In The Killers she's absolutely to die for.
We've shared Swedish, French, Australian, and U.S. promo art for The Killers over the years. But there was more than one U.S. poster, and you see an alternate version above, a nice crimson effort that has no artist credit. You already know the plot of this film, so we won't rehash it, but we wanted to single out something we love about film noir—the spectacular entrance of the femme fatale. Remember Rita Hayworth's first screen moment in Gilda? “Gilda, are you decent?” “Me?” That might be tops. Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, those white shorts and that weird headwrap. Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not. “Got a light?” There are many others, and men sometimes get good entrances too, but Ava Gardner's first moment in The Killers, sitting at a piano in a swank Manhattan apartment, with that light—you know the light we mean—glowing on her face, is another great example. Then she gets a song. You gotta love it.
No one's gonna save you from the beast about to strike.
Burt Lancaster as a doomed boxer named Ole Anderson, shot dead one night by a couple of hit men, is a seminal character in film noir. He epitomizes the major characteristic of the genre, that of a person caught in dangerous circumstances beyond their control. He's so caught he never tries to run or defend himself. He lets the killers shoot him. We didn't spoil anything by telling you that—Anderson is dead ten minutes after the movie opens. Using Ernest Hemingway's short story of the same name as a starting place, The Killers takes a typical endpoint for a film noir and flips the timeline around so that the drama becomes finding out why Anderson suffered such a hopeless demise. Sunset Boulevard would pull the same trick later in visionary fashion by having the dead character actually narrate the movie. We've shown you several posters for The Killers, but this one made for the Australian market is, well, killer. Compare it to the U.S. promo here. The movie premiered in Australia today in 1947.
It's shocking how many Hollywood stars did smack.
Everybody wants to slap somebody sometime. Luckily, actors in movies do it so you don't have to. The above shot is a good example. Edward G. Robinson lets Humphrey Bogart have it in 1948's Key Largo, as Claire Trevor looks on. In vintage cinema, people were constantly slapping. Men slapped men, men slapped women, women slapped women, and women slapped men. The recipient was usually the protagonist because—though some readers may not realize this—even during the ’40s and 50s, slapping was considered uncouth at a minimum, and downright villainous at worst, particularly when men did it. So generally, bad guys did the slapping, with some exceptions. Glenn Ford slaps Rita Hayworth in Gilda, for example, out of humiliation. Still wrong, but he wasn't the film's villain is our point. Humphrey Bogart lightly slaps Martha Vickers in The Big Sleep to bring her out of a drug stupor. He's like a doctor. Sort of.
In any case, most cinematic slapping is fake, and when it wasn't it was done with the consent of the participants (No, really slap me! It'll look more realistic.). There are some famous examples of chipped teeth and bloody noses deriving from the pursuit of realism. We can envision a museum exhibit of photos like these, followed by a lot of conversation around film, social mores, masculinity, and their intersection. We can also envison a conversation around the difference between fantasy and reality. There are some who believe portryals of bad things endorse the same. But movies succeed largely by thrilling, shocking, and scaring audiences, which requires portraying thrilling, shocking, and frightening moments. If actors can't do that, then ultimately movies must become as banal as everyday llife. Enjoy the slapfest.
Broderick Crawford slaps Marlene Dietrich in the 1940's Seven Sinners. June Allyson lets Joan Collins have it across the kisser in a promo image for The Opposite Sex, 1956. Speaking of Gilda, here's one of Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth re-enacting the slap heard round the world. Hayworth gets to slap Ford too, and according to some accounts she loosened two of his teeth. We don't know if that's true, but if you watch the sequence it is indeed quite a blow. 100% real. We looked for a photo of it but had no luck. Don't mess with box office success. Ford and Hayworth did it again in 1952's Affair in Trinidad. All-time film diva Joan Crawford gets in a good shot on Lucy Marlow in 1955's Queen Bee. The answer to the forthcoming question is: She turned into a human monster, that's what. Joan Crawford is now on the receiving end, with Bette Davis issuing the slap in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Later Davis kicks Crawford, so the slap is just a warm-up. Mary Murphy awaits the inevitable from John Payne in 1955's Hell's Island. Romy Schneider slaps Sonia Petrova in 1972's Ludwig. Lauren Bacall lays into Charles Boyer in 1945's Confidential Agent and garnishes the slap with a brilliant snarl. Iconic bombshell Marilyn Monroe drops a smart bomb on Cary Grant in the 1952 comedy Monkey Business. This is the most brutal slap of the bunch, we think, from 1969's Patton, as George C. Scott de-helmets an unfortunate soldier played by Tim Considine. A legendary scene in filmdom is when James Cagney shoves a grapefruit in Mae Clark's face in The Public Enemy. Is it a slap? He does it pretty damn hard, so we think it's close enough. They re-enact that moment here in a promo photo made in 1931. Sophia Loren gives Jorge Mistral a scenic seaside slap in 1957's Boy on a Dolphin. Victor Mature fails to live up to his last name as he slaps Lana Turner in 1954's Betrayed.
