Famed director ends up with too many cooks in his kitchen.
The film noir The Lady from Shanghai, starring Hollywood icons Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles, and directed by Welles, premiered in 1947 but reached Australia today in 1948, with this stunning promo poster having been distributed Down Under to help attract audiences. This film had amazing promos in many countries, some of which we'll show you later, and they all spelled Welles' last name correctly, which this one didn't. All the brilliant poster work around this movie is ironic, because Harry Cohn, who was the shot-caller at Columbia Pictures, hated it. He even shelved the flick for a year while he waited for what he deemed to be the best date to release it. When he finally did, what audiences saw was a radically altered version of Welles' original edit.
What did Cohn specifically hate about the film? Foremost there was its length, which was 155 minutes, and which Cohn ordered condensed, with the final running time coming to a mere 88 minutes. He also felt Hayworth didn't have enough close-ups, so he had those shot during extensive re-takes. Hayworth also didn't have a song, which was standard for film noir leading ladies, so Cohn had a number added and had Hayworth's voice dubbed. He hated the lighting, which he felt was a negative result of Welles choosing location work over controlled studio conditions. And he especially hated that Hayworth had agreed to chop off her auburn hair and dye it platinum. The list goes on but you get the point—clashing creative visions. Nothing new in Hollywood.
The Lady from Shanghai finds Welles playing a typical film noir schmo who falls in love with a femme fatale and is drawn into a murder plot. Other familiar film noir tropes include a trip to Mexico (not in the original novel by Sherwood King) and a tense court showdown. But what's decidedly uncommon here is Welles' visual mastery of the cinematic form. His abilities there have been exhaustively discussed and are in no way overrated, but visuals are only part of the filmic equation. There's also narrative pace and story cohesion and emotional tone, and those are areas where the movie runs into a bit of trouble. Since Welles' cut was so much longer (and presumably better) than what has ever been seen by the public, many of those problems were probably introduced by clumsy third parties.
But we can only judge what we see. Since all that missing footage is thought to have been destroyed, it takes a major leap of faith to see a masterpiece in what Welles himself thought was a diced up travesty of his original vision. We don't understand how anyone can truly revere him, yet disregard his artistic opinion. But that's exactly what some contemporary film writers do. We recently read a review that discussed how well the visuals and music work together, but Welles hated the score, which he had no control over and which lacked the subtlety he wanted it to have. We suggest that a critic is trying way too hard when they lavish praise upon a director for something he didn't even do. Welles was a genius—agreement on that point is universal. But even geniuses are not so magical that their abilities can overcome the artistic myopia and careless scissors of studio heads.
The Lady from Shanghai received mixed reviews when released, and ultimately, those reviews strike us as fair. There's plenty here worth seeing, particularly the ravishing Hayworth and nice location work in Acapulco and Sausalito, and of course Welles makes shots like Steph Curry makes 3s. But even so, the final result is good but not great. Not a failure, but not a top notch film noir. Calling The Lady from Shanghai one of the best of the genre is just unfair to the many, many great noirs that were made. Still, if you're a noir fan you should see it. And we're confident you'll enjoy it like we did. On the other hand, if you've never watched a film noir and this happens to be first one you see, we can easily picture you giving a shrug and drifting away from the genre, never to return.
Lawless border town brings out the worst in its inhabitants—and in its screenwriter too.
We've shared some promos from the Orson Welles film noir Touch of Evil before. Those were worthy efforts, but we think this Belgian poster is the best. We don't have a Belgian release date but we can guess at one. The movie premiered in the U.S. in early 1958, then crossed to Europe during the summer, with premieres in the UK in April and France in June—in fact today. The film won the FIPRESCI (Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique) Prize at the Brussels World Film Festival that year, which was held from April 21 through June 13, but we think the movie showed after its French premiere. So we're guessing sometime between June 8 and June 13 for its Belgian unveiling.
So about the film. We've hinted at this, but now we'll come out and say it: It isn't as good as many claim. Award winner, yes, but one that hasn't aged well. Visual masterpiece with numerous breathtaking shots, certainly, but one in which the script (written by Welles) lacks narrative logic. We could choose a dozen examples of this problem, but we'll give you just one. Early in the film Janet Leigh, who's married to a cop and thus shouldn't be naive, allows herself to be led down dark streets by an unknown male at four o'clock in the morning. And she does this in a Mexican border town Charlton Heston describes as “bringing out the worst in people,” which we can assume to mean “not safe.” Leigh traipsing off into the unknown with an obviously dodgy character is absurd. The movie lost our girlfriends at that point. "Oh, come on!" was the general sentiment.
