Widmark/Peters noir looks great and packs a punch.
It wouldn't be a film noir festival without at least one anti-commie thriller and Pickup on South Street is it. The movie stars Richard Widmark as a two-bit pickpocket who lifts a wallet during an NYC subway ride and unexpectedly ends up with a priceless government secret meant to be given to commie spies by a cabal of sweaty traitors. Widmark sneers his way into a position where he thinks he can sell the stolen info for fifty grand. He's got another think coming.
Best line: If you refuse to cooperate you'll be as guilty as the traitors that gave Stalin the A bomb!
Well, Stalin had help from spies but we don't think any gave him the bomb like a borscht recipe. He had help on other fronts as well, including from captured German scientists and homegrown Russian knowhow, but this is film noir, so go with it. The good team vs. bad team dynamic continues throughout, and numerous people try to convince Widmark to put his own interests aside and play for the home squad. They're wasting their breath.
The movie co-stars Jean Peters, a good actress and amazing knockout who's been a bit forgotten, even though she was in a few other good films and went on to marry nutball billionaire Howard Hughes. Her opening scene on a humid subway will stick with you. Sadly, she harbors yet another inexplicable film noir infatuation with a male lead who's about as nice as a sack of cold dick tips, but this is film noir so go with it. Ditto for the pushing and slapping Peters endures. She's even knocked cold by Widmark in their initial encounter. Deliberately.
His apology: You okay or did I bust something?
These sly flirtations increase Peters' ardor. The female heart wants what it wants, at least in the minds of wannabe-tough-guy Hollywood screenwriters. That screenwriter would be Samuel Fuller, who actually was acquainted with the underworld from his days as a crime reporter. So it could be that he knew more about gutter love than we do, but we doubt it. Here's what really matters—Peters absolutely kills her role, and does her own stunts too. Thelma Ritter, later of Rear Window, also gets a pivotal turn and nails her part as a tired older lady just trying to get by.
In the end Pickup on South Street comes full circle. While it's about patriotism, and trying to survive in New York City with zero means, and a weird kind of masochistic 1953 infatuation we'll never really understand, it starts with pickpocketing and eventually returns, in a symmetry that feels very modern in screenwriting terms, to that idea for the excellent climax. With Fuller directing and Joe MacDonald handling the cinematography, the final result is a knockout in both senses of the word—looks great, packs a punch.
Around the world in sixty pages.
Exotic Adventures was a men's magazine put out by NYC based Gladiator Publications, Inc. It seems obvious the company had great ambitions, but it managed only six issues before folding. This one came in 1959 with cover art signed “Louis,” whose full identity is not given. In fact, only three people are listed as staff—editor George P. Wallace and two others—so the cover artist wasn't the only hard worker who got short shrift. The individual authors are given bylines, though, as are the men who narrated their "true" tales to biographers.
Exotic Destinations lived up to its name, with pieces set in Kashmir, French Cameroon, Morocco, Honduras, Malaya, and Borneo, and nude models who are supposedly from Japan, Brazil, France, and Germany. It was all printed on glossy paper, which is why you won't see the usual yellowing you get with old magazines, though the printing got a little streaky and inconsistent in the middle pages. Still, taken as a whole Exotic Adventures is a high quality publication, which we snared courtesy of the now idle Darwin's Scans blog. Forty-plus panels below.
Need a service animal? He's happy to do the job.
Harold W. McCauley is responsible for this simple but effective cover for 1961's Lover. His image captures the main character Johnny Wells' aura of unhappiness. Johnny is a young New York City hustler who decides to become an uptown gigolo. Starting with a few hundred dollars of ill-gotten gains, he transforms himself into a cultured, hotel-dwelling manhooker who services upper class women. While great at his job, his sexual misadventures take a toll. These include being spurned by a favorite customer who realizes she prefers women, being the unwilling centerpiece of an orgy, and more. The most curious bit is how Johnny's main love interest is a 14-year-old girl from around the way. Author Lawrence Block, hiding behind the Andrew Shaw pseudonym, makes no comment about how strange and possibly illegal this relationship is, and after a while you realize he never planned to. Block can write, so in general Lover reads smoothly, which is about the most you can hope for with this genre. Does that mean it's worth checking out? Well... we wouldn't go that far.
From behind the microscope to in front of the camera.
You don't know U.S. actress Emily Yancy but she's been around for a long time. She started performing on television in 1963 and is still going strong as of 2018. Of her few cinematic efforts two were notable—the blaxploitation classics Cotton Comes to Harlem and Blacula. Her small screen appearances include Starsky & Hutch, The Mod Squad, and MacGyver.
