The gun is mightier than the pen.
Above: a shot of British actress Angela Lansbury made when she filming 1956's Please Murder Me, in which she starred with Raymond Burr and Dick Foran. Lansbury's first movie was 1944's classic version of Gaslight. In total she had more than fifty cinema roles, but it was on television that she became a major star, beginning with 1950's Robert Montgomery Presents, and continuing through more than two-hundred and fifty episodes of her smash hit series Murder, She Wrote. Personally, if we had to choose a favorite Lansbury role it was as Granny in 1984's gothic horror movie The Company of Wolves. She gets eaten, but not before dispensing wisdom like, “The worst kind of wolves are hairy on the inside,” and, “Never trust a man whose eyebrows meet.” Well, you can generally trust Lansbury. She was an excellent actress and improved almost everything in which she appeared.
You know what I love about you, Jane? You're as hot as me. It's like I switched my gender with FaceApp.
The promo poster for the classic film noir His Kind of Woman declares Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum the hottest combination ever to hit the screen. The windscreen? The screen door? We'll assume it means the silver screen. The movie was made by RKO Radio Pictures when it was run by Howard Hughes, so if you know anything about vintage cinema you already know this production was a mess. Hughes' micromanaging, meddling, and firings of actors led to heavy cost overruns and more than an hour of retakes. Despite these issues Mitchum and Russell do fine as the romantic leads, and support from Vincent Price, Jim Backus, and Raymond Burr helps them immensely. Are they the hottest whatever to hit the whatever? Well, of course. They'd be the hottest pushing a stalled car up a hill, or flossing their rearmost molars, or yakking in the toilet after an all night tequila binge. When you're hot, you're hot. We know quite well because—not to boast—people have said the same about us.
Anyway, Mitchum plays a classic film noir patsy who accepts a pile of money to go to Mexico for unknown purposes, only to discover that the sweet deal he thought he was getting isn't so sweet after all. Russell plays a rich girl idling down south with her lover, a famous actor, but when she gets a gander of Mitchum she starts rethinking her romantic priorities. Any smart woman would. We won't reveal the plot other than to say it's adequate, though not awe inspiring. The last few reels make a hard right turn into comedy, which some viewers hate, but the major problem for us is that the ineptness of the villains during the extended climax strains credulity. In the end His Kind of Woman may not be your kind of movie, but guys (or girls) get to see Russell dress slinkily and sing a couple of songs, and girls (or guys) get to see Mitchum go about twenty minutes with no shirt, so there's a silver lining for everyone here. The film premiered in the U.S. today in 1951. Do you have someplace I can store this suitcase filled with my excess masculine heat?
Sure, you can sit next to me. But first you have to sign a liability waiver in case you get scorched.
You'll love this next trick. I put my finger in this cognac and it catches fire.
Hot as this guy is, I don't know whether to keep beating on him or start beating on me.
And once I take your face off I'll be the hot one. I'll have it all! Respect, envy, women, excellent service wherever I go! The world will be mine! Mwahh hah hah! Haaaaaaaah haha hahah!
Who's afraid of him? Nobody anymore.
Isn't this a great poster? It was painted for La femme au gardénia, better known as The Blue Gardenia. Every once in a while you come across an old movie that's so ahead of its time you can't believe what you're seeing. This one is about a woman's response to sexual coercion, and law enforcement's reaction to the aftermath. Basically, Anne Baxter, who's five-three and a buck twenty, ends up in the apartment of Raymond Burr, who's six feet and goes at least 230. Burr plies Baxter with booze, and when he later tries to get her horizontal a struggle ensues and he ends up dead. Baxter escapes the apartment, and thanks to the arrival of a very efficient cleaning lady nearly all the evidence of her presence is accidentally erased the next morning before Burr's body is discovered.
So Baxter's scot-free? Well, not quite. There's that whole guilt, edginess, and fear thing, which her roommates notice. And there are a few bits of evidence, which lead to police drawing ever closer. All these are good plot moves. Lacking an identity for the killer, the press begins calling her—the bit of evidence that exists indicates it's a her—the Blue Gardenia, which is a clear Black Dahlia echo. We liked that. And we also liked that, at this point, the film was a thriller built wholly around consent and power. But this was the 1950s. Of course they weren't trying to impart that lesson. What were we thinking? Instead, an ending so pat that it almost ruins the movie comes blundering over the horizon. Is it wrong to suggest watching the first 75 minutes of this and turning it off?
Okay, the movie isn't completely trashed by the ending. It's just that we thought we had something daring on hand, and in reality it's a decent-not-great semi-noir from Fritz Lang that flirts with feminism but decides not to close the deal. However, the story was derived from a novella by author and playwright Vera Caspary, and we can't help wondering if the suits overruled her on a different ending. Probably not, but we'll have to dig that tale up and read it anyway. Regardless, we think the movie is worth watching just for Anne Baxter's bravura performance. And we love the platinum poodle cut she sports too. Plus there's Nat King Cole as, presumably, himself. The Blue Gardenia opened in the U.S. in 1953, and premiered in France today in 1954
As far as they're concerned no crime means no fun.
