These thieves will probably steal the entire film festival.
This poster for the 1957 film noir The Burglar looks pretty low rent, doesn't it? The movie is modestly budgeted too, but money isn't everything when it comes to making art. The film, which plays at Noir City tonight, opens with a nocturnal suburban heist that leaves a trio of break-in artists headed by Dan Duryea with a gaudy piece of $150,000 jewelry they can't hope to fence until the heat goes down. That means they have to wait, and with this mismatched group that means the pressure goes up. There's a fourth person in the mix. Jayne Mansfield, star of the promo poster, is the crew's eyes and ears, casing places they want to rob.
The Burglar is an early role for Mansfield, coming three years into her career, but it also arrived in cinemas a year after the big Twentieth Century Fox musical comedy The Girl Can't Help It, which featured her in full sex kitten mode, with the corset-crunched hourglass figure and helium voice. The irony is The Burglar was actually filmed before The Girl Can't Help It, but Mansfield's milieu had been set in stone by Fox's expensive hit. The Burglar challengingly asks her to be by turns innocent, tough, frustrated, terrified, and vulnerable. Basically, it asks too much this early in her career. But she gets by far the best line, when asked by Duryea at one point why she's being so fickle and difficult:
“You don't know? You really don't know? Well look at me! I'm a woman! I'm flesh and blood and I've got feelings!”
That one might bring the house down. A better actress might have nailed this dialogue, which was written by David Goodis working from his own novel, but as delivered by Mansfield the bit is funny, and actually goes on to hit other comedic notes. Though The Burglar demanded too much of the inexperienced Mansfield, she hurts the final product little, because the movie comes across like a sneaky parody anyway. With one partner in Mickey Shaughnessy who's creepy and rapey, and another in Peter Capell who's as highly strung as a banjo, head crook Duryea has assembled by far the worst gang in film noir history. There's no thought—not even for a second—that these three are going to achieve their goals.
But the movie is 190 proof noir—a knock-you-on-your-ass cocktail of nearly everything cool about the form. You get voiceover, flashback, nightmares, a loyal good girl led astray plus a femme fatale played by Martha Vickers, outrageous shadows, angular framing, hard-boiled dialogue, one crooked-as-fuck cop, a brassy, jazzy score, and beautiful night-for-night location work from director Paul Wendkos and cinematographer Don Malkames. And as bonuses you get a funhouse scene that's pure genius, and a high diving horse. The Burglar is sure to please all fans of old movies, but for noir lovers and lucky Noir City attendees in particular, it's nothing less than a landmark. You can learn a bit more about the film in the post below.
Yeah! This is so fun! These photos will really make people remember me!
If you look around the internet literally every site from IMDB to Ebay will tell you this is U.S. actress Martha Vickers dancing for a photo series made while filming the 1955 United Artists drama The Big Bluff. But surprise! Everyone is wrong. This isn't Vickers. This is actually Rosemarie Stack. It's pretty obvious. She and Vickers don't look alike anyway, and Vickers is blonde in the film, not brunette, but also, Stack plays a hot-blooded showgirl named Fritzi Darvel while Vickers plays an invalid, so clearly this is Stack doing a little riff on her role as a dancer. What are we the internet police? Hah, no. But we thought the forgotten Miss Stack deserved to have her credit restored for starring in this great series. Make a note. And the movie? Meh.
I've got a handful of sleeping pills for you.
Since we brought up The Big Sleep we might as well share this nice image of Martha Vickers armed and dangerous. Though this was made for the film, it isn't a still frame, but rather a promo image unrelated to the action. She actually does brandish a gun at one point, but it's a 1930s Iver Johnson revolver rather than the automatic you see here. We've shared several other images of Vickers, all rare, all beautiful. See the top three here, here, and here.
Vickers makes any time and place even better.
Above is a stunning shot of U.S. born actress Martha Vickers, who we described a while back as a rare beauty. We stand by that statement. This image was made in 1946 when she was filming the musical The Time, the Place and the Girl.
O Século Ilustrado showcases a top Hollywood beauty.
The Portuguese magazine O Século Ilustrado was the weekly supplement of Lisbon's daily newspaper O Século, which was published between 1880 and 1978. There's some pop culture and cinema content in the magazine, but it wasn't filled with thrilling visuals. The covers were sometimes an exception, though, such as this one that hit newsstands today in 1947 featuring an amazing shot of U.S. actress Martha Vickers—billed as “a star of cinema and radio.” During her short life she made a lasting impression in movies like The Big Sleep and Ruthless. The promo photo O Século Ilustrado editors used to create their cover appears below, and you can see that Vickers was a rare beauty. She died of cancer in 1971 aged forty-six.
You know what they say about men with big hats.
In this production still from 1946's The Big Sleep featuring a bizarrely large hat in the foreground, Martha Vickers falls into Humphrey Bogart's arms. Bogart, under normal circumstances, would have been smart to likewise fall for Miss Vickers, but his other choice in the movie was Lauren Bacall. Which means it was she who got hat, head, and all the rest.
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.
She's an accident waiting to happen.
This photo shows American actress and iconic beauty Martha Vickers, who had been named Miss Danger Signal by the Motor Vehicle Bureau of California in order to publicize its anti-accident campaign. She was chosen because, apparently, she had never had a traffic mishap. At least until it was time to climb down off this traffic signal, we imagine. The shot was made in 1946.
Everybody who was anybody got inside.
Above and below, scans from the French show-biz and showgirl magazine Paris-Hollywood, issue 26, from 1948. The front cover features Marguerite Chapman, the rear Arlene Dahl, and in between you get Cyd Charisse, Patricia Roc, Martha Vickers, Alexis Smith, Anne Jeffreys, Luce Feyrer, Edwige Feuillère, Marlene Dietrich, and other luminaries. That's quite a collection of celebs. In upcoming years the magazine would spend more time on cabaret dancers, but its early issues were all about international stars. We picked up a few of these in Paris a while back and we’ll get to some detailed scans of those soon. In the meantime, you can see more from Paris-Hollywood here, here, and here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
1923—Yankee Stadium Opens
In New York City, Yankee Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, opens with the Yankees beating their eternal rivals the Boston Red Sox 4 to 1. The stadium, which is nicknamed The House that Ruth Built, sees the Yankees become the most successful franchise in baseball history. It is eventually replaced by a new Yankee Stadium and closes in September 2008.
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