So you want to me to seriously injure my back here? On this spot right here? Okay, I'll give it a whirl.
Above, American actress Rosemary LaPlanche prepares to attempt an acrobatic pose in 1942, and below we see how it worked out. LaPlanche was what we think of as a career extra, which is to say she appeared in many movies but rarely as a named character. Some of those roles: “hatcheck girl” in Johnny Angel, “guest” in Having a Wonderful Crime, and “Falcon's nurse” in The Falcon in Danger. Probably her best known credited roles were in Strangler in the Swamp, Federal Agents vs. Underworld, Inc., and Devil Bat's Daughter. We can't imagine many actresses trying a headstand for a photo session today, which is why we love this sequence.
Filmgoers say yes to No and a franchise is born.
Since we've already talked about two movies inspired by Bond today, why not discuss the landmark that started it all? There had always been spy movies. Even the James Bond films, with their focus on high concept action and fantastical super villains, had predecessors. But United Artists, director Terence Young, Sean Connery, and the rest took the basic notes of those earlier efforts, wove them into a fresh composition, and cranked the volume up to eleven. This Spanish poster painted by Macario Gomez was made for the first Bond film Dr. No, which played in Spain as Agente 007 contra el Dr. No. Ian Fleming's novel had been published in 1958, and the film hit cinemas four years later. Like From Russia with Love, which we watched recently, we've seen it more than once, but not for years, and decided to screen it with fresh eyes.
We imagine audiences had never seen a spy movie quite like this, with its opulent production values and near-seamless construction. Set in Jamaica, the exotic locations are beautifully photographed, and while the filmmakers' portrayal of the island isn't necessarily authentic, it's immersive, and makes the required impression of a land of mystery and danger. An altogether different impression was made by the ravishing Ursula Andress, and we suspect once word got out certain filmgoers bought tickets just to see her. Joseph Wiseman's villainous Julius No, a few hi-budget gadgets, and a secret lair filled with expendable henchmen complete the set-up—and establish the Bond template for the future. Add the unflappable if occasionally imperious spy himself and the fun is complete.
The Bond franchise's success inspired scores of imitators, as discussed in the two posts above, but with a few exceptions those movies usually work today on the level of unintentional comedy or eye-rolling camp. Dr. No, despite Bond's interjections of humor, took itself seriously. Viewers were supposed to believe its most fantastic elements were possible. In addition, they were supposed to see Bond as the uber-male, a man who fights and loves hard, is virtually immune to sentiment, and never mourns losses for long. That notion of ideal manhood has certainly changed—for the better we'd say—but even accounting for the tectonic cultural shifts in the interim Dr. No holds up like the best vintage thrillers. It's stylish, charmingly simple, and—if one assesses it honestly—progressive for its time. It premiered in England in October 1962, and reached Spain today in 1963.
I enjoy staring evilly, ignoring people, occasionally rubbing my ass on the furniture. The usual cat stuff.
She was born in Copenhagen, Denmark as Kirsten Svanholm but when she hit Hollywood she called herself Kitty Swan. Under her Americanized moniker she appeared in such films as Tarzan in the Golden Grotto, House of 1,000 Dolls, and Virgin of the Jungle, all of which sound like pure cinematic awesomeness. We're going to watch all those movies. We promise. But we're going to start with Gungala, the Black Panther Girl. That one sounds like the best of all. We can't wait. Seriously. This photo is from 1971.
What's gloves got to do with it?
Austrian born actress Marisa Mell made this photo when she was starring in the 1966 Italian thriller New York chiama Superdrago, aka Secret Agent Superdragon, and what it shows is that opera gloves are the female spy's equivalent to James Bond's bow ties. Shooting someone is an important occasion, and the least you can do is dress formally when you do it. The title of this movie alone—we seriously must watch it. We'll report back.
Is there anything sweeter than a beautiful movie palace?
You probably recognize Grauman's Chinese Theatre, in Los Angeles. These days it's called TCL Chinese Theatre, because it's owned and operated by TCL Corporation—based in China, ironically. Since we write so often about movies we thought it appropriate to discuss the beautiful buildings in which the films were exhibited. Back in the day these were usually purpose-built structures, though some did split duty for stage productions and concerts. While many of these old palaces survive, nearly all surviving vintage cinemas in the U.S. were under threat at some point. Generally, if they hadn't been given historic protection they wouldn't be upright today.
Other times, if a city was poor, real estate costs didn't rise and old buildings stood unthreatened, usually idle. This happened often in the American midwest, where movie houses were neglected for decades before some were resurrected amid downtown revitalizations. It sometimes happens in Latin America too, although occasionally the formula fails. For example, Cartagena's majestic and oft photographed landmark Teatro Colón, located in the historic section of Colombia's most popular coastal tourist city, was torn down fewer than six months ago to make way for a Four Seasons Hotel.
Some of the cinemas below are well known treasures, while others are more unassuming places. But even those lesser known cinemas show how much thought and work was put into making moviegoing a special experience. The last photo, which shows the Butterfly Theatre in Milwaukee, exemplifies that idea. The façade is distinguished by a terra cotta butterfly sculpture adorned with light bulbs. As you might guess, many of the most beautiful large cinemas were in Los Angeles, which means that city is well represented in the collection. Enjoy.
Paramount Theatre, Oakland (operational).
Cine Maya, Mérida (demolished).
The Albee Cinema, Cincinnati (demolished)
Cooper Theatre, Denver (demolished).
Paras Cinema, Jaipur (operational).
Cathay Cinema, Shanghai (operational).
Academy Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Charlottenburg Filmwerbung, Berlin (demolished).
Pacific's Cinerama Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
York Theatre, Elmhurst (operational).
