Enough wattage to light all of Hollywood.
This promo image features U.S. actress Jane Powell, née Suzanne Burce, who started in show business as a child, as an adult appeared in films such as Holiday in Mexico, Rich Young and Pretty, and The Girl Most Likely, and eventually was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Powell played mostly wholesome good girls, which is why this striking shot of her in a skirt way too short for the period is such an interesting rarity. It was made in 1954.
Never cross a woman who's spent her life on the wrong side of the tracks.
This beautiful poster was made to promote the film Vagabunda, aka Tramp, a made-in-Mexico melodrama that premiered there today in 1950. It stars Leticia Palma, who befriends and falls in loves with a priest played by Luis Beristáin who's lost his memory as a result of an assault and robbery. Palma, who works as a fichera in a place called El Tropical, takes in the priest and dubs him Carlos. A fichera, by the way, is a term to describe a female nightclub employee who does things ranging from dancing with clients to having sex with them. Palma is already in a precarious situation working a dead-end job while sheltering the priest, but things get worse when she ends up being coerced into street prostitution by a gangster named Gato. Shortly afterward, a series of events lead to the killing of Palma's pregnant sister, and she vows vengeance upon those responsible.
The poster, which is one of the better ones we've seen of late, was signed by someone named Mendoza. So off to the intertubes we went to try and ferret out his or her identity and we found that this was the work of Leopoldo Mendoza Andrade, an acclaimed illustrator who worked throughout the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. His striking promo art uses tracks as a motif because those and trains figure prominently in the movie. For example, the priest is assaulted while riding in a boxcar, and a climactic scene takes place on a railway bridge. Mendoza may have painted more than 300 hundred posters, but this surely must be one of his best. His work can be difficult to find because attributions are scanty, but his signature is easily identifiable and his Art Deco-influenced style is unique, so we'll keep an eye out for more of his creations.
Mexican comic book artists left no wickedness unexplored.
In Mexican comic book art of the 1980s, which is a subset of modern pulp we've documented before, a motif that recurred was the looming head. Multiple artists used this idea, which can only mean it was encouraged or sought by the publishers of series such as Micro-Misterio, Frank Kein, and Sesacional de Maistros. We have a mini-collection today of art pieces with floating heads. The creators include Beton, Dagoberto Dinorin, Rafael Gallur, and others. Also, we've learned that Dinorin often worked as a colorist, filling in the pencil drawings of other artists, particularly Gallur. So it's possible Dinorin had a hand in the piece signed by Gallur. We'll get into that subject more at a later date. We have nine more scans below, and since the Mexican comic book market thrived on transgressive violence, a few of them are a bit disturbing. You've been warned.
Lawless border town brings out the worst in its inhabitants—and in its screenwriter too.
We've shared some promos from the Orson Welles film noir Touch of Evil before. Those were worthy efforts, but we think this Belgian poster is the best. We don't have a Belgian release date but we can guess at one. The movie premiered in the U.S. in early 1958, then crossed to Europe during the summer, with premieres in the UK in April and France in June—in fact today. The film won the FIPRESCI (Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique) Prize at the Brussels World Film Festival that year, which was held from April 21 through June 13, but we think the movie showed after its French premiere. So we're guessing sometime between June 8 and June 13 for its Belgian unveiling.
So about the film. We've hinted at this, but now we'll come out and say it: It isn't as good as many claim. Award winner, yes, but one that hasn't aged well. Visual masterpiece with numerous breathtaking shots, certainly, but one in which the script (written by Welles) lacks narrative logic. We could choose a dozen examples of this problem, but we'll give you just one. Early in the film Janet Leigh, who's married to a cop and thus shouldn't be naive, allows herself to be led down dark streets by an unknown male at four o'clock in the morning. And she does this in a Mexican border town Charlton Heston describes as “bringing out the worst in people,” which we can assume to mean “not safe.” Leigh traipsing off into the unknown with an obviously dodgy character is absurd. The movie lost our girlfriends at that point. "Oh, come on!" was the general sentiment.
