Everything that can possibly go wrong will.
Nora Prentiss, which stars Ann Sheridan and Kent Smith, has an innocuous title, but it's close to the most ingenious film noir ever made. It's about a mild-mannered doctor who falls for a beautiful nightclub singer and decides he's willing to leave his wife. Exactly how far he's willing to go to accomplish this split is one aspect of what makes the film interesting, but the aftermath of his decision, and how it leads to an ending that is simultaneously literal and metaphorical, is what makes it a top entry in the genre. Reviews of the day complained that the film was not believable, but are any of the pickles leading men get into in film noir believable? The fact that the filmmakers, writers, and actors pull off the plot at all is worthy of praise. We can say nothing more about Nora Prentiss, not even a hint, and we strongly suggest you don't get anywhere near a review before watching it. Just trust us that it's a film noir worth seeing. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
And you think America is polarized today.
The iconic polar bear rug. What can you say about them? Well, it's not a good look nowadays, but back then people thought these sorts of decorations were quite chic. When did that end? Possibly shortly after the three-hundredth Playboy model posed on one, or when many people began to see trophy hunting as the obsession of vain and unsavory millionaires. One of those two. Personally, we blame Hefner. In the shot above Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay take polar bear style to its pinnacle. Just look at that room. Besides the bear they have a copper ceiling, satin curtains, and a white shag rug. It's a pimp's wet dream and all of it must have cost a fortune. We like to imagine what the look on Jayne's face would have been if anyone walked in with a brimming glass of red wine. We bet she'd have turned whiter than the bear.
We have more photos in the same vein below. If you need help identifying the stars, their names are in our keywords in order of appearance. Looking at the entire collection, we tend to wonder if there were three or four bears that ended up in all the photos. You know, like bears owned by certain photography studios or prop departments. Just saying, a couple of them look suspiciously similar. But on the other hand, how different from each other do bears really look? You'll notice that the poor creatures were generally posed to look fierce. But by contrast Inger Stevens' bear, just below, strikes us as a bit reflective and melancholy, which is understandable. Elizabeth Montgomery, meanwhile, gets extra points for wearing her bear. We have twenty-plus images below, including another shot of Mansfield, sans Hargitay.
Red-headed femme fatale looks mighty familiar.
Gary Lovisi's guide to mid-century paperback cover art Dames, Dolls and Delinquents: A Collector's Guide to Sexy Pulp Fiction attributes this cover to George Gross but many online sources say it's the work of Howell Dodd. Though the internet is incredibly useful for replicating errors, we think the onliners are right this time. While the femme fatale here has some Gross-like elements to her, she has some Dodd traits too. For instance, Dodd's hair is a bit more sculptural than Gross's and his women's faces tend to be more severe.
And speaking of faces, we think we know this one. Doesn't it belong to legendary red-headed actress Ann Sheridan? Yup, it's her—right down to the little bump in her classic nose. And he used her more than once, we think. A basically identical face appears in several other pieces of his. We're taking full credit for this discovery. Unless of course we're wrong, in which case we deny making any Sheridan related statements. Hey, if it works for presidential candidates it can work for us, right?
Glenn Ford meddles in the governance of a sovereign nation. Why? Because he can.
Do you think RKO Pictures actually went to Honduras to film Appointment in Honduras? Of course not. The movie, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1953, was mostly filmed at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Too bad. We were looking forward to seeing what Honduras looked like before it became the disaster we personally know so well, a place of perpetual instability that at times has owned the highest murder rate in the world. We used to go there often, and we were there during one of its periodic political upheavals. Airports closed, bus companies shut, smoke and chaos filled the streets. We were stuck there for a week, but it wasn't all bad. We left San Pedro Sula, drove to the coast, then hopped a ferry—still operating thankfully—to Roatán. If you have to be trapped in a paralyzed country, choose one of its islands. Ah... memories.
Was all of the above a digression? Well, let's come back to it. In Appointment in Honduras Glenn Ford plays a shady character trying to make his way upcountry for reasons unknown. He enlists the aid of a quartet of killers, and kidnaps a married couple to use as hostages. He shoots a few people, and shows no remorse when his henchmen do the same. Yet he's the good guy in this. Eventually we learn that he's bringing money into the country to give to counter-revolutionaries intent on restoring a deposed president to power. There's no discussion of whether he has the right to do this, nor does he have a plan to deal with the chaos that might result from causing widespread violence. He seems to think everything will work out fine, and he can go back to his ranch when all is done. Sound familiar?
