The most important element of our airtight alibi is the naked part, so let's get started on that first.
There's nothing quite like settling in for a b-movie, but being pleasantly surprised because it's a-quality. And then there's Naked Alibi, a not wholly successful crime procedural starring Sterling Hayden as a two-fisted cop who sometimes bends the rules, Gene Barry as the man he wants to put behind bars, and Gloria Grahame as a woman caught between the two. The movie features the oft-used film noir gimmick of a trip to Mexico—or at least close by, to a fictional town with the imaginative name Border City. In crime cinema, these trips into or adjacent to Mexico are supposed to represent descents into lawlessness, because everybody knows life is cheap on the border. Co-star Don Haggerty to Hayden: “Watch yourself, Joe. He spots you down there he can rub you and make it look real good.”
Hayden doesn't get rubbed down there or anywhere, sadly. But the trip is worth it anyway because he runs into local chanteuse Marianna, played by Gloria Grahame. Her musical repertoire consists of an unenthusiastically lip synched number with overly precious lyrics, but of course the feminine song and dance routine is even more of a film noir staple than a trip to Mexico. Sometimes these musical bits are good, but in this case Grahame obviously can't sing, and her dance moves are flat hilarious. Plus, her acting will never be mistaken for virtuosic. What she has, though, is a palpable vulnerability that makes her an excellent hard luck femme fatale, in this case one who's grown tired of her abusive boyfriend and is casting a wandering eye toward Hayden as a possible replacement.
Despite mostly passable performances, Naked Alibi is pure b-noir that shows a lack of top tier talent in all other areas. It was directed by television veteran Jerry Hopper and written by Lawrence Roman, successful enough guys who nonetheless were never household names. The entire film hinges on a conceit that was threadbare even during the 1950s—that a criminal won't simply ditch a gun he used to murder someone, but will instead hide it somewhere he can eventually lead the police to. That's a spoiler, but what the hell. We suspect there's a reason this film lapsed into the public domain. Even its trailer is cheesy. What it does have, though, is unusually nice promo material, so we've uploaded a bunch of production photos below, plus a few publicity shots, and three more posters. They're all great, even if the movie isn't. Naked Alibi premiered in the U.S. today in 1954.
Why the hell didn't I think to have the bank teller double bag this?
We keep sharing posters for Stanley Kubrick's thriller The Killing because each one we see is unique and interesting. Above is an Italian poster we missed when we shared three other promos from Italy last year. This one, with its broken sack of cash symbolizing the futility of the central robbery, was painted by Giuliano Nistri. It's impressive that the Italian distributors commissioned three completely different masterful promos for the film, but that was the golden era of cinematic art. These days in Italy, as everywhere, movie posters are merely photographs with text emblazoned across them, but once upon a time they produced amazing things like what you see above, and here. Rapina a mano armata, aka The Killing premiered in Italy today in 1957.
Theft becomes death in the blink of an eye.
Last week we shared a brilliant Italian poster for Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, and today you see the French and Belgian posters. The title is a double entendre that refers not only to murder but also to killing in the sense of a big score, which is why in France the movie was called L'ultime razzia, or “the last raid,” and in Belgium it was Coup manqué, which translates as “mis-hit,” as in badly striking a ball—i.e. missing a target. The Belgian poster also has a banner at the bottom with the title in Dutch—Mislukte opzet, or “failed set up.” Those titles, taken together, reveal exactly what happens in the film—a robbery goes terribly wrong. Both of these are very nice posters, fitting ror Kubrick's early masterpiece. The Killing opened in France today in 1956, and in Belgium shortly thereafter.
Making a killing at the track is harder than they think.
Tonight the Noir City Film Festival is also screening Stanley Kubrick's 1956 crime procedural The Killing. The title refers not to murder but to making a killing—i.e. a highly profitable score. Sterling Hayden leads a cast that includes Coleen Gray, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Marie Windsor. Hayden and crew hope to rob a race track, and to do this they lay out a precise plan that includes causing a brawl at the track bar as one distraction, and shooting a horse mid-race as another. What could go wrong, right? But the crazy plan makes sense, and if you have trouble following it a stentorian narration breaks down the action for you. We didn't mind that so much—the entire premise of the movie is that it's a faux-documentary, so the voiceover is something you have to accept. But the trumpets and tympani on the soundtrack—wow—are way overcooked. Still, this is a nice piece of noir, occasionally running on parallel timelines, with plenty of directorial style from a twenty-eight-year-old Kubrick. Some might take issue with the film's heavyhanded irony, but it's all somewhat redeemed by the perfection with which Hayden delivers his final line. The Killing didn't do well at the box office, however as often happens with films from directors who later become icons, opinions have shifted over the decades. But even if modern day critics are in agreement that The Killing is a top effort, it still won't be everyone's cup of tea. You'll just have to judge for yourself.
It's nobody's Asphalt but their own.
The best poster for the movie The Asphalt Jungle was, beyond doubt, the one we showed you a while back painted by the Italian artist Angelo Cesselon. But that one came a bit later. The above poster was made for the film's initial release in 1950. We think it's very nice as well, if remarkably different from Cesselon's masterpiece. As for the movie, we could tell you it's a top effort, but you already know that. If you haven't seen it, definitely do. It's showing at the Noir City Film Festival tonight, but even at home it's worth a screening.
The law of this jungle is steal or be poor.
