Her story is more dream than nightmare, but that's why it's fiction.
The World of Suzie Wong was the definition of a polarizing film, generally liked by audiences, but often reviled by social observers. For the former group it was just entertainment, a risqué Cinderella fantasy. For the latter group, it was an exercise in cinematic irresponsibility. Few filmmakers have been interested in exploring the human trafficking, physical and psychological abuse, drugs, and destroyed futures that predominate prostitution, but that's no surprise—filmmaking is about moneymaking, and who'd normally go see a movie that was such a downer? While it's true that 2015's Tangerine was acclaimed, it was also shot on three iPhones. Its director has moved on to bigger budgets because he wants to make money too. So let's first of all accept Suzie Wong for what it is: a mainstream film exploring the idea of a rare type of prostitute—the one clearly destined for a better life.
The idea isn't actually so outlandish. Our personal experience has taught us that there are all kinds of hookers. In Brazil, some do it for two weeks bracketing Carnival and make more money than they do working their regular jobs the rest of the year. They don't consider themselves to be prostitutes. They consider themselves to be modern-minded and smart. When PSGP worked at Playboy he was aware of models (anecdotally) and porn actresses (definitely) who did it when they had money troubles. There are plenty of men who'll pay to sleep with his favorite centerfold or porn star, and the money she earns is all hers—none goes to an agent or grifter boyfriend. Models were occasionally invited to certain Middle Eastern oil states and were paid many thousands of dollars per week just to attend swank social occasions and be friendly. The friendliest—interpret that how you wish—would be welcome to stay for months and earn gifts, while the less friendly ones quickly would be shipped out. The point is there are all types.
So while people who hate Suzie Wong are correct that a depiction of prostitution that doesn't explore the typical reality reinforces a false narrative about what is a dirty and dangerous job, the movie is simply a piece of entertainment—and has the right to be. It's no more about real prostitution than Raiders of the Lost Ark is about real archaeology. You'll have to gloss over its imperialist ethnic snobbery too. But if you choose to cross the disbelief suspension bridge, it's a pretty entertaining flick, a drama about an American artist in Hong Kong played by William Holden who meets a local prostitute played by Nancy Kwan, asks her to model for him, and over the course of their increasingly fruitful artistic collaboration finds himself drawn to her. Kwan makes no secret of the fact that she immediately has feelings for Holden, but he resists—not forever, obviously. At that point the difficult question of whether they can actually make a life together—or should even try—is what the plot explores.
Suzie Wong's gimmick of a hooker's love completing a man who's lonely or adrift has been used in films such as Irma la Douce, Night Shift, and Pretty Woman, and audiences responded favorably because, at their core, all those films are romances. But there's more to Suzie Wong than just its sooty Cinderella aspects. At a time of still-rigid ideas about female purity, it asked male viewers to consider the possibility that the number of men a woman sleeps with is immaterial. So in that sense it's a forward thinking film—something usually forgotten by its critics. The source novel by Richard Mason is probably more nuanced, but we haven't read it. We do know, however, that he wrote it after staying at the Luk Kwok Hotel in Hong Kong, which was a brothel. So maybe he learned a little something that gave his book—and the film—a bit more verité than people generally suspect. When you include its great exteriors and sets, and Kwan herself in a starmaking role, the result is exotic, emotional, and at times uplifting. The World of Suzie Wong premiered in the U.S. today in 1960. See more promo images here and here.
Vintage men's magazine stands at the threshold to a new era.
In many countries during the late 1960s the newsstands were still dominated by nudie mags that bore classical, studio nude-style depictions of women, but the transition toward magazines recognizable as modern porn was well underway. Knight, from Sirkay Publishing out of Los Angeles, is one of those transitional magazines. It debuted as Sir Knight in 1958 with a focus on fiction, humor, and demure photo features. The above issue published in 1967 is a bit racier, but still middle-of-the road for the time period. In another few years pubic hair would be on display in American men's magazines. Soon after that the pearly gates would appear, and in short order they'd be wide open. Did we really write that? Sorry—it's the booze talking.
On the cover here is Rita Rogers, touted as the next big thing, but who made only a few magazine appearances as far as we can tell. Inside you get William Holden, Turkish bellydancer Kiash Nanah, aka Aïché Nana, whose impromptu strip in a Rome cafe we talked about a while back, and actress Joi Lansing, whose age resistant DNA we talked about here. And you get some fantastic art, much of it with a psychedelic edge. There's also an article on psychedelic music, so that seems to have been a theme with this issue. We love these old nudie publications. They're so innocent by today's bizarro standards that if you caught your kid looking at one you'd probably hug him and go, “You've made me very, very happy!” Scans below.
The tabloid media was like a pack of animals and Mansfield was the meal.
