Rare Maltese bird migrates to Asia.
Above: a very nice Japanese poster for the classic early film noir The Maltese Falcon, with Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, and Peter Lorre. The movie was titled in Japanese, “colors of Malta,” which we can't see as any better than the original, but whatever. It's a great piece of art. We've talked about the film only briefly, because what more can we offer than the numerous film experts who've reviewed it? However, we do have a lot of associated poster and book art, some of which you may not have seen. We suggest looking here, here, here, and here.
Ryan reaches the limits of control in crimefighting and romance.
On Dangerous Ground, which premiered today in 1951, is a film noir melodrama about a bad cop who finds a reason to reset his professional and emotional lives. It was adapted from Gerard Butler's novel Mad with Much Heart, and that title pretty much tells the tale, as Robert Ryan plays a detective so mean even his colleagues warn him he's out of control.
He eventually ruptures a suspect's bladder during a beating. He deserves to be drummed out of the police and publicly shamed for such a transgression (in our opinion), but his chief, instead of handing him the pink slip he deserves, sends him to the mountains to help with a distant investigation until the heat cools. Once there Ryan finds a reason to reassess his life in the form of Ida Lupino, the blind but insightful sister of a murder suspect. She can sense bullshit and hurt miles away, and she becomes the first person that Ryan has actually listened to for a long time.
On Dangerous Ground is not by any means the best that film noir has to offer, but it has its moments, including extensive location shooting in snowy western Colorado. For noir completists it's certainly one to watch. Those with limited time allotments can probably give it a pass in favor of something better, but note that Lupino is a film noir icon as both an actress and director, and in fact directed some scenes in this movie, though she wasn't credited. Keep an eye out for her official work.
Stanwyck and MacMurray make a dangerous bet
There are still, after all these years, important classic films we've never discussed in detail. We can now cross Double Indemnity off the list. The movie starred Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, and we've looked at its West German poster, had fun with one of its promo images, and talked about its ingenious quasi-remake, but never actually gotten to the movie itself. Well, here we are, and now the question is can we tell you anything you don't already know? Possibly not, but let's start with the Australian daybill, which you see above. It isn't the usual poster you find online, so that's something, anyway.
The movie begins with MacMurray making a confession, then slides into flashback to explain his crime. He plays an insurance salesman for Pacific All Risk who quickly realizes that Stanwyck's interest in secretly purchasing a life insurance policy on her husband is for the purposes of murder and claims fraud. He resists the scheme at first but Stanwyck convinces him. How? All we see are a few kisses but the answer has to be sex. McMurray is a guy who has experience with women and is so confident with them he's almost glib. He wouldn't agree to murder a guy just because someone is a good kisser.
Thus, temptation nudges him, unseen sex tips him over the edge, and from there he and Stanwyck are off and running with their murder plot. Eventually Stanwyck's husband is found dead on a train track, presumably after falling off the observation car of the Los Angeles-Santa Barbara express, and the crime seems perfect, except the insurance policy that will pay $100,000 brings a tenacious investigator into the picture. That would be Edward G. Robinson in another great performance, and he immediately latches onto an anomaly—Stanwyck's husband didn't file an insurance claim when he broke his leg weeks earlier. Why would a guy who had accident insurance not make a claim? Maybe he didn't know he had accident insurance.
Robinson's role and performance make the movie. He pulls on the single hanging thread that unravels the entire murder plot, and when it starts to come apart it does so almost too fast to believe. There's revelation upon revelation, even reaching years back to the time that Stanwyck's husband was married to another woman, and Stanwyck was that woman's nurse. It's this latter half that makes Double Indemnity a top classic—though make no mistake, it's a film noir clinic even from its first frames, in terms of visuals, structure, music, and direction from Billy Wilder. But when MacMurray's situation deteriorates so quickly and so uncontrollably in the last half, you almost experience the same vertigo and helplessness his character must feel.