The truth is Touch of Evil flirts dangerously more than once with being laugh out loud silly. Dennis Weaver's motel desk worker is Norman Bates from Psycho two years earlier, several degrees twitchier, and immeasurably hammier. Even the staging of the film is bizarre at times, with various characters required to physically orbit the central action so they can be glimpsed or encountered at just the right moment. We know, we know—our complaints are total sacrilege. Don't get us wrong. The movie is still entertaining, but people who call it a masterpiece have decided to overlook Welles' screenplay. And generally these people will also call you stupid for disagreeing with them, so be prepared for that. But don't take our word on Touch of Evil. Watch it and see what you think. And if you're interested, we dicussed other aspects of the film a while back here.
Sometimes the end of the line can be a new beginning.
Check out this beautiful Mexican promo poster for the melodrama El tren expreso. It can be difficult sometimes to determine provenance for Spanish language items, but we know this piece is Mexican because it says Filmex, S.A. at upper left, telling us it was printed for Mexico's Cinematográfica Filmex. But the movie was originally shot in Europe with mainly Spanish participation, including from director León Klimovsky, who was Argentinian but after 1950 emigrated to and worked mostly in Spain.
We watched the movie and it deals with a burned out concert pianist who takes a sabbatical and while on a train journey stops an unhappy widow from leaping to her death. These two broken souls travel together and fall in love, but matters of the heart are never simple in cinema. If you want to see the movie you can watch it at this link, but keep in mind we described it as a melodrama advisedly. Also you'll need to understand Spanish.
Anyway we're mainly interested in the poster, which is amazing, but uncredited. We hit the internet for info and drew blanks for days. We eventually learned it's part of a collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, but it was listed as by an unknown artist there too. So that settles it, pretty much, if professional art curators have no information. The world may never know who painted this masterpiece. El tren expreso premiered in Spain today in 1955.
Hallucinatory southwestern noir takes readers to a land of saints and sinners.
It's said that a good book teaches you how to read it. The author instructs while building the story. Dorothy B. Hughes' 1946 crime novel Ride the Pink Horse, which was the source material for the 1947 film noir starring Robert Montgomery, falls into that category. In the story a man wanders around the southwestern U.S. town of Santa Fe, New Mexico, searching for someone he calls the Sen, which is short for the Senator. We suspect the shortening of his title is designed to make it a heterograph with “sin,” because this Illinois senator-turned-crime boss rather sinfully hired out the murder of his wife then shorted the murderer part of his fee. That's why the main character, named Sailor, is adrift in this town. He's followed the Sen there from Chicago to get his money. He plans to find him, confront him, collect payment, then scurry away to Mexico.
But this comes out in trickles. Initially Sailor merely criss-crosses the town, unable to find a hotel room because it's fiesta weekend, with crowds everywhere and processions filling the streets. He sleeps under the canopy of a merry-go-round which features a pink horse. As he keeps going in circles around town more characters emerge—the cop who's trying to solve murder of the senator's wife, the carousel owner who appeals to Sailor's sense of honor, the girl who recalls an innocence he can barely remember, and the beautiful Iris Towers, the focus of his wishes for a better life.
Hughes loves symbolic names: there's the Sen, as we already mentioned; there's Iris Towers, dressed in ivory colors and pale of skin; and there's the girl Pila, whose name is the Spanish word for a laundry trough, a place of cleansing. The book is composed of encounters rather than events, hallucinatory meanderings punctuated by tense verbal standoffs. Each tête-à-tête clarifies matters a bit more for the reader. Did Sailor really kill the Sen's wife? Did he ever intend to? Was she ever to be the actual target? Were others involved?
When Sailor goes from seeing the town's Mexican and Native American inhabitants as something other than sub-human, maybe, we think, he isn't irredeemable. But even if he grows in some ways his hatred continues to drive him. He thinks the Sen is vermin. He wonders how such an abomination can even walk upon the Earth. When he follows the Sen into the cathedral this thought passes through his mind: He didn’t know why the dim perfumed cathedral didn’t belch the Sen out of its holy portals.