We never realized this before, but the editors of Whisper really had it in for Jayne Mansfield. We mean more than usual for a vicious tabloid. Most of the issues we have contain highly negative stories about her, such as this one published in 1962 that calls her and husband Mickey Hargitay “the biggest pair of boobs in the business.” Geez, what did she do to them? Piss in their grits? Dropkick their Corgis? Obviously, the biggest boobs thing is a play on words referencing Mansfield's bust, but they're referencing her personality when they talk about her “false façade” and “up-front ways.” Regardless of whether Whisper approved of Mansfield, it couldn't stop featuring her—a fact the magazine acknowledged. We'll see her in these pages again.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Whisper, the amazing Señor Fidel Castro makes one of his regular appearances. Like Mansfield, the magazine couldn't stop writing about him. According to the editors, the Beard had launched a plot to addict American youth to drugs. We call Castro amazing because according to various mid-century tabloids he was simultaneously training Viet Cong soldiers in Cuba, funneling arms to U.S. inner cities, assassinating JFK, planning to overthrow the Catholic Church, raping teenaged girls, and helping East Germany revive the Third Reich. Talk about great time management skills. If only we were half as organized.
Did drugs flow from Cuba to the U.S.? It's an accusation that has come up numerous times over the years. Considering that since at least 1950 drugs were flowing into the U.S. from Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Afghanistan, Thailand, et al—it would be astonishing if drugs didn't also originate from or transit through Cuba. With what degree of official approval we'll probably never know. Heads of state are notoriously insulated. In fact, the only one we can think of offhand who was definitively tied to drug dealing was Panama's former strongman Manuel Noriega, who was doing it with the full knowledge of the CIA, but we can probably safely assume he wasn't the first national leader to peddle drugs.
Whisper isn't aiming for investigative journalism in its Castro piece. That would require actual work. Its story is 90% lollipop, 10% stick. But the ratio of fiction to fact is meaningless as long as the writing fits the brief: focus obsessively on the sensational, the frightening, and the infuriating. That's why we call mid-century tabloids the cable news channels of yesteryear. Though people were doubtless highly agitated about what they read in these quasi-journalistic outlets, the passage of decades makes them harmless fun for us to explore. Maybe one day a future website—or whatever passes for one ages from now—will be able to make jokes about the things agitating us. Let's hope so. We have a bunch of scans below, and more tabloids than we can count inside the website. Look here.
Suzie Wong gets with the program.
When we watched The World of Suzie Wong several years ago we were aware that it had been a pretty big hit. It's no surprise, then, that we keep running across memorabilia from the film. Here we have a promotional pamphlet from Hong Kong, with a very cool cover of the prostitute title character, who was played by Nancy Kwan. Yes, it's faded as hell, but we kind of like that. These Hong Kong items are often in terrible shape, but there's such a thing as beautiful squalor. Is it the humidity that did this? Check out this other Suzie Wong item we shared way back, made with better paper, and seemingly stored with better care. We have scans of a few deteriorated but still interesting interior pages below, and if you read Chinese, all the better.
We may talk about The World of Suzie Wong a bit later. We watched it without the Pulp Intl. girlfriends, and we imagine they would have hated it—as any contemporary woman would, when it comes to romanticizing prostitution. Additionally, since PI-2 is Filipina, we suspect she'd have a particularly incisive perspective. Yes, the Philippines are a long way from Hong Kong, but considering how encompassing attitudes were in mid-century Hollywood toward Asian women, we think she's well qualified to comment on a set-in-Hong Kong movie. In any case, it's a discussion for another day, perhaps. Scans below.
Organized crime finally meets its match.
How much does it cost to fight corruption? That's the question The Turning Point asks, and the answer is—everything. Fighting corruption costs relationships, trust, and often lives. It costs reputations, stability, and sometimes public belief in civil institutions, because corruption will destroy everything before being pushed from power—even the structures that made its rise possible in the first place. Edmond O'Brien, William Holden, and Alexis Smith star in this second night offering at the Noir City Film Festival that examines the lives of a prosecutor, his assistant, and a newspaperman, all of whom are drawn into an investigation of organized crime that is far tougher than any of them expected. And they thought they expected the worst.
The investigative body portrayed is presumably modeled after 1950-51's anti-crime Kefauver Committee, aka the United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, which revealed to the general public that a national organized crime syndicate—popularly known as the Mafia—existed. Before the Committee the idea of the Mafia was mocked by many as a conspiracy theory, but the Committee's conclusions led to the creation of the RICO Act, which today is one of the most useful tools in the federal arsenal for combatting organized crime. The investigation in The Turning Point is on a smaller scale, focusing on a single city, but the idea is the same.
The crooks, of course, don't just stand idly by while they're being targeted by the authorities. Their retaliation comes on multiple fronts and pushes O'Brien, who heads the crime committee, to the point of quitting. But we know he won't. What kind of movie would that be? Does he win? In film noir victory is never a foregone conclusion. Tragedy of some sort is almost assured. But if it indeed strikes, who will fall? Therein lies the tension in The Turning Point. With O'Brien, Holden, and Smith in the leads, the movie is in the hands of confident performers, and what could have been mere pro-law enforcement propaganda turns out to be something more nuanced. Is it a top effort? Not quite, but if you watch it you definitely won't be wasting your time.