The above photo is from 1961, and it was made when she was eighteen years old and competing in the Miss American Beauty Pageant, not be confused with the Miss America Pageant. Interesting story, she was a biology major and was working at NYU Medical Center operating an electron microscope when her coworkers persuaded her to give parading up and down a stage in a swimsuit a shot. She won Miss American Beauty, which gave her a chance to compete again in France.
She was sent to Cannes and finished second in the Miss Cannes Film Festival competition. After that Hollywood called and those boring old electrons were forgotten. Television, film, nightclub performing, modeling and a lot of travel followed. There's a lesson in this story, and maybe not one that should be taught to little girls—Forget science! Give us a little leg!—but you don't need a microscope to see that Yancy takes a great picture, and her career longevity suggests she made a good choice.
The house that Bogart built.
The first time we watched Casablanca years ago we were impressed by so many aspects of the film, but perhaps most by its humor. There are laugh lines scattered throughout the first half of the script, but by far our favorite bit is:
Major Strasser: “What is your nationality?”
Rick Blaine: “I'm a drunkard.”
It's impossible to overrate the movie. Only iconoclasts don't like it. The above poster befits such a landmark film. It was painted by Bill Gold for the movie's U.S. run, which began in New York City today in 1942. You can see two more incredible Casablanca posters here.
U.S. magazine offers its vision of the world.
Model and singer Corky Crowley stars on this September 1948 cover of See magazine, a publication that came out of New York City and fell squarely into the Life and Look category. We picked this up years ago in the U.S. and never got around to posting it because its large format and the resultant necessity to scan pages in halves and join them in Photoshop deterred us. But we finally had a few spare hours we opted not to spend on a local terrace sipping white wine, and today you have the result.
Inside this monster mag you get photo features, celebs, politics, travel and more. Probably the most interesting feature is the one detailing the transformation of a French typist into a high society dame. It was done as a promotional feature by the magazine Point de Vue and they called it “Cinderella for a Day.” For this installment they chose a woman named Juliet Latifa, who they coiffed, dressed, sent to the swankiest Parisian nightspots, hooked up with the celeb set, then sent packing at the end of the night just like in the fairy tale.
The final photo caption sums it up: “Her 24 hour dream ended, drab normalcy not unexpectedly overtakes Cinderella, but unforgettable memories will serve to bolster her occasionally slipping morale.” Wow—belittle much, See editors? In any case, the photos of Latifa's night out are nice. We wish we could scan all the shots in the magazine but there are more than a hundred and we just don't have that kind of stamina. We managed about twenty pages divided into thirty plus panels featuring Latifa, Anna Neagle, Michael Wilding, Ingrid Bergman dressed in armor for her role in Joan of Arc, and more.
Well, I notice at least part of you is getting happier.
It's hard to stay mad with someone else's tongue in your mouth. Ever notice that? The principle is amply demonstrated on this brilliant cover for Edward Mannix's 1960 thriller The End of Fury. Put this one in the mean-streets-of-NYC bin, even though the action mostly takes place in Jersey City. The story deals with the Boyles, an Irish family of five—a hard drinking father, an emotionally wrecked mother, a widely desired daughter, and two sons, one a priest in training, the other this rebel with a stripper girlfriend you see on the cover. The priest/heretic brothers may seem like clichés today, but Mannix helped popularize the motif, with even The New York Times calling him a highly skilled writer. Interestingly, he was also a voice actor, dubbing dialogue for at least nine films from the early ’70s to the early ’90s. The art on this is by Robert Maguire and we think it's one of his best.
A textbook case of pianist envy leads to serious trouble.
This poster was made for Strange Fascination, a film put together by triple threat Hugo Haas, who wrote the screenplay, directed, and starred. It premiered this month in 1952. Plotwise a rich widow traveling in Europe meets a brilliant pianist who wants to leave the continent to get away from its “recent misfortunes.” She sponsors him and brings him to New York City, where he has immediate success, but his head is soon turned by platinum blonde showgirl Cleo Moore. She's got show business ambitions but no avenues, so she hitches herself to the rising pianist and proceeds to make his career go limp.
Hugo Haas headlined scores of movies and accumulated more than forty credits directing and writing, so Strange Fascination was no vanity project. In fact we suspect it was uniquely important to him because of its autobiographical elements. For instance, like the pianist he plays Haas left eastern Europe—Brno, Austria-Hungary, which is now part of the Czech Republic—and became respected in his chosen industry. And his given name was Pavel Haas, while his lead character here is named Paul, the Anglicization of Pavel.
