C'est nous qui d'mande du Rififi.
Tonight the Noir City Film Festival screens Jules Dassin's classic crime drama Du rififi chez les homes, aka Rififi for the second time in three years. It's appropriate, though, since Dassin was the noir master behind Night and the City, Thieves' Highway, The Naked City, and Brute Force. Based on Auguste Le Breton's novel, Rifiifi came in 1955 after Dassin's work had been absent from Hollywood screens for five years—a break brought about due to his blacklisting by the anti commie crowd. Dassin made Rififi in France and reminded Hollywood exactly what they had lost.
We first meet the character Tony le Stéphanois in a poker game where he's lost his shirt. The other players won't let him continue without more cash, and that's how we meet his close friend Jo, who's called in to take Tony home. Tony is a big time criminal fresh out of prison and down on his luck, while Jo is a green young crook. Jo and his accomplice Mario have hatched a plan to cut the glass out of a jewelry store window and steal the few gems in the display, and they ask Tony to partner with them.
Our introduction to this trio makes them all seem sympathetic, but this Tony is a bad guy. When does that become crystal clear? When he whips his ex-girlfriend with a belt. Which beyond its literal significance also seems to indicate that people around Tony get hurt generally. He soon convinces Jo and Mario that their smash-and-grab idea is peanuts, and under his influence the plan grows into a full scale heist—one of the most memorable heist sequences in cinema, containing almost no dialogue, and running close to half an hour of screen time.
If you've never seen the film you may be wondering what exactly is “rififi”? A name? A place? The idea is explained in detail to a nightclub audience in a highly entertaining number by Magali Noël, because even French audiences of the day didn't know what it meant. We could tell you what Noël sang about it, but what would be the fun in that? If you want to know you'll have to watch the movie.
There's nothing up my sleeve except more of me.
Above, Paris-Hollywood magazine published in 1949, with a bare-shouldered Jane Russell on the front cover and Anne Baxter (spelled Ann by editors) gracing the rear. Baxter is pointing out Alaska on a wall map, probably explaining that she'd need a parka and snow shoes if she ever went there, rather than the undies and heels she's wearing. Inside the issue you get showgirls, models in lingerie, and celebs dressed as bunnies. Was it Easter? No idea, because Paris-Hollywood came without publication dates during these years. However, the front cover noted that Russell was starring as Calamity Jane in the film Pale Face, aka The Paleface. Since that appeared in France in mid-February and promotional efforts usually occur in advance of a film's premier, or at least around its opening date, we suspect the issue was published in February or March of 1949.
War is hell, but being a prisoner of war can be worse.
This January 1959 copy of Stag is an example of the joys of collecting old magazines. We bought it for three dollars, but it's being auctioned on Ebay right now for $100. Mort Kunstler handles the cover chores, illustrating Edward Newman's story “The P.O.W.s Who Broke Out of Rat Hell Stockade,” which deals with a group of Union soldiers during the U.S. Civil War who tunneled their way out of Richmond's Libby Prison. The story is true. The escape was one of the most successful breakouts of the war. The escapees were highly motivated due to the fact that Libby Prison was a hellhole that generated high mortality rates due to abuse, starvation, exposure to severe weather, and terrible overcrowding. A contemporary newspaper had this to say: “They are huddled up and jammed into every nook and corner; at the bathing troughs, around the cooking stoves, everywhere there is a wrangling, jostling crowd; at night the floor of every room they occupy in the building is covered, every square inch of it, by uneasy slumberers, lying side by side, and heel to head, as tightly packed as if the prison were a huge, improbable box of nocturnal sardines.” Inside Stag is art from James Bama, Kunstler again, Joe Little, Al Rossi, and Bruce Minney. You also get model/actress Irène Tunc, who was Miss France of 1954 and appeared in about thirty films during a three-decade film career. All this and more below, in twenty-three scans.
Revenge is never as uncomplicated it sounds.
