Vintage Pulp Apr 28 2024
CRAWFORD IN THE PINK
Joan is in her sweet spot with a challenging film role.


How do you judge a great acting performance? One way is when beforehand you look at the performer and the part and say, “Impossible, doesn't fit, can't possibly work,” then it does. Flamingo Road, which premiered in the U.S today in 1949, features Joan Crawford as a carny performer and it doesn't fit. But probably nobody would seem to fit. The main character evolves over years from carny chippie into upper crust lady, so either way a filmmaker would have to make a difficult choice—cast an ingenue who evolves into a sophisticated middle-aged woman, or cast a mature actress and hope she can play young. They chose the later option with Crawford, and it can't possibly work. But this is Crawford we're talking about—she could make most any role work, and does so here with a typically assured performance.

Flamingo Road is set in the American south and is about the social mores and political machinations of a small but wealthy town. The title refers to the enclave where the rich and powerful live together in their mansions and manors. The carny version of Crawford falls for local deputy sherrif Zachary Scott, but he's been tabbed by local kingpin Sydney Greenstreet to be his puppet in the state senate. As part of that plan Scott is to marry into wealth. Cavorting with a carny isn't going to fly. Greenstreet decides to break them up, or hurt Crawford trying, and there's nothing so underhanded or injurious that he won't do it. Crawford, though, is tougher than anyone expects, and what she learns from her travails is, first: she's going to make it to Flamingo Road no matter what it takes; and second: she will have her revenge. That's all we'll tell you about the plot.

Flamingo Road is another of those movies that's often called a film noir, and while we don't try to be gatekeepers of what is and isn't noir—because we have no authority to do so—we also don't avoid stating the obvious. Flamingo Road isn't a film noir. Some entities, including respected ones, have a vested interest in casting the noir net as widely as possible. If you host noir festivals, for example, after a while you need to expand your defintion of noir to keep your slate fresh. If you write film noir books, you might want to demonstrate that you think outside the box by including Chinatown or Lat sau san taam or The Limey (all excellent movies, by the way).

At the opposite extreme, several prominent critics attest that film noir doesn't exist at all. That's like saying there's no such thing as superhero movies because costumed heroes are just further iterations of superpowered characters such as Rambo. Superhero movies exist. So does film noir, though it resides within the wider genres of crime and drama. However, it's too easy to call any movie with conflict and a few neon-splashed night sequences a noir. Film noir is as much thematic as it is iconographic. In every way that we can discern, Flamingo Road isn't one. The definitive American Film Institute calls it a melodrama. We agree. It's a melodrama in which a good actress, aged north of forty, overcomes difficult casting to knock her years-spanning role out of the park.
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Vintage Pulp Jun 23 2020
THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK
It's mostly for his protection, but it's also for everyone else's.


We read the novel The Mask of Dimitrios a couple of years ago, so it was a given we'd eventually talk about the movie. Starring Petter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, it deals with a legendary malefactor named Dimitrios Makropoulos who washes up dead on a Turkish beach and draws the interest of a novelist, who decides to research the dead man's life with an eye toward writing a thriller about it. That's a great set-up for a movie right there, and it's even cooler because everything happens in Europe. Lorre, who plays the author, traces the movements of Dimitrios the bogeyman from Istanbul, to Athens, to Sofia, and finally to Paris, seeking to illuminate the man's life and criminal career.

Flashbacks tell us how evil Dimitrios was. Nothing was beyond him—theft, blackmail, political crimes, murder. We're talking irredeemable badness, a virus, a plague. Lorre and Greenstreet cross paths and decide to unravel the Dimitrios mystery together. Its solution offers the possibility of financial reward—one million francs. Lorre is less interested in those than a story he can turn into a great novel, but money up front never hurts. Unless it gets you killed. But while the flashbacks offer crucial exposition, they also shift focus from the film's two unique leads, and in so doing sap the narrative of momentum. They could have been shorter. More screen time for Lorre and Greenstreet would have been the benefit.

The Mask of Dimitrios is classified as a film noir on many websites, but as a drama on AFI.com, which is where we go for genre clarity because crowd sourced sites like Wikipedia and IMDB cast an excessively wide net with their categorizations. Some readers may disagree about whether this particular film is a noir, but what's true is it doesn't have a large number of the usual noir gimmicks, save for those interminable flashbacks, and occasional clever work with shadows. It almost entirely lacks other forms of noir iconography, and particularly lacks the key element of a disaffected central character or character that's screwed and gets more screwed as the plot progresses. On the other hand most of the players are shady and/or amoral.

We know what you're thinking. We aren't a pure pulp site, so how can we be purists about film noir? We're not. We tell you right in the “About Us” section that we're expanding the idea of pulp just for our personal pleasure, not trying to convince readers to redefine it in defiance of what is understood to be pure pulp. Going into The Mask of Dimitrios expecting film noir might lead to disappointment for noir fans, so we're just letting you know where the movie stands. It has its charms, regardless, but overall it's decent, not good, and certainly falls short of being excellent. Even so, watching old crime movies is incredibly satisfying, even when they aren't top notch. The Mask of Dimitrios premiered in today in 1944.
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Vintage Pulp Dec 10 2010
FEAR OF A BLACK HAT
You can have my guns when you pry them from my cold dead hands.

We ran across another cool publication from Singapore, this one an English-language movie magazine called Movie News. This issue is from 1951 and features black-clad cover star Randolph Scott about to ventilate somebody with his sixguns. Inside the magazine are a couple of faces that are new to us— Zachary Scott and Miroslava. Zachary Scott, in panel nine, is unrelated to Randolph Scott, but had a moderately successful Hollywood career of his own, appearing in some westerns, as well as in the acclaimed noir classic Mildred Pierce. He died of cancer in 1965 at age fifty-one. Miroslava, née Miroslava Sternova, in panel four, was born in Prague in 1925 but fled that war-torn city for Mexico in 1939. A beauty contest opened doors in Hollywood for her, and she acted in about a dozen films and even once graced the cover of Life. At the age of thirty she committed suicide over a failed love affair. What we’ve read about her is quite interesting, so we’ll get back to her at a later date. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 24
1915—Ship Capsizes on Lake Michigan
During an outing arranged by Western Electric Co. for its employees and their families, the passenger ship Eastland capsizes in Lake Michigan due to unequal weight distribution. 844 people die, including all the members of 22 different families.
1980—Peter Sellers Dies
British movie star Peter Sellers, whose roles in Dr. Strangelove, Being There and the Pink Panther films established him as the greatest comedic actor of his generation, dies of a heart attack at age fifty-four.
July 23
1984—Miss America Resigns
Vanessa Williams, who had been crowned Miss America and was the first African American woman to win the prize, resigns her title after Penthouse magazine purchases and slates for publication a series of lesbian-themed nudes Williams had posed for when she was younger. After resigning she files a $500 million lawsuit against Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione but later drops the suit.
July 22
1992—Cocaine Baron Escapes Prison
Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, imprisoned leader of the Medellin drug cartel, escapes from a posh Colombian jail known as La Catedral after he learns authorities intend to move him to a real prison. His taste of freedom doesn't last—he's killed in a shootout a year-and-a-half later.
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