Everything that matters happens while the city sleeps.
This poster for The Sleeping City says it's the exciting successor to The Naked City. That's a mighty bold claim, considering The Naked City was directed by the legendary Jules Dassin and was selected for permanent preservation by the U.S. Library of Congress's National Film Registry, while The Sleeping City was directed by the not-quite-legendary George Sherman, who mostly helmed westerns and received a Golden Boot Award for his contributions to the Western film genre. Both were skilled at their craft, no doubt. But there's a big difference between the National Film Registry and the Golden Boot.
The Sleeping City is a New York City based crime thriller, and it starts with a cheeseball introduction in which lead Richard Conte pays tribute to Bellevue Hospital and its doctors and nurses. It was tacked onto the finished picture after city officials learned that the public already viewed the hospital negatively, and a crime thriller set there might make those perceptions worse. But it was still a silly thing to do—Bellevue was a public hospital. It wasn't like it was going to lose ad revenue from bad publicity. In any case, we're glad these sorts of “the story you're about to see” preambles didn't last long in Hollywood.
Once the movie gets started, Conte plays a cop sent undercover to solve a murder at the hospital. He's posing as a doctor and has some medical experience, but is by all means to avoid being roped into a situation where he actually has to do any doctoring. If he gets in a jam of that sort he's supposed to sacrifice his cover, and as reliably as the turn of a script page, he gets trapped into treating a case of diabetic shock. He decides to forge ahead rather than step aside. One could ponder his ethics, but luckily he gets through by the skin of his teeth. Whew.
Conte sticks his long nose in various nooks and crannies around Bellevue, makes goo-goo eyes with ward nurse Coleen Gray, and finds himself roomed with a hothead doctor named Steve. The murder mystery eventually lands right in his lap when his roommate turns up dead—lucky break that—and an important clue is provided by a nurse played by Peggy “Wow*” Dow. We won't tell you how the plot unspools from that point. We'll just say The Sleeping City is a functional thriller worth a watch. With Conte and Gray on board, it's pretty hard to fail. The film premiered this week in 1950.
*Not her official nickname. That's just how we think of her.
She wasn't really all that nice even before the demon showed up.
The tateken style poster you see above was made for the Japanese actioner Yôen dokufu-den: Han'nya no Ohyaku, aka Ohyaku: The Female Demon, set in Edo era Japan, and starring Junko Miyazono, Tomisaburô Wakayama, and Kunio Murai. Miyazono plays woman who as little girl survived when her prostitute mother jumped with her off a bridge, and as an adult carries a scar on her back from this traumatic suicide. She's grown up to be an acrobat, but is treated shabbily by men just as her mother was.
She flees her circus life and hooks up with a handsome young samurai, only to learn that he plans to steal gold being transported via caravan from a government mint. She begs to help her young lover, as he also takes on a partner who tried to rob the same mint twenty years earlier, losing an arm in the process. His knowledge will hopefully be key, but like any heist, there are hidden dangers. It's a given some will come from the protectors of the coveted goods, but sometimes they come from partners in positions of trust. That's all we'll say about the plot, except that Miyazono is never actually possessed by a demon. What happens is she gets a demon tattoo on her back, which we guess symbolizes her transition from somewhat shady to fully vengeful.
The movie was made by Toei Company and was the first in a trilogy of films that are often cited as precursors to the studio's famed pinky violence cycle. We can certainly see the similarity, though this film is black and white rather than the vivid color you get with pinky violence. But all that really matters is that it's entertaining, starting fast, incorporating nice sword action, and covering a lot of thematic ground. Very enjoyable stuff. It premiered in Japan today in 1968.
Qipao! Qipao! The cheongsam killer strikes.
Two companies, same release date, but we've confirmed it with our Japanese sources, so don't blame us if it's wrong. Onna mekura hana to kiba, aka Blind Woman: Flower and Fangs also premiered today in 1968, starring Koreharu Hisatomi, Isao Yamagata, Ken Sanders, and Chizuko Arai, who you see fronting the poster in a killer silk cheongsam. For the boys out there, that's a traditional dress of Chinese origin also known as a qipao. Hope that enriched your day. Arai plays a blind woman on a vengeance spree. We couldn't find a copy to watch, but the poster sure makes us curious.
For your own good trust nobody.
Above: a poster for the thriller The Unsuspected, a movie you apparently can't foresee or forget, starring Claude Rains, Joan Caulfield, Audrey Totter, and Constance Bennett, directed by Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame. We shared two nice Italian posters for this, and talked about it in detail. Check here, if interested. The Unsuspected premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
When commies get their hooks into you it's forever.