A post on Christmas? Don't we ever quit? Well, we wrote some in advance and are allowing our Pulpbot to do the posting. We're actually on a tropical island with the Pulp Intl. girlfriends and have been for several days. But if we were watching the 1945 film noir Cornered it would not be a terrible misuse of time by any means. The movie deals with a war vet seeking revenge for the death of his wife, a member of the French resistance who was killed by French collaborators. While stalking them from Europe to South America he finds himself involved in a hunt for an entire cabal of traitors still up to their scheming ways. Motivations are murky all around, but the hero is hellbent on revenge—even if it upsets the delicate plans of a group of Nazi hunters. Good solid film noir, with good solid Dick Powell in the lead. The movie is set in France and Argentina but the production never left unexotic Culver City, California. Still works, though. Cornered premiered in the U.S. today in 1945.
This is going to be the most awesome revenge ever.
What the fuck have I gotten myself into?
Seventeen thrillers from swinging sixties.
Above, seventeen covers from Gold Star Books for Hank Janson's, aka Stephen Daniel Frances's, best selling and highly sexual Hank Janson series, starring a tough reporter who shared a name with the author's pseudonym. We think these represent the complete run of Janson books published by Gold Star, though there are more entries in the series. Later novels were written by Victor Norwood, Harry Hobson, and D.F. Crawley. The excellent art is from Paul Rader, Harry Barton, and Robert Maguire, circa 1963, 1964, and 1965.
Sing? Are you serious? I can barely breathe in this outfit.
We never want to go too long without an offering from the great French pin-up and paperback artist Alain Gourdon, aka Aslan, so above we have his cover for Macadam Sérénade, a thriller written by Paul S. Nouvel for Éditions de l'Arabesque. Nouvel was a pseudonym. The man behind it was French journalist/author/translator/editor Jean-Michel Sorel, who also wrote as Larry Layne, Arnold Rodin, Silvio Sereno, Tugdual Marech, Jan Mychel, Jean-Michel, Yvon Brozonech, Swani Abdul Hamid (we love that one), and many other identities. In all he produced more than one-hundred forty novels—and probably could have squeezed in a couple more if he hadn't been so busy thinking of pen names. 1955 on this.
Newman and Poitier show Paris how to sizzle.
Remember last week we said you should watch the movie Paris Blues? We took our own advice. Above is a nice poster promoting the film's run in West Germany, which began today in 1961. The movie features a couple of jazz horn players portrayed by Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier who are having a grand time in Paris playing the clubs and escaping the political unrest in the U.S. Both meet American women, and both fall in love. Poitier's girlfriend Diahann Carroll is deeply concerned with civil rights and goes about convincing Poitier that he's running away from his responsibility to make America better. Pretty soon he feels heavily pressured to go back, even though it means giving up his wonderful life for hatred and turmoil.
Okay. Forgive us. Here's the thing. As foreigners abroad we think this is utter horseshit. We feel no particular allegiance to our birth country, and it's only fair, because the people who really matter feel no allegiance to it either. If they did, then how could captains of industry ship millions of jobs overseas, people who have enough money to live fifty lifetimes constantly dodge taxes, and corporations suck public money out of the federal government until it can't pay for schools and roads? They obviously don't care, so why should we? And why should Sidney Poitier's character care? We don't think an actual man in his situation—especially an African American man who's escaped rampant racism—would let anyone make this an issue for him, not even Diahann Carroll, who's sweet looking, yes, but certainly nothing unique in Paris.
But it's in the script, so Carroll's constant harping on this provokes an inner crisis and Poitier frets and wonders if it's right to live an idyllic life playing jazz music in Paris while his brethren are suffering. Will he go back? Only a viewing of the film will reveal the answer. We'll encourage you to watch it by adding that on the way to his big decision you'll get cool Parisian scenery, lots of scenes in nightclubs, a jazz cameo or two, and an equally complex love story between real-life spouses Newman and Joanne Woodward. While Poitier and Newman aren't actual jazz musicians, their pantomimic musical sequences mostly work, and the movie is fun, exotic, and insouciant most of the way through. Just try not to fall for the Hollywood social engineering that suggests any life outside the U.S. is one filled with the blues.
It's strong and bold and might be just the wake-up you need.