We don't need to tell you anything about The Asphalt Jungle because you've seen this film classic, right? So today we're all about the poster. Look at this beauty. It was painted by Italian artist Angelo Cesselon, complete with his distinct signature and its supersized “O”. Cesselon worked for many studios and mastered a distinct style featuring large character portraits such as the one you see here. His work is among the most immediately identifiable of the mid-century period. As for the film, when you get John Huston directing a heist story you can't go wrong. Don't let the poster fool you, though—Marilyn Monroe is a bit player. Why is she starring on the art? Because Cesselon painted it a few years after the film's initial release—by which time Monroe was world famous. The Asphalt Jungle premiered today in 1950.
The Asphalt Jungle remains one of the top crime thrillers ever filmed.
The Asphalt Jungle is half a century old, but remains one of the best procedural heist films ever made. The men who commit the robbery at the center of this movie come from all walks of life—some are perennial losers, others are opportunists, and others are just having a hard time and need a way out. All of them long for better lives. All of them desperately need the money to get there. These footmen, facilitators, and financial backers plan every aspect of a lucrative heist, but the caper begins falling apart almost immediately, due to back luck, mistrust, and greed.
Sterling Hayden, who we’ve mentioned before, is incendiary in the lead, exuding extreme menace but with a hint of recognizable humanity behind the eyes. One of his best moments comes in a brief but exquisitely choreographed shooting involving a thrown valise.
All of this takes place under the sure hand of director John Huston, working from a 1949 book by William Riley Burnett. Burnett was a bit of a legend himself. He was a prolific crime novelist who wrote the source material for Little Caesar, Scarface, and High Sierra, and whose screenplays include This Gun for Hire, I Died a Thousand Times, and Nobody Lives Forever.
Put Burnett, Huston and Hayden together (not to mention James Whitmore, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, and a young Marilyn Monroe in a small role as a rich man's plaything) and you get exactly what you’d expect—a genre classic that transcends its boundaries and becomes instead a piece of high art.
The film was a major hit that wowed audiences worldwide. At top you see the Italian promo art, and below that we have both the hardback and paperback cover art. The Asphalt Jungle opened as Giungla di asfalto in Italy today in 1951.
Andre de Toth’s Crime Wave is underrated but essential noir.
Today we have a beautiful promo poster for Von der Polizei gehetzt, aka Crime Wave, starring Sterling Hayden, Gene Nelson and Phyllis Kirk. This is truly great ’50s noir for various reasons, not least of which is director Andre de Toth’s extensive usage of L.A. exteriors as backdrops to the action. For that reason, this isn’t just a great movie, but a document of mid-century Los Angeles in which we see places that are gone and a time that has faded into history. We mentioned back in January when we commemorated the U.S. release of this movie how Hayden got caught up in the American commie hunts of the 1950s and capitulated to HUAC investigators, but we didn’t talk about his acting. This is the film to view if you want to see him in full, type-A, supermacho mode. It’s hard to imagine Hayden—a real-life tough guy who parachuted behind enemy lines in WWII—meeting his match in a bunch of oily HUAC politicians, especially after seeing him burn up the screen in this role, but that’s exactly what happened. Just goes to show everyone has a tipping point. Von der Polizei gehetzt was released in West Germany and Austria today in 1954.
Sterling Hayden’s hero status couldn’t save him from being called un-American.
Actor Sterling Hayden was a major pulp figure. Before starring in Crime Wave, acting in other noir films, working as a model, and writing novels, he was a genuine war hero. More specifically, he was an undercover agent with the COI, the American intelligence agency that predated the OSS, and during WWII he ran guns to Yugoslavia and parachuted into fascist Croatia. Despite being decorated for these and other death-defying missions, he later found himself in the crosshairs of the House Un-American Activities Committee for daring to associate with communists. Though he was innocent of any crime, HUAC threatened his career and reputation, and so under pressure Hayden eventually named names. It was a capitulation that haunted him to the end of his life. We’ll have more on Hayden in the future. Crime Wave premiered today in 1954.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1962—Marilyn Monroe Sings to John F. Kennedy
A birthday salute to U.S. President John F. Kennedy takes place at Madison Square Garden, in New York City. The highlight is Marilyn Monroe's breathy rendition of "Happy Birthday," which does more to fuel speculation that the two were sexually involved than any actual evidence.
1926—Aimee Semple McPherson Disappears
In the U.S., Canadian born evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson disappears from Venice Beach, California in the middle of the afternoon. She is initially thought to have drowned, but on June 23, McPherson stumbles out of the desert in Agua Prieta, a Mexican town across the border from Douglas, Arizona, claiming to have been kidnapped, drugged, tortured and held for ransom in a shack by two people named Steve and Mexicali Rose. However, it soon becomes clear that McPherson's tale is fabricated, though to this day the reasons behind it remain unknown.
1964—Mods and Rockers Jailed After Riots
In Britain, scores of youths are jailed following a weekend of violent clashes between gangs of Mods and Rockers in Brighton and other south coast resorts. Mods listened to ska music and The Who, wore suits and rode Italian scooters, while Rockers listened to Elvis and Gene Vincent, and rode motorcycles. These differences triggered the violence.
1974—Police Raid SLA Headquarters
In the U.S., Los Angeles police raid the headquarters of the revolutionary group the Symbionese Liberation Army, resulting in the deaths of six members. The SLA had gained international notoriety by kidnapping nineteen-year old media heiress Patty Hearst
from her Berkeley, California apartment, an act which precipitated her participation in an armed bank robbery.
1978—Charlie Chaplin's Missing Body Is Found
Eleven weeks after it was disinterred and stolen from a grave in Corsier near Lausanne, Switzerland, Charlie Chaplin's corpse is found by police. Two men—Roman Wardas, a 24-year-old Pole, and Gantscho Ganev, a 38-year-old Bulgarian—are convicted in December of stealing the coffin and trying to extort £400,000 from the Chaplin family.
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