Compson curls up with some good music.
U.S. actress Betty Compson pulls off an uncomfortable looking pose and does it with a winning smile in this Paramount Pictures promo photo from sometime in the 1920s. This is a standard yoga position called Dhanurasana, or the bow, though we doubt yoga was known at all in the U.S. during the ’20s. Instead the text on the rear of the photo describes what Compson is doing this way:
How To Keep Fit. Leg, arm, back and shoulder muscles are developed by this exercise, as demonstrated by Betty Compson. Lie flat on the floor out-stretched. Simultaneously bend the knees and fling the hands back until they can grip the feet. This exercise is more beneficial—likewise more difficult—if executed slowly.
To which we say, no damn way we're trying that.
Anyway, Compson was a major star, appearing in more than one hundred films and shorts, both silent and with sound, between 1914 and 1948. Her highlight was 1928's The Barker, which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. We're giving her an award for this nice promo shot. We'll never do the exercise, but we love the image.
Unknown photo retoucher increases the value of Sterling.
We've seen this photo of U.S. actress Jan Sterling numerous times, but never in color, which leads us to believe it's a colorization. If so, it's a nice, subtle job, as well as a clever choice of model, since Sterling was the subject of one of the iconic black and white photos of the mid-century period. Know the one we mean? Look here. Despite the fame of that particular shot, Sterling was never what you'd call a top tier star. But she appeared in many films, earned a Golden Globe Award as a supporting actress, and was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar. We'll be getting back to her film work a bit later.
American star adds pizzazz to a pair of Aussie thrillers.
Today we have two more paperbacks from Australia's Horwitz Publications, a company that, as we've documented often, opportunistically used numerous Hollywood celebs on its covers. This time it's Jan Sterling, who appears on 1955's Blueprints for Murder and 1956's The Bride Wore Black, both written by the prolific Marc Brody. Sterling was never a top tier actress but she was in a lot of good movies and earned an Oscar nomination for The High and the Mighty. She also posed for some stunning photos, including the two at this link. These book scans float around online, which means we don't know where they originate, but if we had to guess we'd say Flickr, so thanks to the first uploader.
I'll be taking all your awards, thank you very much.
Though she looks more blonde than red in this particular photo, Sissy Spacek is one of Hollywood's best known redheads, and one of its most talented too, with six Academy Award nominations and one victory, for Coal Miner's Daughter. All told, she's been nominated for about one hundred awards, netting numerous wins—including taking home four New York Film Critics Circle Awards in five nominations. The above shot was made for Robert Altman's drama 3 Women, in which Spacek starred with Shelly Duvall and Janice Rule. It's from 1977.
Her time in the sun lasted for decades.
Loretta Young had a tremendous film career. Between 1917 and 1963 she appeared in more than one hundred movies, hosted her long-running television show The Loretta Young Show, won the 1948 Academy Award for Best Actress for The Farmer's Daughter, garnered another nomination for Come to the Stable, won two Golden Globes, and took home three Emmys. Considering her extensive credits it's amazing she could spare the time to go to the beach at all. Several sources say this photo was shot in 1931. That looks about right. She would have been eighteen then, yet amazingly already had nearly thirty screen appearances behind her. She was in a class of her own.
I'll give you one more chance to get it right. It's spelled without a “y” but pronounced like there is one.
Bette Davis was born with the first name Ruth, but nicknamed Betty from childhood. As an actress she changed the spelling to Bette after Honoré de Balzac's La Cousine Bette, and people mangled the pronunciation routinely until she became a huge star. Speaking of letters, this promo photo is from her 1940 drama The Letter, based on a play by W. Somerset Maugham. Remember how we talked about how outward looking Hollywood was during its golden period, how it set so many films in exotic corners of the world? The Letter is another prime example. It's set on a rubber plantation in Malaya. Thanks largely to Davis's golden touch the film was nominated for numerous Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Score. It won nothing, but we assume the film is good anyway. We'll watch it and report back.
The best laid plans of singers and musicians often go awry.
This is an unusually nice promo poster we think. It was made for the Susan Hayward vehicle Smash-Up, sometimes referred to as Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman. It premiered this month in 1947 and involves nightclub chanteuse Hayward and her crooner husband, played by Lee Bowman. Hayward has talent but values love over career; her husband has less talent but endless ambition. When their careers go in different directions the strain begins to tear the marriage apart. Whose career goes which direction? We won't tell you that, though the audience learns in the first scene, a framing device featuring the downfallen character bandaged and delirious in a hospital bed. Even though the story's ending is sacrificed for an intro Smash-Up is a pretty good if melodramatic movie, with some strong film noir elements, Hayward in an Oscar nominated performance, and solid support from Eddie Albert as Bowman's composer partner. Worth a look—as long as you can deal with all the crooning.
