Movie stars were always willing to give each other a hand.
Once again we've been struck, so to speak, by the sheer number of cinema promo images featuring actors and actresses pretending to slap each other. The just keep turning up. The above shot is more about the neck than the face, but it still counts, as Gloria Swanson slaps William Holden in 1950's Sunset Boulevard. Below we have a bunch more, and you can see our previous collection at this link. Since we already discussed this phenomenon we won't get into it again, except briefly as follows: pretend slaps, film is not reality, and everyone should try to remember the difference. Many slaps below for your interest and wonder. Diana Dors smacks Patrick Allen blurry in 1957's The Long Haul. Mob boss George Raft menaces Anne Francis in a promo image made for 1954's Rogue Cop. Bud Abbott gets aggressive with Lou Costello in 1945's Here Come the Co-Eds. Jo Morrow takes one from black hat Jack Hogan in 1959's The Legend of Tom Dooley. Chris Robinson and Anita Sands get a couple of things straight about who's on the yearbook committee in Diary of High School Bride. Paul Newman and Ann Blyth agree to disagree in 1957's The Helen Morgan Story. Verna Lisi shows Umberto Orsini who gives the orders in the 1967 film La ragazza e il generale, aka The Girl and the General. What the fuck did you just call me? Marki Bey slaps Betty Anne Rees loopy in the 1974 horror flick Sugar Hill. Claudia Cardinale slaps (or maybe punches—we can't remember) Brigitte Bardot in the 1971 western Les pétroleuses, known in English for some reason as The Legend of Frenchie King. Audrey Totter reels under the attentions of Richard Basehart in 1949 Tension. We're thinking it was probably even more tense after this moment. Anne Baxter tries to no avail to avoid a slap from heel Steve Cochran in 1954's Carnival Story. Though Alan Ladd was a little guy who Gail Russell probably could have roughed up if she wanted, the script called for him to slap her, and he obeyed in the 1946 adventure Calcutta. Peter Alexander guards his right cheek, therefore Hannelore Auer crosses him up and attacks his left in 1964's Schwejk's Flegeljahre, aka Schweik's Years of Indiscretion. Elizabeth Ashley gives Roddy McDowall a facial in in 1965's The Third Day. Tony Anthony slaps Lucretia Love in 1972's Piazza pulita, aka Pete, Pearl and the Pole.
André Oumansky goes backhand on Lola Albright in 1964's Joy House. Frank Ferguson catches one from Barbara Bel Geddes in the 1949 drama Caught. This looks like a real slap, so you have to credit the actresses for their commitment. It's from 1961's Raisin in the Sun and shows Claudia McNeil rearranging the face of Diana Sands. Gloria Grahame finds herself cornered by Broderick Crawford in 1954's Human Desire. Bette Davis, an experienced slapper and slappee, gets a little assistance from an unidentified third party as she goes Old West on Amanda Blake in a 1966 episode of Gunsmoke called “The Jailer.” There are a few slaps in 1939's Gone with the Wind, so we had our pick. We went with Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard. Virginia Field takes one on the chin from Marshall Thompson in Dial 1119. Clint Eastwood absorbs a right cross from nun Shirley MacLaine in 1970's Two Mules for Sister Sara.
Round and round she goes. Where she stops nobody knows.
We like books set in carnivals. They've been among our most interesting reads. So we figured a movie set in a carnival—Carnival Story, with Anne Baxter and Steve Cochran—was a natural. We gave it a look and it's an above average drama about how Baxter becomes a high diver in a Munich carnival and makes a big splash, but has relationship issues that threaten to derail her career and life. Her main problem is Cochran. He lies, he cheats, and he steals, but she just can't quit him, even though her diving partner Lyle Bettger is totally devoted to her. Even after she marries Bettger she can't keep her hands off Cochran. This can only end badly. And by badly we mean violence and death. Carnival Story is one of those movies with an unspoken sexual subtext. Why would Baxter let Cochran mistreat her again and again? Well, because he gives her something no other man can. Though it couldn't be shown onscreen we can understand that something to be sexual passion. Bettger, and later George Nader, are both devoted to Baxter, and they're nice guys besides, but they're square. Cochran gets Baxter's loins all feverish. Portraying a woman trapped in this dilemma during Hollywood's age of censorship takes acting skill, and Baxter, an Academy Award and Golden Globe winner by this point, has plenty of that. Anything she's in is worth a watch. Carnival Story premiered today in 1954.
Baxter's bad night is about to get a lot worse.
We thought the French poster we shared for Anne Baxter's The Blue Gardenia was the best promo made for the movie, and we stand by that, but this U.S. promo in three-sheet style is pretty nice too. No artist is credited with this, as it's a photo-illustration. We think it has a film noir feel to it, but even though the movie was directed by German noir legend Fritz Lang, it isn't a noir—it's a mystery/drama, one that deals with gender issues, and for vintage film buffs it's certainly worth watching.