Thus we come full circle to our intro, not a digression at all, but a description of the real world result of the type of mercenary entitlement depicted by the movie. Director Jacques Tourneur, who had done so much better with previous efforts like Out of the Past and Cat People, is way too good for this flat adventure tale. Ford is fine, as always, but Ann Sheridan—one of our favorite golden actresses—is just lost, stuck in a character whose motivations are never believable, or for that matter palatable. But even though Appointment in Honduras isn't a good movie, it's an excellent example of mild mid-century cultural propaganda, with its icy disregard for the lives and desires of dark foreigners. Emotions stripped bare, is what the poster proclaims. Motivations stripped bare might be more accurate.
Breakdown dead ahead.
Speaking of driving, here’s another poster for the thriller They Drive by Night. We already talked about it a bit last month and shared a French poster from 1947. The movie is excellent, considering how the last act is written, and Ann Sheridan is especially good. We also like her in the center of this photo-illustrated poster. They Drive by Night had its world premier today in 1940.
Scenes from the class struggle in film noir.
This nice piece was painted by French artist Emmanuel Gaillard for Une femme dangereuse, which was originally released in 1940 as They Drive by Night. The movie, which is adapted from A. I. Bezzerides’ 1938 novel Long Haul, deals with two wildcat truckers caught in the American class struggle—you know, that thing all the millionaire pundits on television tell you doesn’t exist? The drivers want to rise above their station, but find many obstacles in their way, including leasing companies, fruit buyers, competing truckers, road accidents, injuries, fatigue, and eventually, murder. While the world-against-the-working-man aspect is interesting, the best part is watching George Raft and Humphrey Bogart play the two hard luck drivers. The movie also boasts the excellent Ann Sheridan, as well as film noir icon Ida Lupino in full-on crazy mode. But like the several trucks onscreen that veer off the road, the movie itself lurches into melodrama at the end. Une femme dangereuse had its French premiere today in 1947.
Woman on the Run is a real rollercoaster ride.
General consensus on this public domain film is that it’s better than expected and we watched it and agree. It isn’t about a woman on the run but rather the woman’s husband. She’s looking for him, though, and that’s what the movie revolves around. There’s a very effective rollercoaster sequence at the climax, but otherwise the movie has two main pleasures—Ann Sheridan’s jaded wife character that softens by the end of the film, and the extensive location shooting. In fact, there’s so much external scenery that the film doubles as a tour of mid-century San Francisco, which might be enough reason alone to watch it. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.
Everyone loves a Parade.
Since we were just talking a couple of days ago about websites where it’s possible to download vintage magazines, we thought we’d shine the spotlight on two more. Vintage Girlie Mags and Dad’s Stash, which are basically alter egos of each other, both have full scans. The main difference is vintagegirliemags gives away the scans for free, while dads-stash charges a minimal amount for downloads. The May 1950 issue of Beauty Parade you see above is available at the latter site, though ours didn’t come from there. The cover art on this issue is by the great Peter Driben, and inside you get Yvonne de Carlo, Denise Darcel, Ann Sheridan, Lana Turner, and page after page of other beauties. Many scans below for your Friday enjoyment.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1954—Murrow Blasts McCarthy
In an event that would mark a turning point in American history, newsman Edward R. Murrow blasts anti-communist Senator Joseph McCarthy on a nighttime news show called See It Now. The broadcast used mainly McCarthy's own words to make its case that the senator had abused his position and perverted the rule of law, and, despite McCarthy's power, America agreed, as response to the episode ran 15 to 1 in favor of Murrow.
1959—Barbie Doll Debuts
The Barbie fashion doll, manufactured by the American toy-company Mattel after being designed by Ruth Handler, debuts in U.S. stores. Barbie, whose full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts, was inspired by a German doll called Bild Lilli, and has sold in the hundreds of millions.
1978—Hitchhiker's Guide Debuts
The first radio episode of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, written by British humorist Douglas Adams, is transmitted on BBC Radio 4. The series becomes a huge success, and is adapted into stage shows, a series of books, a 1981 television series, and a 1984 computer game.
1999—The Yankee Clipper Dies
Baseball player Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, Jr., who while playing for the New York Yankees would become world famous as Joe DiMaggio, dies at age 84 six months after surgery for lung cancer. He led the Yankees to wins in nine World Series during his thirteen year career and his fifty-six game hitting streak is considered one of baseball's unbreakable records. Yet for all his sports achievements, he is probably as remembered for his stormy one-year marriage to film icon Marilyn Monroe.
1975—Lesley Whittle Is Found Strangled
In England kidnapped heiress Lesley Whittle, who had been missing for fifty-two days, is found strangled at the bottom of a drain shaft at Kidsgrove in Staffordshire. Her killer was Donald Neilson, aka the Black Panther, a builder from Bradford. He was convicted of the murder and given five life sentences in June 1976.
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