Femmes Fatales Sep 21 2016
SILENT AND DEADLY
Ure definitely not messing around.

Above, a nice femme fatale style shot of Scottish actress Mary Ure, seen here brandishing a silenced pistol in an MGM promo from Where Eagles Dare, 1968. Sadly, her career was hampered by alcohol and mental illness until she fatally overdosed in 1975 aged forty-two.

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Femmes Fatales May 15 2016
PRIMAL FEAR
It's a different Mame you want to put the blame on—I swear!


This unusual promo photo featuring American sex symbol Mamie Van Doren was made for the MGM crime thriller The Beat Generation, which may not sound like a nail-biter, but tells the story of cop's hunt for a serial rapist who happens to be a groovy beatnik. We gather it's pretty bad, which means we should probably screen a copy at some point. The image dates from 1959, and the Mame reference in our subhead—if you don't know it—comes from a bit earlier.

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Femmes Fatales Jun 28 2015
EPIC GWEN
She’s like an onion—every layer you peel gets you closer to the tender parts.

American actress Gwen Verdon was born in Culver City, California. That’s a little like being born in Hollywood—Culver City was home to Triangle Studios, The Culver Studios, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and other production houses, and it remains home to Sony Pictures Entertainment. Verdon entered the studio system at age eleven and eventually appeared in such films as Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, The Blonde from Brooklyn, and Damn Yankees! This photo is a promo from the latter film, and dates from 1958. 

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Vintage Pulp Mar 16 2015
BASIC TRAINING
This trip sucks! Next time let’s just pay extra for first class!

The Mercenaries, aka Dark of the Sun isn’t a movie many remember, but we’re going to remember it, because this is a great pre-CGI action film—not perfect, but well above average. Based on Wilbur Smith’s novel Train from Katanga, and starring Rod Taylor, Jim Brown, Peter Carsten, and Yvette Mimieux, it tells the story of two mercenaries in the civil war-torn Congo hired to ride a military train upcountry, rescue a group of stranded people, and retrieve $50 million in uncut diamonds languishing in a time-locked safe. They have to do it within three days, which means making rushed preparations—notably, enlisting the aid of a dodgy ex-Nazi who commands the Congolese mercs needed to round out the mission. This Nazi is a really bad human, so it’s no surprise he gets into a chainsaw fight with the protagonist shortly after they meet. You’d think the hero would expect the unexpected from the guy after that—but no. The Japanese poster above, while not perfectly descriptive of the action, gets the mood of The Mercenaries across effectively, and it opened in Japan today in 1968.

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Hollywoodland Mar 13 2015
SPECTRE OF CASH
They say money talks. It also writes.


Where would we be without leaked documents in this day and age? There’s an interesting story hitting the wires today about how the Mexican government pressured Sony Pictures and MGM to change the script of the upcoming James Bond film Spectre in exchange for $14 million dollars. The money took the form of tax incentives, but in the real world it’s no different than bagloads of cash. The information comes from hacked e-mails provided by an unknown North Korean person or group. According to the e-mails, the Mexican government wanted an assassin’s identity changed from Mexican to some other nationality, an assassination target likewise changed from Mexican to other, and insisted upon the casting of a Mexican Bond girl. The last demand was met with the hiring of Sonora-born Stephanie Sigman.

All of this is pretty much business as usual in moviemaking—hardly even a story, really. But we always write about Bond here, so this item seemed worth sharing. The last aspect of the e-mails that interested us was a demand that the film include aerial shots of Mexico City’s skyline, with an emphasis on the modern buildings. Tens of millions of travelers from every part of the globe visit Mexico each year because of its native ruins, beautiful Spanish colonial architecture, indigenous food, historically authentic festivals, thousands of miles of beaches, and warmwaters, yet Mexican officials wanted its few glass skyscrapers to appear onscreen to emphasize to shallow businessmen that, yes, we too can offer the type of cookie-cutter modernity you love. It’s fascinating to us. The world won’t know how much of the Mexican government’s wish list was granted until Spectre’s November 2015 release, but if we had to guess we’d say all of it.

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Vintage Pulp Feb 3 2015
HERE COMES THE BRIBE
Taylor/Gardner adventure story about contraband airplane engines never quite takes flight.