The Woman on Pier 13, for which you see a very nice promo poster above, had a pre-release title that tells you everything you need to know about it. That title was I Married a Communist. What you get here is a melodrama about Laraine Day, whirlwind married to successful San Francisco industrialist Robert Ryan, an exemplar of American free enterprise, but who was once a member of the communist party back in New Jersey. Uh oh.
Long before meeting and marrying Day, he exited the party without even thanking his hosts for the snacks, moved to Frisco, and changed his name. Married life is going wonderfully until the commies track him down and threaten to expose him if he doesn't give over two fifths of his salary each month and sabotage labor negotiations between San Fran shipping magnates and striking dockworkers. They kill a guy in front of him, just so he knows they mean business. The sneaky, thieving, blackmailing, murdering rats. They're cruel squared. All they needed to be worse were monocles and riding crops. And maybe a handy tray of stainless steel dental hooks. And speaking of hooks, wait until you see what what Ryan can do with one. The Woman on Pier 13 is well made and pretty fun, but it's less useful as cinema than as a time capsule of anti-commie propaganda. It premiered today in 1949.
One small film for sci-fi, one giant Lepus for bad cinema.
This rare poster was made to promote Night of the Lepus, and those creepy eyes in the dark belong to rabbits. Giant rabbits. Lepus. Makes sense, right? Stuart Whitman, Rory Calhoun, Janet Leigh, and DeForest Kelly, post-Star Trek, star in what is supposed to be an epically bad film, but to us it was more like standard low level sci-fi or horror (take your pick). The special effects drag down the entire enterprise, but that's almost par for the course when it comes to this genre during the time period. We can imagine the actors signing on and being told the special effects would carry the movie. “Yeah, we've got top people on this giant rabbit thing. They'll look totally convincing!” Well, they don't, but neither do the monsters in 90% of vintage sci-fi.
If we had to guess, we'd say one reason people think this film is so bad is that there are numerous inadvertently funny lines of dialogue, for example when Kelly says, “We've got three holes to blow,” and when Chuck Hayward says, “I'm ready to release the gas as soon as they come out.” But the script is coherent, and the acting is more than adequate, so those two positives alone keep this out of the Plan 9 and Starcrash sub-basement category, as it brings to life the story of scientists and ranchers trying to reduce the number of feral rabbits in Arizona. Researchers Whitman and Leigh turn to hormones to shut off the bunnies' breeding capabilities, but this accidentally causes them to grow to enormous size—and makes them hopping mad too. In short order they overrun the nearby town and all the humans are fleeing for their lives.
Yes, the movie is silly. It's a clinic in the limited utility of forced perspective for trying to make believable monsters, an endeavor additionally undermined by the inconvenient fact that giant bunnies are still cute. But can you really pass up the chance to see Bones from Star Trek ambling around the high desert? And Janet Leigh is always sight to behold, here settling deep into an elegant milfhood, forty five with a cotton candy afroperm that she makes look as regal as a platinum crown. Epically bad? It's bad alright, mainly because it lacks distinction. But maybe you should just watch it and decide for yourself where it ranks. Night of the Lepus premiered today in 1972.
The final element of our airtight alibi is the naked part, so let's get started on that now.
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.
Some guys just can't catch a break.
The Breaking Point is the second of three Hollywood adaptations of Ernest Hemingway's novel To Have and Have Not, and it's a very good one. You're already starting from an advantageous point when you have John Garfield in the starring role. He could act, and this part requires quite a bit from him. This was his next-to-last movie—he would be dead two years later, victim of a congenital heart problem, exacerbated by high stress, reportedly from his blacklisting that was the result efforts by commie hunters.
Casablanca director Michael Curtiz is on board here too, and he does a masterful job bringing the story to life. Curtiz, or Warner Brothers, or both, decided to transplant the novel's action from Cuba to Newport Beach, but the theme of a man caught in untenable economic circumstances remains. Those who wanted a reasonably faithful adaptation of Hemingway's story got it in this film. The first version, also called To Have and Have Not, was amazing but had little in common with the source material. The third adaptation, The Gun Runners, was also good but downplayed certain political themes. (There's also an Iranian version we haven't seen and which we'll leave aside for now.) So, which of the three U.S. versions is best? Is it really a competition? They're all compulsively watchable, but this effort with Garfield is the grittiest by far, and the most affecting. It's strange—To Have and Have Not is supposed to be Hemingway's worst book, but with three good movies made from it, maybe it isn't that bad after all. Perhaps because it's a work from one of the most influential authors ever to write in English, the bar was just set too high. Maybe it really is Hemingway at his worst, but personally we think it's very good. The Breaking Point premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.
She's pure pinku power in a pint-sized package.
