Money is always greener from a distance.
Sweet Smell of Success was a mandatory watch for us. It's considered by many to be a top film noir but we'd never seen it. Well, that's been rectified now, and what a good expenditure of time it was. Tony Curtis plays a New York City publicity agent whose business is falling apart because he's been blacklisted by the most important newspaper columnist in the country, played by Burt Lancaster. Why the rough treatment? Lancaster's sister is dating a jazz musician and he wants the relationship ended. He's trying to force Curtis to do the dirty work—smear the guy, frame him, whatever, just get him out of the picture. Curtis's desperation to climb to the top ranks of agents leads him to try breaking up the pair, but in film noir sleazy decisions have a way of pushing goals farther away rather than drawing them nearer.
Sweet Smell of Success, which had a special premiere in New York City in June 1957, and went into national release a week later, which was today, has a feel similar to another Big Apple drama—the excellent 2019 movie Uncut Gems. Both movies are very fast paced, even borderline chaotic, as desperate bottom-dwellers try to climb to the top of a dog-eat-dog industry while keeping one step ahead of karmic fate. Sweet Smell of Success is the better film largely thanks to Lancaster in one of the all-time heel roles. You'll want to punch his character J.J. Hunsecker—nice, right?—directly in the middle of his face. And you'll want to give Curtis a shaking fit to rattle his teeth. Anything to wake him up to the fact that in a cutthroat game, the most important thing isn't having a razor but lacking a conscience. Noir fans should push this one to the head of the queue.
It's taken a few weeks, Tony, but I'm really starting to feel like a woman. I have like fifty useless receipts in my purse.
Above, a sound stage photo of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in costume for their roles in Some Like It Hot, in which they starred with Marilyn Monroe. The movie premiered today in 1959 in Memphis, Tennessee, for some reason, then hit Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City later in the month.
Monroe, Curtis, and Lemmon give jazz a swing.
On this promo poster for the Marilyn Monroe comedy Certains l'aiment chaud, aka Some Like It Hot, it looks like Russian illustrator Boris Grinsson went a little strong on Monroe's wink, making her look like she got a splinter of glass in her eye, but Monroe actually looked that way in the promo photo used as the basis of the art, which you can see at right.
You know all about this movie, so we won't bother to go over it. We'll just mention, if you haven't seen it, don't be surprised that it's in black and white. There are so many color production photos from this one—like the several we've shared below—that we even forgot. And we'd seen the movie several times, though not in about ten years. When it opened with documentary style footage of a car chase and shootout followed by a title card reading “Chicago, 1929,” we were thinking, “Ah, this is where it shifts to color.”
But of course it didn't, and we suddenly remembered that this was a later black and white production, made the same year Technicolor films such as Ben Hur and North by Northwest hit cinemas. According to our research, Monroe actually had a stipulation in her contract that all her films had to be in color, but director Billy Wilder wanted black and white because the heavy makeup worn by Curtis and Lemmon—who spend most of the movie disguised as women—looked green in Technicolor. He lobbied Monroe and she finally agreed her co-stars could not be green.
Does Some Like It Hot fit under our self-defined umbrella of pulp? Of course—there are gangsters, the aforementioned shootout, and it's about two jazz musicians on the run. And few Hollywood figures are more pulp in essence than Monroe. The character of nightclub singer Sugar Kane is one of her better creations. Sit back and enjoy. Some Like It Hot premiered in the U.S. in February 1959, and opened in Paris as Certains l'aiment chaud today the same year. Another promotional poster by Grinsson appears below, and you can see the very different West German promo poster here.
Minor noble causes major scandal.
On the Q.T. labeled itself “The class magazine in its field.” In practice that was less than true. This cover from September 1962 offers teasers about Liz Taylor’s inability to be made happy, the fatal ring beating of boxer Kid Paret, and the inside story about Ivy Nicholson’s suicide attempt. But the banner goes to the nude countess who shocked America. That would be Christina Paolozzi, aka Christina Bellin, who was a New York City fashion model and the offspring of United Fruit Company heiress Alicia Spaulding and Italian conte Lorenzo Paolozzi. The photo was shot by Richard Avedon and appeared in Harper’s Bazaar. Paolozzi was already considered “the first of the ’60s free spirits” by the tabloids, and by stripping for Avedon she became the first recognized fashion model to pose nude, a practice that is now common.
