No I won't turn to the left. This is my good side.
Above you see the legendary Jean Harlow in an awesome MGM promo shot made for the pre-code gangster film The Beast of the City, a movie often (but mistakenly) called a film noir. Harlow plays a gun moll who gets involved in an affair with a cop. The movie came out in 1932, which dates the photo as from that year or the end of the previous year.
Never try to copy the uncopyable.
U.S. born actress Barbara Lang was one of many actresses promoted as a Marilyn Monroe type, but it was wishful thinking. She only looked like Monroe in shots like this upnose angle from a 1957 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer promo. However, Lang was beautiful and talented in her own right and went on to star mainly on television, including on series such as 77 Sunset Strip and The Thin Man. After a short career and a turbulent personal life she died in Los Angeles in 1982 aged fifty-four.
Here's your bourbon. You can add your own water.
You can consider this cover for The High Cost of Loving, which is unattributed, an addendum to our April showers collection from last year. Written by Bonnie Golightly, it's a novelization of the 1958 MGM film starring José Ferrer and Gena Rowlands, in the latter's cinematic debut. The story deals with a devoted corporate drone whose company is sold. Clues indicate he's going to be fired, and his name is even scraped off his office door, but the twist is he's really going to be promoted but hasn't been informed because of an oversight. He decides to confront the company president over his unfair treatment. Will his anger cost him the opportunity he's been looking for? What do you think—it's a Sidney Lumet movie or something? Everything ends up just fine.
Interesting side note on author Bonnie Golightly: that's her real name and she even sued Truman Capote for $800,000 over Breakfast at Tiffany's, which you'll remember starred a Holly Golightly. She claimed the similarities between Holly and she were obvious—both lived in Upper East Side brownstones with bars around the corner, both were amateur singers, and both were crazy about cats. The suit eventually died, and Capote always claimed his character was actually based on a German immigrant he knew in NYC at the beginning of World War II who later conveniently disappeared in East Africa—a place from which lawsuits rarely spring. You can see that April showers collection here.
Ure definitely not messing around.
Above, a nice femme fatale style shot of Scottish actress Mary Ure, seen here brandishing a silenced pistol in an MGM promo from Where Eagles Dare, 1968. Sadly, her career was hampered by alcohol and mental illness until she fatally overdosed in 1975 aged forty-two.
It's a different Mame you want to put the blame on—I swear!
This unusual promo photo featuring American sex symbol Mamie Van Doren was made for the MGM crime thriller The Beat Generation, which may not sound like a nail-biter, but tells the story of cop's hunt for a serial rapist who happens to be a groovy beatnik. We gather it's pretty bad, which means we should probably screen a copy at some point. The image dates from 1959, and the Mame reference in our subhead—if you don't know it—comes from a bit earlier.
She’s like an onion—every layer you peel gets you closer to the tender parts.
American actress Gwen Verdon was born in Culver City, California. That’s a little like being born in Hollywood—Culver City was home to Triangle Studios, The Culver Studios, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and other production houses, and it remains home to Sony Pictures Entertainment. Verdon entered the studio system at age eleven and eventually appeared in such films as Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, The Blonde from Brooklyn, and Damn Yankees! This photo is a promo from the latter film, and dates from 1958.
This trip sucks! Next time let’s just pay extra for first class!
The Mercenaries, aka Dark of the Sun isn’t a movie many remember, but we’re going to remember it, because this is a great pre-CGI action film—not perfect, but well above average. Based on Wilbur Smith’s novel Train from Katanga, and starring Rod Taylor, Jim Brown, Peter Carsten, and Yvette Mimieux, it tells the story of two mercenaries in the civil war-torn Congo hired to ride a military train upcountry, rescue a group of stranded people, and retrieve $50 million in uncut diamonds languishing in a time-locked safe. They have to do it within three days, which means making rushed preparations—notably, enlisting the aid of a dodgy ex-Nazi who commands the Congolese mercs needed to round out the mission. This Nazi is a really bad human, so it’s no surprise he gets into a chainsaw fight with the protagonist shortly after they meet. You’d think the hero would expect the unexpected from the guy after that—but no. The Japanese poster above, while not perfectly descriptive of the action, gets the mood of The Mercenaries across effectively, and it opened in Japan today in 1968.
They say money talks. It also writes.
Where would we be without leaked documents in this day and age? There’s an interesting story hitting the wires today about how the Mexican government pressured Sony Pictures and MGM to change the script of the upcoming James Bond film Spectre in exchange for $14 million dollars. The money took the form of tax incentives, but in the real world it’s no different than bagloads of cash. The information comes from hacked e-mails provided by an unknown North Korean person or group. According to the e-mails, the Mexican government wanted an assassin’s identity changed from Mexican to some other nationality, an assassination target likewise changed from Mexican to other, and insisted upon the casting of a Mexican Bond girl. The last demand was met with the hiring of Sonora-born Stephanie Sigman.
