You guys hungry? I've got some piping hot human souls here. They're dee-lish.
The lost world adventure She, starring Helen Gahagan and Randolph Scott, was produced by Merian C. Cooper, who made King Kong in 1933. With him involved you know She is a big production. It's also as pure a pulp movie as you'll find. It was based on H. Rider Haggard's pre-pulp tale She: A History of Adventure, which first appeared in 1886.
The story involves a man named Leo following in the footsteps of a distant relative who disappeared five centuries ago searching for a lost land and the secret to immortality. It turns out that secret is real and it's guarded by an ageless goddess, beautiful and cruel, who all those years ago made Leo's distant relative her consort. But he died, whch means when the goddess sees Leo she believes he's her dead lover returned from the beyond, and she's determined to possess him again.
Gahagan is the goddess, Scott is Leo the explorer, and Helen Mack is his steadfast love, who takes none-to-kindly to some slutty goddess trying to lay her man. She is cheesy as hell, but it's also a high budget adventure with big sets, elaborate staging, and an insane fire stunt that comes during a chaotic climax. Movies this old always feel a bit alien, but it's still pretty good overall. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1935.
In rankings of America's most liveable places it's at the very bottom.
Destination Murder, for which you see a nice poster above, is a b-movie, but bottom-of-the-bill efforts soemtimes have cool plot set-ups and good twists. In this case it's multiple layers of wrongly presumed identity. Who's really the killer? Who's really the crime boss? Who's really a cigarette girl? In addition, whose side are all these people really on? With more budget we think this one could have been quite good, but alas, you do what you can with what you have, and here you have Joyce MacKenzie, Stanley Clements, and Hurd Hatfield. They're all solid performers who had long careers, but we bet you don't know any of their names. In addition, the writing falters in spots as it strives for sharpness, but ends up dulling its blade. For example:
“You see, Miss Mansfield, we're dealing with killers. And a killer has only one destination—murder.”
The writing hurts the end of the film as well, as the structure of the climax and the need to work a recurring player piano into matters strain credulity. But Destination Murder isn't a loss by any means. MacKenzie, playing a woman who infiltrates the mob in order to find her father's killer, has to carry the important parts of this film and manages it despite both budget and screenwriting hanging around her ankles. For fans of vintage film, this forgotten quasi-noir should be sufficiently entertaining, as long as you don't spend too much time imagining how much better it could have been. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.
Worst vacation spot in America, here we come! Take a close look, ma'am. Asses are just as unique as faces, and equally admissible in court. I don't think it's that one. The man I saw had a chin.
This is a Ride you should refuse.
Not every old movie survives because it's good. If you doubt us, check the contemporary reviews for The Devil Thumbs a Ride. They're disastrous. What you have here is a clunky RKO b-noir, only sixty-seven minutes long, about a bank robber who hitches a ride with an amazingly naive driver and proceeds to drag him into the worst trouble of his life. The pair and two women they pick up during a pit stop eventually end up in a secluded house where the villain reveals his true nature as a liar, bully, sexual predator, and worse. You have to feel bad for these dullards victimized by the hitchhiker, but you'll feel worse for the audiences that paid money to see the movie. Way back in 2009 when we featured the film's other promo poster we hadn't yet seen it, but now that we have we can't recommend it. Its terribleness does verge on humor at times, though, which is something, and movie buffs might be interested to know that it stars Lawrence Tierney, who's these days best known for having played Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs. But still, not the best vintage Hollywood has to offer. The Devil Thumbs a Ride premiered today in 1947.
Gangsters try to steal Robert Ryan's boxing future.
In film noir there are procedural cop movies. The Set-Up is a procedural boxing movie. It tries to take viewers behind the scenes of the violence, bloodlust, and money to focus on the nuts and bolts of the fight game. Starring Robert Ryan as an aging heavyweight and Audrey Totter as his fretful girlfriend, most of the first half of the film takes place in a claustrophobic locker room as boxer after boxer goes out for subsequent bouts of a six card program like gladiators in Rome's Coliseum. Ryan is the main event, and when his name is called the action shifts to the ring for his fight, which is shown in something close to real time.
