Proceed carefully—ice may occur at major plot points.
The thriller Suspense featured the unusual promo poster you see above, which we think really captures the visual feel of film noir in a way posters more typical of the genre do not. Those posters are amazing, but this one is a nice change of pace. The movie stars Olympic ice skater and sometime magazine model Belita, alongside Barry Sullivan, an incredibly prolific actor who appeared in scores of films. Sullivan plays a hustler who weasels his way up from lowly peanut vendor to fast living impresario at a wildly popular Los Angeles ice skating extravaganza. The catalyst for his ascent is his radical suggestion that Belita leap through a circle of swords. Only in old movies, right? “Hey, that circle of swords gag was a great idea! How'd you like to manage the joint!”
Belita's ice skater is a riff on the standard film noir chanteuse, except instead of doing a few a nightclub numbers she does a few skate routines. She's as good as advertised, too. But the success of any film romance hinges on the chemistry between the boy and girl and here it feels contrived. Both Belita and Sullivan are decent actors, but he's a little too charisma challenged, in our view, to attract someone whose life is going as skatingly as Belita's. But it's in the script, so okay, she likes the schlub. What Suspense does well, though, is visuals. Check out what director Frank Tuttle does late in the film when the shadow of the aforementioned sword contraption appears outside Sullivan's office. Beautiful work, suggesting that karma may indeed be a circle.
On the whole, Suspense uses ice the same way Die Hard uses a skyscraper. The entire film is improved by the freshness of the setting. Add expensive production values and visuals worthy of study in a film school and you have a noir whose many plusses cancel out its few minuses. We recommend it.
As a side note, the ice show is staged in the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, one of the most breathtaking art deco structures ever built, which was of course eventually demolished because that's what they do in Los Angeles. Actually, a fire destroyed it, but only after seventeen years of abandonment which would not have happened if anyone important in the city cared about historically significant architecture. Suspense brings the Pan-Pacific, just above, back to life, and that's another reason to watch it. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.
I'm going to stand right here in your personal space and repeat myself until you say yes.
We're supposed to do a screen kiss, but I'm totally gonna slip you some tongue.
Wow, these are razor sharp, but you'll be fine. Unrelated question—how's your insurance coverage?
We'll be fine, officer. My brother has extras we can borrow.
Robbery victims George and Jayne Liberace pose for a photo made today in 1952 showing the only jewelry they have remaining after the burglary of their North Hollywood home. They may not look terribly devastated, but the place was totally ransacked by thieves seemingly clued in to the fact that George had a public appearance scheduled for that evening. As you may be aware, he was the older brother and business partner of Lee Liberace, aka just Liberace, the famed musician and performer, who was also well known for his extensive collection of jewels, which included a 59 pound rhinestone, and a 14K gold and platinum ring set with a marquise diamond. Presumably George hit him up for a loan the next day.
Did the legal system use him as a pawn, or was it the other way around?
Caryl Chessman and a detective named E.M. Goossen appear in the above photo made shortly after Chessman's arrest in January of 1948. Chessman had robbed several victims in the Los Angeles area, two of whom were women that he sexually assaulted. He forced one woman to perform oral sex on him, and did the same to the other in addition to anally raping her. Chessman was convicted under California's Little Lindbergh Law, named after Charles Lindbergh's infamously kidnapped and murdered son. The law specifically covered intrastate acts of abduction in which victims were physically harmed, two conditions that made the crime a potentially capital offense.
The law was intended to prevent deliberate acts of kidnapping and ransom, as had occurred in the Lindbergh case, but Chessman's prosecutors—demonstrating typical prosecutorial zeal—argued that Chessman had abducted one victim by dragging her approximately twenty-two feet, and had abducted the other woman when he placed her in his car, then drove in pursuit of the victim's boyfriend, who had fled the scene in his own vehicle. Chessman was indeed sentenced to death. The Little Lindbergh Law was revised while he was in prison so that it no longer applied to his crimes, but his execution was not stayed.
During his nearly twelve years on death row he authored four bestselling books—Trial by Ordeal, The Face of Justice, The Kid Was a Killer, and Cell 2455: Death Row, the latter of which was made into a 1955 movie. The books, many interviews, and a steady stream of articles fueled public debate about his looming execution. Among those who appealed for clemency were Aldous Huxley, the Rev. Billy Graham, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Frost. Their interest was not wholly about Chessman so much as it was about the issue of the cruelty of the death penalty, which had already been abandoned in other advanced nations.
