Suspense so thick you could cut it with a sword.
Above: an alternate poster for the 1946 film noir Suspense. This one is similar to the one we showed you before, except Belita gets to be front and center by herself. Swords—it looks like a knife but it's definitely a sword—feature prominently in the movie, so the use of one as a central element on the art is mandatory. You can read a little more here, and see a lovely image of Belita here.
An American con man in London.
Amazing that we haven't talked in detail about Night and the City yet, but all things in good time, and the time is now. Directed by Jules Dassin, this is one of the top entries in the film noir cycle, featuring Richard Widmark playing an American named Harry Fabian who's trying to hustle his way to riches in postwar London. Being a hustler, he long ago gave up the idea of working a fair job for a fair wage, and instead has been involved in so many spurious get-rich-quick schemes that nobody believes in him anymore. But when he stumbles upon the greatest greco-roman wrestler of all time, he cooks up a plot to take over wrestling promotion in London—and this scheme is a sure thing.
Widmark's performance hinges upon nervous energy and emotional desperation, as he shapes Harry Fabian into one of the greatest characters in the film noir annals, a man who's equal parts pitiable, ridiculous, and dangerous. He's the ultimate noir loser, a man who simply cannot see the forest for the trees. Gene Tierney, who any normal man would worship twenty-four hours a day, plays his girlfriend, beautiful and forbearing, but whose presence Fabian warps into yet another reason to grift his way to a fortune. He feels that a guy in his meager circumstances doesn't deserve her—which completely overlooks the fact that he already has her.
As Widmark tries to hold his caper together the rug is pulled from under him multiple times, yet like any serious hustler he manages to stumble improvisationally onward with lies and wishful thinking. His constant sowing of the seeds of his destruction is hard to watch, because as viewers we can see where and how he's going to fail—or possibly, just possibly, fate will grant him a miracle though he very much deserves to fail. One of the cool things about film noir is that its leads tend to be terribly flawed, but here Widmark is a human clearing house for bad character traits, and the worst of them is the one he has no control over—he was simply born under a bad star.
All in all Night and the City deserves its reputation. We have a few quibbles, but they're purely personal. For example, female leads in these old films often perform a song and Tierney's is atrocious, sadly. And if we were going to be very picky we'd add that it's also hard to buy the wonderful Tierney and the unctuous, work-averse Widmark as a couple, but of course, willing suspension and all that jazz requires that we go with it. The movie works even if Widmark refuses to. Give it a watch. You won't regret it. Night and the City had its world premiere today in 1950.
What evil lurks in the hearts of men? The psychologist knows!
We wanted to highlight once again the interesting output of Estudio MCP, which was the marquee under which Spanish artists Ramón Martí, Josep Clavé, and Hernán Pico worked. They created this poster for Retorno al abismo, known in English as Conflict, starring Humphrey Bogart. The movie was made during the height of public interest in psychology and attempts to portray a situation in which a man's subconscious distress manifests in unpredictable ways. The result is pretty hamfisted, but Bogart makes it work anyway because he's Bogart. We talk about the movie a bit more here. After opening in the U.S. in 1947, Conflict premiered in Spain today in 1947.
Murder most premeditated.
Above is a poster painted by German artist Heinz Bonne for the U.S. film noir classic Double Indemnity, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray as lovers who try to pull off a murder and daring insurance fraud but may not be quite as smart or lucky as needed. We'll hopefully get back to Bonne a little later. Double Indemnity premiered in the U.S. in 1944, but made it to Germany—West Germany actually—as Frau ohne Gewissen, or “woman without a conscience,” six years later, today in 1950.
They call it maximum security to scare you. I still get hair dye, cigarettes, good shoes, and pedicures, so I'm all good.
Let's circle back to Jan Sterling, shall we? As you know, she's become a favorite actress of ours, and since she has a number of excellent promo images we might as well run through a few. This one was made for her 1955 drama Women's Prison, in which her co-stars were Ida Lupino, Audrey Totter, and Cleo Moore. Think we'll be watching that? Well, with three great film noir icons in the cast, along with Sterling herself as one of the most elegant felons ever, you can bet on it.
Something old, something new.
This is something a bit unusual. It's a life-sized promotional cardboard cut-out for 1982's film noir-sourced comedy Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which starred Steve Martin and Rachel Ward. We thought of this film recently due to Martin's new Agatha Christie-influenced television mystery series Only Murders in the Building, which we watched and enjoyed. We first saw Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid years ago, long before Pulp Intl. and all the knowledge we've gained about film noir. We liked it much better during our recent viewing.
If you haven't seen it, Martin uses scores of film noir clips to weave a mystery in which he stars as private detective Rigby Reardon. Aside from Ward, and director Rob Reiner, his co-stars are Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, Barbara Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Cary Grant, and many others, all arranged into a narrative that turns out to be about cheese, a Peruvian island, and a plot to bomb the United States.
The film's flow only barely holds together, which you'd have to expect when relying upon clips from nineteen old noirs to cobble together a plot, but as a noir tribute—as well as a satirical swipe at a couple of sexist cinematic tropes from the mid-century period—it's a masterpiece. If you love film noir, you pretty much have to watch it. Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid had its premiere at the USA Film Festival in early May, but was released nationally today in 1982.
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.
Hi, I'm just a typical smalltown wife and I have nothing murderous on my mind at all.
This photo shows the moment Lana Turner makes her screen entrance in the 1946 film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice, and as noir fans know, when the light hits an actress and glows in that special way trouble soon follows. Reviews of the film glowed too, and Turner went from star to supernova. If you haven't seen Postman you really should. For that matter, you should probably read the book.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
2009—Farrah Fawcett Dies
American actress Farrah Fawcett, who started as a model but became famous after one season playing detective Jill Munroe on the television show Charlie's Angels
after a long battle with cancer.
1938—Chicora Meteor Lands
In the U.S., above Chicora, Pennsylvania, a meteor estimated to have weighed 450 metric tons explodes in the upper atmosphere and scatters fragments across the sky. Only four small pieces are ever discovered, but scientists estimate that the meteor, with an explosive power of about three kilotons of TNT, would have killed everyone for miles around if it had detonated in the city.
1973—Peter Dinsdale Commits First Arson
A fire at a house in Hull, England, kills a six year old boy and is believed to be an accident until it later is discovered to be a case of arson. It is the first of twenty-six deaths by fire caused over the next seven years by serial-arsonist Peter Dinsdale. Dinsdale is finally captured in 1981, pleads guilty to multiple manslaughter, and is detained indefinitely under Britain's Mental Health Act as a dangerous psychotic.
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