You've noticed that the name of the film echoes the Black Dahlia murder, still somewhat on the public's mind at the time, but there are no similarities between the crime and the film. That's just sneaky marketing. Well, whatever people thought they were getting when they ponied up their cash to watch this, what they got was an okay-not-great showcase for Baxter's top notch acting skills. The Blue Gardenia premiered in the U.S. today in 1953. You can read our detailed discussion of it here.
A trapper's job turns into a battle of wits and a test of survival.
The movie Swamp Water is based on Vereen Bell's 1941 novel of the same name. We read the book a while back and loved it, so having a look at the movie adaptation was mandatory. Jean Renoir directs a heavyweight cast: Walter Brennan, Walter Huston, Dana Andrews, an eighteen-year old Anne Baxter, and even John Carradine. Brennan is the key character, playing a murder suspect hiding in the Okefenokee Swamp. He's considered an all-time great actor, and here he plays a backwoods good ole boy, mouthing dialogue like, “I bet I been cottonmouth bit a dozen times.” When we heard that line we had to laugh, because it prefigures his famous soliloquy from 1946's To Have and Have Not about being “bit by a dead bee.”
There's more excellent dialogue in this. Our favorite line: “It's gettin' so I don't expect nothin' from you 'cept a bossified tongue and a cussin' out.”
While the script is fun, we didn't think Bell's book would be easily adaptable and we were right. One of the pleasures of the novel is its extensive focus on the geography of the swamp, but there was no way that could fit into the film. The air of deep foreboding and mystery is also missing. For those and other reasons what you end up with is a so-so old movie made from an excellent old book. The script closely follows the source material, so if you want to know a bit more about the plot, we posted a short write-up on the novel here. Swamp Water opened across the U.S. in November 1941, but before its national debut had a special premiere in the town of Waycross, Georgia, where much of the movie was made. That was today, 1941.
Who's afraid of him? Nobody anymore.
Isn't this a great poster? It was painted for La femme au gardénia, better known as The Blue Gardenia. Every once in a while you come across an old movie that's so ahead of its time you can't believe what you're seeing. This one is about a woman's response to sexual coercion, and law enforcement's reaction to the aftermath. Basically, Anne Baxter, who's five-three and a buck twenty, ends up in the apartment of Raymond Burr, who's six feet and goes at least 230. Burr plies Baxter with booze, and when he later tries to get her horizontal a struggle ensues and he ends up dead. Baxter escapes the apartment, and thanks to the arrival of a very efficient cleaning lady nearly all the evidence of her presence is accidentally erased the next morning before Burr's body is discovered.
So Baxter's scot-free? Well, not quite. There's that whole guilt, edginess, and fear thing, which her roommates notice. And there are a few bits of evidence, which lead to police drawing ever closer. All these are good plot moves. Lacking an identity for the killer, the press begins calling her—the bit of evidence that exists indicates it's a her—the Blue Gardenia, which is a clear Black Dahlia echo. We liked that. And we also liked that, at this point, the film was a thriller built wholly around consent and power. But this was the 1950s. Of course they weren't trying to impart that lesson. What were we thinking? Instead, an ending so pat that it almost ruins the movie comes blundering over the horizon. Is it wrong to suggest watching the first 75 minutes of this and turning it off?
Okay, the movie isn't completely trashed by the ending. It's just that we thought we had something daring on hand, and in reality it's a decent-not-great semi-noir from Fritz Lang that flirts with feminism but decides not to close the deal. However, the story was derived from a novella by author and playwright Vera Caspary, and we can't help wondering if the suits overruled her on a different ending. Probably not, but we'll have to dig that tale up and read it anyway. Regardless, we think the movie is worth watching just for Anne Baxter's bravura performance. And we love the platinum poodle cut she sports too. Plus there's Nat King Cole as, presumably, himself. The Blue Gardenia opened in the U.S. in 1953, and premiered in France today in 1954
There's nothing up my sleeve except more of me.
Above, Paris-Hollywood magazine published in 1949, with a bare-shouldered Jane Russell on the front cover and Anne Baxter (spelled Ann by editors) gracing the rear. Baxter is pointing out Alaska on a wall map, probably explaining that she'd need a parka and snow shoes if she ever went there, rather than the undies and heels she's wearing. Inside the issue you get showgirls, models in lingerie, and celebs dressed as bunnies. Was it Easter? No idea, because Paris-Hollywood came without publication dates during these years. However, the front cover noted that Russell was starring as Calamity Jane in the film Pale Face, aka The Paleface. Since that appeared in France in mid-February and promotional efforts usually occur in advance of a film's premier, or at least around its opening date, we suspect the issue was published in February or March of 1949.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1922—Challenge to Women's Voting Rights Rebuffed
In the United States, a conservative legal challenge to the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishing voting rights for women is rebuffed by the Supreme Court in Leser v. Garnett. The challenge was based partly on the idea of individual "states rights" to self determination. The failure of such reasoning as it applied to basic human rights created a framework for later states rights losses involving the denial of voting rights to African-Americans.
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.
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