Vintage Pulp Jul 24 2017
PICKUP LUCK
First rule of plotting a murder: make sure the victim isn't listening in.

Above you see a poster for Pickup, one of the nastier little noirs we've run across our years maintaining this website. Beverly Michaels tries to worm her way into a retired man's affections in order to have the life of leisure she thinks she deserves. But her target, in addition to being old fashioned and a bit obtuse, has some sort of chronic or psychosomatic brain injury that results in confusion and hearing loss. Even so, she manages to marry the poor slob, then sets about figuring how to kill him to obtain his savings of $7,300. When he's hit by a car one afternoon his hearing returns, but Michaels has no idea it's happened and openly plots to murder him, assuming he's still deaf while the entire time he listens in horror. This isn't supposed to be funny, but it is, uproariously. Michaels says the most vicious things about the guy, behind his back and right to his face, day after day, with no idea he can hear every word. These crazy sequences are a big reason why this cheap little b-flick has survived the decades. Plus Michaels knocks her first starring turn over the center field bleachers, playing shrill, wall-eyed evil to the hilt. She was rewarded with more work, including similar gold digger parts in 1953's Wicked Woman and 1956's Blonde Bait. The latter was her last role, making for a short career, but a memorable one. We recommend Pickup, morbid plot, shoestring production values, and all. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1951.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 15 2017
ICE ESCAPADES
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?

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Vintage Pulp May 28 2017
THE GILDA AGE
Some women are trouble. But some trouble is worth it.


Above you see a poster for the game changing film noir Gilda, which opened today in 1946 with Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford in the starring roles as a casino owner's wife and a gambling drifter. This promo is different from the three we showed you some years back, so we thought we'd upload it just to further bolster our visual documentation of this classic. The piece was painted by the storied Russian born artist Boris Grinsson, who we've discussed only briefly but will certainly get back to. As for Gilda, it's been exhaustively covered by virtually every film writer far and wide, so we've got nothing to add. Watch it. 

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Vintage Pulp May 4 2017
POSTAGE DUE
There's no way to avoid paying what's owed.


We just talked about the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, so why not take a moment to focus on the movie, since it premiered today in 1946? Even if it weren't a widely known classic of lust and murder, when John Garfield fetches up at a rural gas station and sees a sign that reads “man wanted,” you suspect where the movie is going. Such a sign, if posted by Nick, the owner, could say “help wanted” or “job available,” but as worded it cleverly establishes the subtext that it's his platinum blonde wife Lana Turner that really wants a man. Garfield and Turner's mutual attraction is immediate and obsessive. The affair starts shortly thereafter, leads to a failed scheme to run off together, then finally devolves into a murder plot. But murder in film noir is never easy. Character-wise, some edges were rounded off James M. Cain's novel, which was a good decision—those two lovers are throughly reprehensible; Garfield and Turner at least generate some sympathy. But not too much—murderers are murderers and just desserts are just for a reason. Highly recommended flick.

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Vintage Pulp Apr 24 2017
MOMMY DEAREST
Spare the rod, spoil the child.

We ran across this West German poster for Solange ein herz schlaegt, aka Mildred Pierce, and realized we had a substantial gap in our film noir résumé. So we watched the movie, and what struck us about it immediately is that it opens with a shooting. Not a lead-in to a shooting, but the shooting itself—fade in, bang bang, guy falls dead. These days most thrillers bludgeon audiences with big openings like that, but back in the day such action beats typically came mid- and late-film. So we were surprised by that. What we weren't surprised by was that Mildred Pierce is good. It's based on a James M. Cain novel, is directed by Michael Curtiz, and is headlined by Joan Crawford. These were top talents in writing, directing, and acting, which means the acclaim associated with the movie is deserved.

While Mildred Pierce is a mystery thriller it's also a family drama revolving around a twice-married woman's dysfunctional relationship with her gold-digging elder daughter, whose desperation to escape her working class roots leads her to make some very bad decisions. Her mother, trying to make her daughter happy, makes even worse decisions. The movie isn't perfect—for one, the daughter's feverish obsession with money seems extreme considering family financial circumstances continuously improve; and as in many movies of the period, the only black character is used as cringingly unkind comic relief. But those blemishes aside, this one is enjoyable, even if the central mystery isn't really much of a mystery. Solange ein herz schlaegt, aka Mildred Pierce opened in West Germany today in 1950.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 29 2017
FINAL EDIT
Nothing's harder to rewrite than a lie.