This fantastic poster was made to promote the roman porno movie Joshidaisei: Sexy Dynamite, which was known in English as Female Coed: Sexy Dynamite, and starred the amazing Mari Tanaka, one of our favorite pinku actresses. Just as a reminder for the uninitiated, pinku is a Japanese film genre roughly analogous to sexploitation, though the definition can be more exclusive depending on where you look. Also, the films are not explicit, but manage to imply plenty with camera angles, props, and physical acting. Sexy Dynamite isn't available to us, sad to say, but we had to show you the poster anyway because it's so unusual. If we ever track down the film we'll update this entry. In the meantime, as consolation, check out the promo image of Tanaka below. Want to see more of her? Click her keywords below and start scrolling. Joshidaisei: Sexy Dynamite premiered in Japan today in 1972.
In New York City people of a certain class live on the Upper East Side. Stockbrokers, lawyers, Nazis...
This poster would have sucked us right through the moviehouse doors had we been around when it was on display. It has beautiful colors, an air of mystery, a nice design, and dramatic graphics. The House on 92nd Street, which starred William Eythe, Lloyd Nolan, and Signe Hasso (who we've seen a lot of lately), definitely doesn't rise to the level of the promo art. It qualifies as a propaganda film, though the events depicted are accurate. But with J. Edgar Hoover appearing briefly in the prologue, a stentorian narration, stilted dialogue, and a soundtrack that veers toward the martial, it's pretty hard to immerse yourself in what is undeniably a Hollywood-on-FBI stroke job.
If you take the plunge, the movie turns out to be about a German American student who is recruited by Nazis but instead becomes a double agent for the FBI during the period when World War II was raging in Europe but the U.S. wasn't militarily involved yet. German spies had been deployed around the U.S., and the movie deals with a particular group that gets wind of an important military secret, the secret of—dum dum duuuuuuum—the bomb. You know. The big bomb. The A-bomb. The nuke. The edge. The be-all. The end-all. The mushroom cloud layin', eyeball meltin', city flattenin', effervescently fissionatin' ordnance both Germany and the U.S. thought would win the war. Good premise, actually.
But since World War II was almost over when the film came out, the plot's outcome was a given. Did audiences feel any suspense? We aren't convinced. Even if the FBI hadn't routed out the spies, the skyrocketing Upper East Side real estate prices would have. The Nazis would have moved to the Bronx seeking cheaper rent. With the conclusion not in doubt, the movie's thrills needed to be provided by the audience's attachment to double agent Eythe, who's in constant danger of being outed and de-cortexed by a Luger slug. Unfortunately, he's mostly an empty suit, therefore the movie fails on that level. It was well reviewed in its day, but duh, critics need to eat too. We doubt many would have panned the movie at that time. But the lens of history is cruel and today the film is considered substandard.
The best aspect of The House on 92nd Street is Signe Hasso as the cast iron Frau Farbissina style bitch operating the nest of naughty Nazis, but she's not enough to save the production—nor ultimately the spy ring. If the filmmakers had ditched the narration, the scare music, the scare Hoover, and gone less procedural and more personal, maybe there would have been a good film in this somewhere, but as it turned out it's just a middling crime melodrama considered to be a fringy film noir—certainly one the genre could do without. The poster, though, remains very nice. The House on 92nd Street premiered today in 1945. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—China Detonates Nuke
At the Lop Nur test site located between the Taklamakan and Kuruktag deserts, the People's Republic of China detonates its first nuclear weapon, codenamed 596 after the month of June 1959, which is when the program was initiated.
1996—Handgun Ban in the UK
In response to a mass shooting in Dunblane, Scotland that kills 16 children, the British Conservative government announces a law to ban all handguns, with the exception .22 caliber target pistols. When Labor takes power several months later, they extend the ban to all handguns.
Pierre Laval, who was the premier of Vichy, France, which had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, is shot by a firing squad for treason. In subsequent years it emerges that Laval may have considered himself a patriot whose goal was to publicly submit to the Germans while doing everything possible behind the scenes to thwart them. In at least one respect he may have succeeded: fifty percent of French Jews survived the war, whereas in other territories about ninety percent perished.
1966—Black Panthers Form
In the U.S., in Oakland, California, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther political party. The Panthers are active in American politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but eventually legal troubles combined with a schism over the direction of the party lead to its dissolution.
1962—Cuban Missile Crisis Begins
A U-2 spy plane flight over the island of Cuba produces photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles being installed. Though American missiles have been installed near Russia, the U.S. decides that no such weapons will be tolerated in Cuba. The resultant standoff brings the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of war. The crisis finally ends with a secret deal in which the U.S. removes its missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets removing the Cuban weapons.
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