You're always in the last place you look.
The war, a grenade, a head wound, and a case of amnesia bring a vet to Los Angeles in search of his identity. The only clue he has is the name of a presumed associate, not a nice guy, which makes the hero fearful, because who associates with not-nice guys but other not-nice guys? The main problem with Somewhere in the Night isn't that the amnesiac soon learns, as even a casual viewer would suspect from the beginning, that he and the not-nice associate are one and the same. The problem is that the script never provides for another possibility. This makes for minimal suspense, a sin compounded by dialogue that crosses the line from hard boiled into ridiculous—like in this exchange:
Friend: “Something smells bad, believe me. It's in the air—like an earthquake. Don't stand too close. Don't get hurt.”
Heroine: “I'm the girl with the cauliflower heart.”
Friend: "You think. You're as tough as a love song. You've got your face turned up and your eyes closed, waiting to be kissed.”
This is a little out there even by the standards of 1940s melodramas. Classics like Casablanca and Gilda didn't get too hip with the lingo, and that's a big reason why those movies remain scintillating today. Somewhere in the Night wears its age poorly. Blame not only its overly slangy dialogue, but the lame plot, wooden performances from the supporting cast, and an uninspiring John Hodiak in the lead. But the poster is an absolute killer.
John Payne goes to hell and back for loot and love.
The film we talked about Sunday, 1944’s Bermuda Mystery, was an island thriller in name only, but Hell’s Island actually works hard to create a Caribbean mood—though it was shot in Southern California. John Payne is hired to fly to the mythical island of Santo Rosario and retrieve a priceless ruby in the possession of his former girlfriend. The girlfriend, Mary Murphy, ran away to the island after jilting the hero to marry a rich islander. Payne arrives and finds that moneybags is imprisoned for life for murder, and Murphy now lives alone in a big mansion, pining for her incarcerated husband. But did he actually commit the crime?
Murphy wants Payne to help her husband escape, and Payne agrees because supposedly only the husband knows where the ruby is. This is all a pretty fertile set-up for a thriller, and while the filmmakers don’t get every element right, they end up with a passably engrossing final product. Some websites call Hell’s Island a film noir, which it is in terms of story elements, mood, and characterizations—but it’s shot in Technicolor, which for some may put it in another category visually. In the end, think of it as a passable vintage crime flick with a few twists and turns, a conveniently placed alligator pit, plenty of swanky menswear, lots of corpses, and one very elusive ruby. Hell’s Island opened today in 1955.
Like Shakespeare wrote, what's past is prologue.
This unusual poster was made to promote the Spanish run of Retorno al pasado, a movie better known as Out of the Past. The title says it all. A man who thinks he's left his sordid past behind sees it rear its ugly head and threaten to ruin the good future he's planned for himself. Starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas, this is one of the top noir thrillers, in our opinion. Certainly it's one of the most beautifully shot, thanks to director Jacques Tourneur and cinematographer Nicholas Mesuraca. Like the poster art by Macario Gomez, the film is richly textured and lushly black, which makes for a nice sense of gathering danger, especially in the pivotal fight sequence about forty minutes in. Plus it has the always compelling Mexico connection used by many excellent noirs, as well as nice location shooting around Lake Tahoe and Reno. Highly recommended, this one. After opening in the U.S. in November 1947 it had its Spanish premiere in Madrid today in 1948.
, Lake Tahoe
, Retorno al pasado
, Out of the Past
, Robert Mitchum
, Jane Greer
, Kirk Douglas
, Rhonda Fleming
, Jacques Tourneur
, Nicholas Mesuraca
, Macario Gomez
, poster art
, film noir
, movie review
But I only want to kill my stepmom and take her money. What’s the big deal?
First things first—this poster was painted by Nicola Simbari, yet another genius from the ranks of Italian illustrators, someone who today is thought of as one of Italy’s most important modern artists and has pieces hanging in museums all over the world. He painted the above masterpiece for the Howard Hughes produced Seduzione mortale, known in the U.S. as Angel Face. It's the story of a man who tries to trade up to a richer, flashier girlfriend and ends up entangled in a murder plot. Robert Mitchum stars as the fickle hero, Jean Simmons co-stars as the femme fatale, Mona Freeman is the loyal girlfriend, and Jim Backus—aka Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s Island—is a tough district attorney.