The truth is Touch of Evil flirts dangerously more than once with being laugh out loud silly. Dennis Weaver's motel desk worker is Norman Bates from Psycho two years earlier, several degrees twitchier, and immeasurably hammier. Even the staging of the film is bizarre at times, with various characters required to physically orbit the central action so they can be glimpsed or encountered at just the right moment. We know, we know—our complaints are total sacrilege. Don't get us wrong. The movie is still entertaining, but people who call it a masterpiece have decided to overlook Welles' screenplay. And generally these people will also call you stupid for disagreeing with them, so be prepared for that. But don't take our word on Touch of Evil. Watch it and see what you think. And if you're interested, we dicussed other aspects of the film a while back here.
Redhead risks serious sunburn to get a base tan.
Belgium's Ciné-Revue is one of the best film magazines of the mid-century era. It's also one of the hardest to scan. Not only do the pages need to be scanned in halves and joined via computer, but the tiny text makes lining the halves up a real challenge. We didn't think about that when we bought a stack of these in Paris several years back, and now the sheer effort involved causes us to doubt we'll ever get them all uploaded. But we managed to carve out a few hours, so today we have this issue from May 1975 with French actress Marlène Jobert doing a little topless boating on the cover, hopefully well slathered in sunscreen. Jobert also features in the beachy center spread wearing even less clothing (and theoretically more sunscreen), but the real star of this issue is Bette Davis, who receives a career retrospective with shots from seemingly every movie she ever made. You also get William Holden, Jane Birkin, Dominique Sanda, Sidney Poitier, Sophia Loren, Rita Hayworth, Agostina Belli, a feature on Steven Spielberg's Jaws, and much more, in forty-plus scans.
Tate gives chase in an international fortune hunting comedy about a missing chair.
In ¿Las cual de 13?, aka 12 + 1, aka Twelve Plus One, an Italian barber played by Vittorio Gassman inherits thirteen chairs and, deeming them useless, sells them to a London antique shop. He later discovers one of the chairs contains a fortune, but when he returns to the shop he's told they've all been sold. So he offers the antique shop employee Sharon Tate half of the fortune to help him track down the chairs, which of course have scattered to the four winds. Their search takes them to Paris, Rome, and beyond, in 1960s screwball fashion with its expected pratfalls, mix-ups, and sticky situations. Gassman and Tate do reasonable jobs with the goofy script that's been made of Soviet authors Ilf and Petrov's satirical source novel, and the film is boosted by appearances from Vittorio De Sica, Mylène Demongeot, Terry-Thomas, and Orson Welles. This was an Italian production, but the poster above was painted for the film's Spanish run by Carlos Escobar, who signed his work “Esc.” This is the best we've ever seen from a very good artist. Since the movie didn't premiere in Italy until after Tate had been slain this month in 1969, and didn't reach Spain until mid-1970, the poster very likely was painted post-murder, which means Escobar probably was thinking of how to best portray someone who'd become a tragic figure. We suspect he put special effort into his work as a tribute, and if so, a fitting tribute it was.
What is authorship, after all?
This striking paperback cover for Mr. Arkadin was put together for Britain’s WDL Books by R. W. Smethurst, a well-known illustrator of comic books during the 1950s and 1960s. The Smethurst signature you see is not an autograph, but rather part of the art, something many of his covers contained. But the fact that he claims credit at all is rather interesting, because the art isn’t completely his. He seems to have borrowed his red-skirted femme fatale from Robert Maguire, who painted her for John D. MacDonald’s April Evil, below. It’s quite possible the other figures are borrowed as well. How strange.
Or is it? Maybe Smethurst was simply following Orson Welles’ lead. Though Welles is credited as author of Mr. Arkadin, he never wrote it. He developed a story for the film version, and wrote the script for it, but after the film he farmed out the novelization to a French film critic named Maurice Bessy. That screenplay adaptation was published in French in 1955, then translated from French into English a year later and released as what you see above. So in the end we have Welles taking credit for another’s writing, and Smethurst borrowing another’s art. And to think, all this derived from a film Welles never finished.
Yet, it’s fitting. Welles was consumed by the question of fakery. His documentary F for Fake discusses the subject in absorbing detail, even focusing on his own work. In short, he suggests that authenticity is a chimerical concept because it is subject to human error and fraud. While Welles slyly avoided explicitly claiming authorship of the Mr. Arkadin novelization, Maurice Bessy’s role, if it was ever widely known, was reconfirmed only in 2007. It’s easy to suspect that Welles knew the role of his ghostwriter would be forgotten. We’re talking about a man, after all, whose career caught fire thanks to one of history’s ultimate fakes—his panic inducing War of the Worlds broadcast.
We’re pretty sure, Smethurst, however, is not actually playing with the concept of fakery. John D. MacDonald was not obscure and neither was artist Robert Maguire, so there was no attempt at theft when Smethurst painted a close duplicate of Maguire’s femme. His cover falls into the category of pastiche—work in the style of another. What we’d really enjoy is if someone out there identified the other figures on the cover. But if those are Smethurst’s that would prove interesting too. In the meantime, if you want to know about Welles’ F for Fake and learn more about his attitudes toward authenticity, go here.
Never trust a man in expensive clothes.
