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 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.
She's small but she has enormous appetites.
What would ’70s erotic cinema be without Swedish movies? And more importantly, without Swedish actresses? Above is a Japanese poster for the softcore film Justine och Juliette, known in English as Justine and Juliette, or sometimes Swedish Minx, and it starred the small wonder known as Marie Forså, who pound for pound was probably the best performer to come out of Swedish sexploitation cinema. That's what we think, anyway. We talked about the movie last year, so all we're doing today is showing you this eye-catching piece of art. Oh, and the rare image of Forså below. Let's not forget about that. We also have the rear of the poster. In addition, you can see a colorful Japanese promo for Forså's movie Butterflies here, and a very, erm, interesting one for her movie Bibi here.
Black don't crack a smile.
Above is a second excellent tateken poster for Shin joshuu sasori: 701-gô, known in English as New Female Prisoner Scorpion: 701, with Yumi Takigawa dressed in black from head to toe and looking ready to deal out death. These tateken style promos are rare, so we're happy to have found two. As usual, we like to share posters on a film's premiere date, and that was today in 1976.
Sometimes it's better if you don't go all the way.
Above is another case where the foreign promo material for a film surpasses the domestic version, something that happened increasingly as U.S. studios gave up on painted art, while foreign distributors kept on with the traditional ways. These two Italian promos were made for Quando baci una sconosciuta, which was produced in the U.S. as Once You Kiss a Stranger. The film stars the lovely Carol Lynley, so the odds of ending up with a nice domestic poster were high, but Warner Brothers flubbed it. Have a look at their effort below and we think you'll agree it's almost disgracefully bad. Meanwhile the Italian promos were painted by Tino Avelli, someone whose we've highlighted before, and while these don't rise to the level as some of most magnificent posters from Italy, they're still pretty nice.
Once You Kiss a Stranger is a reworking of Patricia Highsmith's 1950 novel Strangers on a Train, but with a woman in one of the leads. These days many would complain that this is evil “gender swapping,” but dramatic plotlines are finite in number, therefore freshening up old material in this way has always been attractive to Hollywood. They're doing it a bit more of late because today there are fewer new ideas than ever, and because ticket buyers—by which we mean the diverse people under age thirty who actually fuel profits—like it and put down good money to see it.
Lynley plays a deranged woman who intends to exchange murders with a golf pro played by Paul Burke. Lynley is about to be permanently committed to a mental institution, while Burke always finishes second in his tournaments to Phil Carey. Lynley offers to solve that problem by killing Carey, and expects Burke to kill her psychiatrist in exchange. Just as in the novel, as well as Alfred Hitchcock's 1951 cinematic adaptation, the key to making this plot device work is the protagonist not believing what he's being told. Once You Kiss a Stranger makes that part more realistic than either Highsmith or Hitchcock by simply having Burke agree to anything that gets the tanned and toned Lynley into bed. This is where casting a woman pays dividends. The entire entrapment is now in shorthand because everyone in the cinema understands the visceral need to get inside Lynley. Hell, for her we'd promise to rope the moon. We'd swear an oath while covered in goat's blood. We'd swim a lake of fire. Point is, you can understand Burke's attitude being, “Uh huh... I hear you... murder... understood... can you take off your panties real slow?” However, Burke being led by his dick into trouble is the only improvement Once You Kiss a Stranger manages over what came before. The rest is a pale imitation of two scintillating sources, and done on a level dialogue-wise that Mystery Science Theater 3000 would epically mock. We can't recommend it, but speaking only for ourselves, we'll watch anything with Lynley. Full stop. Once You Kiss a Stranger, with her, Burke, Carey, and the lovely Martha Hyer aged forty-five and looking fantastic, premiered today in 1969.
Italian shockumentary about Africa is all voyeurism and no reflection.
Lately we've been highlighting Italian illustrator Sandro Symeoni's brilliant paperback covers, but today we've decided to bring him back as a poster artist, which is how he first found acclaim, and why we first noticed him. He painted this for the schockmentary Africa ama, which would translate as “Africa loves,” but is known in English as Africa Uncensored. 1970s shockumentaries have an educational veneer, but are mostly about cultural titillation and making viewers in modern countries lose their lunches, as practices such as male and female circumcision, animal killing, and scarification are filmed unflinchingly and up close.
This genre of movies, particularly popular in Italy, showed all this and did it with zero self awareness, considering modern powers didn't just engage in torture and killing during their empire building, but industrialized it. It takes efficiency to slaughter millions. Of course, pointing out that indisputable fact makes people angry in this anti-truth age, so we'll move on and note that Africa ama was mostly the brainchild of brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni, a couple of guys we've run across before for their archaeology work. See what we mean here. Africa ama premiered in Italy today in 1971, and if you dare you can watch it here while the link lasts.
They don't make virgins like they used to.
When Nikkatsu Studios attempted comedy, it may have been uproarious for audiences of the 1970s, but to us it's usually about on the same level as a Pauly Shore movie. But Joshidaisei: Nise shojo, known in English as College Girls: Fake Virgins, is, we have to admit, actually a bit amusing in parts. Or maybe it was just our mood at the time. We aren't going to watch it again to test the theory. When it comes to Nikkatsu, because its films are capable of being so shocking, when you get something pleasant you take your profits and don't look back.
Basically, what you get here is Kenji Simamura as a habitual molester who runs a real estate company. He meets Masumi Jun, Reiko Maki, and Natsuko Kurumi when he feels up Maki on a train, and is stunned when she snaps a pair of cuffs on his roaming hands. She isn't a cop. She just has them around because gropers are apparently a problem on Japanese trains of that time. From this auspicious encounter Sinamuraends up hiring the girls to pose as virgins for three unsuspecting squares who own vast tracts of land he covets. Virginity is—at least as posited by the movie—what all men want. The three land-rich marks are, of course, unattractive klutzes, and not very bright besides, but for all that, it's obvious Simamura's grand scheme won't come off as planned. The humor in this film is on a pretty basic level, but as we said, there are a few good moments. How can you not be amused when, after that groping on the train, the girls make Simamura buy them lunch—while still handcuffed to Maki? But most of the comedy is lame. Luckily, the movie has its beautiful leads to compensate. Since Jun and Maki star on the poster, we're having them star in the promo images below. Joshidaisei: Nise shojo premiered in Japan today in 1973. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—Prohibition Ends in United States
Utah becomes the 36th U.S. state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, thus establishing the required 75% of states needed to overturn the 18th Amendment which had made the sale of alcohol illegal. But the criminal gangs that had gained power during Prohibition are now firmly established, and maintain an influence that continues unabated for decades.
1945—Flight 19 Vanishes without a Trace
During an overwater navigation training flight from Fort Lauderdale, five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo-bombers lose radio contact with their base and vanish. The disappearance takes place in what is popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle.
1918—Wilson Goes to Europe
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sails to Europe for the World War I peace talks in Versailles, France, becoming the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office.
1921—Arbuckle Manslaughter Trial Ends
In the U.S., a manslaughter trial against actor/director Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle ends with the jury deadlocked as to whether he had killed aspiring actress Virginia Rappe during rape and sodomy. Arbuckle was finally cleared of all wrongdoing after two more trials, but the scandal ruined his career and personal life.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
It's easy. We have an uploader that makes it a snap. Use it to submit your art, text, header, and subhead. Your post can be funny, serious, or anything in between, as long as it's vintage pulp. You'll get a byline and experience the fleeting pride of free authorship. We'll edit your post for typos, but the rest is up to you. Click here
to give us your best shot.