Ronald Reagan teaches Angie Dickinson how supply side economics work in 1964's The Killers. Marie Windsor gets in one against Mary Castle from the guard position in an episode of television's Stories of the Century in 1954. Windsor eventually won this bout with a rear naked choke. It's better to give than receive, but sadly it's Bette Davis's turn, as she takes one from Dennis Morgan in In This Our Life, 1942. Anthony Perkins and Raf Vallone dance the dance in 1962's Phaedra, with Vallone taking the lead. And he thought being inside the ring was hard. Lilli Palmer nails John Garfield with a roundhouse right in the 1947 boxing classic Body and Soul. 1960's Il vigile, aka The Mayor, sees Vittorio De Sica rebuked by a member of the electorate Lia Zoppelli. She's more than a voter in this—she's also his wife, so you can be sure he deserved it. Brigitte Bardot delivers a not-so-private slap to Dirk Sanders in 1962's Vie privée, aka A Very Private Affair. In a classic case of animal abuse. Judy Garland gives cowardly lion Bert Lahr a slap on the nose in The Wizard of Oz. Is it his fault he's a pussy? Accept him as he is, Judy. Robert Culp backhands Raquel Welch in 1971's Hannie Caudler.
And finally, Laurence Harvey dares to lay hands on the perfect Kim Novak in Of Human Bondage.
There's not even the slightest glimmer of hope.
Virginia Christine prepares to ventilate someone's cranium in this crop of a promo photo made for her 1947 film noir The Invisible Wall. We haven't watched this yet, but we will, because we have a copy of this flick in some hard drive or other. You probably haven't heard of Christine, but she had a fantastic career during which she appeared in about fifty films and numerous television shows, moving constantly between the two realms like few performers have ever managed. Some of her cinematic highlights include Robert Siodmak's The Killers, Jack Webb's Dragnet, Sam Newfield's Murder Is My Business, and Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The full version of the above shot, which includes her blissfully sleeping target, appears below.
This is our most desperate hour. Help us Santo—you're our only hope.
We were dubious toward Santo when we learned of his movies, but after screening three features the guy has really grown on us. So last night we watched Santo contra los asesinos de otros mundos, which was known in English as Santo vs. The Killers from Other Worlds. You know the basics—Santo is a Mexican luchador who is also an ace international crimefighter. Which is convenient, because an evil mastermind named Malkosh is demanding a fortune in gold bars from the Mexican government or he'll unleash a monster on the populace. This terrifying blob, which in the script has been somehow derived from moon rocks, in reality is three guys huddled under a giant shammy. Doubtless bumping heads and asses while crabwalking under this thing, the poor guys move at about the same speed as traffic in central Mexico City. But no matter—the blob is a whiz at triangulation, and its victims are agility challenged. Whoever it chases inevitably finds himself or herself trapped and, after futilely heaving staplers and coffee cups, consumed down to a skeletal state.
