An American con man in London.
Above: a nice Italian poster for Jules Dassin's 1950 film noir Night and the City. The city is London, which proves to have numerous hazards for shady Richard Widmark. In Italy the movie was called I trafficanti della notte, then retitled Nella citta la notte scotta. You see both on the poster. Earlier promos exist that have only the first title, but we like this later one painted by Renato Casaro the most. It has a beautiful glowing cityscape in the background. Amazing work. We don't know why the title was changed, but the original translates as “the traffickers of the night," while the second is, “in the city the night is hot,” so maybe the distributors simply preferred the more poetic second title. We certainly do. We haven't talked about this movie yet, but we'll get to it a little later. It opened in Italy today in 1951.
T-Men shows Uncle Sam's money men hard at work keeping the greenback safe.
As you know by now, film noir derived from several sources, one of them being the hard-boiled pulp fiction of the 1930s and ’40s, such as the aforementioned Kiss Me, Deadly. As the cycle rolled onward, filmmakers routinely mined crime fiction for movies, and it became common for a book to be purchased for adaptation immediately after it was published. It was a heyday for crime authors. T-Men, for which you see a cool poster above and another at bottom, was not adapted from a novel. It came from a story idea by Virginia Kellogg, the unheralded brain behind films such as White Heat and Caged.
T-Men is the narrated tale of two treasury agents who infiltrate the Detroit mafia to stem a wave of counterfeiting. Dennis O'Keefe and Alfred Ryder play the duo of undercovers, looking sharp in their tailored suits, as they climb the mob chain of authority pretending to be in the possession of flawless counterfeiting plates they're willing to sell. The two take numerous risks to get close to the unknown head of the mob, and find themselves in hot water more than once. The question quickly becomes whether they can catch the crooks and stay alive.
You get excellent noir iconography here, courtesy of director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton. In fact, though the movie is good anyway, the main reason to watch it is because it's a clinic in genre visuals, filled with beautiful shots where light and darkness intersect in sharp angles or blend like mist. The movie also makes good use of locations tailor-made for shadowplay—the steam room, the deserted street, the nighttime amusement park, the swank supper club, the gambling den, the photographer's darkroom, the industrial maze. If you didn't know better you'd think the filmmakers chose the locations first, then built a movie around them.
For those reasons, T-Men is a mandatory entry for film noir buffs, however it isn't quite perfect. Though there are many surprises, aspects of it related to survivability are predictable, and the narration nestles right up against pro-government propaganda, particularly toward the end. Generally, we think most vintage films could have done fine without narration, but here it's actually needed, so you'll have to ignore the filmmakers intent to teach the audience a lesson. That shouldn't be too hard—T-Men is an almost perfect noirscape, a place to get lost in darkness and enjoy the ride. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
Calcutta is heavy on looks but light on substance.
We'll tell you right out that Calcutta came very close to being an excellent movie, but doesn't quite get over the hump. It deals with a trio of pilots flying cargo between India and China on fictional China International Airways. The trio, Alan Ladd, William Bendix, and John Whitney, stumble upon a highly profitable international smuggling ring and quickly find that the villains play for keeps. Along with the fliers, the film has Gail Russell as Whitney's girlfriend, and June Duprez as a slinky nightclub singer. While the exotic setting marks the film as an adventure, it also fits the brief as a film noir, particularly in Ladd's cynical and icy protagonist.
As we said, the movie isn't as good as it should be, but there are some positives. Foremost among them is Edith King as a wealthy jewel merchant. She smokes a fat cigar, the masculine affectation an unspoken but clear hint of her possible lesbianism, and with a sort of jocular grandiosity simply nails her part. Another big plus is the fact that the miniature work (used in airport scenes), elaborate sets and props, and costumed extras all make for a convincing Indian illusion—definitely needed when a movie is filmed entirely in California and Arizona (Yuma City and Tucson sometimes served as stand-ins for exotic Asian cities, for example Damascus in Humphrey Bogart's Sirocco).
On the negative side, Calcutta has two narrative problems: the head villain is immediately guessable; and Russell is asked to take on more than she can handle as an actress, particularly as the movie nears its climax. Another problem for some viewers, but not all, is that the movie has the usual issues of white-centered stories set in Asia (or Africa). However, within the fictional milieu the characters themselves seem pretty much color and culture blind, which isn't always the case with old films. Even so, the phalanxes of loyal Indian servants, and the dismissiveness with which they're treated—though that treatment is historically accurate—probably won't sit well with a portion of viewers.
Here's what to focus on: Alan Ladd. He's a great screen presence, a solid actor in the tight-lipped way you often see in period crime films, and the filmmakers were even smart enough to keep him shirtless and oiled for one scene. We swear we heard eight-decade-old sighs on the wind, or maybe that was the Pulp Intl. girlfriends. They'd never seen Ladd before, but immediately became interested in his other films. We were forced to tell them he was a shrimpy 5' 6” and they were a bit bummed. But he had it—and that's what counted. His it makes all his films watchable, but doesn't quite make this one a high ranker. Calcutta had its official world premiere in London today in 1946.
Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
Dennis O'Keefe does the trench-coat-and-pistol thing in this cool promo photo made for the 1950 film noir Woman on the Run. The movie is so titled because of Ann Sheridan, but O'Keefe plays an important secondary character in a flick with some good moments. It's well worth a watch. We wrote about it here.
Anyone can be calm until the cops start poking around.
Tension, for which you see an excellent promo poster above and two more below, is an unlikely but interesting film noir about a mild mannered pharmacist played by Richard Basehart, who's married to hot-to-trot Audrey Totter and discovers she's cheating on him. When she finally leaves him for an apelike creature played by Lloyd Gough, and the ape issues Basehart a solid beating, he decides he's been pushed too far. You'd think that pharmacists would be among that select group of people you really don't want to anger, but this particular pharmacist has a much more elaborate scheme in mind than just a dose of chemicals, and his determination to commit an untraceable murder leads to him building a very traceable double life. In that second life things get complicated when he meets lovely Cyd Charisse, who he wants to make a permanent addition to his future.
Basehart's plot will not go as intended, of course, but the way in which it fails is a surprise, and the complications keep piling up. Tension has flaws, to be sure. The detective played by Barry Sullivan does things that, as far as we know, would get any murder case tossed out of court, but you have to go with it, since he tells you from the jump he'll do anything to solve a case. The plusses of the movie outweigh any weird bits, and with Totter on board, it's probably a must-see. The sinuous clarinet melody she gets every time she appears onscreen is over-the-top, but she's a major scenery chewer anyway, so it actually fits. We didn't like her in Lady in the Lake, but she's delivered in everything else we've seen—this flick, particularly. And Charisse, by the way, gets one of the better entrances we've seen in vintage cinema, straddling two high railings with a camera in hand. She's as hot as a human being can get. Tension premiered today in 1949.
Rita Hayworth and Gilda get a dose of the northern aesthetic.
The awesome film noir Gilda premiered in Sweden today in 1946, and above is a beautiful promo for the movie painted by Swedish artist Eric Rohman. In typical Nordic fashion, the overall approach here is clean and understated. One of the most interesting parts of looking at vintage posters is noting the cultural differences in approach. Every country contributes to the art form in unique ways, and all are worthwhile. We often find Swedish posters to be less inspiring than U.S., Italian, Japanese, and French efforts, but this one, in all its simplicity, is a winner, as is the movie.
Small town jealousy leads to big time problems in Lupino noir classic.
Duh DUH duh duh DUH. He has a degree is philosophy...
Duh DUH duh duh DUH. He's broken over thirty bones...
Wait—wrong movie. That's the 1989 Road House, Patrick Swayze's unimprovable existential pugilistic epic. The movie we mean to discuss is the 1948 Road House, which premiered today and starred Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Celeste Holm, and Richard Widmark. Nobody destroys an automobile showroom by driving a monster truck through it. Instead Ida Lupino drives her monster truck through a couple of male egos and teaches them lessons about a woman's right to choose her own life—and her own man. This gimmick-free proto-feminist drama is an excellent example from the film noir genre, and it's exhibit A why Lupino is a legend. She's mighty good in this. Mighty mighty good.
Duh DUH duh duh DUH. She has a degree from the school of hard knocks...
Duh DUH duh duh DUH. She's broken over thirty hearts...
The most important element of our airtight alibi is the naked part, so let's get started on that first.
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.
What she does in the shadows.
We saw Signe Hasso recently. In fact, we used her for a pro-vaccine PSA. So we brought her back without any messaging. Though we messaged just by mentioning the previous message, didn't we? Anyway, you see Hasso here in probably her best promo image, which like the earlier shot was made when she filmed The House on 92nd Street. There are some pretty bad femmes fatales in film noir, but Hasso, with her cabal of deadly thugs and penchant for dangerous chemicals, is close to the baddest. We'll talk about it in a bit. The photo from 1945.
Getting a vaccination can really be a Hasso.
Above is a photo of Swedish actress Signe Hasso from her 1945 spy thriller The House on 92nd Street. We think that if the COVID shot givers looked like Hasso there'd be very few holdouts. But the shot she gives, sadly, is not of the helpful variety—though it was probably easier to administer than convincing some Americans to get their jabs. First the guy's smacked out of his chair, then kicked across the room until he's insensate.
Hasso was born Signe Larsson in Stockholm, was acting in Swedish films by age eighteen, made the leap to Hollywood seven years later, and from that point added many highlights to a career that would turn out to be long and distinguished. Among her notables: Heaven Can Wait, Johnny Angel, and A Double Life, as well as television roles on shows such as The Green Hornet, Magnum P.I., and The Fall Guy.
For the record, we think skepticism against government is healthy. Hell, in a couple of the countries we've lived it's a survival trait. But believing that tens of thousands of scientists are aligning with governments to betray the global population for nebulous goals of control is an outlandish fantasy. Healthy skeptics can be convinced with evidence; unhealthy skeptics can never be convinced, and that's a psychological disorder.
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.
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