Post-noir classic's reputation keeps soaring even as its director's keeps falling.
Nearly ten years into this website we've mentioned Chinatown only once—when we wrote a few lines while sharing two Japanese promo posters. The above poster was made for the film's Australian run, which began today in 1975. The film has been discussed everywhere, which means we can't add much, so let's just call it an all-time masterpiece, and one of the most watchable and re-watchable movies ever made, filled with details you notice over time. For example, it didn't strike us until after a few viewings that Jack Nicholson does his own stunt in that culvert scene, the one where the water rushes down the sluiceway and pins him against a chain link fence. You wouldn't see many modern day stars get wet and cold for a moment that lasts five seconds onscreen. We also failed to notice the first few times that the police lieutenant, Escobar, is Mexican-American. It just didn't strike us. But he would have been an extreme rarity in the 1937 L.A. of the film, and the writing and/or casting choice there was certainly deliberate. Other details continue to emerge, and we've seen the movie five or six times.
As far as director Roman Polanski goes, we've talked about him before. But we'll add that art stands on its own, and people stand on their own too. Having created superior art should not absolve someone of crimes; having committed crimes should not serve to denigrate superior art. That's just our opinion. Plus, a director isn't the only one responsible for a film. The hundreds of others involved, including the select group pictured below, and especially the unpictured screenwriter Robert Towne—who is just as responsible for Chinatown as Polanski and won an Oscar for his screenplay—deserve credit. We will always criticize art for being inaccurate when it pretends to be truthful, or for promulgating false or harmful beliefs. Chinatown doesn't do that. Quite the opposite—it offers sharp insights into how and why Los Angeles became what it is. Meanwhile its subplot somewhat foreshadows Polanski's own crime, which makes the film ironic in the extreme. If you haven't seen it you simply must.
Los Angeles homecoming goes awry for Alan Ladd.
The Blue Dahlia is often cited as a top film noir, but it really isn't. That didn't matter to the Hollywood movers and shakers who nominated Raymond Chandler's screenplay for an Oscar, but we suspect the nod was for stringing together hard boiled dialogue, since it certainly wasn't for stringing together a coherent plot. The movie tells the story of a vet who returns home to find his wife cheating with the shady owner of a Hollywood nightclub. When she's murdered, the husband is sought by police, but he goes fugitive and attempts to find the real killer. With pretty boy Alan Ladd in the lead, plus support from Veronica Lake, William Bendix, and the beautiful Doris Dowling, The Blue Dahlia has a lot going for it, including a cool nocturnal vibe, but a script too reliant on improbable occurrences and Lake's flat performance in a basically ornamental role keep it from being upper echelon. It's worth a watch just to see Bendix go bathouse crazy every time he hears what he calls “monkey music,” but go into it knowing there are at least twenty better films in the genre.
The eyes have it in for you.
Above, a beautiful promo poster for the film noir Mildred Pierce made for the film's run in France, which began today in 1947, more than a year after its U.S. premiere. This is pure awesomeness from artist Roger Rojac. Note that it touts Joan Crawford's Academy Award triumph, her win as best actress. It was also nominated for best picture but beaten by Lost Weekend, which is these days considered a bit of a cheeseball classic. We have our earlier write-up on Mildred Pierce here, and a nice promo image for the film at this link.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1950—The Great Brinks Robbery Occurs
In the U.S., eleven thieves steal more than $2 million from an armored car company's offices in Boston, Massachusetts. The skillful execution of the crime, with only a bare minimum of clues left at the scene, results in the robbery being billed as "the crime of the century." Despite this, all the members of the gang are later arrested.
1977—Gary Gilmore Is Executed
Convicted murderer Gary Gilmore is executed by a firing squad in Utah, ending a ten-year moratorium on Capital punishment in the United States. Gilmore's story is later turned into a 1979 novel entitled The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, and the book wins the Pulitzer Prize for literature.
1942—Carole Lombard Dies in Plane Crash
American actress Carole Lombard
, who was the highest paid star in Hollywood during the late 1930s, dies in the crash of TWA Flight 3, on which she was flying from Las Vegas to Los Angeles after headlining a war bond rally in support of America's military efforts. She was thirty-three years old.
1919—Luxemburg and Liebknecht Are Killed
Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, two of the most prominent socialists in Germany, are tortured and murdered by the Freikorps. Freikorps was a term applied to various paramilitary organizations that sprang up around Germany as soldiers returned in defeat from World War I. Members of these groups would later become prominent members of the SS.
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