La Gaumont-Palace, Paris (demolished).
Essoldo Cinema, Newcastle (demolished).
Théâtre Scala, Strasbourg (operational).
Teatro Colón, Cartagena (demolished in 2018).
Teatro Coliseo Argentino, Buenos Aires (demolished).
Pavilion Theater, Adelaide (demolished).
El Molino Teatro, Barcelona (operational).
Fox Carthay Theatre, Los Angeles (demolished).
Kino Rossiya Teatr, Moscow (operational).
Nippon Gekijo, aka Nichigeki, Tokyo (demolished).
Cine Impala, Namibe (operational).
Cine Arenal, Havana (operational).
Teatro Mérida, Mérida (operational, renamed Teatro Armando Manzanero).
Ideal Theater, Manila (demolished).
Odeon Cinema, London (semi-demolished, converted to apartments).
Mayan Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Rex Cinema, Port au Prince (being restored).
Urania Kino, Vienna (operational).
Tampa Theatre, Tampa (operational).
The Butterfly Theater, Milwaukee (demolished).
There are 777 ways to make a bad 007 movie.
Above you see a Mario de Berardinis poster painted for the Italian spy thriller Agente segreto 777 - Operazione Mistero, known in English merely as Secret Agent 777. The plot of this revolves around a doctor's cell regeneration process—i.e. he can bring people back to life, a miracle somehow made possible through nuclear physics. No, it didn't make sense to us either. But all you need to know is that basically Agent 777 is a low rent James Bond rip-off with a touch of updated Frankenstein mixed in.
It's as silly as it sounds, and has too many problems to enumerate, but we did enjoy the Beirut setting, and it rather amused us when a character spoke of going to the “Portuguese colonies to find his fortune.” Back then that meant going to Angola or Mozambique and extracting something of value that rightfully belonged to the local people—oil, antiquities, jewels, anything. The sequence struck us because at the time Agent 777 was extracting something of value from us—our patience. It premiered in Italy today in 1965.
Help! I'm trapped in this terrible film and I can't get out!
Crime magazine gives readers the gifts of death and mayhem.
Produced by the J.B. Publishing Corp. of New York City, Reward was a true crime magazine, another imprint designed to slake the American public's thirst for death and mayhem. Inside this May 1954 issue the editors offer up mafia hits, Hollywood suicides, domestic murder, plus some cheesecake to soothe readers' frazzled nerves, and more. The cover features a posed photo of actress Lili Dawn, who was starring at the time in a film noir called Violated. It turned out to be her only film. In fact, it turned out to be the only film ever acted in by top billed co-star William Holland, as well as supporting cast members Vicki Carlson, Fred Lambert, William Mishkin, and Jason Niles. It must have been some kind of spectacularly bad movie to cut short all those careers, but we haven't watched it. It's available for the moment on YouTube, though, and we may just take a gander later. Because Reward is a pocket sized magazine the page scans are easily readable, so rather than comment further we'll let you have a look yourself.
Those guys really know how to live.
We never considered the possibility that there might be an avenue of pimps, but it follows—there's a street of ho's. We discussed that particular Manhattan thoroughfare in detail a while back. You'd think the street of pimps would be just one block over, but it's actually in Mexico. Well, if you've got your ho's properly trained it really doesn't matter where you are—they'll have your money for you. 1965 copyright on this, with an unknown cover artist.
Ready for some stimulating reading?
Above, a beautiful pin-up style cover painted by Jef de Wulf for Tania et le démon by Yvan Nikitine, published by Brussels based Éditions Aphrodite. This is a collection of romantic verse from the Russian poet Yvan Nikitine, not to be confused with the famous 19th century Russian poet Ivan Nikitine, nor the 17th century Russian painter and author Ivan Nikitin. We had trouble figuring all this out, because apparently Nikitine/Nikitin is like Johnson or Jones in Russia, but we think our Nikitine wrote eighteen volumes of poetry over the years, was made a knight of L'Ordre des Palmes Académiques, and is alive and retired in Agen, France. Maybe we should just just focus on the art. Nice, yeah? 1959 copyright.
Trust me, I can do this for a long, long time.
Lauren Bacall gives the camera the look she made famous, and which gave male filmgoers palpitations. Ironically, the look came about because in her first film To Have and Have Not she was so nervous her head was shaking, so she kept her chin down to suppress the tremors, which required her to look from under her eyelids. Or so the story goes. This particular photo was made for her thriller Confidential Agent, and it dates from 1945.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1948—Paige Takes Mound in the Majors
Satchel Paige, considered at the time the greatest of Negro League pitchers, makes his Major League debut for the Cleveland Indians at the age of 42. His career in the majors is short because of his age, but even so, as time passes, he is recognized by baseball experts as one of the great pitchers of all time.
1965—Biggs Escapes the Big House
Ronald Biggs, a member of the gang that carried out the Great Train Robbery in 1963, escapes from Wandsworth Prison by scaling a 30-foot wall with three other prisoners, using a ladder thrown in from the outside. Biggs remains at large for nearly forty years.
NBC radio broadcasts the cop drama Dragnet for the first time. It was created by, produced by, and starred Jack Webb as Joe Friday. The show would later go on to become a successful television program, also starring Webb.
1973—Lake Dies Destitute
Veronica Lake, beautiful blonde icon of 1940s Hollywood and one of film noir's most beloved fatales
, dies in Burlington, Vermont of hepatitis and renal failure due to long term alcoholism. After Hollywood, she had drifted between cheap hotels in Brooklyn and New York City and was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. A New York Post
article briefly revived interest in her, but at the time of her death she was broke and forgotten.
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