In Strange Fascination Haas crafted a solid movie but don't let the online reviews fool you—it isn't film noir. These days any movie that's mid-century, black and white, and dramatic gets the noir stamp on crowd sourced websites like IMDB and Wikipedia. Strange Fascination contains bits of noir iconography, but films of the period have no choice about that—after all, rain falls even in musicals and neon signs occur even in comedies. Strange Fascination is really a straight melodrama. Go into this little b-movie with that expectation and it may prove satisfying.
So when I sign this I'm giving you permission to turn my life into an unrelenting hell?
Being diplomatic is one way to get what you want. And then there's Bardot's way.
This is one of the most classic of Brigitte Bardot's movie posters, with the smiling superstar holding an Eiffel Tower in her hands, implying that all France is her plaything. That much is undeniable. It was originally titled Une parisenne, but for its English language release it was given the slightly different title La Parisienne, and in it Bardot does what Bardot always does—stops traffic, generates previously undiscovered quantum states of chaos, and flips reality upside down. This time around she plays Brigitte Laurier, the prime minister's stubborn daughter, in love her father's assistant, who tries as hard as he can not to get involved with her. Why would he resist Bardot? Because she's too young, and he already has a (married) girlfriend. He finally marries Bardot through a set of crazy circumstances, but refuses to give up his mistress, which of course leads to a jealous Brigitte taking matters into her own hands. This is a classic French style sex comedy, with confusion, mistaken assumptions, and people sneaking into each other's beds, all in service of teaching the lesson that what's good for the goose is good for the gander.
Focusing on the poster for a moment, you can see it's a high quality piece of art, but it's attributed to nobody. We checked around and came up with zip. You'll notice it says La Parisienne was Bardot's first big picture. We doubt that—it was her eighteenth movie. We can find no evidence anywhere that this one was different budgetwise than her other headlining efforts. Possibly, “big” is a reference to the plot's focus on international politics and diplomacy. The film does seem to have a larger scope, and take place against a larger backdrop than usual. So maybe that's it. Or maybe the American distributors meant that it was the first of Bardot's films to receive a big promotional push in the U.S. We just don't know. But here's what we're sure about: after a successful run in Europe beginning in late 1957, La Parisienne premiered in New York City today in 1958.
Harlan Ellison takes readers inside the bloody gang culture of the 1950s.
We're back with more Harlan Ellison today, this time his 1958 inner city drama The Deadly Streets. He died last month—when we were reading this, in fact—and the literary world has lost a unique stylist, and a unique character. We've written about him often, such as here, here, and here. He'll continue to be one of our favorite subjects. The Digit Books edition of The Deadly Streets you see here has top notch cover art by Kirk Wilson, and inside you get a collection of short stories based upon Ellison's experiences hanging around the NYC street gang the Barons when he was researching material for his debut novel Web of the City, aka Rumble. Violence, revenge, and corruption are the dominant motifs. You get a cop who's a hit man, an avenging father/serial killer, a homicidal female gang leader, and more. As an early effort The Deadly Streets is imperfectly executed, but at its best it's like James Ellroy before Ellroy, a gritty, literary splatter painting. You really get the sense of a writer stretching his creative muscles, exploring a style that would help him go on to conceive some of the most groundbreaking fiction of his era. Fun stuff—if you can call harrowing glimpses of New York's gangland hell fun. Ellison will be greatly missed.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
Pierre Laval, who was the premier of Vichy, France, which had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, is shot by a firing squad for treason. In subsequent years it emerges that Laval may have considered himself a patriot whose goal was to publicly submit to the Germans while doing everything possible behind the scenes to thwart them. In at least one respect he may have succeeded: fifty percent of French Jews survived the war, whereas in other territories about ninety percent perished.
1966—Black Panthers Form
In the U.S., in Oakland, California, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther political party. The Panthers are active in American politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but eventually legal troubles combined with a schism over the direction of the party lead to its dissolution.
1962—Cuban Missile Crisis Begins
A U-2 spy plane flight over the island of Cuba produces photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles being installed. Though American missiles have been installed near Russia, the U.S. decides that no such weapons will be tolerated in Cuba. The resultant standoff brings the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of war. The crisis finally ends with a secret deal in which the U.S. removes its missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets removing the Cuban weapons.
1970—Angela Davis Arrested
After two months of evading police and federal authorities, Angela Davis is arrested in New York City by the FBI. She had been sought in connection with a kidnapping and murder because one of the guns used in the crime had been bought under her name. But after a trial a jury agreed that owning the weapon did not automatically make her complicit in the crimes.
It's easy. We have an uploader that makes it a snap. Use it to submit your art, text, header, and subhead. Your post can be funny, serious, or anything in between, as long as it's vintage pulp. You'll get a byline and experience the fleeting pride of free authorship. We'll edit your post for typos, but the rest is up to you. Click here
to give us your best shot.