. Yours, Cyd Charisse.” The Esther was a Bauhaus style cinema built in Tel-Aviv's Dizzengoff Square. It opened in 1931 and was a popular social hub for decades before being closed, then reopened as a fancy hotel. As you know, we're into old cinemas, and we managed to track down a shot of the Esther, which appears below. Consider it an addition to our collection of vintage cinema photos. We don't have an Israeli release date for Silk Stockings, but if we had to guess we'd say it played there in 1958 or 1959.
When you cross the line trouble is sure to follow.
This bright poster for Dödsdalen was made for the Swedish run of the U.S. drama Border Incident, an interesting vintage film about illegal immigration—a hot button issue everywhere these days. Ricardo Montalbán stars as a Mexican investigator named Pablo Rodriquez who goes undercover as a migrant worker and crosses the border illegally to try and get to the bottom of why and by whom migrants are being exploited and sometimes murdered. He gets support from U.S. immigration cop George Murphy, who's equally eager to apprehend the evildoers.
We were curious what sort of treatment migrants would get in the screenplay, and it was generally compassionate. The years we lived in Guatemala we became acquainted with some locals and learned quickly that the vast majority of those who left for the States didn't want to go. Well, we didn't learn it—we already knew it because it's a no-brainer. Leave their families, wives, children, culture, social networks, and all sense of security? Of course they don't want to do it. But for the most part it's go north or go hungry. If that kind of dilemma isn't worthy of a person's compassion, we don't know what is.
Montalbán brings authenticity and passion to his performance. You may remember we thought he should have starred in Touch of Evil instead of Charlton Heston. His character comes under suspicion immediately—his hands are too soft to belong to a migrant. Murphy, working undercover from the other end, also gets into hot water, but survives a beating and torture to get next to the crooks. They're from the U.S., which of course is plausible. No industry as profitable as human trafficking is controlled from only one side of a border. Americans make money on it and always have. These particular Americans will kill to keep the profits coming in, which means Montalbán and Murphy have their hands full.
Border Incident scores well in mood, tension, and seriousness, and is well photographed in noir style, and in fact qualifies as a film noir, though one that's rarely cited. It was helmed by Anthony Mann—the noir veteran behind T-Men, Railroaded!, and Raw Deal, and his expereience and style help make the movie more than the sum of its production budget. When you add it all up, what you have here is a flick that's worth seeing, not least because Montalbán is a natural star. He's great in this. Border Incident premiered in the U.S. in late 1949 and opened in Sweden as Dödsdalen—"valley of death"—today in 1950.
Okay, happy thoughts, Jean! Give us a smile! Puppies and balloons! Use those face muscles. Please? Pretty please?
Jean Harlow actually smiled plenty, and was photographed that way numerous times. But for intensity she couldn't be topped, as this smoldering Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer promo image from 1930 shows. It was made when she was filming The Secret Six. Want to see Harlow smile? There's a good photo in this post.
Gladiatorial combat is all fun and games until the gladiators decide you're the one who needs killing.
We've featured master fantasy artist Frank Frazetta a few times, so it seems only fair that we feature the yang to his yin, Peruvian born legend Boris Vallejo. Here you see his art on a promo poster for Naked Warriors, which is better known as The Arena, released this month in 1974 starring another legend, Pam Grier, along with occasional co-star, the lovely Margaret Markov. We've talked about the movie twice, shared its Italian and U.S. promo art, and shared rare promo images of Grier once or twice, or maybe even three or four times, as well as a beautiful centerfold of Markov. All of that imagery is worth a look. Vallejo's art is a nice fit for a tale of enslaved gladiators pitted against each other eventually defying their sadistic masters to fight for freedom. He painted when Corcorde Pictures acquired the rights to the film from MGM/UA for a VHS release in 1988. Concorde/New World was formed and run by schlockmeister Roger Corman, and that explains the black wedges at the top and bottom of the promo. When you do thingson the cheap as a matter of course like Corman did, tilting the art in an inelegant way to make the two figures fit a door panel format seems logical. We can imagine him: “Just lean the fucker left. Who cares about the blank spots?” And indeed, who does, really?
In addition to a great piece of art, as a bonus we've also uploaded some Arena production photos we found scattered around the internet over the years. Most of them were shot by Italian lensman Angelo Frontoni, whose work we've admired often. As it is a lusty sort of movie, some of the shots are a bit lusty too. We had these sitting about and didn't have a real good excuse to share them until today, so from the good old days of ’70s sexploitation behold: Grier, Markov, Lucretia Love, Maria Pia Conte, Rosalba Neri, and others in barely-there gladiatorial gear—and sometimes less. We can't say the film is perfect, but it's definitely worth a watch.
Welch proves indispensable to yet another ’60s caper flick.