The film noir adventure The Bribe stars Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner, along with Vincent Price, Charles Laughton, and reliable John Hodiak, in the story of a government agent prowling the fictional Central American island of Carlotta under orders to put the kibosh on a racket in stolen airplane engines. The film has several beloved noir elements—voiceover narration, sexually loaded repartee, exotic nightclub serving as hub for the action, smoky musical number by the female lead—but it’s all a bit stale. There’s no heat between Taylor and Gardner, and no adrenaline in the plot. Frederick Nebel’s short story probably made the airplane engine angle work, but on the big screen it’s hard to care about hunks of machinery we never see. The movie is a cut-rate Casablanca without the invaluable letters of transit, a muted To Have and Have Not without the urgency of French resistance vs. the Nazis. On the plus side, some of the sets are cool, the final shoot-out is visually fascinating, and Gardner is sizzling hot. For her fans she doubtless makes the movie watchable all by herself. The Bribe premiered in the U.S. today in 1949. 

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Vintage Pulp Dec 23 2014
KNOW THE SCORE
Who’s the man? If you don’t know you better ask somebody.


After scoring a huge hit with the 1971 detective drama Shaft, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer doubled down by rushing out a bigger budgeted sequel the next year. It was called Shaft’s Big Score, and you see the Japanese promo above, made for its Tokyo premiere today in 1972. Some of the acting in Score isn’t great, which was also true of the first film, but as a whole it makes a nice companion piece with Shaft. John Shaft gets in the middle of the Italian and black mobs in New York City, and along the way there are brawls, bullets, and lots of badassedness. The movie also features blaxploitation heavyweights Moses Gunn, Wally Taylor, Drew Bundini Brown, and female foils Kathy Imrie, Rosalind Miles, and the amazing Kitty Jones. 

A long while back when discussing the 1968 movie 100 Rifles, we talked about the honesty of cinema from that period. It's a quality that extends into blaxploitation as well. When we say honesty, we don’t mean correctness. Casual racism abounds in blaxploitation, and of course sexism and homophobia make appearances too. But at least the genre acknowledges racial discord as an everyday element of American life. Unfortunately, Hollywood has devoted more and more time over the last thirty years to making soulless action epics and laughless comedies, constantly reassuring ticket buyers that everything is hunky dory. Yes, Hollywood would occasionally take on racial issues in big, Oscar grubbing dramas, but nearly all of those movies, no matter how downbeat, had an implicit message that America was getting better. Well, guess what? It isn’t.
 
Nearly half of America’s prisoners are inside for drugs, and 40% of that subset is black, even though whites are more likely to sell drugs, and they consume the same amount as blacks—not only per capita, but by percentage. Multiple studies show the same result. Despite this, black drug offenders land inside the increasingly for-profit prison industry at 10.1 times the rate of whites. Uncomfortable facts, but facts they are. Blaxploitation movies acknowledge a wide range of social problems while weaving them into the fabric of popular cinema. Nobody walked away from Shaft’s Big Score thinking that America was becoming a post-racial Eden, yet nobody walked away denying that the movie was immense fun. Entertainment that reflects the real world. Is that really so hard to do?


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Femmes Fatales Dec 22 2014
LEAPING LUPITA
From Guanajay to Hollywood in a single bound.

Estelita Rodriguez was born in Guanajay, Cuba in 1928, signed with MGM at the tender age of fourteen, signed with Republic at seventeen, and appeared in such films as Tropical Heat Wave, Rio Bravo, and the unforgettable Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. This promo shot dates from 1945 and was made when she was playing the character of Lupita in the musical Mexicana with Tito Guízar and Constance Moore. 

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Vintage Pulp Oct 2 2014
GOLDEN GIRL
What did she have to show for her three years in Hollywood? Little more than a colorful description of it.


Paris Plaisirs was devoted to lifestyle and arts, with an emphasis on dance. We’ve featured it several times, such as here and here. The above issue appeared this month in 1925, and the cover shows golden Ginette Maddie, who in addition to performing at the Cinéma Français appeared in twenty films between 1922 and 1958, including under the direction of Alfred Machin and Julien Duvivier. At one point she scored a contract with MGM, and was whisked to Hollywood where she sat in a villa waiting for work that never came. Her complaints confused her acquaintances—after all, she was drawing a salary, so what did it matter if she worked? She wasn’t even the only idle foreigner on the scene. Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine was also wandering about town drawing checks while waiting for roles that never materialized.

