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.
MGM's sure bet didn't quite pay off.
Above is a beautiful, blindingly colorful MGM promo shot of U.S. actress Barbara Lang, née Barbara Jean Bly, someone we've shown you in black and white in the past. The accompanying text, which we've cropped out, explains that Lang “is a sure bet for stardom,” but she acted in only three movies and made about twenty television appearances on shows such as 77 Sunset Strip and Lock Up, with her entire career lasting from 1955 to 1961. Mixed in there was a 1959 suicide attempt that doubtless derailed her momentum. But once upon a time she was a contender, and this shot befits a burgeoning star.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can stay her from the swift completion of her appointed seduction.
Above is a trolley card for the classic Lana Turner/John Garfield film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice, which according to the text, opened at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles today in 1946. What's a trolley card? Pretty much self-explanatory, that. But you don't see many surviving examples, so this is a real treasure. The opening date represents new info. All the websites we checked said the movie opened in L.A. May 9. Maybe the managers of the Egyptian had connections at MGM. Awesome connections, we guess, to have helped them beat the rest of town by two full days. With that kind of juice, it's safe to assume they only had to ring once at the studio gates. We worked in the L.A. film industry. Relationships are everything. Or maybe the movie actually opened today, and the internet is wrong. Wouldn't be the first time. Not that we're trying to sound superior. We've made errors more than once. Interestingly, we were able to locate a vintage photo of the Egyptian with its marquee advertising Postman. It's a great movie. Nobody needs us to tell them that, but we did anyway, at this link.
Only a mythological creature could look this good.
Above you see Ava Gardner in an MGM promo shot that puts to rest any question of whether she was one of the most beautiful stars of her era. This image should be hung in a museum. We can't pinpoint a date on it, but we can make a reasonable guess. She looks every bit the ingénue, so it's probably pre-superstardom, say from between 1942 and 1946.
All she needed was for someone to believe.
Paulette Goddard had more false starts to her career than most Hollywood legends. During the late 1920s and early-to-mid 1930s she worked—without making much impact—for Selznick International Pictures, George Fitzmaurice Productions, 20th Century Pictures, Hal Roach Studios, and both Goldwyn Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She turned some heads in Modern Times, co-starring with Charlie Chaplain, who was her boyfriend at the time, but her major break came with Paramount when she starred opposite Bob Hope in The Cat and The Canary. She never looked back, appearing in seventeen films in the next five years, and more than fifty over the course of her career. One of those was Northwest Mounted Police, which is where the above promo photo comes. It dates from 1940.
Some jobs you can do better all by yourself.
This photo of Lana Turner was made when she was filming the crime thriller Johnny Eager, and what's interesting about it is that co-star Robert Taylor, who played the titular Mr. Eager, was erased from an original MGM promo shot. Apparently, whoever altered the shot felt Turner didn't need Taylor in a supervisory role, so he was magically vanished. If only it were always that easy to get someone off your back. The photo is from 1941.
You oughta be in pictures.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's famed lion mascot, who roared at the beginning of every MGM picture, was known as Leo. But like an actor playing a role, the lions used in those famed openings had real names. The first lion was used by MGM's predecessor Goldwyn Pictures. He was named Slats, and you see him above in this profile shot made at Gay's Lion Farm in El Monte, California. Slats played Leo for Goldwyn and MGM from 1916 to 1928, to be followed by such luminaries as Jackie, Teller, Tanner, George, etc. Slats was the only lion that didn't roar, because he got the gig before sound was introduced into film. While he's immortal as a logo, he died in 1936. For his faithful service he was skinned and his hide was put on display. It's still around, at the moment residing at the McPherson Museum in McPherson, Kansas.
If clothes make the man, then clothes make the woman fabulous.
Above is a beautiful soft focus photo of U.S. actress Gwen Lee, née Gwendolyn Lepinski, wearing a striking dress made of a metallic looking fabric and decorated with fur and what seem to be diamond shaped mirrors. There's also a diamond shaped cut-out on her torso. So all-in-all this is a pretty amazing garment. She started as a model, moved into acting as a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player, and appeared in several dozen films between 1925 and 1938. She was considered an archetypal flapper and that's exactly what she looks like in this photo. It's from around 1928.
So this robot and the doctor have kind of a co-dependent thing going on, don't they?
Above, an Italian promo poster painted by Averado Ciriello for Il pianeta proibito, aka Forbidden Planet, which premiered in Italy today in 1956 with future comedy icon Leslie Nielsen in the lead role. There are a few Italian promos. On this poster you see an unconscious Walter Pidgeon being carried by Robby the Robot. This is what happens in the movie, but on most other posters, including the U.S., Spanish, and French iterations, the robot carries a female figure—which doesn't happen at any point in the film. All the posters are great, but the fact that only Ciriello's version showed what actually happened in the film instead of going for the damsel in distress motif is interesting. Check out the Spanish and French promos here. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1912—International Opium Convention Signed
The International Opium Convention is signed at The Hague, Netherlands, and is the first international drug control treaty. The agreement was signed by Germany, the U.S., China, France, the UK, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Russia, and Siam.
1946—CIA Forerunner Created
U.S. president Harry S. Truman establishes the Central Intelligence Group or CIG, an interim authority that lasts until the Central Intelligence Agency is established in September of 1947.
1957—George Metesky Is Arrested
The New York City "Mad Bomber," a man named George P. Metesky, is arrested in Waterbury, Connecticut and charged with planting more than 30 bombs. Metesky was angry about events surrounding a workplace injury suffered years earlier. Of the thirty-three known bombs he planted, twenty-two exploded, injuring fifteen people. He was apprehended based on an early use of offender profiling and because of clues given in letters he wrote to a newspaper. At trial he was found legally insane and committed to a state mental hospital.
1950—Alger Hiss Is Convicted of Perjury
American lawyer Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury in connection with an investigation by the House unAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC), at which he was questioned about being a Soviet spy. Hiss served forty-four months in prison. Hiss maintained his innocence and fought his perjury conviction until his death in 1996 at age 92.
1977—Carter Pardons War Fugitives
U.S. President Jimmy Carter pardons nearly all of the country's Vietnam War draft evaders, many of whom had emigrated to Canada. He had made the pardon pledge during his election campaign, and he fulfilled his promise the day after he took office.
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