Above you see a promo poster for 大泥棒, or “Great Thief,” made for the 1968 Raquel Welch/Robert Wagner caper flick The Biggest Bundle of Them All. The U.S. poster was painted by master illustrator Robert McGinnis, but we decided to show you the Japanese art instead because it's rare. There are two more Japanese promos below that are also rare. We'll get to the McGinnis version later. In the film, Wagner and his henchmen kidnap an elderly Italian gangster played by Vittorio De Sica and hold him for ransom. Problem is he has no money. At first they don't believe him, but when it finally becomes clear he's broke, Wagner and Co. try to cut bait. But De Sica is terrified all Italy will find out he couldn't pay his own ransom. His reputation would be ruined. So he convinces his kidnappers to join him in a swindle that will maintain his reputation, make him rich again, and earn the kidnappers more money than they ever imagined. De Sica becomes the boss of his own abductors.
For a crime-comedy, it's an ingenious premise, which makes it a shame it wasn't original. Another movie with an almost identical plot called The Happening was in production at Columbia, and when the studio got wind of The Biggest Bundle of Them All it threatened to sue. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer agreed to give Columbia a cut of Bundle's profits and a legal bloodbath was avoided, but in the same way De Sica's big caper doesn't exactly play out perfectly, Bundle's profits didn't blow the roof off MGM headquarters as planned. And no wonder. It wasn't just the script that wasn't original—the film falls into the same category as continental crime capers like Charade, To Catch a Thief, and Topkapi, and those make for crowded and treacherous cinematic waters. Bundle isn't sophisticated enough, or exciting enough, or infused with enough sexual chemistry to compete with better films of its ilk.
Speaking of sexual chemistry, Welch is naturally the big attraction of any movie she's in, and we've seen enough of her work now to understand that she was more of a persona than an actress during this mid- to late-’60s period. In film after film she basically played herself. Here she smiles and quips and poses, and it's all very Welchian in that groovy way her fans had come to expect—bikinis, lingerie, go-go dancing and all. The movie would be worth far less without her. There are also supporting appearances by Edward G. Robinson and Femi Benussi, while future blaxploitation icon Godfrey Cambridge is one of the kidnappers, so there's plenty for stargazers to enjoy here, but we can't call the movie a success. If you have nothing to do some evening, it might give you a few smiles, but not a bundle of them. After premiering in the U.S. in 1968, The Biggest Bundle of Them All opened in Japan today in 1968.
Weissmuller's jungle classic continues to look weirder as time goes by.
Above is a beautiful poster for Tarzan the Ape Man, which starred Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan and twenty-one year old Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane Parker. The plot here is simple. White explorers are desperate to find a million pounds of ivory they believe lies hidden in an elephant graveyard somewhere in the African interior. After scaling a massive escarpment (and losing a native bearer over the side), and traversing a river (and losing native bearers to rubber hippos and crocs), and stumbling across a tribe of dwarfs (and losing a native bearer to an arrow), they finally reach the right area—and promptly lose Jane to Tarzan. Although he's carried her away against her will, she and Sir Loincloth eventually establish a rapport. And no wonder—this particular Tarzan is handsome, has good hair, and a physique in top maintenance.
Tarzan the Ape Man was made way back in 1932, but it isn't the first Tarzan film, or even the fifth or the eighth. But this effort from MGM, with its somewhat detailed sets, scanty costuming, and numerous animal co-stars, was the first that was a big hit. The shooting took place in various locations around Southern California and Florida, although there is some legit African stock footage used in spots, and, according to some sources, some second unit stuff from Mexico. For the era it must have been pretty convincing, rubber hippos and all. Needless to say, this flick is not flattering to Africans, African Americans, or African anyones. As for what the little person community thinks about fifty of their number covered in shoe polish, you'd have to ask a little person. We don't know any. But we seriously doubt they like it.
As we are all part of the same human family, we all should feel empathy as we would if a brother or beloved cousin were insulted. Seems to us we've made halting progress on that front. What hasn't progressed at all is agreement about how to deal with literally trillions of dollars of stolen labor, goods, economic potential, and lives. If no recompense is to be offered, then at least we should be able to talk honestly about what happened. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recently admitted that his country's possession of some of the priceless Benin Bronzes amounted to harboring stolen goods. The U.S. and Britain, meanwhile, refuse even to entertain conversations about their share of these looted pieces. It's the same with people: some admit to crimes of the past, while others say there were no crimes, and even if there were, they don't matter anymore.
