Divorce probably would have been the easier option.
Conflict was Humphrey Bogart's follow-up to the crowd pleasing To Have and Have Not, and he takes a dark turn as a man whose bad marriage is complicated by the fact that he's fallen in love with his sister-in-law. He's willing to kill to be free, but his plan goes sideways, as they always do. We won't go into detail except to note that, interestingly, Bogart begins to see the same jumbled pyramidal shape everywhere—in a pile of fallen logs, in an architectural drawing, in the kindling set up to start a bonfire, etc. It's a Hitchcockian touch designed to symbolize the inner conflict of the title, but why exactly is he seeing these things? Is it because he killed his wife? Or because he botched his opportunity and now she's trying to drive him insane? We won't tell you. We'll only say that the winding road toward a resolution is reasonably entertaining, and Bogart can pull even a flawed film to the positive side of the ledger. Conflict, which co-starred Alexis Smith and Sydney Greenstreet, premiered in the U.S. today in 1945.
Falling into the gutter is easy. Getting out? Not so much.
When does a movie get too cute for its own good? Possibly when the femme fatale is named Cuddles. Despite that laugh inducing bit of characterization, Underworld U.S.A. is the deadly serious tale of a kid who becomes a career criminal in order to exact revenge upon the hoods who killed his father. Cliff Robertson stars and Dolores Dorn plays the aforementioned Cuddles in this cautionary tale about the inexorable gravity of organized crime, which can suck everybody into a place from which there's no redemption or escape. Samuel Fuller steers the production with a sure hand, Robertson broods, Dorn suffers, gangsters plot and scheme, and the final result is tough and wrenching.
Best line: “I know. I'm drunk. But my brain's okay!”
It's interesting that on many websites Underworld U.S.A. isn't classified as a film noir. But it has most of the elements—overriding sense of doom, moral ambiguity, police corruption, scenes in bars, copious shadows, rain slick streets, extreme close-ups, et al. And Fuller had previously helmed the excellent 1953 film noir Pickup on South Street. But often you'll see Underworld U.S.A. slotted as a drama or melodrama. Well, it's definitely those. Viewers will see that Fuller, who was influenced by pulp novels and tabloids, had a unique vision. While Underworld U.S.A. doesn't stand up against the best film noir has to offer, it's successful on its own terms. It premiered in New York City today in 1961.
Spanish art for Casa número 322 may have traveled far from home.
We already showed you a beautiful yellow French promo poster for 1954's Pushover, starring Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak. Above is a cool blue Spanish language promo. This piece is signed MCP, which is the imprimatur used by the Spanish artists Ramon Marti, Josep Clave, and Hernan Pico. So is this a Spanish poster? Well, most online sites say so. But the distributor for Mexico is listed as Columbia Films S.A., and you can see that graphic right on top of the poster. The S.A., by the way, stands for “sociedad anónima,” and is a corporate designation, kind of like Inc., or LLC. The movie's distribution company for Spain is on record as plain old Columbia Films, with no S.A., so we think this poster was used in Mexico, where the movie played as La casa número 322, “house number 322.” There's no exact Mexican release date known for it, but late 1955 is a safe bet. All that said, there's no way we can claim to be correct with 100% surety that this is a Mexican poster. We're extrapolating.
Columbia had distribution branches in various Latin American countries. Its Mexican hub was the most important because Mexico had the most developed Spanish film market in the world. Yes, more than Spain, which was still recovering from civil war. Though dubbed or subtitled versions of foreign movies were routinely shown in Mexico, locally produced flicks were about 20% more popular at the box office on average, according to a 1947 report circulated by the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey. In fact, Mexican films were the most popular in all Latin America, particularly Cuba. Even in Mexico City, where U.S. and European films were more popular than anywhere else in the country, Mexican films took up more than 40% of exhibition time—again as reported by the U.S. Consulate. Why was the consulate studying this? Just wait.
The Mexican movie market isn't as competitive today. The decline was due to three main factors: political pressure that forced Mexico to submit to so-called free trade in mass media, suspicious difficulties obtaining raw film stock from the U.S. for movie productions, and, of course, dirty business tactics by Stateside studios. So that's where the consulate came in—gathering intelligence for both the U.S. government and U.S. business interests. Armed with alarming data about local preferences for local product, U.S. studios forced Mexican exhibitors into “block booking” agreements, which meant that if cinemas wanted to exhibit the best Hollywood films they were also contractually obligated to take on the worst. This was repeated all over Latin America, and those bad films, which were more numerous than the good ones, ate up exhibition hours and kept Mexican films off screens. Pushover, at least, was one of Hollywood's better films.
There's not even the slightest glimmer of hope.