All of this is pretty much business as usual in moviemaking—hardly even a story, really. But we always write about Bond here, so this item seemed worth sharing. The last aspect of the e-mails that interested us was a demand that the film include aerial shots of Mexico City’s skyline, with an emphasis on the modern buildings. Tens of millions of travelers from every part of the globe visit Mexico each year because of its native ruins, beautiful Spanish colonial architecture, indigenous food, historically authentic festivals, thousands of miles of beaches, and warmwaters, yet Mexican officials wanted its few glass skyscrapers to appear onscreen to emphasize to shallow businessmen that, yes, we too can offer the type of cookie-cutter modernity you love. It’s fascinating to us. The world won’t know how much of the Mexican government’s wish list was granted until Spectre’s November 2015 release, but if we had to guess we’d say all of it.
Taylor/Gardner adventure story about contraband airplane engines never quite takes flight.
The film noir adventure The Bribe stars Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner, along with Vincent Price, Charles Laughton, and reliable John Hodiak, in the story of a government agent prowling the fictional Central American island of Carlotta under orders to put the kibosh on a racket in stolen airplane engines. The film has several beloved noir elements—voiceover narration, sexually loaded repartee, exotic nightclub serving as hub for the action, smoky musical number by the female lead—but it’s all a bit stale. There’s no heat between Taylor and Gardner, and no adrenaline in the plot. Frederick Nebel’s short story probably made the airplane engine angle work, but on the big screen it’s hard to care about hunks of machinery we never see. The movie is a cut-rate Casablanca without the invaluable letters of transit, a muted To Have and Have Not without the urgency of French resistance vs. the Nazis. On the plus side, some of the sets are cool, the final shoot-out is visually fascinating, and Gardner is sizzling hot. For her fans she doubtless makes the movie watchable all by herself. The Bribe premiered in the U.S. today in 1949.
Who’s the man? If you don’t know you better ask somebody.
After scoring a huge hit with the 1971 detective drama Shaft, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer doubled down by rushing out a bigger budgeted sequel the next year. It was called Shaft’s Big Score, and you see the Japanese promo above, made for its Tokyo premiere today in 1972. Some of the acting in Score isn’t great, which was also true of the first film, but as a whole it makes a nice companion piece with Shaft. John Shaft gets in the middle of the Italian and black mobs in New York City, and along the way there are brawls, bullets, and lots of badassedness. The movie also features blaxploitation heavyweights Moses Gunn, Wally Taylor, Drew Bundini Brown, and female foils Kathy Imrie, Rosalind Miles, and the amazing Kitty Jones.
A long while back when discussing the 1968 movie 100 Rifles, we talked about the honesty of cinema from that period. It's a quality that extends into blaxploitation as well. When we say honesty, we don’t mean correctness. Casual racism abounds in blaxploitation, and of course sexism and homophobia make appearances too. But at least the genre acknowledges racial discord as an everyday element of American life. Unfortunately, Hollywood has devoted more and more time over the last thirty years to making soulless action epics and laughless comedies, constantly reassuring ticket buyers that everything is hunky dory. Yes, Hollywood would occasionally take on racial issues in big, Oscar grubbing dramas, but nearly all of those movies, no matter how downbeat, had an implicit message that America was getting better. Well, guess what? It isn’t.
Nearly half of America’s prisoners are inside for drugs, and 40% of that subset is black, even though whites are more likely to sell drugs, and they consume the same amount as blacks—not only per capita, but by percentage. Multiple studies show the same result. Despite this, black drug offenders land inside the increasingly for-profit prison industry at 10.1 times the rate of whites. Uncomfortable facts, but facts they are. Blaxploitation movies acknowledge a wide range of social problems while weaving them into the fabric of popular cinema. Nobody walked away from Shaft’s Big Score thinking that America was becoming a post-racial Eden, yet nobody walked away denying that the movie was immense fun. Entertainment that reflects the real world. Is that really so hard to do? |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1968—Olympic Committee Suspends Carlos and Smith
The U.S. Olympic Committee suspends African-American track & field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos for saluting the crowd with raised, gloved fists during a medal ceremony at the Mexico City games. The salutes represented the black power and civil rights movements in the United States. Both athletes also received their medals shoeless to represent black poverty.
1933—Capone Sentenced to Prison
Chicago organized crime boss Al Capone is convicted of income tax evasion after all other attempts to tie him to an assortment of crimes, from the mass murder of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre to widespread violations of the Volstead Act, fail. He is sentenced to eleven years in federal prison and, cut off from the outside world while on Alcatraz Island, his power is finally broken.
1964—China Detonates Nuke
At the Lop Nur test site located between the Taklamakan and Kuruktag deserts, the People's Republic of China detonates its first nuclear weapon, codenamed 596 after the month of June 1959, which is when the program was initiated.
1996—Handgun Ban in the UK
In response to a mass shooting in Dunblane, Scotland that kills 16 children, the British Conservative government announces a law to ban all handguns, with the exception .22 caliber target pistols. When Labor takes power several months later, they extend the ban to all handguns.
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