Big screen Thief gets the job done but isn't quite the perfect crime.
This is a spectacular Italian poster for Caccia al ladro, aka To Catch a Thief, with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. The moviemakers opted for a photo-illustration rather than a painting, and it befits the star power of the movie. It was based on David Dodge's best seller of the same name, and in truth it's a pretty simple-minded adaptation of the book. You can just hear the studio execs saying: “We know it's in the novel, but we can't have the star in disguise half the movie, we can't have the romance go unacknowledged until the final reel, and we for damn sure can't have the secondary female lead be more beautiful than Grace Kelly.” Movies are a different medium than books, and changes always happen, but it's just interesting to observe what those changes are. The main change is this: Dodge's novel has suspense, while Hitchcock's adaptation does not. That probably wasn't intentional.
To Catch a Thief is a superstar vehicle, and with Grant and Kelly in the lead roles, and Hitchcock in the director's chair, it's pretty clear the studio considered the hard work done. Extensive French Riviera location shooting and VistaVision widescreen film processing are nice bonuses, but the honchos should have had screenwriter John Michael Hayes hammer the script out a little smoother. We're not being iconoclasts here. The movie received mixed reviews upon release, with some important critics calling it a failure. That's going too far—it isn't a failure. We don't think Grant, Kelly, and Hitchcock would have been capable of making anything but a good movie at this stage. But considering the source material it could have been a perfect movie. To Catch a Thief premiered in the U.S in early August 1955, and in Italy at the Venice Film Festival today the same year.
Nocturnal postcards showcase a magical Los Angeles.
Around the turn of the last century, and particularly during the 1910s, nocturnal postcards became all the rage in the U.S. They were made for virtually every tourist locale in the country, but it seems Los Angeles was an exceedingly popular subject. Above you see a nocturnal postcard depicting the Venetian Gardens in Venice, California, and below you'll find more moonlit cards showcasing various places around the L.A. area. These were published by many companies, among them the California Greeting & Post Card Co., and Edward H. Mitchell Co., which was located in San Francisco. Most of the places depicted, including the Venetian Gardens, the spectacular Ocean Park Bath House, and the Dragon Gorge, a scenic railway (rollercoaster) also located in Ocean Park, are long gone. These postcards are a reminder of a more romantic Los Angeles that has long since succumbed to the wrecking ball of progress.
Beautiful jinx finally jinxes herself.
Confidential Detective Cases, for which see an April 1960 cover above, was published bi-monthly from 1942 to 1978 by New York City based Detective House, Inc. The magazine has an appropriately garish crime rag look and many stories of interest, breathlessly reported. The headers are entertaining: “She Stabbed Him—Rather Than Share Him!” “Parade of the Grave-Bound Redheads.” “The Dames All Die for Me.” All these tales are of interest, but today we're focused on one story—the piece about the unlucky death of Janice Drake. It's titled “Big-Time Mob Leader and the Blonde Murder Jinx.” A jinx is of course someone who brings bad luck to others, but what do you call someone who brings bad luck on herself?
Drake was a former Miss New Jersey who had competed in the Miss America pageant, was a semi-famous G.I. pin-up, a professional dancer, and the wife of comedian Allan Drake. She and her husband were known to have an open marriage, and among Janice's male friends were several New York City mobsters. One of these was Anthony Carfano, aka Little Augie Pisano, an associate of crime boss Frank Costello, who was pitted against mob rival Vito Genovese in a power play for control of the New York City rackets. Carfano had thrown his support behind Costello, causing Genovese to develop a homicidal grudge.
This was not a guy to go to dinner with, but on the night of September 29, 1959, Drake accompanied Carfano to a restaurant called Marino's, where they dined with a mob caporegime named Tony Strollo. Strollo was Genovese's right hand man, but Carfano had no idea Genovese was bent on revenge, nor that Strollo had been assigned the job. When Carfano and Drake left Marino's, they were planning to drive to La Guardia Airport to board a night flight to Miami. But two gunmen were stationed in the rear of Carfano's Cadillac and they forced him to drive to a secluded area near the airport, where they shot both him and Janice Drake twice in the head and once in the back of the neck.
Bad luck for Drake, but don't feel overwhelmingly sympathetic. She may not have been married to the mob, as the saying goes, but she was definitely playing footsie with it. Twice she had been present at a mobster's last supper. She went to dinner with Garment District kingpin Nathan Nelson the night he was murdered, and dined with Gambino crime family boss Albert Anastasia the night before he was whacked in a barbershop. Talk about a jinx. She was called to testify in court concerning both slayings, yet for some reason never seemed to comprehend the risks of running with a dangerous—and highly endangered—crowd.
More than a few police figures believed Drake was a mob courier, a high level go-between, a role in which she may learned the identities of Nelson's and Anastasia's killers. She may not have been a target the night she had her last supper and met a messy end, but it could be that since she knew too much, her loss as collateral damage was deemed an acceptable outcome. Others think she was just mob arm candy and finally ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time; anyone in the car with Carfano would have bought it the same brutal way. Whatever the specifics, Drake's early death—she was thirty-two when it happened—was probably inevitable.
Rosanna Schiaffino gets a kick out of Venice.