In the end the campaigning was ineffective, and Chessman was finally gassed in San Quentin Prison. But even dying, he further catalyzed the death penalty debate. The question of whether a capital punishment is cruel and unusual hinges on whether it causes pain. Gas was held by its proponents to be painless. Chessman had been asked by reporters who would be observing his execution to nod his head if he was in pain. As he was gassed, he nodded his head vigorously and kept at it for several minutes. It took him nine minutes to die. That happened today in 1960.
She's not just another brick in the wall.
Above, Los Angeles born actress Helen Luella Kofor, known professionally as Terry Moore, who first appeared on a movie screen in 1940 and has been active ever since, most recently in Merrily, slated to open in late 2017. She also appeared in 1944's Gaslight, 1949's Mighty Joe Young, and dozens of other films. Along the way she was nominated for an Academy Award, became secret spouse to Howard Hughes, and posed for Playboy at age fifty-five, looking just fine, too. All in all, Moore is a unique character. The above shot of her is from around 1955.
They're hoping for a Cinemiracle.
The above photo shows two hopefuls backstage about to compete for the title of Miss Cinemiracle, which was bestowed by the Los Angeles Press Photographer's Association in a pageant held at the National Theatre. We have no idea who the two women are or what they did once taking the stage, but we do know what Cinemiracle was—a film projection system designed to compete with Cinerama. The winner of the Miss Cinemiracle title, who ended up being Merlene Marrow, gained a measure of recognition—always invaluable for those hoping to break into show business—and in return helped publicize the projection process at public appearances. You see Marrow doing exactly that below, standing next to other pageant winners and actor James Garner. Eventually, Cinerama bought the patents for Cinemiracle and brought the competing format to an end. Anyway, these images struck us and we wanted to share them. The one above was made today in 1958, and the one below was made later the same year.
Bank heist goes every which way except the right way.
This year's Noir City Film Festival opens with the 1949 heist drama Criss Cross. Based on a bestselling novel of the same name by Don Tracy, it's the story of man played by Burt Lancaster who returns to Los Angeles after some years away to find that his ex-wife Yvonne De Carlo has hooked up with a local gangster. The exes rekindle their flame, but when it looks as if the gangster has caught them in the act Lancaster spontaneously cooks up a story about how he was putting together a plan to rob the armored car service for which he works.
Lancaster's robbery idea is not only designed to deflect the gangster's suspicion away from the affair, but to also fund the future he envisions with De Carlo when she and him run away. This scheme, which strains credulity, is probably one of the most obviously terrible ideas in the long, celebrated history of doomed ideas in film noir, but with good direction by Robert Siodmak, who had worked with Lancaster on The Killers, and good acting by all involved, the film concludes on the positive side of the effectiveness ledger. Numerous excellent Los Angeles exteriors, including at Union Station and on now mostly leveled Bunker Hill, make this noir an important time capsule as well, an aspect that increases its appeal. And an excellent musical number by Esy Morales & His Rhumba Band gives the proceedings a further boost. All in all, Criss Cross is a winner.
Sorry about your face. My aim isn't so good with this thing.
Give a girl a whip and you'll find out who's the boss. Luisita is about a Mexican girl living in nowheresville whose beauty brings her both opportunities and problems. After a run of bad luck in her home town she moves to Los Angeles and eventually lands a job in a massage parlor. There she learns how depraved men really are, but also how easy they are to manipulate, and of course she uses to this new knowledge to try and get herself a piece of the pie. Basically, it's one of those books that's supposed to expose a shocking subculture, but it has the added bonus of pretending to offer insights about an entire ethnic group. However, the racism subplots are probably accurate. Loomis later went on to write House of Deceit and The Marina Street Girls. The excellent art on this is by Robert Maguire and the copyright is 1954.
Extra, extra, read all about it!
The above photo shows the murder scene of Los Angeles mob lawyer Sam Rummell who was messily dispatched in front of his Laurel Canyon villa via shotgun blast in 1950. Around 1:30 a.m., as he climbed the steps to the sprawling house, someone or someones with deadly aim blew off the left rear quadrant of his head. Rummell ran with the notorious mobster Mickey Cohen for years, and had been neck deep not only in Cohen's multimillion dollar prostitution and gambling operations, but also in schemes to oust mayor Fletcher Bowron in a recall election, and to take control of the LAPD.