Redhead risks serious sunburn to get a base tan.
Belgium's Ciné-Revue is one of the best film magazines of the mid-century era. It's also one of the hardest to scan. Not only do the pages need to be scanned in halves and joined via computer, but the tiny text makes lining the halves up a real challenge. We didn't think about that when we bought a stack of these in Paris several years back, and now the sheer effort involved causes us to doubt we'll ever get them all uploaded. But we managed to carve out a few hours, so today we have this issue from May 1975 with French actress Marlène Jobert doing a little topless boating on the cover, hopefully well slathered in sunscreen. Jobert also features in the beachy center spread wearing even less clothing (and theoretically more sunscreen), but the real star of this issue is Bette Davis, who receives a career retrospective with shots from seemingly every movie she ever made. You also get William Holden, Jane Birkin, Dominique Sanda, Sidney Poitier, Sophia Loren, Rita Hayworth, Agostina Belli, a feature on Steven Spielberg's Jaws, and much more, in forty-plus scans.
Raft tries to navigate dangerous waters.
This poster for Vägen från Sing Sing showcases the clean style and bold negative space we’ve become fans of in mid-century Swedish promo art, and it also captures star George Raft’s famous profile. This was originally a 1939 American production called Invisible Stripes starring Raft, Jane Bryan, William Holden, and Humphrey Bogart, and it deals with a Sing-Sing ex-con’s perhaps doomed efforts to go straight. Check out the Swedish aesthetic here, here, here, and here. Vägen från Sing Sing premiered in Sweden today in 1940.
Midnight lowers the bar even more than usual.
Around here we often debate whether to post something, but generally believe that as a sort of history site, it’s always a bad idea to hold back. Today we have an issue of Midnight, published October 24, 1966, that goes over the top with gore. It isn’t the woman whose face has been eaten off by rats that particularly worries us, nor the cop that supposedly had his eyeballs ripped out. We’ve posted those. No, it’s the autopsied infant that gave us pause. We sometimes prattle on about refusing to self-censor, but when we say that, what we’re referring to is sex and nudity, not vivisected one year-old babies. We want you to enjoy the site, not scroll down the page cringing at what gore will leap from the jack-in-the-box. So long story short: eaten face—okay; ripped out eyeballs—hunky dory; autopsied infant? Hellz no. We have our standards, though Midnight didn’t.
Anyway, you do get some interesting articles in this issue. Of special note is William Holden answering questions about a guy he ran over and killed on a highway in Geneva, where he was living to avoid paying U.S. taxes. The Swiss sweated Holden for a while, but in the end he escaped with an eight month suspended sentence for manslaughter. What’s especially intriguing about this story is that an online search uncovered no links to this Swiss snafu. Instead, we learned that Holden had been convicted of vehicular manslaughter not in Switzerland, but in Italy, where he had rammed another car while drunk and killed the driver. But in the Midnight story, Holden is said to have run over a hiker. Asked whether he was under the influence, his response is: “No, I wasn’t drunk—not this time.”
So did William Holden kill two people with his car in two separate incidents? We tend to doubt it, but on the other hand, how could Midnight get everything so wrong, with the accompanying quote: “not this time”? Sure, Midnight made things up, but as blatantly as this? We think it very likely that the editors simply tried to write about the Italian accident, but were working on the fly and mangled everything. They probably assumed the accident was in Switzerland because Holden lived there, took his “not this time” quote out of context, and—somehow—saw the phrase “second automobile” in all the other accounts and wrote it as “hiker.” Anyone could make those mistakes, right? Yeah, anyone could. But Midnight does.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1915—Claude Patents Neon Tube
French inventor Georges Claude patents the neon discharge tube, in which an inert gas is made to glow various colors through the introduction of an electrical current. His invention is immediately seized upon as a way to create eye catching advertising, and the neon sign
comes into existence to forever change the visual landscape of cities.
1937—Hughes Sets Air Record
Millionaire industrialist, film producer and aviator Howard Hughes sets a new air record by flying from Los Angeles, California to New York City in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds. During his life he set multiple world air-speed records, for which he won many awards, including America's Congressional Gold Medal.
1967—Boston Strangler Convicted
Albert DeSalvo, the serial killer who became known as the Boston Strangler, is convicted of murder and other crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He serves initially in Bridgewater State Hospital, but he escapes and is recaptured. Afterward he is transferred to federal prison where six years later he is killed by an inmate or inmates unknown.
1950—The Great Brinks Robbery Occurs
In the U.S., eleven thieves steal more than $2 million from an armored car company's offices in Boston, Massachusetts. The skillful execution of the crime, with only a bare minimum of clues left at the scene, results in the robbery being billed as "the crime of the century." Despite this, all the members of the gang are later arrested.
1977—Gary Gilmore Is Executed
Convicted murderer Gary Gilmore is executed by a firing squad in Utah, ending a ten-year moratorium on Capital punishment in the United States. Gilmore's story is later turned into a 1979 novel entitled The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, and the book wins the Pulitzer Prize for literature.
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