The Pulp Intl. girlfriends want more depictions of men on the site. Can we oblige them? Probably not. Vintage paperback art features women about ninety percent of the time, and they’re often scantily clothed. Men, on the occasions they appear, are not only typically dressed head to toe, but are often sartorially splendid. There are exceptions—beach-themed covers, bedroom depictions, gay fiction, and romances often feature stripped down dudes. We’ll assemble some collections of all those going forward, but today the best we can offer is an assortment of g’d up alpha males, with art by Victor Kalin, Robert McGinnis, and others. Enjoy.
Aiiieee! I can’t stand the clutter!
You can find plenty of amateur reviews of La mansion de la niebla, aka Murder Mansion, aka Maniac Mansion around the internet, so we won’t add another. We watched it, though, and basically, it’s about a bunch of people stranded in a fogbound manor house, and a plot to frighten one of them to death. Hope that didn’t give away too much. What really struck us was the poster, which was painted by an artist who signed his work Mac. Mac was short for Macario Gomez, and for four decades beginning in 1955 this Spanish painter created posters for such films as Dr. Zhivago, For a Few Dollars More, El Cid and others. Gomez’s effort for La mansion de la niebla is a bit cheeseball, but we rather enjoy the numerous elements he managed to fit in, including a disembodied face, some skulls, a ribcage, a full moon, assorted gravestones, some random ironwork, a spider web, a bare tree, a couple of bats, and, of course, copious fog. Faced with all that, it’s no wonder the central figure is fleeing for her life. But just to show that Gomez really does have top tier talent, we’ve shared a few of his more successful posters below. La mansion de la niebla, an Italian/Spanish co-production, premiered as Quando Marta urlò dalla tomba in Italy, and in Spain six weeks later, today 1972.
Touch of Evil sleeve art perfectly captures the film's mood.
Above, a Japanese soundtrack sleeve for Orson Welles’ lauded 1958 post-noir thriller Touch of Evil, with music from Henry Mancini. Top marks for the beautiful design on this.
Uncensored takes readers from New York City to Spain to Havana in search of dirt.
Uncensored returns to Pulp Intl. for the first time in over a year with an issue published this month in 1955. The story of Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra’s tumultuous relationship (and the Spanish bullfighter who helped ruin it) has been covered numerous times, so no need to get into it again just now, but the photos are certainly worth a look. Uncensored shares other nice images as well. There’s Eartha Kitt (described as not much to look at “unlike such Negro beauties as Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne”), Sarita Montiel (who in Mexico was allegedly on the receiving end of a horsewhipping by Miguel Aleman’s jealous wife), and Marlene Dietrich (seen both onstage performing and offstage fulfilling a G.I.’s request for a kiss). The latter photo, from 1945, appeared in Life and many other magazines and remains one of the most famous Dietrich images. So Hollywood starlets take note: if you want millions of dollars in free publicity, no need to get arrested or leak nude photos—just kiss a fan.
Uncensored readers also meet Father Divine, (who we wrote about here), his alleged rival Prophet Jones, get a glimpse of nightlife in the so-called Bohemia of NYC’s Greenwich Village, and are introduced to “The World’s Hottest Hot Spot,” Havana, Cuba. Readers see photos of an actual drug deal taking place on some backstreet and learn that the city is “Babylonian bedlam,” where “one can buy marijuana, cocaine, forbidden wormwood liquor, illegal bon bons, or just oblivion.” There’s a photo of a woman outside a revolving repository at Havana’s Orfanato Beneficia (Beneficia Orphanage) where mothers could leave their unwanted babies as easily as mailing a postcard. The caption on the photo? “Despite its bawdiness, Havana has a heart.” A baby depository? Is it any wonder there was a revolution? Twenty-four scans below for your enjoyment. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1943—Conrad Veidt Dies
German actor Conrad Veidt, who starred in films such as The Man Who Laughs and The Thief of Baghdad, but was most famous for playing the Nazi antagonist Major Strasser in the all-time cinema classic Casablanca, dies of a heart attack on a golf course in Los Angeles, just six months after Casablanca was released.
1930—Selassie Becomes Emperor
Haile Selassie I, whose birth name Tafari Makonnen and title "Ras" give the Rastafarian religion its name, is proclaimed emperor of Ethiopia. Selassie would become one of the most important leaders in African history, and earn global recognition through his resistance to Italy's illegal invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Selassie died in August 1975 under disputed circumstances.
1984—Marvin Gaye Dies from Gunshot Wound
American singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye, who was famous for a three-octave vocal range which he used on hits such as "Sexual Healing" and "What's Going On," is fatally shot in the chest by his father after an argument over misplaced business documents. Gaye scored forty-one top 40 hit singles on Billboard's pop singles chart between 1963 and 2001, sixty top 40 R&B hits from 1962 to 2001, and thirty-eight top 10 singles on the R&B chart, making him not only one of the most critically acclaimed artists of his day, but one of the most successful.
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