The insider theory was Rummell was killed to prevent his appearance before a grand jury to testify about an alleged conspiracy between the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and a company called Guarantee Finance, a front for a massive Cohen-controlled bookmaking operation. The insider theory was also that L.A. Sheriff's officers pulled the trigger. These remained mere theories, because the killer or killers were never caught.
All very interesting, one more dead mob underling, but that isn't why we shared the photo. A close look reveals, at center, a man holding an edition of the Los Angeles Mirror with a headline reading: Cohen's Lawyer Shot To Death. Yes, Mirror staff were so quick with their Extra edition that it hit newsstands before Rummell's murder scene had been cleared. That's journalism—late night, coffee-fueled, time-pressured, editor-with-a-whip journalism. And the photo is an fascinating example of it working perfectly, sixty-six years ago today.
Glenn Ford meddles in the governance of a sovereign nation. Why? Because he can.
Do you think RKO Pictures actually went to Honduras to film Appointment in Honduras? Of course not. The movie, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1953, was mostly filmed at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Too bad. We were looking forward to seeing what Honduras looked like before it became the disaster we personally know so well, a place of perpetual instability that at times has owned the highest murder rate in the world. We used to go there often, and we were there during one of its periodic political upheavals. Airports closed, bus companies shut, smoke and chaos filled the streets. We were stuck there for a week, but it wasn't all bad. We left San Pedro Sula, drove to the coast, then hopped a ferry—still operating thankfully—to Roatán. If you have to be trapped in a paralyzed country, choose one of its islands. Ah... memories.
Was all of the above a digression? Well, let's come back to it. In Appointment in Honduras Glenn Ford plays a shady character trying to make his way upcountry for reasons unknown. He enlists the aid of a quartet of killers, and kidnaps a married couple to use as hostages. He shoots a few people, and shows no remorse when his henchmen do the same. Yet he's the good guy in this. Eventually we learn that he's bringing money into the country to give to counter-revolutionaries intent on restoring a deposed president to power. There's no discussion of whether he has the right to do this, nor does he have a plan to deal with the chaos that might result from causing widespread violence. He seems to think everything will work out fine, and he can go back to his ranch when all is done. Sound familiar?
Thus we come full circle to our intro, not a digression at all, but a description of the real world result of the type of mercenary entitlement depicted by the movie. Director Jacques Tourneur, who had done so much better with previous efforts like Out of the Past and Cat People, is way too good for this flat adventure tale. Ford is fine, as always, but Ann Sheridan—one of our favorite golden actresses—is just lost, stuck in a character whose motivations are never believable, or for that matter palatable. But even though Appointment in Honduras isn't a good movie, it's an excellent example of mild mid-century cultural propaganda, with its icy disregard for the lives and desires of dark foreigners. Emotions stripped bare, is what the poster proclaims. Motivations stripped bare might be more accurate.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1958—Workers Assemble First Corvette
Workers at a Chevrolet plant in Flint, Michigan, assemble the first Corvette, a two-seater sports car that would become an American icon. The first completed production car rolls off the assembly line two days later, one of just 300 Corvettes made that year.
1950—U.S. Decides To Fight in Korea
After years of border tensions on the partitioned Korean peninsula, U.S. President Harry Truman orders U.S. air and sea forces to help the South Korean regime repel an invasion by the North. Soon the U.S. is embroiled in a war that lasts until 1953 and results in a million combat dead and at least two million civilian deaths, with no measurable gains for either side.
1936—First Helicopter Flight
In Berlin, Germany, in a sports stadium, Ewald Rohlfs takes the Focke-Wulf Fw 61 on its first flight. It is the first fully-controllable helicopter, featuring two counter rotating rotors mounted on the chassis of a training aircraft. Only two are ever produced, and neither survive today.
1963—John F. Kennedy Visits Berlin
22 months after East Germany erects the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement between East and West Berlin, John F. Kennedy visits West Berlin and speaks the famous words "Ich bin ein Berliner." Suggestions that Kennedy misspoke and in reality called himself a jelly donut are untrue.
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