Ryan is hoping a win over an up and coming young fighter will earn him one last shot at fortune and glory, but he has no idea the fix is in. Somebody should have told him, because if he wins the bout he'll be in heaps of trouble. This is a good flick. It was helmed by Robert Wise, has some fantastic directorial extravagances, and looks spectacular in general, like the gritty documentary photos of Arthur Weegee Fellig, which is no small feat for a film shot entirely on an RKO backlot (Weegee, incidentally, has a cameo as a timekeeper). In the realm of boxing movies The Set-Up stands toe to toe with most. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1949.
She doesn't come with a cup holder but all her other features are top notch.
Above, a beautiful promo image of U.S. actress Susan Hayward made to publicize the 1952 RKO western The Lusty Men, about cowboys on the dangerous rodeo circuit, and their fretful wives. They have plenty of reason to fret, as the movie progresses. This image appeared in a Japanese magazine called Roadshow much later than the 1952 film, around 1972. You can see a previous image of Hayward here.
Anselmo Ballester helped set the artistic standard in the competitive world of Italian movie illustrators.
Anselmo Ballester is yet another virtuoso poster artist from Italy, where cinema promos were taken perhaps more seriously as art pieces than anyplace in the world. We've documented many of these Italian geniuses, including Mafé, Luigi Martinati, Sandro Symeoni, Mario de Berardinis, and others. Ballester, born in 1897, predated nearly all of his colleagues (only Martinati was born earlier) and enjoyed a fifty year career working for studios such as Cosmopolis, Titanus, Twentieth Century Fox, and RKO Radio Pictures. He also worked in commercial and political advertising. For the titles of the above works just check the keywords below. They're in top-to-bottom order in Italian and English.
Glenn Ford meddles in the governance of a sovereign nation. Why? Because he can.
Do you think RKO Pictures actually went to Honduras to film Appointment in Honduras? Of course not. The movie, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1953, was mostly filmed at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Too bad. We were looking forward to seeing what Honduras looked like before it became the disaster we personally know so well, a place of perpetual instability that at times has owned the highest murder rate in the world. We used to go there often, and we were there during one of its periodic political upheavals. Airports closed, bus companies shut, smoke and chaos filled the streets. We were stuck there for a week, but it wasn't all bad. We left San Pedro Sula, drove to the coast, then hopped a ferry—still operating thankfully—to Roatán. If you have to be trapped in a paralyzed country, choose one of its islands. Ah... memories.
Was all of the above a digression? Well, let's come back to it. In Appointment in Honduras Glenn Ford plays a shady character trying to make his way upcountry for reasons unknown. He enlists the aid of a quartet of killers, and kidnaps a married couple to use as hostages. He shoots a few people, and shows no remorse when his henchmen do the same. Yet he's the good guy in this. Eventually we learn that he's bringing money into the country to give to counter-revolutionaries intent on restoring a deposed president to power. There's no discussion of whether he has the right to do this, nor does he have a plan to deal with the chaos that might result from causing widespread violence. He seems to think everything will work out fine, and he can go back to his ranch when all is done. Sound familiar?
Thus we come full circle to our intro, not a digression at all, but a description of the real world result of the type of mercenary entitlement depicted by the movie. Director Jacques Tourneur, who had done so much better with previous efforts like Out of the Past and Cat People, is way too good for this flat adventure tale. Ford is fine, as always, but Ann Sheridan—one of our favorite golden actresses—is just lost, stuck in a character whose motivations are never believable, or for that matter palatable. But even though Appointment in Honduras isn't a good movie, it's an excellent example of mild mid-century cultural propaganda, with its icy disregard for the lives and desires of dark foreigners. Emotions stripped bare, is what the poster proclaims. Motivations stripped bare might be more accurate.
This is loaded, so answer this next question carefully. Who's the star of this movie?
Jean Arthur, née Gladys Georgianna Greene poses for a promo photo made when she was filming the romantic comedy A Lady Takes a Chance with John Wayne. Arthur was a very big star who began in silent cinema, made the transition to talkies, and reached the height of her fame in her mid-thirties. She was billed above Wayne for Lady, and he was a huge star himself. Some of Arthur's other efforts include Shane and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The photo above dates from 1943, and A Lady Takes a Chance premiered in the U.S. today that same year.