But Maddie had been a shining star in the City of Light. Transforming into an earthly nobody in Hollywood didn’t sit well. Eventually she fled back to her home. She dismissed Hollywood as a “ville factice et sans âme peuplée de gens superficiels et insignifiants.” Loose translation: a dummy-populated city without soul, for superficial and insignificant people.” Joke’s on her, though—that’s what everyone from Hollywood thinks too. The time away had kept Maddie idle for three years, damaging her career, but she finally scored a new role in 1930 and acted in two films that year and the next before pretty much fading from the cinema scene. Inside Paris Plaisirs you get more dancers, some photography, plus art deco style drawings from Mario Laboccetta, J. Bonnotte, and others. All below. 

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Vintage Pulp Apr 17 2014
KILLER SEX
She bent over backwards to please everyone and what did it get her?


The above poster, which is very rare, promotes an American x-rated flick called Farewell Scarlet, starring Terri Hall acting under the bizarre name National Velvet, a decision we’re sure didn’t go over well with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Made during the days when adult films were real cinema, Farewell Scarlet is a porno murder mystery about a woman who is murdered at an orgy. The cause of death? Asphyxiation via a large, wiggly dildo. The moment is actually depicted on the lower left quadrant of the poster, which is fine because the genre requirements here are sex, not suspense, so presumably nobody in Japan cared if the art fingered the killer. You’d think the death of the star at the 5:40 mark would leave a void in the film, but Hall’s many other scenes are shot in flashback as the character of Dexter Sleuth attempts to unravel the mystery.

And of course there are other performers present to fill the running time, notably Kim Pope, who had been ko’d by a mugger prior to filming and had to perform with her jaw wired shut. That’s really no laughing matter, but unfortunately, watching her deliver cheesy dialogue through gritted teeth is unavoidably funny. On the bright side for her, perhaps being unable to talk was for the better, since it probably prevented her from strongly protesting her key participation in a sado-masochistic Nazi sex scene while wearing swastika pasties. How does the movie get there? Doesn’t matter. Ultimately it’s as much a comedy as it is a mystery, and that’s part of its murky, 35mm charm.

And then there’s Hall. The former ballerina would later flex her muscles in golden age classics like The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Rollerbabies, and the frighteningly titled Gums, in the process becoming one of the era’s most famous stars. We'd show you some promo shots of her, like we usually do with the stars of movies we write about, but she seems to have traversed her career without a single good photo ever being made. Which means her movies are the only real evidence of her work. Are we recommending Farewell Scarlet? Not so much. But it is an interesting curiosity. It premiered in the U.S. in 1975 and had its Japanese debut today in 1976.

Update: it took a few years, but in late 2017 we found some Hall photos which we've added below, because we are nothing if not completists around here.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 05
1962—Nelson Mandela Jailed
Thanks mainly to intelligence-sharing efforts from the CIA, South African police are able to locate and arrest Nelson Mandela, who is imprisoned in the Johannesburg Fort. He would spend his next twenty-seven years imprisoned, most of them on Robben Island, where he and other inmates performed hard labour in a lime quarry.
1962—Marilyn Monroe Found Dead
Global screen icon Marilyn Monroe, who had starred in such films as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seven Year Itch, is found dead in her Brentwood, California home of acute barbiturate poisoning. Her death sets off a frenzy of conspiracy theories that continue to swirl even today.
August 04
1944—Anne Frank Captured
After a Dutch informer tips off the Gestapo, 15-year-old Jewish diarist Anne Frank and her family are captured in an Amsterdam warehouse. The Franks had first hidden there from the Nazis two years earlier, and Anne had spent much of the time writing her diary. The diary survives the war, but Anne Frank doesn't—she perishes in a Nazi prison camp.
August 03
1966—Lenny Bruce Found Dead
American comedian Lenny Bruce is found dead in the bathroom of his Hollywood Hills home. A photo taken at the scene shows him lying naked on the floor with a syringe nearby, along with other narcotics paraphernalia. The official cause of death is listed as acute morphine poisoning due to an accidental overdose.
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