Coffy is not a movie we planned to write about, due to the fact that it's been covered by so many websites. But then we came across this French poster made for its release in Paris today in 1973—where it was called Coffy: la panthère noire de Harlem—and we changed our minds. The movie possibly falls into the category of those everyone has heard about but few have seen, so we gave it a run for the first time in some years. The story is straightforward—a teen girl is in the hospital suffering from the effects of an overdose, and her sister, played by Pam Grier, goes looking for revenge. She kills the dealer who sold heroin to her sister, but soon learns there's another dealer behind that one, and so forth. In a world that's corrupt to the core, revenge is a maze where the center is impossibly difficult to find.
Coffy isn't well acted, but those who go in expecting Oscar worthy performances are setting up false standards. Blaxploitation was about telling stories from a new point of view, one lacking in American cinema. Trying to round out a black cast, as well as find compelling black leads, meant taking chances and bringing novice performers into the fold. The message is what mattered in these movies, and the message was that something was seriously wrong in America. Those who paid attention learned one of the most basic lessons anyone can learn—your reality is just one of many. Other people live entirely different lives governed by different, equally valid truths. Mainstream Americans who understood this concept learned plenty from blaxploitation. Those who denied this most simple of life's facts learned nothing—and are the same people who today look at what happens in America's inner cities with bafflement or scathing contempt.
Coffy was really an envelope pushing film. We'll just highlight one scene to make that point. Pam Grier's title character has sex with her boyfriend then heads toward the bathroom. On the way there, but off-camera, we hear her say, “Oops! Oh, you shouldn't have made me laugh.” What do you supposed happened? Here's a hint—it involves spillage, and not from a glass. It may well have been the first movie ever to hint at post-coital drainage. Later it does another off-camera bit with oral sex when Grier pours wine in her boyfriend's lap and proceeds to clean it up. Coffy may not have been well acted, but it had moments of earthy realism that were almost microscopic in focus. You also get plenty of action and a fierce, single-minded heroine you can root for. Coffy opened in France today in 1973. Check out a rare U.S. promo poster for it here.
Which came first—the paroled convict or the escaped criminal?
This Japanese poster was made for Le cercle rouge, a French heist movie starring Alain Delon, André Bourvil, Gian Maria Volontè, and Yves Montand. It's an excellent flick that uses a bizarre plot device—a newly paroled convict who's been talked into a jewel heist finds a criminal who's just escaped from custody hiding in the trunk of his car, and subsequently decides to team up with the guy on the jewel robbery.
There's more involved than just that, of course, but what are the odds of a criminal taking refuge in another criminal's car and turning out to be just the right partner for an upcoming robbery? We'd say it's possible only in writer-director Jean-Pierre Melville's imagination, but he makes this insane coincidence work. A third man completes the heist crew and off they go to make their big score. Or at least try. This is really good, hard-boiled stuff, with that French flair. Le cercle rouge opened in France in October 1970, and made it to Japan today the same year. The French poster above and right, by the way, looks mighty familiar. It's similar to one made for another very good Alain Delon crime movie, also centered around a jewel heist, 1969's Le clan des Siciliens. Well, don't mess with success.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1961—Plane Carrying Nuclear Bombs Crashes
A B-52 Stratofortress carrying two H-bombs experiences trouble during a refueling operation, and in the midst of an emergency descent breaks up in mid-air over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Five of the six arming devices on one of the bombs somehow activate before it lands via parachute in a wooded region where it is later recovered. The other bomb does not deploy its chute and crashes into muddy ground at 700 mph, disintegrating while driving its radioactive core fifty feet into the earth, where it remains to this day.
1912—International Opium Convention Signed
The International Opium Convention is signed at The Hague, Netherlands, and is the first international drug control treaty. The agreement was signed by Germany, the U.S., China, France, the UK, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Russia, and Siam.
1946—CIA Forerunner Created
U.S. president Harry S. Truman establishes the Central Intelligence Group or CIG, an interim authority that lasts until the Central Intelligence Agency is established in September of 1947.
1957—George Metesky Is Arrested
The New York City "Mad Bomber," a man named George P. Metesky, is arrested in Waterbury, Connecticut and charged with planting more than 30 bombs. Metesky was angry about events surrounding a workplace injury suffered years earlier. Of the thirty-three known bombs he planted, twenty-two exploded, injuring fifteen people. He was apprehended based on an early use of offender profiling and because of clues given in letters he wrote to a newspaper. At trial he was found legally insane and committed to a state mental hospital.
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