This simple but effective poster was made to promote the simple but effective film noir Night Editor, starring William Gargan, Janis Carter, and Jeff Donnell. A group of grizzled reporters arrayed around a poker game reminisce over past scoops, with one of the group eventually telling the story of Tony Cochrane, a cop who got himself in too deep with a dame. A dissolve to the past takes viewers to the cop's world, and the narrative is broken up by occasional returns to the smoky poker game, where the storyteller punctuates his tale with a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking.

The story is that Cochrane the cop, who was cheating on his wife with a beautiful society woman, was parked one night at a secluded beach when he and his lover witnessed a murder. But fearing exposure of their affair, he neither stops the killing, nor pursues the killer, and later actively tampers with evidence to hide his own presence at the murder scene. You know this is going nowhere good, but just how complicated the mess becomes is where the fun lies. Low budget, but reasonably entertaining, Night Editor premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 16 2017
HOSTAGE HOUSE
Bogart counts down to zero hour.

This striking Roger Soubie promo poster for La maison des otages, aka The Desperate Hours, doesn't leave much doubt about what happens to Humphrey Bogart, but even without the poster there wouldn't be any doubt. Bogart stars, in his last villain role, as an ex-con who takes a family hostage in order to use their home as a hideout. During the Leave It To Beaver 1950s there was no way his character was going to go unpunished for pointing a gun at a kid. Even seeing it in the promo image below makes you cringe a little, doesn't it? But the inevitable consequences of Bogart's actions aren't the point—how he struggles to maintain the constantly evolving hostage scenario is what generates the drama, and the imprisoned family aren't his only problem. La maison des otages is a later noir, but a better one. It opened in France today in 1956.

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Femmes Fatales Feb 23 2017
PIERCING GAZE
This is not a homicidal glare. This is a homicidal glare.


Above, two borderline scary promo photos of Joan Crawford made when she was shooting the film noir Mildred Pierce, a movie that, embarrassingly, represents a gaping hole in our film watching résumé. We'll take care of that soon. These images are from 1945. 

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Hollywoodland Feb 5 2017
FALLING FOR BOGART
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.

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Modern Pulp Jan 28 2017
BEASTLY BOYS
You mess with the bull you get the horns.

Expert safecracker Gal Dove, played by Ray Winstone, has retired to sunny Spain, but criminal associates back in England want him for a job. Arriving in the Costa del Sol to make the pitch for them is the persuasive—and psychotic—Ben Kingsley, who terrorizes Gal and his close circle in an effort to bully him into partnering up. The movie mainly focuses on the battle of wills between a man trying to move on with his life and a monster that won't take no for an answer. For a long while it looks as though there won't be a heist at all, but the film circles around to that eventually, showing the event in montage form. And though this robbery is unique in execution it's ancillary plotwise, because Sexy Beast is less a heist film than a psychological drama about how difficult it is for a talented crook to get out the rackets, and how his former self and past sins are never deeply buried. Made in 2001 and directed by a man who clearly knows his film noir in Jonathan Glazer, this is both the most straightforward film showing at Noir City, and also the one—with its dialogue driven pacing and shorts bursts of violence—we can most easily imagine as a 1940s production. Dark, quirky, visually dazzling, and fun.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 24
1915—Ship Capsizes on Lake Michigan
During an outing arranged by Western Electric Co. for its employees and their families, the passenger ship Eastland capsizes in Lake Michigan due to unequal weight distribution. 844 people die, including all the members of 22 different families.
1980—Peter Sellers Dies
British movie star Peter Sellers, whose roles in Dr. Strangelove, Being There and the Pink Panther films established him as the greatest comedic actor of his generation, dies of a heart attack at age fifty-four.
July 23
1984—Miss America Resigns
Vanessa Williams, who had been crowned Miss America and was the first African American woman to win the prize, resigns her title after Penthouse magazine purchases and slates for publication a series of lesbian-themed nudes Williams had posed for when she was younger. After resigning she files a $500 million lawsuit against Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione but later drops the suit.
July 22
1992—Cocaine Baron Escapes Prison
Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, imprisoned leader of the Medellin drug cartel, escapes from a posh Colombian jail known as La Catedral after he learns authorities intend to move him to a real prison. His taste of freedom doesn't last—he's killed in a shootout a year-and-a-half later.
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