Virginia Christine prepares to ventilate someone's cranium in this crop of a promo photo made for her 1947 film noir The Invisible Wall. We haven't watched this yet, but we will, because we have a copy of this flick in some hard drive or other. You probably haven't heard of Christine, but she had a fantastic career during which she appeared in about fifty films and numerous television shows, moving constantly between the two realms like few performers have ever managed. Some of her cinematic highlights include Robert Siodmak's The Killers, Jack Webb's Dragnet, Sam Newfield's Murder Is My Business, and Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The full version of the above shot, which includes her blissfully sleeping target, appears below.
We're hooked on this poster—and the movie too.
Le port de la drogue was better known as Pickup on South Street, a movie we raved about a little while ago. Its U.S. poster is pedestrian, but this promo for the French market was painted by Constantin Belinsky, and we think it's spectacular. He actually painted two posters, the second of which—not quite as nice because he was asked to copy the U.S. promo—appears below. We'd never heard of Belinsky before but we'll keep our eyes open for more of his work. Pickup on South Street premiered in the U.S. in 1953 and seems to not have made it to France until today in 1961. We aren't sure why it took so long, but the wait was worth it, because the movie is great.
Gangsters try to steal Robert Ryan's boxing future.
In film noir there are procedural cop movies. The Set-Up is a procedural boxing movie. It tries to take viewers behind the scenes of the violence, bloodlust, and money to focus on the nuts and bolts of the fight game. Starring Robert Ryan as an aging heavyweight and Audrey Totter as his fretful girlfriend, most of the first half of the film takes place in a claustrophobic locker room as boxer after boxer goes out for subsequent bouts of a six card program like gladiators in Rome's Coliseum. Ryan is the main event, and when his name is called the action shifts to the ring for his fight, which is shown in something close to real time.
Ryan is hoping a win over an up and coming young fighter will earn him one last shot at fortune and glory, but he has no idea the fix is in. Somebody should have told him, because if he wins the bout he'll be in heaps of trouble. This is a good flick. It was helmed by Robert Wise, has some fantastic directorial extravagances, and looks spectacular in general, like the gritty documentary photos of Arthur Weegee Fellig, which is no small feat for a film shot entirely on an RKO backlot (Weegee, incidentally, has a cameo as a timekeeper). In the realm of boxing movies The Set-Up stands toe to toe with most. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1949.
She's a nightmare on Scarlet Street.
This beautiful photo features U.S. actress Joan Bennett and was made as a promo for her 1945 drama Scarlet Street, in which she plays a con artist who steals credit from a struggling artist for his critically acclaimed paintings. Directed by Fritz Lang and starring Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea, it's a solid film noir, well worth seeing. Check out its promo poster at this link.
A Trapped criminal always fights to the death.
Above you see a crop and full frame version of one of the greatest film noir promo photos ever made, in our opinion, from the 1949 thriller Trapped. Lloyd Bridges stars as a counterfeiter stalked by treasury agents, and Barbara Payton co-stars as his loyal lady love. We may talk about this film at some point. Payton would later earn her place in Hollywood lore by spiraling down the drain of drugs and vice. We discussed that in detail several years ago, and it's a very noir tale that you can check out at this link.
Ida done it her way.
Above, an interesting German language promo poster for the Ida Lupino film noir Private Hell 36, which we talked about last month. Lupino is considered a film pioneer for her migration into directing, but she's always good in front of the camera too. This piece is signed, though illegibly, so another artist loses their chance for internet immortality. Private Hell 36 premiered in West Germany today in 1956
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1928—Earhart Crosses Atlantic Ocean
American aviator Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly in an aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean, riding as a passenger in a plane piloted by Wilmer Stutz and maintained by Lou Gordon. Earhart would four years later go on to complete a trans-Atlantic flight as a pilot, leaving from Newfoundland and landing in Ireland, accomplishing the feat solo without a co-pilot or mechanic.
1939—Eugen Weidmann Is Guillotined
In France, Eugen Weidmann is guillotined in the city of Versailles outside Saint-Pierre Prison for the crime of murder. He is the last person to be publicly beheaded in France, however executions by guillotine continue away from the public until September 10, 1977, when Hamida Djandoubi becomes the last person to receive the grisly punishment.
1972—Watergate Burglars Caught
In Washington, D.C., five White House operatives are arrested for burglarizing the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel. The botched burglary was an attempt by members of the Republican Party to illegally wiretap the opposition. The resulting scandal ultimately leads to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, and also results in the indictment and conviction of several administration officials.
1961—Rudolph Nureyev Defects from Soviet Union
Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev defects
at Le Bourget airport in Paris. The western press reported that it was his love for Chilean heiress Clara Saint that triggered the event, but in reality Nuryev had been touring Europe with the Kirov Ballet and defected in order to avoid punishment for his continual refusal to abide by rules imposed upon the tour by Moscow.
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