While Avedon earned widespread recognition for the shot, which you see at right, Paolozzi was dropped from the New York City Social Register, shunned by Manhattan’s upper crust, and subjected in the press to what is today sometimes called “body shaming.” Columnist Inez Robb wrote that Paolozzi was “no more favored by nature than the average daughter of Eve,” and added for good measure, “Harper’s Bazaar, with its excursion into overexposure, has unwittingly proved that not diamonds but clothes are a girl’s best friend.” If that wasn’t bad enough, just imagine what people wrote in the comments section. They had those then, right?
In any case, Paolozzi was a bold personality, and she went on to make waves yet again with her many wild parties and open marriage to cosmetic surgeon Howard Bellin, commenting in a mid-1970s newspaper article, “[It’s] just the way life is today—one man is simply not enough.” But she didn’t just spend the years having a good time. She also raised money for hospitals in Cambodia and Gabon, orphanages in Afghanistan, and supported eighteen foster children. In a sense, she gave the shirt off her back. Twenty-eight scans from On the Q.T. below.
Hollywood shines bright in West Germany.
Below are the covers of some promotional brochures made by Illustrierte Film-Bühne for movies released in West Germany during the 1950s and 1960s. The examples here, some of which have killer designs, feature Elizabeth Taylor, Marisa Mell, Cary Grant, Virna Lisi, Sophia Loren, Doris Day, Tony Curtis, et.al. IFB was founded in 1946 in Munich by Paul Franke, and over the years produced thousands of these pamphlets. We’ll share more later.
Yes, we’ve heard of gym clothes, but we're not in a gym, are we smart guy?
Promo shot of gifted comic actor Tony Curtis, née Bernard Schwartz, who appeared in such cinema classics Some Like It Hot, The Sweet Smell of Success and Spartacus, seen here joking around with wife Janet Leigh, circa 1960. Tony Curtis died yesterday at age 85.
Monroe delivers in a classic comedy.
It had a classic premise: two Jazz Age musicians witness the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and have to flee Chicago before the Mafia massacres them too. They disguise themselves as women and hide as members of an all-female musical troupe. One of the men, played by Tony Curtis, falls in love with fellow musician Marilyn Monroe but can’t reveal his gender; the other man, played by Jack Lemmon, is pursued by a rich and persistent suitor who thinks he’s found the woman of his dreams. It was called Some Like It Hot, and it was the type of absurd adventure only a confident veteran like Billy Wilder could have directed. He used all of his experience to coax top-notch acting out of a troubled Marilyn Monroe, who needed twenty to thirty takes to get some of the scenes right. In the end you’d hardly notice—her performance as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk looks effortless, as does those of Curtis and Lemmon as the two bickering buddies running for their lives. The final result was an award-winning comedy that even fifty years later has the power to deliver out-loud laughs. Above you see the film’s German promo art, which in our humble opinion is a masterwork in its own right. Some Like It Hot premiered in West Berlin today in 1959.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1908—Tunguska Explosion Occurs
Near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai in Russia, a large meteoroid or comet explodes at five to ten kilometers above the Earth's surface with a force of about twenty megatons of TNT. The explosion is a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic blast, knocks over an estimated 80 million trees and generates a shock wave estimated to have been 5.0 on the Richter scale.
1971—Soviet Cosmonauts Perish
Soviet cosmonauts Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev, who served as the first crew of the world's first space station Salyut 1, die when their spacecraft Soyuz 11 depressurizes during preparations for re-entry. They are the only humans to die in space (as opposed to the upper atmosphere).
1914—Rasputin Survives Assassination Attempt
Former prostitute Jina Guseva attempts to assassinate Grigori Rasputin in his home town of Pokrovskoye, Siberia by stabbing him in the abdomen. According to reports, Guseva screamed "I have killed the Antichrist!" But Rasputin survived until being famously poisoned, shot, bludgeoned, and drowned in an icy river two years later.
1967—Jayne Mansfield Dies in Car Accident
American actress and sex symbol Jayne Mansfield dies in an automobile accident in Biloxi, Mississippi, when the car in which she is riding slams underneath the rear of a semi. Rumors that Mansfield were decapitated are technically untrue. In reality, her death certificate states that she suffered an avulsion of the cranium and brain, meaning she lost
only the top of her head.
1958—Workers Assemble First Corvette
Workers at a Chevrolet plant in Flint, Michigan, assemble the first Corvette, a two-seater sports car that would become an American icon. The first completed production car rolls off the assembly line two days later, one of just 300 Corvettes made that year.
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