According to Italian actress Rosanna Schiaffino it's easy to tame a wolf. And it probably is—for her—because she looks part wolf herself, based on the expression she's wearing on the cover of this National Enquirer published today in 1962. The photo, which we'd say doesn't capture her true appearance, was made in Venice in 1960, right when her career got very busy. Venice was the site of her cinematic breakthrough in 1958 when La Sfida won two prizes at that year's Venice Film Festival and was nominated for The Golden Lion. During the next two years Schiaffino would make ten films. She continued to be busy until 1977, when she left show business to focus on marriage and children. We have another shot from the Venice session below, and a trio of nice images of her we uploaded of her from Triunfo magazine several years ago here.
In a place like Atlantic City there's always one more chance.
The poster you see above was painted by the Spanish artist Francisco Fernandez Zarza-Pérez, who signed his work as Jano. As you can see, it was to promote Louis Malle's drama Atlantic City, U.S.A. Most sites call the film just Atlantic City, but we're going with what the opening credits called it. Though the movie starred U.S. performers and tends to be thought of as an American effort, it was French produced and premiered all over Europe in 1980 before reaching the States in 1981. It opened in Spain today in 1980 and tells the story of a sixty-something minor crook who finds himself involved with twenty-something hustlers and their sale of stolen drugs. Circumstances place both the party favors and the profits in his hands, and he suddenly has a chance to be the big time mobster he never was.
Not only did Atlantic City, U.S.A. win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, it's one of the few movies to be nominated for all five major Academy Awards—Best Actor (Burt Lancaster), Best Actress (Susan Sarandon), Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay. With a résumé like that we don't have to tell you the movie is good. Watch it. You'll like it. The woman on the poster, by the way, looks nothing like Susan Sarandon, but it was early in Sarandon's career, and we suspect Jano wasn't too invested in getting her likeness correct. It was within his capability, certainly—his Lancaster looks great. We don't know why he got Sarandon wrong. Considering how famous she eventually became, we have a feeling he wished he'd done better.
You're annoyed? I'm the one who's a human armchair.
This is a classic piece of tabloid art. Brigitte Bardot is pictured on this National Enquirer published today in 1962 reading what is supposed to be a tabloid paper and looking annoyed. The art suggests she thinks the press is lying about her, reporting fake news, as it were. And being the tabloid press, it probably was. Below you see the photo Enquirer cropped to get the cover. In it, Bardot sits on her younger sister Mijanou's lap between takes on the set of the 1959 comedy Voulez-vous danser avec moi?, aka Come Dance with Me, in Nice, France. Sis looks just as bothered as Brigitte, but she was probably just bored, since she wasn't appearing in the film. She did act in more than a dozen movies of her own, though.
Woman in critical condition after accidentally swallowing ice pick.
Eunice Sudak was a prolific author, but one whose bibliography is padded by numerous film novelizations, including X—The Man with the X-Ray Eyes and The Raven, after Roger Corman's tongue-in-cheek version of the Poe tale. One of her original pieces of fiction was 1966's The Ice Pick in Ollie Birk, a comedic romp about a widow forced to become a prostitute to survive. That concept is just ripe for humor, right? Almost writes itself. Anyway, the widow discovers the eponymous Ollie Birk dead on her living room sofa with her ice pick in his ear, and of course must extricate herself from this sticky situation. Who did it? Perhaps the rowdy Russians down the hall. The novel is notable for its beat slang, if not its technical merit, and the Lancer Books paperback is notable for its unusual cover art of the lead character Leona Trafalgar dancing with an ice pick in her mouth. We love this image, but it's uncredited, sadly.
How Venice evolved into Not-Venice
The shot at top of Windward Avenue in Venice, California was made around 1905. Owned by the Venice Historical Society, the image caught our eye because we were just there in July (actually, we used to live in Venice). The second shot was made from basically the same angle in 1939. Note how most of the original Venetian gothic windows have disappeared, and the gothic cornices have likewise vanished. In addition to the buildings, Venice had sixteen miles of canals, but by the time of the 1939 photo all but 1.5 miles of those had been filled in. During the 1950s financial neglect began to turn Venice into a slum, and in the following years not only did the remaining gothic elements go, but also most of the structures. Today the famed colonnade of Windward Avenue fronts only five buildings.
Un giorno come un altro.
Above, a summery shot of Italian singer/actress Patty Pravo. Born in Venice, and trained in music at the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello di Venezia, she appeared in her first movie in 1967 and released the first of dozens of albums in 1968. This shot probably dates from around 1972.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1910—Duke of York's Cinema Opens
The Duke of York's Cinema opens in Brighton, England, on the site of an old brewery. It is still operating today, mainly as a venue for art films, and is the oldest continually operating cinema in Britain.
1975—Gerald Ford Assassination Attempt
Sara Jane Moore, an FBI informant who had been evaluated and deemed harmless by the U.S. Secret Service, tries to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford. Moore fires one shot at Ford that misses, then is wrestled to the ground by a bystander named Oliver Sipple.
1937—The Hobbit is Published
J. R. R. Tolkien publishes his seminal fantasy novel The Hobbit, aka The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Marketed as a children's book, it is a hit with adults as well, and sells millions of copies, is translated into multiple languages, and spawns the sequel trilogy The Lord of Rings.
1946—Cannes Launches Film Festival
The first Cannes Film Festival is held in 1946, in the old Casino of Cannes, financed by the French Foreign Affairs Ministry and the City of Cannes.
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