This one is worth watching for the cringe-inducing central killing alone, which ranks top five in the annals of film noir for sheer brutality. Mitchum is good as always, Simmons less so due to her occasional tendency to act! rather than act, but that’s a minor issue. The movie works. It's well scripted by a trio of writers with an assist from Ben Hecht, and nicely directed by Otto Preminger. Best line in the film: “Is rigging a car like he says a very complicated thing? Or could anyone do it? Even a woman?” Ah yes, film noir—sexy and sexist. But there’s a real lesson there—never teach a femme fatale how a car’s transmission works. You’ll regret it.
Angel Face opened in the U.S. in late 1952 and premiered, according to all the sources we checked, in Italy today in 1953. But the poster at top advertises a premiere at a Rome cinema called the Fiamma on 6 May, 1953. Which date is right? Possibly both. April 18, 1953 was a Saturday, which would be a typical day for a film’s run to commence. May 6 was a Wednesday—not typical for launching a wide release. We suspect the poster was made for a special engagement, probably one night only. But we’re only guessing. We may have to slot this question in the unanswered file. There are only so many things you can figure out from a computer terminal after all. We have another poster below, plus two nice promos.
, Seduzione mortale
, Angel Face
, Robert Mitchum
, Jean Simmons
, Jim Backus
, Otto Preminger
, Howard Hughes
, Nicola Simbari
, poster art
, film noir
, movie review
DeForest Kelly makes strong impression debuting in low budget psychological noir.
We’re doubling up on the film noir with Fear in the Night, a low budget drama that hit cinemas today in 1947. It stars DeForest Kelly—Dr. McCoy of Star Trek fame—in his cinematic debut as a bank teller who has a nightmare of murder, but wakes with unnerving hints it was more than a dream—blood on his hand, thumbprints on his neck, and a few foreign items in his possession. While not a top noir, the source material—Cornell Woolrich’s story “And So to Death”—is strong, and the film is stylishly shot by director Maxwell Shane and cinematographer Jack Greenhalgh, who use various visual tricks to suggest a man barely keeping his grip on reality (see below). Some may be put off by the voiceover dominating the first reel, but we thought it was fun. Viewers know right away Kelly’s done something bad in the real world—the questions are where, when, how, and why. Luckily, his cop in-law and loyal girlfriend are there to lean on, so it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out. Kelly is only twenty-seven in this and with his soulful eyes and perfectly waved hair he’s quite handsome. We recommend this one for true noir lovers, fans of Star Trek, and women who want material for their rub club. And no, you aren't imagining it—DeForest doesn't appear on the promo poster, even though he's the star.
Italian master’s genius spanned decades.
Back in August we showed you a poster from Luigi Martinati, who worked from 1923 to 1967, and said we'd get back to him. Below, seven more great promotional pieces with his distinctive signature on each.
To Have and Have Not
On the Waterfront
Phantom of the Rue Morgue
The Wrong Man
, Acque del sud
, To Have and Have Not
, Fronte del porte
, On the Waterfront
, Murders in the Rue Morgue
, Il mostro della Via Morgue
, Viale Flamingo
, Flamingo Road
, The Wrong Man
, Il ladro
, Luigi Martinati
, Joan Crawford
, Lauren Bacall
, Humphrey Bogart
, Marlon Brando
, Eva Marie Saint
, Henry Fonda
, Vera Miles
, poster art
, film noir
Nice guys finish last—until they're pushed too far.
The 1945 film noir Scarlet Street is one of the bleaker offerings from a generally bleak genre. Edward G. Robinson plays an aspiring painter in a loveless marriage whose need makes him a perfect mark for a pair of hustlers, played by Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, who shake him down for money, a free apartment, and even his recognition as an artist. The main treat here is seeing tough guy Robinson play a mild-mannered everyman, the sort of terminal pushover he also portrayed to great effect in the noir The Woman in the Window. The thing is, some people can only take so much abuse.
The Big Knife could be sharper but its lessons about Hollywood ruthlessness resonate.
Above you see a poster for the 1955 drama The Big Knife, which, along with The Bad and the Beautiful, plays on tonight’s dark-side-of-Hollywood double bill at the Noir City Film Festival. Based on Clifford Odets’ play of the same name, The Big Knife tells the story of a star actor who wants to expand artistically, but is being tormented by his studio boss to ink a new deal locking him into more of the unfulfilling schlock that put him on the map. The studio has leverage because it helped the actor—played by Jack Palance—hide his role in causing a fatal car accident years ago. The studio boss—Rod Stieger, shamelessly hamming up the place (see photo below)—will stop at nothing, including blackmail, to get the contract signed. The stage-based origins of The Big Knife are clear, as the action rarely leaves one room and the dialogue is at times florid, but the question of whether Palance has the constitution to stand up to Stieger’s abuse offers some tension, and Ida Lupino as Palance’s wife helps elevate the exercise. Above average, we’d call this one, but we think festivalgoers will like The Bad and the Beautiful a lot better.