Mexico may be vast, but it’s never big enough to avoid what you’re running from.
With a poster this amazing you’d expect a pretty good movie. It promotes the Japanese run of the thriller Second Chance, which opened there today in 1953 after premiering in the U.S. in July. The film is near impossible to find, but we already possessed a downloaded copy from years back because we long ago sought out all Robert Mitchum’s work due to his utter coolness. Second Chance has not only Mitchum, but the always excellent Linda Darnell, exteriors shot in the Mexican towns of Cuernavaca and Taxco, color film stock (which lost its vividness in the intervening decades), and a 3-D process (of course not replicated for the home viewer).
So, is it any good? Well, when technical innovations arrive in Hollywood, filmmakers often use them as gimmicks, with diminished regard for story flow and physical logic. You see the same phenomenon today with CGI. Because this was RKO Radio Pictures’ first 3-D movie, and it was in Technicolor, many scenes take advantage of those aspects, but fail to build characterization or advance the plot. So there you go. But the locations in hilly Taxco look great, the musical interludes are grandly staged, and it all climaxes with an extended cable car set piece where down-on-his-luck prizefighter Mitchum gets a chance at redemption by taking on hitman Jack Palance. We’ve seen better. But we’ve seen far worse.
She debuted in a film about sailing but her career never got out of the harbor.
Alice Moore was the niece of Mary Pickford, and in this lovely image she’s (we’re informed by the labeling on the back of the photo) wearing a trendy paper hat in French blue with a wildflower wreath. She was appearing in a bit role in the 1934 RKO Radio Pictures musical comedy Down to Their Last Yacht, which was her first movie role. We‘d never heard of this hilariously titled film but we would love to see it. Apparently, it’s about a rich family driven by financial misfortune to living on their yacht, and then—poor babies—renting it out to nouveaux riches for excursions. During one of these jaunts they’re marooned on a tropical island and all sorts of craziness and native dance numbers ensue. Anyway, despite Moore’s famous pedigree, she appeared in only a handful of films, and received credit in only two. Which goes to show that even connections and beauty aren’t guarantees of success in Hollywood. Moore died in 1960 at the age of forty-four.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1939—Adams Completes Around-the-World Air Journey
American Clara Adams becomes the first woman passenger to complete an around-the-world air journey. Her voyage began and ended in New York City, with stops in Lisbon, Marseilles, Leipzig, Athens, Basra, Jodhpur, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Wake Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
1955—Nobel Prize Winners Unite Against Nukes
Eighteen Nobel laureates sign the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons, which reads in part: We think it is a delusion if governments believe that they can avoid war for a long time through the fear of [nuclear] weapons. Fear and tension have often engendered wars. Similarly it seems to us a delusion to believe that small conflicts could in the future always be decided by traditional weapons. In extreme danger no nation will deny itself the use of any weapon that scientific technology can produce.
1997—Versace Murdered in Miami
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace is shot dead on the steps of his Miami mansion as he returns from breakfast at a cafe. His killer is Andrew Cunanan, a man who had already murdered four other people across the country and was the focus of an FBI manhunt. The FBI never caught Cunanan—instead he committed suicide on the houseboat where he was living.
1921—Sacco & Vanzetti Convicted
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Dedham, Massachusetts of killing their shoe company's paymaster. Even at the time there are serious questions about their guilt, and whether they are being railroaded because of their Italian ethnicity and anarchist political beliefs.
1933—Eugenics Becomes Official German Policy
Adolf Hitler signs the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and Germany begins sterilizing those they believe carry hereditary illnesses, and those they consider impure. By the end of WWII more than 400,000 are sterilized, including criminals, alcoholics, the mentally ill, Jews, and people of mixed German-African heritage.
1955—Ruth Ellis Executed
Former model Ruth Ellis is hanged at Holloway Prison in London for the murder of her lover, British race car driver David Blakely. She is the last woman executed in the United Kingdom.
1966—Richard Speck Rampage
breaks into a Chicago townhouse where he systematically rapes and kills eight student nurses. The only survivor hides under a bed the entire night.
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