Alexis: the relentless pursuit of perfection.
Above: Canadian actress Alexis Smith in a promo image befitting her classic looks. We've watched her in such films as Conflict, The Turning Point, and Undercover Girl. There are dozens more from which to choose, ranging from westerns such as Cave of Outlaws to horror flicks like The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. We aren't able to date this photo, but it's obviously from her prime, so call it 1950.
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.
Organized crime finally meets its match.
How much does it cost to fight corruption? That's the question The Turning Point asks, and the answer is—everything. Fighting corruption costs relationships, trust, and often lives. It costs reputations, stability, and sometimes public belief in civil institutions, because corruption will destroy everything before being pushed from power—even the structures that made its rise possible in the first place. Edmond O'Brien, William Holden, and Alexis Smith star in this second night offering at the Noir City Film Festival that examines the lives of a prosecutor, his assistant, and a newspaperman, all of whom are drawn into an investigation of organized crime that is far tougher than any of them expected. And they thought they expected the worst.
The investigative body portrayed is presumably modeled after 1950-51's anti-crime Kefauver Committee, aka the United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, which revealed to the general public that a national organized crime syndicate—popularly known as the Mafia—existed. Before the Committee the idea of the Mafia was mocked by many as a conspiracy theory, but the Committee's conclusions led to the creation of the RICO Act, which today is one of the most useful tools in the federal arsenal for combatting organized crime. The investigation in The Turning Point is on a smaller scale, focusing on a single city, but the idea is the same.
The crooks, of course, don't just stand idly by while they're being targeted by the authorities. Their retaliation comes on multiple fronts and pushes O'Brien, who heads the crime committee, to the point of quitting. But we know he won't. What kind of movie would that be? Does he win? In film noir victory is never a foregone conclusion. Tragedy of some sort is almost assured. But if it indeed strikes, who will fall? Therein lies the tension in The Turning Point. With O'Brien, Holden, and Smith in the leads, the movie is in the hands of confident performers, and what could have been mere pro-law enforcement propaganda turns out to be something more nuanced. Is it a top effort? Not quite, but if you watch it you definitely won't be wasting your time.
I'll see your ten thousand and raise you my wife. Sorry, babe.
The Big Bet tells the story of a professional gambler and owner of a gaming parlor who faces three obstacles—his health is poor, his son is ashamed of him, and his wife is unhappy. Retirement and a move to Florida seem to be the answer to all three problems. Over the course of one night the protagonist Charley King sees two lucky gamblers whittle away his fortune in a card game, learns that a police raid and jail is imminent, and is served a legal summons. In mounting desperation he must win his fortune back and deal with the other problems—and quickly—if he has any hope of escaping to a better life. If that sounds compelling we can tell you it is. The book, which appeared in 1945 under the title Any Number Can Play, was made into a stage production, and subsequently into a 1949 film starring Clark Gable and Alexis Smith. The cover art on this 1948 Bantam edition was painted by Robert Doares.
Ms. Smith goes to New York City.
Above is an alternate poster for the thriller Undercover Girl, a film we talked about previously on its premiere date, which was today in 1950. Read the other write-up and see the other poster here.
If at first you don't succeed.
We watched The Two Mrs. Carrolls with the Pulp Intl. girlfriends, which is a shame because years of work trying to get them to like old films was finally bearing fruit, only to be partly undone by this one. Whereas In a Lonely Place is one of Bogart's best, The Two Mrs. Carrolls is one of his worst—which should make for an interesting double bill at Noir City tonight. There are problems in most elements of this film, but the main saboteur is the script, adapted by Thomas Job from Martin Vale’s 1935 play of the same name. Structurally, it has some problematic loose threads, and in terms of plot progression, relying upon a child to impart several pieces of crucial information to the heroine all at once all during a casual conversation is not a good move for a suspense movie. Having Barbara Stanwyck find the entire murder scheme outlined on a piece of notebook paper would have been less contrived. Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogart, and Alexis Smith give it a spirited go, but they can overcome only so much. At least the movie looks great. Credit director Peter Godfrey for that much, with a big assist from cinematographer J. Peverell Marley.
Everybody who was anybody got inside.
Above and below, scans from the French show-biz and showgirl magazine Paris-Hollywood, issue 26, from 1948. The front cover features Marguerite Chapman, the rear Arlene Dahl, and in between you get Cyd Charisse, Patricia Roc, Martha Vickers, Alexis Smith, Anne Jeffreys, Luce Feyrer, Edwige Feuillère, Marlene Dietrich, and other luminaries. That's quite a collection of celebs. In upcoming years the magazine would spend more time on cabaret dancers, but its early issues were all about international stars. We picked up a few of these in Paris a while back and we’ll get to some detailed scans of those soon. In the meantime, you can see more from Paris-Hollywood here, here, and here.
The cops and robbers go coast to coast in Undercover Girl.
Above, a promo poster for Undercover Girl. The depiction of star Alexis Smith at upper left is modeled directly after the image of her we shared a couple of weeks ago, minus the pistol she was holding. Undercover Girl is about a rookie NYC policewoman detached to L.A. to pose as a Chicago drug buyer, and who joined the force to avenge her cop father’s death. Lucky, then, one of the drug dealers she’s going after was coincidentally responsible. We probably don’t have to tell you her cover is blown later in the film—it’s a standard feature of these deep cover dramas even today. It’s still worth a glance, though, and we’re glad we mixed it into the slate of five horror movies we watched this weekend. Undercover Girl premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.
Undercover but not inconspicuous.
Above, Canadian actress Alexis Smith, née Gladys Smith, in a Universal International Pictures promo shot made in 1950 for her cop thriller Undercover Girl. She also appeared in Conflict, Of Human Bondage, The Two Mrs. Carrolls, and more than fifty other films.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
1920—The Nazi Party Is Founded
The small German Workers' Party, or DAP, which was under the direction of Adolf Hitler, changes its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Though Hitler adopted the socialist label to attract working class Germans, his party in fact embraced mainly anti-socialist ideas. The group became known in English as the Nazi Party, and within the next fifteen years expanded to become the most powerful force in German politics.
1942—Battle of Los Angeles Takes Place
A object flying over wartime Los Angeles triggers a massive anti-aircraft barrage
, ultimately killing 3 civilians. Initially the target of the aerial barrage is thought to be an attacking force from Japan, but it is later suggested to be imaginary and a case of "war nerves", a lost weather balloon, a blimp, a Japanese fire balloon, or even an extraterrestrial craft. The true nature of the object or objects remains unknown to this day, but the event is known as the Battle of Los Angeles.
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