Double Indemnity was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and as usual for the Oscars, was beaten in most of its categories by a film that ended up having far less influence—the Bing Crosby musical Going My Way. But time tells the tale. Nobody is calling Going My Way one of the best films ever made, but Double Indemnity was certainly a top ten film noir, and was influential far beyond its niche. The movie opened in the U.S. in the late spring of 1944 and finally reached Australia to dazzle and dismay audiences today, December 1, that same year.
Tom Neal takes an alternate route directly to trouble.
Years ago we shared a poster for the low budget Tom Neal/Ann Savage film noir Detour, which premiered today in 1945. That promo is a photo-illustration and one of our favorite film noir posters. Above is an alternate poster for the movie, and it's also nice, but not in the same class as the previous piece. We touched on the movie only briefly back then, making a few comments from our memories of seeing it years earlier, but we gave it a close watch yesterday for the first time in a long while.
Tom Neal stars as a nightclub musician who hitchhikes from New York City to Los Angeles to reunite with his girlfriend, who'd gone there earlier to try her luck in show business. He takes a ride from a “Miama” bookie, ends up accidentally killing him, and flees with the car. The next day and a ways down the road he picks up another hitchhiker—Ann Savage—who happened to have accepted a ride from the bookie earlier. Neal has picked up the only person in the world who can turn his bad luck into a one-way trip to the gas chamber. She figures out right away that the bookie must be dead, and uses her knowledge to cruel advantage:
“Just remember who's boss around here. If you shut up and don't give me any arguments, you'll have nothing to worry about. But if you act wise, well, mister, you'll pop into jail so fast it'll give you the bends. [snip] As crooked as you look, I'd hate to see a fella as young as you wind up sniffin' that perfume that Arizona hands out free to murderers.”
You get plenty of film noir attributes here: tough dialogue, voiceover, flashback, nightmare, silhouette, rear projection, rain, fog, bad luck, terrible decisions, lonely highway, and a dangerous femme fatale. Thinking beyond the confines of the screenplay, there's an interesting discussion to be had about why Savage is so mean. There's a suggestion that men have made her that way, and an equal amount of suggestion that she's bad by nature. In either case, she's one of the worst passengers any snakebitten cinematic sap ever picked up on the road. She makes Detour about as good as cheapie film noir gets.
Seventy-five minutes of movie time never went so slowly.
Above you see a poster for Hold Back Tomorrow, a movie written and directed by Hugo Haas, the man behind numerous low budget noirs, usually with Cleo Moore in a leading role. This effort is more of a melodrama than a film noir, but Haas and Moore dutifully collaborate once again, with Moore introduced to the audience when despondency over her descent into prostitution prompts her to jump off a bridge. Her suicide attempt is thwarted by a passerby and she returns to her lowly room, pretty much beaten by life.
Next the audience meets the world's most annoying death row inmate John Agar, who, when promised a last wish by the warden, asks for several ridiculous things, most importantly a woman to keep him company. Just like that two prison officials go to the local dance hall, catch wind of Moore, ask her to keep Agar company, and conduct her, bedraggled and knackered from her near-death experience, to the penitentiary.
Most of the remainder of the film consists of Moore-the-suicidal and Agar-the-soon-to-be-executed getting to know each other in the cozy confines of his cell. Agar sums up the tedium of this with his hilarious line: “Shut up! I didn't ask for a psychiatrist. I asked for a girl!” Nevertheless, Moore keeps digging into that restive brain of his, and the two trade insights, debate finer existential points, talk of their pasts, fall in love, and get married by the prison priest before Agar is marched off to the death chamber for his just desserts. Oops—spoiler alert.
The movie is exactly as cheesy as it sounds, and isn't a mandatory watch when there are scores of better period films from which to choose. Seriously—state authorities lock a suicidal woman in a cell with a convicted strangler? Come on. But don't take our word for it. Try it yourself and see if you feel like tomorrow can't come fast enough. Hold Back Tomorrow opened this month in 1955.
I wore my best dress. I hope this isn't too festive for death row.
So I hear you're a strangler and dead man walking. That's fascinating. I'm a dancer and part-time hooker.
