You know what I love about you, Robert? You're as beautiful as me. It's like I switched my bender with FaceApp.
The promo poster for the classic film noir His Kind of Woman declares Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum the hottest combination ever to hit the screen. The windscreen? The screen door? We'll assume it means the silver screen. The movie was made by RKO Radio Pictures when it was run by Howard Hughes, so if you know anything about vintage cinema you already know this production was a mess. Hughes' micromanaging, meddling, and firings of actors led to heavy cost overruns and more than an hour of retakes. Despite these issues Mitchum and Russell do fine as the romantic leads, and support from Vincent Price, Jim Backus, and Raymond Burr helps them immensely. Are they the hottest whatever to hit the whatever? Well, of course. They'd be the hottest pushing a stalled car up a hill, or flossing their rearmost molars, or yakking in the toilet after an all night tequila binge. When you're hot, you're hot. We know quite well because—not to boast—people have said the same about us.
Anyway, Mitchum plays a classic film noir patsy who accepts a pile of money to go to Mexico for unknown purposes, only to discover that the sweet deal he thought he was getting isn't so sweet after all. Russell plays a rich girl idling down south with her lover, a famous actor, but when she gets a gander of Mitchum she starts rethinking her romantic priorities. Any smart woman would. We won't reveal the plot other than to say it's adequate, though not awe inspiring. The last few reels make a hard right turn into comedy, which some viewers hate, but the major problem for us is that the ineptness of the villains during the extended climax strains credulity. In the end His Kind of Woman may not be your kind of movie, but guys (or girls) get to see Russell dress slinkily and sing a couple of songs, and girls (or guys) get to see Mitchum go about twenty minutes with no shirt, so there's a silver lining for everyone here. The film premiered in the U.S. today in 1951. Do you have someplace I can store this suitcase filled with my excess masculine heat?
Sure, you can sit next to me. But first you have to sign a liability waiver in case you get scorched.
You'll love this next trick. I put my finger in this cognac and it catches fire.
Hot as this guy is, I don't know whether to keep beating on him or start beating on me.
And once I take your face off I'll be the hot one. I'll have it all! Respect, envy, women, excellent service wherever I go! The world will be mine! Mwahh hah hah! Haaaaaaaah haha hahah!
French paperback illustrators could teach real world spies all about leaving no clues or evidence behind.
When it comes to French pulp, the cover art will often be uncredited. Such is the case with this attractive front for the thriller Quadrille d'Espions, published in 1956 by Société d'Éditions Général, aka SEG, for its popular series Espionnage/Service-Secret. The book was written by Francis Richard, which was a pseudonym used by Paul Bérato, who also wrote as Yves Dermèze, Paul Béra, er al. We dug deeper into the identity of this artist, to no avail. Someone out there knows, though, and with luck, we'll hear from them.
Speak softly but carry a big stick. And possibly a gun or two.
Above you see a poster for the blaxploitation flick Black Samson, which starred Rockne Tarkington, William Smith, and Carol Speed. Because we hadn't heard of this movie we were expecting something super low rent, but it's actually on par with the better blaxploitation productions, with plenty of location shooting, large scale action, and an actual lion. But while Black Samson is competently made, there are no standout set pieces or comedic interludes, little eroticism, and not much in the way of incisve commentary. Probably its most notable quality is that the bad guys are uniquely cruel, at one point throwing a completely harmless woman out of a moving car, and mutilating another woman's breasts with a knife just for kicks.
The basic plot involves a syndicate of white crooks who want to peddle drugs in the ghetto, and the staff-wielding, lion-owning hero Samson who stands in their way. Conflict escalates, and in the end matters devolve into a full scale race riot, followed by a mano-a-mano between Samson and the head honky in charge to settle the issue once and for all. If Samson exchanged that wooden staff he totes around for a legit boom stick he could have solved his issues sooner, but probably less entertainingly. In the end Black Samson manages to press all the right buttons, which means that for fans of the blaxploitation genre, it's definitely worth a watch. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1974.
If at first you don't succeed, fly back to Malaysia and try again.
In the movies good girls always seem to fall for bad boys. In the World War II drama Singapore Ava Gardner is the former and Fred MacMurray is the latter, a smuggler of jewels. The two hook up in the titular locale, and when Gardner learns her new love is a crook, she accepts it with a rhetorical shrug. She asks merely if Fred is what the authorities suspect him to be, receives an affirmative answer, then asks if he can't sell jewels legally, receives the answer, “Yes, but at a quarter the price,” and that's it. She doesn't trouble her mind beyond that point, which we consider a major failing of Seton I. Miller's script.
