Time keeps on ticking ticking ticking into the future.
Above is a poster for the film noir The Big Clock, based on Kenneth Fearing's 1946 novel, with Ray Milland playing a journalist at fictional Crimeways magazine who finds himself entangled with the boss's girlfriend, then in murder when she turns up dead. He had nothing to do with it, but had been seen all over Manhattan with her the night of her death, and is presumed to be the killer though nobody has identified him yet. In classic film noir fashion, Milland's boss sets him to solving the case. But how can he, when he's actually looking for himself? And how can he throw his numerous staffers off the scent while appearing to conduct a legit investigation, yet somehow find the real killer? It's quite a mess.
For casual movie fans, distinguishing film noir from vintage drama can be difficult, but of its many defining characteristics, flag this one: the man who finds himself in a vise that slowly tightens due to what had seemed at first to be inconsequential or random acts. The panting Milland bought in an art shop becomes a potential piece of evidence against him. The cheap sundial he acquired in a bar does the same. The random man he exchanged a few words with becomes a potential witness. And so on. He's the subject of a puzzle that has his face in the center. Other characters are slowly assembling pieces from the edges inward. If Milland doesn't outwit them before they find the piece with his face on it, he's screwed.
In addition to an involving plot, nice technical values, Ray Milland, and a large clock, The Big Clock brings the legendary Charles Laughton to the party, along with Maureen O'Sullivan, a decade removed from her ingenue period playing Jane in Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan movies, all grown up here as the smart, loyal, beautiful wife willing to come to Milland's aid when the chips are down. The film is unique, as well, for its interwoven comedy, unusual in films from this genre. These moments come often, and may seem obtrusive to some, but we thought they fit fine. And that's a good way to sum up The Big Clock. If you're a film noir fan, it'll fit you just fine. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1948.
Ray Milland and Rosie Grier put their heads together.
Is it fair to describe The Thing with Two Heads as a legendary movie? We think so. It's The Wild Ones taken to its shark jumping extreme thanks to the blaxploitation maestros at American International Pictures. Instead of a white convict and a black convict handcuffed together after a prison escape, this flick features a racist white doctor whose head is grafted onto a black patient's body. These two really hate each other, which is a serious problem considering they spend 24/7 at kissing distance, but they're stuck.
Ray Milland, who once won a Best Actor Oscar, is trying to prolong his own life. Grier is a convict on death row who donates his body to science. He has no idea what the science he's donated himself to entails, just that he'll avoid execution for thirty more days and buy time for his relatives and lawyer to prove his innocence. Sounds fun, right? Once Grier wakes up after surgery and realizes what's happened he flees with Milland's noggin riding helplessly along and decides to prove his innocence himself. But Milland is slowly gaining control of their body. You get the feeling this isn't going to end well.
The Thing with Two Heads is low budget, cheeseball, light on genuine humor, and perfunctory in its ending. And yet... how can one resist? Is it an ingenious parable about the historical theft of black bodies by white men? Or is it just a chunk of opportunistic schlock? Only the screenwriters know. We'll say this, though—considering how low this movie could have sunk (picture Milland looking down at Grier's dick and exclaiming, "Whoa! That's bigger than my Oscar!") it's actually pretty restrained. Put it in the better-with-alcohol category and don't watch it alone. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1972.
Their issues have gone way past the point of counseling.
Dial M for Murder, which starred Grace Kelly and Ray Milland as spouses whose problems make other bad marriages look like a Sunday picnic, is a very entertaining movie. For its Italian release today in 1954 it was called Delitto perfetto. This violent but brilliant promo poster was painted by the genius illustrator Angelo Cesselon, who we've featured before. And Hitchcock, nothing less than an international phenomenon in his day, gets his profile into the mix. See Cesselon at his best here.
Hello, is this the murder helpline? I'd like help killing my cheating ass wife.
Most people who haven't seen the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Dial M for Murder jokingly ask, “How could anyone want to kill Grace Kelly?” Well, because she's cheating with another man. Not that infidelity justifies murder, but it certainly can be expected to provoke some sort of serious reaction. Probably Ray Milland, her husband, should have confronted her with the usual questions: “When did it start?” “Do you love him?” “Is his dick bigger than mine?” “Does he make you orgasm and if so how?”
But instead of being reasonable Milland decides his wife needs to be gone from the Earth, so he devises a foolproof murder plot. It goes wrong anyway and that's the fun of the movie—seeing how he cleverly improvises over and over only to have his scheme unravel anyway because of one tiny thing he neglects to consider. Dial M for Murder is another winner from Hitchcock, one you should see if you haven't. It went into general release in the U.S. today in 1954.