Tarzan the Ape Man presents a fictionalized version of the real-world history of capitalists strip-mining Africa. Without an iota of reflection, the characters here plan to steal local wealth, described by head bwana C. Aubrey Smith as, “Enough ivory for the entire world.” But what he really means is, “Enough ivory for the entire world to buy from me.” Of course, colonials didn't think they were looters. But then, colonials wrote the rules. So Tarzan the Ape Man scratches the surface of a contentious history, but here's the thing: it's still just a movie, and it's possible to watch it, be aware of what it portrays, yet have a laugh. It's a 100-minute over-the-top burlesque of historical wrongs, from colonialism to segregation in moviemaking. To enshrine so many bad practices in one film is a hell of a feat. Yet within its narrative universe it's still very entertaining. Is that a paradox? Maybe. But that's art for you. Tarzan the Ape Man premiered in the U.S. today in 1932.
Pick man up. Put man down. Pick man up. Let man sit on my head. I'm about to stomp this fool. Tarzan invent shaving armpits. Tarzan smooth like eel. Great pose, Johnny! Just great. And your nuts didn't fall out this time. Excellent! Jane feet funky. Also, Jane need pedicure. OooOOOoo... what's this here, Johnny? Is that a rock hard chest? I think it is. Who's got a rock hard chest? Johnny's got a rock hard chest... AHHHH-AHAHAHAH-AHAHAHAHA! Can Maureen and I get some goddamned lunch over here!
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
Long review short—Act of Violence, which premiered today in 1949 and starred Van Heflin and Robert Ryan, is as solid as film noir gets. You have a comfortable middle class protagonist whose good life will be screwed if he doesn't take drastic action to deal with the repercussions of a past decision. You have characters whose motivations, as they are revealed to the audience, shift those characters' positions on the spectrum of good and evil. You have three female co-stars who each nudge the plot in different directions. And you have top notch film noir stylings brought to life by director Fred Zinnemann and cinematographer Robert Surtees.
The plot involves a terrible event from the war to which Heflin and Ryan are the only surviving witnesses. They're pitted against each other because of this event, and while one hopes to let the past die, the other is driven to force a reckoning. We'll leave the plot description there. Acting-wise, Heflin is good, Ryan is solid as always, and you get to see Janet Leigh near the start of her film career and Mary Astor near the end of hers, legends passing in the noir. We haven't seen Act of Violence ranked among the top films in the genre, but for our money it's up there with some of the best. See it.
Let me feel your neck for a second. Don't worry, I've gotten over your devastating betrayal.
Which is louder—his shotgun or his wardrobe?
Above you see two posters for the blaxploitation flick Hit Man, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1972 and stars NFL player-turned-actor Bernie Casey as a man from Oakland who blows into L.A. to investigate his brother's murder. His brother ran a used car lot, but had gotten on the bad side of some local criminals. How he did that, who these bad people are, and what they're up to are the questions at the crux of the narrative, and when Casey finally learns the truth he's horrified and infuriated in equal measure, which turns him into a leisure-suited revenant with murder in his eyes and a gun in his hands.
What is neither horrifying nor infuriating is that Pam Grier is in this, which makes it a must watch in our book, and she holds nothing back, sporting a quantum leap forward in afro science, and proving once again that she was a fearless performer. Nevertheless, she and Casey can't make Hit Man good despite their best efforts. But on the other hand, it isn't awful either, and in the middle isn't a bad place to be in b-cinema, considering how deeply terrible the films can get.
Hit Man has a couple of miscellaneous notes of interest. A bit of filming takes place at Watts Towers, Simon Rodia's italo folk art monument that was designated a historic site in 1990. We've seen the place in person and we loved it because its mosaics reminded us of the type you see on modernist architecture in Barcelona. The production photo of Grier in a long black dress, below, was shot at the site. It's one of the most famous images of her, and one of the most badass too.
Hit Man also makes use of a location called Africa America, an open air animal preserve of the type made famous by Tiger King. We can't find any trace online that it ever existed, so there's no way to know for sure whether it was a real zoo, an MGM set, or something in between, such as a private ranch dressed up for filming. But it plays an important role in the plot, as do its hungry lions. If they'd eaten a few of the worst script pages, and a couple of bad supporting actors, and maybe Casey's purple leisure suit, Hit Man might be better than just okay. But lions are finicky like all cats, and most amateur film critics.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
1920—The Nazi Party Is Founded
The small German Workers' Party, or DAP, which was under the direction of Adolf Hitler, changes its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Though Hitler adopted the socialist label to attract working class Germans, his party in fact embraced mainly anti-socialist ideas. The group became known in English as the Nazi Party, and within the next fifteen years expanded to become the most powerful force in German politics.
1942—Battle of Los Angeles Takes Place
A object flying over wartime Los Angeles triggers a massive anti-aircraft barrage
, ultimately killing 3 civilians. Initially the target of the aerial barrage is thought to be an attacking force from Japan, but it is later suggested to be imaginary and a case of "war nerves", a lost weather balloon, a blimp, a Japanese fire balloon, or even an extraterrestrial craft. The true nature of the object or objects remains unknown to this day, but the event is known as the Battle of Los Angeles.
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