Cold War spies make waves in the City of Canals.
The Venetian Affair, which premiered today in 1966, has a rather interesting promo poster. It was painted by U.S. artist Frank McCarthy, who was big in paperback covers early in his career, moved into high-budget movie promos such as James Bond posters, and finally made a mark in realist fine art. We love this piece from him. There's a lot going on. If you check out his effort for You Only Live Twice here you'll see how dense and chaotic his work could be, same as above, where he has people falling off the bridge, off the gondola, and guns being brandished everywhere. In addition, his likenesses of the movie's stars are good. He was a major talent.
The first observation you might make while watching The Venetian Affair is that it would be impossible to make a similar movie in that city today. Nearly four million tourists visited Venice in 2022, making nearly every street—and certainly every site of special historical note—like the mass exodus from a just-completed football game. With that level of humanity about, closing parts of the city or main squares—while maybe possible—would not be practical or economical.
But The Venetian Affair was made back when quiet streets and dark corners existed. Old world architecture always makes for a good spy movie backdrop. That's exactly what you get in this adventure about a mind control drug being used to foment conflict between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Robert Vaughn stars as a former CIA agent who was fired after he married Elke Sommer, who was suspected of being a double agent. Vaughn never found out whether that was true because he and Sommer were torn apart by turbulent events. But when a bomb blows up a Venice political conference and Sommer is thought to be involved, the CIA drags Vaughn back into its clutches to find Sommer, as well as the crucial clue that might explain the bombing.
Vaughn is a cool and composed actor, any movie with Sommer is one we'll watch, and co-stars Felicia Farr, Luciana Paluzzi, Ed Asner, and the venerable Boris Karloff are all enticements, but we can't say The Venetian Affair is a scintillating example of a Cold War spy flick. It's such a fertile sub-genre, one that produced some of the best movies of 1950s through 1970s. Even against the beautiful Venice backdrop it mostly falls flat due to a screenplay that never hits any highs. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch it. Though it lacks highs, it also lack any serious lows. You can spend your time worse ways. Plus—Sommer. What more do you need?
Don't lose hope. If we survive this we'll probably both get a chance to act in better movies.
This poster was made for the horror movie The Terror, and we're showing you the Japanese promo art because—as is often the case—it's nicer than the U.S. promo. Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson star, actors passing in the night, Karloff aged seventy-six and on the downward slope of a legendary film career, Nicholson aged twenty-six on the upslope. The latter plays a French army lieutenant named Andre Duvalier who becomes stranded circa 1806 in ye olde creepy-ass castle on the hill, which is occupied by Karloff's rickety Baron Victor von Leppe. Jack sees a mysterious woman wandering around. Karloff explains that she's the ghost of his wife, the Baronness Ilsa von Leppe, who died twenty years ago. Nosy Nicholson doesn't believe that for a millisecond, but the Baron sticks to his story, even admitting he killed the Baronness with his bare hands for the crime of adultery. Nice confession, but the Baron is lying or being duped, as far as Nicholson is concerned. In either case, the question is why?
Director Roger Corman was working from an Edgar Allen Poe template here, and in fact he shot on castle sets originally used for The Raven, which had wrapped earlier in the year. It's always good to save a buck where you can, but any advantage was lost due to Corman working from an unfinished script, which led to reshoots by Francis Ford Coppola, Dennis Jakob, Monte Hellman, and Jack Hill. All that talent wasn't enough to put together a film befitting Nicholson and Karloff, but the two leads do their damndest, and the result, though not good, isn't an embarrassment. Afterward, Karloff continued coasting into the twilight, Nicholson and Coppola moved on to widespread acclaim, Hill helped launch the blaxploitation cycle and make a star of Pam Grier, and Hellman directed the cult masterpiece Two-Lane Blacktop. It's a miracle they all contributed something lasting to cinema, because you'd never suspect it watching The Terror. It premiered in the U.S. in 1963 and reached Japan today in 1964.
They always get the best seat in the house.
Below, a collection of film stars, in Hollywood and other places, looking large and in charge while seated in director's chairs. In panel three the actress in the “Bonanza's guest” chair is Karen Sharpe. We don't expect you'll need help with the others, but if so our keywords list them in order.
It may be a classic but it’ll probably leave you wanting something more.
The Black Cat has been called one of the greatest horror films ever made. Taken in context it’s creepy, no doubt, and it stars spookmeister Bela Lugosi alongside Boris Karloff, he of the sinister widow’s peak and cinderblock head, so they alone make it somewhat unsettling. But it was produced in 1934, and much has changed since then in terms of what is truly terrifying. Plotwise, what you have here are two honeymooners in Hungary who encounter a mysterious traveler and who all end up stuck in the dreaded hilltop manse—not the gothic pile you would expect, but rather a linear, art deco box. The house is occupied by Karloff, a sort of war criminal, and it turns out Lugosi has traveled there with revenge in mind, for it seems Karloff had something to do with the deaths of Lugosi’s wife and daughter. The honeymooners are basically hapless bystanders to this situation, and their approach to the predicament doesn’t remotely resemble the approach you or I would take, but people had better manners back then. Eventually, though, manners are jettisoned and that’s when the movie gets interesting.
Watching two honeybaked hams like Karloff and Lugosi square off is rather entertaining, we gotta say, even if the plot doesn’t entirely hold together. But all that matters is the mood and the shadows and the evil glances and the fact that there can be only one winner—or none, considering the house is wired to self destruct. Of special note, by the way, is the music, which is almost continuous, and consists not of compositions made for the film, but rather a greatest hits assortment of Beethoven, Bach, Liszt, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky. It all gets a bit over the top, in our opinion, but you do get to enjoy probably the first movie usage of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565” (if indeed Bach wrote it, something that is in dispute). You know the tune—it’s the gloomy, edifice shaking organ solo most people associate with the 1962 film Phantom of the Opera. Well, Karloff’s character plays it here. We won’t lie—even the most chilling piece of music ever written can’t make The Black Cat scary, but if you have sixty-five minutes and consider yourself a horror buff it’s still worth the time. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1934.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
1976—Gerald Ford Rescinds Executive Order 9066
U.S. President Gerald R. Ford signs Proclamation 4417, which belatedly rescinds Executive Order 9066. That Order, signed in 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, established "War Relocation Camps" for Japanese-American citizens living in the U.S. Eventually, 120,000 are locked up without evidence, due process, or the possibility of appeal, for the duration of World War II.
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