The famed poster for the movie was painted by Bill Gold, whose credits include everything from Casablanca to Unforgiven. Gold was active from 1941 to 2011, accumulating numerous awards along the way, and is now retired at age ninety-seven. If you want to learn more about him there's a website that discusses and showcases his seven decades of movie work which you can access at this link. It's well worth a visit.
Could he really be trying to kill me?
I guess it's possible, considering I cucked and humiliated him.
Maybe I shouldn't have told him I'm multi-orgasmic now.
For the crime of murdering the male ego I sentence you to hang by the neck until dead, dead, dead.
What? Seriously? But I've only gotten a third of the way through 101 Sex Positions.
They always say to aim high in life but I’ve found aiming low gets good results too.
Isa Miranda was born in Italy in 1909 as Ines Isabella Sampietro and by 1933 was acting in films. The next year she earned widespread acclaim in Max Ophüls’ La Signora di tutti, a role that paved the way for her to leap to Hollywood where she was billed as an Italian Marlene Dietrich. The above promo shows Miranda in character as Anna from 1939’s Hotel Imperial, a movie in which she shot nobody in the crotch, despite her low aim here.
Only the good go to sleep at night.
The French coined the term film noir, so it seems only fitting to feature a collection of French posters celebrating the genre. Above and below are fifteen examples promoting films noir from France, Britain, and the U.S., representing some of the best ever produced within the art form, as well as some less celebrated examples that we happen to love. Of those, we highly recommend seeing Le salaire de la peur, for which you see the poster above, and Ride the Pink Horse, below, which played as Et tournent les chevaux de bois in France. Just a word about those films (and feel free to skip ahead to the art, because really, who has time these days to listen to a couple of anonymous internet scribes ramble on about old movies?).
1953’s Le salaire de la peur is about a group of men stranded in an oil company town in the mountains of South America. In order to earn the wages to get out, four of them agree to drive two trucks filled with nitroglycerine over many miles of dangerous terrain. The idea is to use the chemicals to put out a raging oil well fire that is consuming company profits by the second, but of course the film is really about whether the men can even get there alive. Le salaire de la peur was critically praised when released in Europe, but in the U.S., political factions raised their ugly heads and got censors to crudely re-edit the prints so as to reduce the movie’s anti-capitalist (and by extension anti-American) subtext. The movie was later remade by Hollywood twice—once in 1958 as Hell’s Highway, and again in 1977 as Sorcerer. The original is by far the best.
1947’s Ride the Pink Horse is an obscure noir, but a quintessential one, in our opinion. If many noirs feature embittered World War II vets as their anti-heroes, Robert Montgomery’s Lucky Gagin is the bitterest of them all. He arrives in a New Mexico border town on a quest to avenge the death of a friend. The plot is thin—or perhaps stripped down would be a better description—but Montgomery’s atmospheric direction makes up for that. Like a lot of mid-century films featuring ethnic characters, the most important one is played by a white actor (Wanda Hendrix, in a coating of what looks like brown shoe polish). It's racist, for sure, but within the universe of the film Lucky Gagin sees everyone around him only as obstacles or allies—i.e., equals within his own distinct worldview. So that makes up for it. Or maybe not. In any case, we think Ride the Pink Horse is worth a look. Thirteen more posters below.
I didn’t mean to make you die, I’m just a jealous guy.
Though we're just getting around to featuring Inside Story here on Pulp for the first time, it was one of the better-known tabloids on American newsstands. We aren’t sure when it began publishing, but we’ve seen issues dating from 1955. And looking the other direction, we can make an educated guess that it folded in the early seventies, because we’ve seen no issues past 1971. In this March 1956 issue, quite a few celebrities get the smear treatment. Lena Horne’s interracial marriage is discussed, along with Greta Garbo’s suspicious lack of a spouse, and Roy Rogers' goodie-goodie image, and we learn about the dietary tricks of the day as well as a supposed "sex drink" favored by movie stars.
The magazine also examines the June 1906 murder of Stanford White by Harry K. Thaw, a killing committed out of jealousy. The reason Inside Story brings it up fifty years after the fact is because a film exploring the circumstances of the killing had been released the previous October. Entitled The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, the movie starred Ray Milland, Farley Granger, and—as Thaw's wife Evelyn Nesbit—British-born actress Joan Collins. Inside Story informs readers that Collins was chosenfor the role because her beauty merely rivals that of Nesbit. That's quite a claim when talking about a woman as stunning as Joan Collins, but in this case the tabloid may be right. We've included a second photo of Nesbit at left so you can judge for yourself. Inside Story is also correct when it says the facts around the White killing were sanitized for the movie. There's little doubt the truth was too sordid.