It isn't the only failing. When it comes to areas of love and desire, the dripping melodrama of the dialogue puts MacMurray and Gardner in tough spots, and neither comes out unscathed. The good news is that in other areas Singapore fares better. The film weaves the tale of how MacMurray's plan to smuggle priceless pearls is cut short when the Japanese unexpectedly bomb the city. The love story, the smuggling plot, and the bombing are all told in reminiscence, bracketed front and rear by MacMurray's return five years after the tragedies and errors of his previous stint there. Now, with the city recovering from conflict, MacMurray tries to put together the puzzle pieces of the past.
We love old Hollywood's foreign fetish, its eagerness to set films in exotic locales. When it works well, as in Casablanca and its deft usage of Morocco, the result is magic; when it doesn't, as in, say, Miss Sadie Thompson and its setting of Pago Pago, the bells and whistles are a glaring reminder of missed opportunities. Singapore falls somewhere in the middle. We get to see a bit of Singapore when it was still part of Malaysia, which is interesting, but the most exotic sight to be seen is still Ava Gardner. For us, she was reason enough to take the trip. But just barely. Singapore premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
Hollywood gets wholly weird in Bill Gault's show business thriller.
With Death Out of Focus, which is our third reading of Bill Gault, aka William Campbell Gault, we're thinking he can be moved into the trusted bin. He once more documents the decadent ins and outs of Southern California, this time centering his tale around a movie production. When director Stephen Leander's leading man ends up in the wreckage of his car at the foot of a cliff in Pacific Palisades and police call it an accident, a determined insurance investigator launches his own inquiry and begins turning up what looks like evidence of murder. Leander joins forces with the insurance guy to uncover the truth. Fun to read, quick of pace, and quirky the way a Hollywood thriller should be, Death Out of Focus takes various Tinseltown archetypes—the aging actress, the tyrannical producer, the sexy ingenue, the loyal industry wife—adds money motivations and showbiz ambitions, and ends up with a nice concoction. Like a typical Hollywood movie, it doesn't strive to be unique or lofty, but with so many literary duds out there, good enough is good enough. This Dell edition is from 1960 and the cover is by Robert McGinnis.
Holiday revelers come face to fungi with their worst fears.
This is a simply awesome poster. It was made for the Japanese horror movie Matango, which was known in English speaking countries as Attack of the Mushroom People. The second title pretty much gives it all away—mushroom people aggressive. Plotwise, a group of sailboating jet setters get swallowed by a fog bank and end up marooned on a mysterious island. There they find a derelict boat, evidence of scientific research into the island's unique giant mushrooms, and disturbing indications that the fungi are more than what they seem. Not long afterward the castaways begin to fear they're turning into mushrooms themselves. This is of course a terrifying prospect, but since they're food challenged the upside is they'll have something to put in their eggs. Overall Matango is better than you'd suspect. It's atmospheric, nicely photographed, and the hallucinatory efx work pretty well. If you like 1960s sci-fi and horror we think this one will do the job for you. It premiered in Japan today in 1963.
Wow, how much did I drink last night? I feel terrible this morning.
You guys run! I'll hold them off with this garlic and bottle of olive oil!
Welch tries to Fathom the spy game in cheeseball ’60s thriller.
This great poster was painted by French artist Vanni Tealdi for the 1967 spy adventure Une super-girl nommée Fathom, originally made as Fathom. The film was based on an unpublished novel by Larry Forrester, and is set in Spain in various beautiful locations around the Costa del Sol, including Nerja, which we discussed not long ago. Sixties icon Raquel Welch plays a member of a skydiving troupe recruited by Headquarters Allied Defenses Espionage and Security—HADES—to locate the fire dragon, which is supposedly a trigger for a nuclear bomb. Mostly the mission involves Welch using her smile and showing off her supernaturel physique, which is the real nuclear bomb, packed with kilotons of destructive power.
She finds herself caught in a web of lies and soon doesn't know who's the good guy, whether the fire dragon is really a nuclear trigger, and whether she shouldn't just run away and catch up with the rest of her troupe. It's all quite lighthearted, and considering what Welch is given to work with scriptwise, she manages not to sabotage herself or the film. However, she was not that great of an actress at this point, so your primary motive for watching this would be to enjoy the scenery—certainly of Welch, but also of Spain. Those two reasons will get you through the film's ninety-nine minutes. Une super-girl nommée Fathom has no known French release date, but it premiered in the U.S. today in 1967, and would have made it to France later the same summer.