Santo's crimefighting technique is often to be captured. It's never intentional—it just works out that way. And just as form dictates, Malkosh snares Santo, but rather than kill him outright forces him to fight Spartacus style against ever more deadly opponents, an entertainment that of course backfires when the third gladiator accidentally flamethrowers a guard, allowing Santo to grab a machine gun and get the drop on everyone. You have to wonder why these villains toy with him so. The man is well-known as the most lethal crimefighter in Mexico, if not all of the Americas, yet the crooks insist upon underestimating him. Maybe it's just hard to be awed by a guy in a gimp mask who's wearing the drapes from a Guadalajara whorehouse as a cape. Even so, Santo's record speaks for itself, which means you ignore the brief at your peril. Malkosh, foolish lad, dies ignominiously, screaming even, but not before Santo learns from him that the moon blob grows like federal overreach. And indeed, soon there are four guys knocking body parts under the shammy, then five, looks like.
The rest of the film tracks Santo's efforts to find Malkosh's partner Licur, who has imprisoned a Professor Bernstein, the only person on Earth who knows how to corral the lunar abomination busily scuttling across the landscape. Locating Licur involves a bit of Holmesian deduction, at which point Santo gains access to the top secret high security lair by scaling a low wall. In the subsequent fistfights, he's ferociously pounded about his face and semi-soft body, yet his gimp mask never slips and his whorehouse drapes never rip. Finally he squares off against Licur himself, who proves to be no match, and at that point all that's left is to defeat the beast, now about the size of a Winnebago. We'll leave the last bit as a surprise, but suffice to say Santo is always one step ahead. In the end, the film was another satisfying outing, with all the hallmarks of the series—terrible dialogue, poorly staged fights, truly atrocious acting, and a script conceived during a blinding mezcal bender. What's not to love? Queue it. Watch it. Santo contra los asesinos de otros mundos premiered in Mexico today in 1973.
You got anything to eat around here? I'm famished.
If Ava I see your face again.
Above is an unusual one-sheet for Robert Siodmak’s 1946 film noir Les Tueurs, aka The Killers, with Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. You may remember we showed you the colorful Swedish poster last year. This rather hazy French effort is unusual because it features a photo of one of the stars, which is a promotional technique that wouldn’t become popular until decades later, when retouched (later digitally tweaked) photography replaced handpainted images, forever to the detriment of the art world. We’ve talked about this before, and we still have the same question. Namely, what is it inside of us that made us divorce art from commerce? We’ve embraced the soulless in every form of promotional art from movie posters to book covers to billboards. Is it simply about money? Does capitalism drive us inexorably toward an artless pursuit of profit? We have our theories, but what do you think? Or is this a little too much to be dumping on you on a spring Saturday? Right, we can take a hint. Les Tueurs premiered in Paris today in 1947.
In noir you can run but you can’t hide.
You can’t explore film noir without getting acquainted with director Robert Siodmak. We mentioned him before when we showed you the Swedish promo art for his great film The Killers, and today we have the U.S. poster for his also brilliant Cry of the City. The story involves two friends who both grew up in good families, but ended up on opposite sides of the law—one as a cop, the other as a criminal.
Victor Mature plays the cop, and we have to say, we wish he hadn’t gone on to do all those sword and sandal epics, because we kept picturing him covered with bronzer, splitting Philistines’ heads with the jawbone of an ass. But his performance here is good, a perfect counterbalance to the intense Richard Conte’s ailing crook, who opens the film wounded in a hospital bed.
Conte eventually escapes to track down the real perpetrator of a jewel heist the police have pinned on him. After a few twists and turns, he finds the real thief, but in noir, you can't buy off fate even with a last act of selflessness. Conte is still a bad man, and he's still gotta pay the piper. Cry of the City premiered in the U.S today in 1948.
Lust for a dame brings another man to an unfortunate end.
Here’s a colorful Swedish one sheet for The Killers, which is considered one of the most important noirs. Inspired by an Ernest Hemingway short story, and helmed by director Robert Siodmak, the movie opens with an unresisting Burt Lancaster being snuffed by two hit men, then follows an insurance investigator as he tries to figure out what possibly could have happened in this man’s life that would make him virtually offer himself to his murderers. All roads lead—as all roads must—to the femme fatale. In this case it’s the magical Ava Gardner, in her first starring role as the hard-as-nails Kitty Collins. The art here effectively tells the story of the film in a snapshot—we see Burt beset by his two killers as Ms. Gardner seems to burn in his breast. That pretty much sums it up. The film was a smash hit, and it remains a must-see. It first played in Stockholm today, in 1947.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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