My time in prison has taught me that strangling was always just a cry for help and a substitute for snuggling.
Do you think we're in command of our own destinies, or do you think we were always meant to be in such a bad movie?
Screw destiny! I believe in free will and I'm outta here!
At this point she has no idea which way to turn.
Above is an alternate promo poster for Tension, with cool upside down imagery of a figure representing star Audrey Totter. We say “representing” because it doesn't really look like Totter, but it's her alright. It was modeled after a promo photo. The movie also starred Richard Basehart and the incandescent Cyd Charisse. We talked about this last year, so if you want to know more, click here. And if you want to see more of Totter click here, or Charisse (a must), click here and here. Tension premiered today in 1949.
Don't look. Don't move. Don't even breathe.
Here's a U.S. promo for Fritz Lang's film noir The Woman in the Window, which premiered today in 1944. The poster is unattributed, but it's fantastic work. There's normally a white border, but the version you always see online omits that. It's also highly saturated. We don't know if the color was the work of an industrious Photoshop user, but we do like it. However, a version that shows its real age—slightly less vibrant but still very nice—appears below. There are other differences too, such as the color of the figures and some of the lettering.
The Woman in the Window was headlined by star supreme Edward G. Robinson, who we love more with each movie we see. In this one he plays an everyman who gets into a nightmare situation over his head. That would be five feet, five inches for Robinson because he was such a diminutive guy, but the tallest man in the world would still be in deep trouble. You have to watch the movie to find out why, but you can read a little more about it and see a Swedish poster here, and a French poster here.
Matt Dillon gets on an unstoppable roll.
Above is a poster for the U.S. movie The Big Town, which is a drama released today in 1987, set in 1957, based on the 1967 Clark Howard novel The Arm. We like 1950s movies. And we like new movies set during the 1950s. It's always interesting to see an interpretation of the era, versus productions actually made during those years. The Big Town is a fun rendition, as pretty boy Matt Dillon plays a skilled young dice shooter who leaves podunkville Indiana for Chicago and experiences all its pleasures and pains.
On the pleasure side is femme fatale fan dancer Diane Lane, and bringing the pain is Tommy Lee Jones as a gambler who runs a crooked nightspot called the Gem Club—and who happens to be married to Lane. It's always a bad idea to bed a bad man's wife, but it's an even worse idea to break his bank for $15,000. Dillon does both. Later he tries to engineer a high stakes double-cross that will allow him to win the Gem Club in a craps game. Along the road from rags to potential there are plenty of subplots, including revenge, good girl redemption, and the struggle to retain's one's soul.
The Big Town is often called a neo-noir, and though any film with a crime focus and numerous night scenes tends to get that label slapped on it, in this case we feel like the designation is accurate. The movie deals not only with crime and gambling, but also takes passes at burlesque, racism, and the culture clash between ’40s style tough guys and new generation hipsters, with their sculpted hair and rock and roll attitudes. On the acting front, Dillon does a good job, and Jones is excellent as always, doing that unique thing he does. If you're looking for a fast period drama you can certainly do worse.
Rita Hayworthová was worth the wait.
This Czech poster for the film noir classic Gilda isn't substantially different from the U.S. promo, but the Czech text makes it worth a share. Rita Hayworthová? Love it. “V titulní roli americkeho dramatu”? That's easy to figure out—“In the title role of the American drama.” The online translator agreed. There's no Czech release date for this, but we can make a guess. It was released in early 1946, played at the Cannes Film Festival in September of that year, and began to reach secondary European markets in early 1947. So it probably reached then-Czechoslovakia in mid-1947. But whenever it showed up, Hayworthová made it a mandatory night at the movies.
They're not really going anywhere but they look mighty good doing it.