Nothing to fear but Greer herself.
This awesome promo photo comes from Jacques Tourneur’s iconic 1947 film noir Out of the Past, in which Jane Greer plays Kathie Moffat, one of history’s greatest femmes fatales. Here she watches Robert Mitchum and Steve Brodie in a fistfight, planning all along to decide the situation with a bullet.
Ekberg as a stripper is a dream come true but she brings a nightmare with her.
Based on a 1949 novel of the same name by Frederic Brown, Screaming Mimi stars Anita Ekberg as a traumatized burlesque dancer who can’t shake the memory of being attacked by a knife-wielding maniac. She’s committed to a mental institution, where her psychiatrist promptly falls in love with her and helps her escape and create a new identity. Now dancing at a club in Laguna Beach, California, she’s the hottest draw in the area and her former doctor is her lover and protector, but also smothers and dominates her. Can the anonymity last? Of course not.
Enter stage right an entitled horndog who won’t take no for an answer. After Ekberg survives another knife attack the horndog—who’s also a reporter—has all the justification he needs to dog Ekberg’s every step, and the doctor tries to protect her fake identity and keep her and the reporter from falling into bed together. Chances of success? Zero. Screaming Mimi is an interesting noir—it was fertile enough to serve as inspiration for Dario Argento’s L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo, aka The Bird with the Crystal Plumage—but its b-movie budget really shows and we think Philip Carey is miscast as the reporter/hero. Carey has no charm at all in this, which renders Ekberg’s interest in him unbelievable. But his performance will be a treat for patrons of the Noir City fest—most will probably remember him from his twenty-four-year stint as the repulsive Asa Buchanan on the soap opera One Life To Live.
, Bird with the Crystal Plumage
, One Life To Live
, Anita Ekberg
, Gypsy Rose Lee
, Linda Cherney
, Philip Carey
, Dario Argento
, poster art
, cover art
, film noir
, movie review
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1937—Amelia Earhart Disappears
Amelia Earhart fails to arrive at Howland Island during her around the world flight, prompting a search for her and navigator Fred Noonan in the South Pacific Ocean. No wreckage and no bodies are ever found.
1964—Civil Rights Bill Becomes Law
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Bill into law, which makes the exclusion of African-Americans from elections, schools, unions, restaurants, hotels, bars, cinemas and other public institutions and facilities illegal. A side effect of the Bill is the immediate reversal of American political allegiance, as most southern voters abandon the Democratic Party for the Republican Party.
1997—Jimmy Stewart Dies
Beloved actor Jimmy Stewart, who starred in such films as Rear Window and Vertigo, dies at age eighty-nine at his home in Beverly Hills, California of a blood clot in his lung.
1941—NBC Airs First Official TV Commercial
NBC broadcasts the first TV commercial to be sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC began licensing commercial television stations in May 1941, granting the first license to NBC. During a Dodgers-Phillies game broadcast July 1, NBC ran its first commercial, from Bulova, who paid $9 to advertise its watches.
1963—Kim Philby Named as Spy
The British Government admits that former high-ranking intelligence diplomat Kim Philby had worked as a Soviet agent. Philby was a member of the spy ring now known as the Cambridge Five, along with Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross. Of the five, Philby is believed to have been most successful in providing classified information to the Soviet Union. He defected to Russia, was feted as a hero and even given his commemorative stamp, before dying in 1988 at the age of seventy-six.
1997—Robert Mitchum Dies
American actor Robert Mitchum dies in his home in Santa Barbara, California. He had starred in films such as Out of the Past, Blood on the Moon
, and Night of the Hunter
, was called "the soul of film noir," and had a reputation for coolness
that would go unmatched until Frank Sinatra arrived on the scene.
1908—Tunguska Explosion Occurs
Near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai in Russia, a large meteoroid or comet explodes at five to ten kilometers above the Earth's surface with a force of about twenty megatons of TNT. The explosion is a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic blast, knocks over an estimated 80 million trees and generates a shock wave estimated to have been 5.0 on the Richter scale.
1971—Soviet Cosmonauts Perish
Soviet cosmonauts Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev, who served as the first crew of the world's first space station Salyut 1, die when their spacecraft Soyuz 11 depressurizes during preparations for re-entry. They are the only humans to die in space (as opposed to the upper atmosphere).
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