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.
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.
Dick Powell faces a clear and present danger.
Italian artist Giorgio Olivetti painted this poster for Nei bassifondi di Los Angeles, which was made in the U.S. and better known as Cry Danger. It starred the always excellent Dick Powell, with Rhonda Fleming in support. Its Italian title means, rather uninspiringly, “in the the slums of Los Angeles,” but the poster has inspiration to spare. It eclipses the U.S. promo completely. You can see that here, as well as read about the film. Nei bassifondi di Los Angeles premiered in Italy today in 1953.
If you use the sleeper car you might never wake up.
This Italian poster for was made to promote Le jene di Chicago, which opened in Italy today in 1952, but was made in the U.S. and is better known as The Narrow Margin. It's a movie we talked about back in April. The Italian title translates as “the hyenas of Chicago,” which makes sense—a potential federal witness is dogged by a pack of predators that want to kill her. It's a movie worth watching. You can read about it here.
Don't mess with the man upstairs.
Stranger on the Third Floor is sometimes cited as a proto film noir, coming a year before the first official noir, 1941's The Maltese Falcon. In this day and age, any vintage crime film is called a film noir on crowdsourced websites like IMDB, so depending on where you look film noir isn't as pure a cycle as it used to be. But in this case the debate is fair. The film is about newspaper journalist John McGuire, who serves as a witness at a sensational murder trial, while his fiancée Margaret Tallichet frets about the impact of recognition on their lives. The two of them are planning to move out of their boarding houses and find a place together, but McGuire's building has lately been haunted by a mysterious stranger played by Hungarian actor Peter Lorre. Who is he? Why is he hanging around? Is he somehow connected to the murder?
Gene D. Phillips, in his book Out of the Shadows: Expanding the Canon of Film Noir, cites Stranger on the Third Floor as a film that “codified the visual conventions of film noir.” It has flashbacks, a brilliant nightmare sequence, a sense of growing dread, a false accusation (or possibly two), a narration (though not of the hard-boiled variety), and a usage of angles and shadows that is extravagant. Where it differs from film noir is in its general lack of cynicism and world weariness. In fact, it's the opposite. McGuire ponders whether doing his civic duty by testifying will have consequences, but at no point does he feel like a sucker for doing so. He believes in society and its basic functions. The Maltese Falcon, by contrast, offers civic duty as an option, but Sam Spade acts as he does because of his personal code. Duty is secondary, and ultimately, so is love.
Despite these differences between Stranger on the Third Floor and canonical film noir, casting the net wide enough to include this movie makes sense. It definitely gets its influences from the same places as film noir, particularly in German Expressionist cinema of the early 1900s. Interestingly, Lorre would feature prominently in The Maltese Falcon, as would Elisha Cook, Jr., who plays the defendant at the trial. So the connection between Stranger on the Third Floor and film noir is concrete on that level at least. All that said, does our opinion matter? Watch Stranger on the Third Floor and debate whether it's a film noir yourself. You'll see a visual masterwork regardless of which cinematic bin you stick it in. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1940.
Hayworth takes front and center on classic poster, while Ford is lucky to be included at all.
Above is an alternate poster for Affair in Trinidad, and co-star Glenn Ford even gets to be on this one. The look here is simple and classic, and bespeaks a studio with total confidence it has a hit on its hands. The movie, which premiered today in 1952, wasn't actually that good, but it made money anyway because Hayworth was pure gold at this point. Ford? Well, he was mainly along for the ride, which is why he's second billed and standing behind Hayworth—and a pole too. You can read what we wrote about the movie at this link.
Money is always greener from a distance.
Sweet Smell of Success was a mandatory watch for us. It's considered by many to be a top film noir but we'd never seen it. Well, that's been rectified now, and what a good expenditure of time it was. Tony Curtis plays a New York City publicity agent whose business is falling apart because he's been blacklisted by the most important newspaper columnist in the country, played by Burt Lancaster. Why the rough treatment? Lancaster's sister is dating a jazz musician and he wants the relationship ended. He's trying to force Curtis to do the dirty work—smear the guy, frame him, whatever, just get him out of the picture. Curtis's desperation to climb to the top ranks of agents leads him to try breaking up the pair, but in film noir sleazy decisions have a way of pushing goals farther away rather than drawing them nearer.
Sweet Smell of Success, which had a special premiere in New York City in June 1957, and went into national release a week later, which was today, has a feel similar to another Big Apple drama—the excellent 2019 movie Uncut Gems. Both movies are very fast paced, even borderline chaotic, as desperate bottom-dwellers try to climb to the top of a dog-eat-dog industry while keeping one step ahead of karmic fate. Sweet Smell of Success is the better film largely thanks to Lancaster in one of the all-time heel roles. You'll want to punch his character J.J. Hunsecker—nice, right?—directly in the middle of his face. And you'll want to give Curtis a shaking fit to rattle his teeth. Anything to wake him up to the fact that in a cutthroat game, the most important thing isn't having a razor but lacking a conscience. Noir fans should push this one to the head of the queue.
Unless they're framed and sent to prison for life. In that case a few tears are understandable.
Above is a rare and vibrant Australian full bleed (i.e. borderless) promo poster from RKO Radio Pictures A/SIA for Dick Powell's classic film noir Cry Danger, released Down Under today in 1951. We wrote about this flick back in February, so if you're curious just have a look at this link. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
1970—Angela Davis Arrested
After two months of evading police and federal authorities, Angela Davis is arrested in New York City by the FBI. She had been sought in connection with a kidnapping and murder because one of the guns used in the crime had been bought under her name. But after a trial a jury agreed that owning the weapon did not automatically make her complicit in the crimes.
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