Hughes is a good writer, a unique stylist, and she gives Ride the Pink Horse the disorienting feeling of taking place in purgatory. It's a fever dream, an acid trip across a constantly shifting landscape, literary rather than pulp in approach, as much Faulkner as it is Chandler, with nothing quite solid or real apart from Sailor's hatred, which is so intense it seems as if it will consume him and leave nothing behind but a cinder. Sailor's racism is appalling, but he's not supposed to be a good man. This town filled with people that frighten and confuse him could be his salvation or his doom. He's the one who has to decide whether to step back from the precipice. Every wise character sees that he's headed for destruction. But the future isn't set. He has a chance for redemption—small, but real. Top marks for this one.
Those guys really know how to live.
We never considered the possibility that there might be an avenue of pimps, but it follows—there's a street of ho's. We discussed that particular Manhattan thoroughfare in detail a while back. You'd think the street of pimps would be just one block over, but it's actually in Mexico. Well, if you've got your ho's properly trained it really doesn't matter where you are—they'll have your money for you. 1965 copyright on this, with an unknown cover artist.
Ana Bertha Lepe flaunts the LPGA's dress code.
Mexican actress and former Miss Mexico pageant winner Ana Bertha Lepe makes jaws drop on the links with her skintight shorts and excellent form, and we hear she came in well under par. Lepe starred in numerous Spanish language films, including Rebelde sin casa, aka Rebel without a House, and Una chica de Chicago. By the way, we're unsure if Lepe would actually be violating the LPGA dress code, which calls for the bottom area to be completely covered at all times. Her bottom area is covered—with a coat of paint. We're also unsure when the photo was made. If we had to guess we'd say around 1958.
The pieces of treasure are worth a fortune. The nuggets of wisdom—not so much.
Barbara Walton art graces the dust sleeve of John D. MacDonald's A Deadly Shade of Gold. It was published in 1967 by Robert Hale, Ltd. two years after the book's U.S. debut. MacDonald's franchise character Travis McGee kicks ass and dispenses unsolicited wisdom, and while the action is fun, the philosophizing is less so. The latter is sometimes insightful when directed at civilization, but is often sweeping and incorrect when directed at civilians. Vacationers are this way. College boys are that way. Lesbians are this way. We've had plenty of experiences with all the categories of humans McGee thinks of as tedious and banal, and we found them to be as varied and interesting as any other group.
The book, though, is engrossing, built around our favorite film noir and crime fiction device—a trip to Mexico, with the action set in the fictional coastal town of Puerto Altamura. There McGee seeks to uncover the killers of a close friend and determine the whereabouts of a set of golden pre-Colombian statuettes. Five entries into the series and MacDonald seems to have hit his stride. McGee is going to keep making dubious pronouncements (we sent a passage about “negroes” from the seventh entry Darker than Amber to a black friend, who said: “What idiot wrote that?”), but we liked this caper. If you're curious about the character or author you can learn more at thetrapofsolidgold.blogspot.com, pretty much the last word on all things Travis McGee and John D.
A Gallur gallery of viciousness and vice.
A while back we began sharing pieces of 1980s comic art from Mexico and intended to make it a regular feature. In our heads we're still featuring Mexican art regularly, but today we realized we haven't posted a piece in two years. Which goes to show you how things work around here. So we're back to Mexican ’80s comic art today, with all its crazy violence and wild stylings.
Above you see a painting entitled Enlatadas, which in Spanish means “canned.” We're guessing that's Mexican slang for getting your ass handed to you in the most brutal possible way. Below you see three more pieces. The first is for a comic series called Frank Kevin, and is the cover art used for #366 in the series. Second you see a piece for the series Sensacionál de Maestros, or “teacher's sensation.” In this case, thief seems to be the answer. And third you see cover art for something called Posesión Demoníaca, no translation needed.
The artists on Mexican comic illustrations are often forgotten, except for a select few. All today's pieces are by the same person—Rafael Gallur—who has had a long and prolific career in newspapers and comics. You can see more from him here. We'll try to pump new life into our Mexican art series going forward, which means you should see the next post in about a year. Just kidding. We'll do better. In the meantime check out others in the category here, 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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