What's a period drama without a fake driving scene? Nearly all such sequences were shot in movie studios using two techniques—rear projection, which was standard for daytime driving, and both rear projection and lighting effects for simulating night driving. Many movie studios made production images of those scenes. For example, above you see Jane Greer and Lizabeth Scott, neither looking happy, going for a fake spin around Los Angeles in 1951's The Company She Keeps. We decided to make a collection of similar shots, so below we have more than twenty other examples (plus a couple of high quality screen grabs) with top stars such as Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Mitchum, and Raquel Welch. We've only scratched the surface of this theme, which means you can probably expect a second collection somewhere down the road. Incidentally, if you want to see Bogart at his coolest behind the wheel look here, and just because it's such a wonderful shot, look here for Elke Sommer as a passenger. Enjoy today's rides. Humphrey Bogart tries to fake drive with Ida Lupino in his ear in 1941's High Sierra. Dorothy Malone, Rock Hudson, and a rear projection of Long Beach, in 1956's Written on the Wind. Ann-Margret and John Forsythe in Kitten with a Whip. We think they were parked at this point, but that's fine. Two shots from 1946's The Postman Always Rings Twice with John Garfield and Lana Turner, followed by of shot of them with soon-to-be murdered Cecil Kellaway.
Shelley Winters, looking quite lovely here, fawns over dapper William Powell during a night drive in 1949's Take One False Step. William Talman, James Flavin, and Adele Jergens share a tense ride in 1950's Armored Car Robbery. William Bendix rages in 1949's The Big Steal. Frank Sinatra drives contemplatively in Young at Heart, from 1954. George Sanders drives Ingrid Bergman through Italy, and she returns the favor, in 1954's Viaggio in Italia. Harold Huber, Lyle Talbot, Barbara Stanwyck and her little dog too, from 1933's Ladies They Talk About. Virginia Huston tells Robert Mitchum his profile should be cast in bronze in 1947's Out of the Past. Peggy Cummins and John Dall suddenly realize they're wearing each other's glasses in 1950's Gun Crazy, a film that famously featured a real driving sequence, though not the one above. John Ireland and Mercedes McCambridge in 1951's The Scarf. James Mason drives an unconscious Henry O'Neill in 1949's The Reckless Moment. Hopefully they're headed to an emergency room. Marcello Mastroianni driving Walter Santesso, Mary Janes, and an unknown in 1960's La dolce vita. Tony Curtis thrills Piper Laurie with his convertible in 1954's Johnny Dark. Janet Leigh drives distracted by worries, with no idea she should be thinking less about traffic and cops than cross-dressing psychos in 1960's Psycho. We're not sure who the passengers are in this one (the shot is from 1960's On the Double, and deals with Danny Kaye impersonating Wilfrid Hyde-White) but the driver is Diana Dors. Kirk Douglas scares the bejesus out of Raquel Welch in 1962's Two Weeks in Another Town. We're familiar with her reaction, which is why we're glad the Pulp Intl. girlfriends don't need to drive here in Europe.
Robert Mitchum again, this time in the passenger seat, with Jane Greer driving (and William Bendix tailing them—already seen in panel ten), in 1949's The Big Steal. The film is notable for its many real driving scenes.
James Mason keeps cool as Jack Elam threatens him as Märta Torén watches from the passenger seat in 1950's One Way Street. And finally, to take a new perspective on the subject, here's Bogart and Lizabeth Scott in 1947's Dead Reckoning. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1969—Allende Meteorite Falls in Mexico
The Allende Meteorite, the largest object of its type ever found, falls in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The original stone, traveling at more than ten miles per second and leaving a brilliant streak across the sky, is believed to have been approximately the size of an automobile. But by the time it hit the Earth it had broken into hundreds of fragments.
1985—Matt Munro Dies
English singer Matt Munro, who was one of the most popular entertainers on the international music scene during the 1960s and sang numerous hits, including the James Bond theme "From Russia with Love," dies from liver cancer at Cromwell Hospital, Kensington, London.
1958—Plane Crash Kills 8 Man U Players
British European Airways Flight 609 crashes attempting to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, West Germany. On board the plane is the Manchester United football team, along with a number of supporters and journalists. 20 of the 44 people on board die in the crash.
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