The 1994 romantic action movie I Love Trouble is unrelated to the original from 1948, for which you see a beautiful promo poster above. The first I Love Trouble is a film noir, a neglected one not often mentioned as an entry in the genre. Franchot Tone stars as a detective hired by a politician to look into his wife's background. He's been getting anonymous notes implicating her in some sort of illegality. As Tone chases clues from L.A. to Portland, his investigation uncovers blackmail and hidden identities, and of course a love interest pops up in the form of the wife's sister. With its smug private dick and regular interjections of humor the movie feels derivative of The Maltese Falcon, and its romance angle is incongruous, but Tone is cool in his detective role and carries the weight of the narrative nicely. The cast is a who's-who of stars and soon-to-be stars, including Adele Jergens, John Ireland, Tom Powers, and Raymond Burr. If that doesn't pique your interest you just don't love trouble. I Love Trouble premiered today in 1948 and went into to wide release January 15.
James Stewart sees the sights without ever leaving his apartment.
Belgian movie posters are often quite beautiful. We've already shared frameworthy examples for Vanessa and A Thousand and One Nights, as well as a few others, and above you see a promo for Alfred Hitchcock's classic Rear Window. The movie premiered in 1954 and first played in Belgium today in 1955, where it was titled Fenêtre sur cour, which means “window on the courtyard.” The poster was printed by S.P.R.L. Belgique and the artist is Wik, someone who is simultaneously well represented in vintage poster circles while being a total mystery. We plan to dig around, see if we can find more info on this person.
Everyone has a favorite Hitchcock movie. Rear Window is ours. The story, the stars, and the look of the film are all great, and the idea of everyone's lives under a microscope foreshadows the world in which we live in today. Raised shades aren't needed, though—metadata tells corporations and governments more than a glance in a window ever could. In Rear Window, once Jimmy Stewart realizes he is able to spy, he does it even though he knows it's wrong, and once he suspects a crime has been committed, any sense of guilt disappears—instead he feels entitled to intrude. Maybe that's why today's digital spies always claim to be ferreting out crime—because they know most people will accept that as an excuse.
But you don't need us to analyze Rear Window. More qualified writers have gone over every frame of the film. Instead we've decided to show you below what Stewart was looking at, thanks to series of promo images we managed to locate. Thus you see, from top to bottom, the rear courtyard which encompasses the story, the newlyweds Rand Harper and Havis Davenport, the murder suspect Raymond Burr, Miss Torso played by Georgine Darcy, Miss Lonely Hearts played by Judith Evelyn, and Grace Kelly with sidekick Thelma Ritter digging for body parts in the garden. If you haven't seen the film, definitely watch it. You'll have fun.
Stewart violates the norms of neighborliness and ends up with a mystery on his hands.
Above are two iconic posters for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, 1954. This is a great movie, but definitively not a film noir—instead it’s a big Technicolor drama, bright and vibrant in a way movies aren’t today. It’s also only nominally a mystery, as the question is never who is the murder suspect, nor who is the murder victim, but whether there was actually a murder at all. This is one of Hitchcock’s greatest achievements, with James Stewart at his likeable best even as a voyeur, and Grace Kelly fueling the fantasies of male cinemagoers as the perfect girlfriend Lisa Fremont. Is the movie perfect? No. It fumbles its attempt to underline Stewart’s reckless nature, putting him in a wheelchair for the unbelievable act of running onto the middle of a Formula 1 track to get a photo. It also requires the audience to believe he can see all from his apartment, but his neighbors never notice him. Yet Rear Window overcomes those annoyances and is deservedly considered an all-time classic. Seeing it on the big screen as patrons of the Noir City Film Festival will tonight would be a treat, but see it in any case.
Write a check with your pecker and you may have to cash it with your ass.
We watched Pitfall for the first time yesterday, and like many noirs the main takeaway here is to be thankful for what you’ve got. Dick Powell plays an insurance investigator, and even though he’s married to Jane Wyatt, he loses a philosophical debate with his own penis and ends up in Lizabeth Scott’s bed. But these fast women are never truly single—there’s always a recent ex and a raft of current admirers. Scott’s ex isn’t the main worry, since he’s cooling his heels in county, but her number one admirer is a gumshoe played by Raymond Burr and he's the sinister scheming type who is capable of just about anything.
When the ex eventually gets out of jail, Burr realizes his plan to have Scott is in jeopardy, so he decides to pit the ex against Powell, which should result in one murder and one long prison sentence. Afterward he’ll just scoop up Lizabeth and sail away with her. Did we mention she despises him? Well, no matter—like all sociopaths, Burr figures she’ll come to love him in due time, especially when she finally understands that his violent tendencies are just a symptom of his devotion.
Pitfall is a serviceable noir, but it isn’t top notch. The main problem for us is simply that Lizabeth Scott isn’t alluring enough to make us believe a husband would spurn the lovely and supportive Jane Wyatt. We understand that in real life these matters are complicated, but this is a movie and if Powell is going to stray, we think his marriage should be unhappy, or Scott should have more going for her than a platinum coif. Neither is the case, and so his tumble into Scott’s arms is a bit inexplicable. But hey, we’re quibbling. This is a decent movie, and we recommend it. Pitfall premiered in the U.S. today in 1948.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
1954—Joseph McCarthy Disciplined by Senate
In the United States, after standing idly by during years of communist witch hunts in Hollywood and beyond, the U.S. Senate votes 65 to 22 to condemn Joseph McCarthy for conduct bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. The vote ruined McCarthy's career.
1955—Rosa Parks Sparks Bus Boycott
In the U.S., in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city's African-American population were the bulk of the system's ridership.
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