Evelyn Nesbit had been Stanford White’s lover before marrying Harry Thaw. Thaw was so tormented by this fact that he would tie Evelyn to a bed and beat her until she confessed in detail every sexual act she had ever engaged in with White. She later testified that she sometimes made things up, because he would beat her more if she had nothing to divulge. Eventually, she claimed that White had a red velvet swing installed in one of his apartments, and he would push her while looking up her skirts, and on one occasion made her ride the swing nude. She also told tales of threesomes and other activities. Thaw, trapped in a classic avoidance-avoidance dilemma, was tortured both by knowing and not knowing about his wife’s past. Since he couldn’t abide either, he lashed out at what he perceived as the source of the problem by shooting White in the head in front of hundreds of witnesses during a play at Madison Square Garden. Problem solved—except for the murder trial. But Thaw and his lawyer contrived a perfect defense, considering the sexual climate of the times. They convinced Evelyn to testify that White sexually abused her when they were together. How this justified a public execution we can't know without reading the trial transcripts, but it worked. Thaw was acquitted by reason of temporary insanity. In 1906 it was, apparently, just fine to be so wracked by jealousy over your spouse's sexual past that you could execute her previous lover.
As if that sordid tale isn’t enough, Inside Story gives readers two love triangles for the price of one. In the Roy Rogers article, what readers discover that “they don’t tell the kiddies” is that the clean-cut singing cowboy may have had an affair with Ella Mae Cooley, wife of bandleader Spade Cooley. At least that was the rumor at the time. But you know how rumors are. Rogers’ image was so antiseptically spotless that the tabloidsmay have taken a certain pleasure in trying to tarnish it with a bit of infidelity. But the mud never stuck, probably because the affair almost certainly never happened.
But nobody could tell that to Spade Cooley. His career failing because of the rise of rock ’n’ roll, and filled with paranoia partly because of his own numerous extramarital shenanigans, he tormented his wife with suspicions for years. When she finally asked him for a divorce in 1962, he said no—by stomping her to death. You see the unhappy couple below, on their wedding day, when neither of them could have imagined how it was all going to end. Cooley went to prison after a sensational trial. Roy Rogers emerged from it all unscathed, and continued his career as America’s most clean-cut singing cowboy. If there’s a lesson in all this, it’s that jealousy doesn’t pay. Unless of course, you happen to publish a muckraking tabloid like Inside Story—then it pays mighty fine indeed.
Waiting for the Weekend to come.
Above, a vintage French poster for Le poison, aka Lost Weekend, with Ray Milland, Jane Wyman and Doris Dowling. Lost Weekend premiered in the U.S. in 1945, but due to World War II Europeans had to wait two years for its release. It finally opened in France today in 1947.
Ray Milland takes a long vacation on the black sea.
The saying goes that you can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning, and the drama The Lost Weekend demonstrates that truth. Hard to believe star Ray Milland is the same actor who would end up in b-movie purgatory, toiling in schlock like Frogs and The Thing with Two Heads. Here you see him in an Academy Award winning performance as a man for whom every drink leads to a binge, and for whom every binge leads to a blackout. He isn’t oblivious to his condition. He knows, even as he lies and steals to feed his sickness, that he's just drifting farther and farther out onto a black sea. As a way to gain control, he plans to write a novel about his experiences, called just “The Bottle.” But in order to write about the bottle he has to be able to climb out of it. Some say this film hasn’t aged well, but we think it compares favorably to every movie about alcoholism we’ve seen. The Lost Weekend, with Ray Milland, Jane Wyman and the lovely Doris Dowling, premiered today in 1945.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1912—Pravda Is Founded
The newspaper Pravda, or Truth, known as the voice of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, begins publication in Saint Petersburg. It is one of the country's leading newspapers until 1991, when it is closed down by decree of then-President Boris Yeltsin. A number of other Pravdas appear afterward, including an internet site and a tabloid.
1983—Hitler's Diaries Found
The German magazine Der Stern claims that Adolf Hitler's diaries had been found in wreckage in East Germany. The magazine had paid 10 million German marks for the sixty small books, plus a volume about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945. But the diaries are subsequently revealed to be fakes written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger. Both he and Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann go to trial in 1985 and are each sentenced to 42 months in prison.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
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