Nobody is who they seem in this crime collection.
Above are some covers from French publishers Éditions Baudelaire, specifically four entries from its collection Le Chat Noir, or Black Cat, written by various authors, and with cover art by Jacques Thibésart, who signed his work as Nik. The authors were pseudonyms too—or at least, Georges Méra and César Valentino were, which makes us pretty sure the others were, as well. Sharp eyed readers will notice that Thibésart was inspired by Hollywood's film noir wave. The first cover is definitely Dick Powell, and the male on the third cover has to be Alan Ladd from This Gun for Hire. Right? Or is that just us? Thibésart seems to have switched out Ladd's co-star Veronica Lake, though, because the female figure doesn't look anything like her. Oh, it's all such a riddle with these pen names and borrowed faces. In any case, nice art. These were all published in 1959.
It's nice and warm inside.
This is obviously Marilyn Chambers fronting a poster for her x-rated extravaganza Behind the Green Door, which opened in the U.S. this month in 1972. We shared a Japanese poster for this a long while ago, as well as a another Japanese promo advertising this as a double bill with The Resurrection of Eve. Today we figured we might as well show you the original American promo too.
Why do we coming back to Chambers? Probably her connection to horror films via the David Cronenberg classic Rabid has something to do with it. Not many actors have straddled porn and maintream cinema. Chambers is top of the heap on that score. And she died young at age fifty-six, so that always brings about examinations of a star's legacy. And finally, it's always interesting to see what path porn stars take when they move on. Chambers' path took her to Southern California, where she died in a mobile home in Santa Clarita, a long way from the bright lights of New York City where she first became a star. We had never watched Behind the Green Door, but we remedied that a few days ago, and for those who don't already know we can tell you the movie is a sexual awakening story, with Chambers the star of a live sex show about “the ravishment of a woman who has been abducted,a woman whose initial fear and anxiety has mellowed into curious expectation.” She appears in two vignettes of escalating explicitness, as masked onlookers observe à la Eyes Wide Shut. That's the entire plot.
Chambers looks very good in this movie. We can imagine what it must have been like for cinemagoers to see a woman in this raunchy role who was fully beautiful enough to be a Hollywood star. The party lifestyle she lived began to make almost immediate physical changes, but for a moment, here in the summer of 1972, she was really a goddess. We have a nice image of her below as evidence of that assertion.
Seems naive now, but when I heard it was a recreational drug I thought it would make me spend more time outside.
Amazingly, if you go shopping for a copy of N. R. de Mexico's, aka Robert Campbell Bragg's 1951 novel Marijuana Girl, some vendors will try to charge you $200 or more. That's quite an ask for a flimsy old digest novel, but people must pay it, we guess. It certainly isn't the cover art of a hapless model that makes the book valuable. Is it the prose? Well, the book was good, in fact far better than we expected. It sets up as a drug scare novel. The main character, Joyce, goes through the full progression—i.e. youthful smalltown rebelliousness leads to a permissive lifestyle leads to the big city leads to drugs leads to harder drugs leads to prostitution and so forth. We didn't give anything away there—the rear cover provides all that information and more. We're even told Joyce hangs with jazz musicians (which you understand to mean non-whites) and trades “her very soul” for drugs, so you know where this all goes before you even reach the title page.
But Marijuana Girl also defies conventions of drug scare books. For example, it portrays nearly all the drug users as regular folks well in control of their intake. In fact, the two characters responsible for introducing Joyce to drugs are the same two who work hardest to get her off them. Other easy plot choices are avoided as well, which is rarely the case in 1950s novels with numerous non-white characters. But here's really why the book is unique—it goes into amazing detail about the process of consuming drugs. De Mexico zooms close during those moments, sharing the proper technique for smoking joints, clinically explaining how to use a needle, and how to pull blood back into the syringe to rinse out every last molecule of heroin. It's all there. This had to be shocking for 1951 readers, which we suppose is what boosts the book's value for modern collectors. Still, $200? We don't think Marijuana Girl, or any paperback, is worth that much, but it's definitely worth reading.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
1995—Mickey Mantle Dies
New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle dies of complications from cancer, after receiving a liver transplant. He was one of the greatest baseball players ever, but he was also an alcoholic and played drunk, hungover, and unprepared. He once said about himself, "Sometimes I think if I had the same body and the same natural ability and someone else's brain, who knows how good a player I might have been."
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