Greetings, Earthling. Take me to your leading purveyor of glitter.
This promo photo features Hungarian actress Catherine Schell, and it was made for the cheeseball British television series Space: 1999, about the trials and troubles of the inhabitants of a moon colony after a massive explosion blows the moon out of Earth's orbit. As the survivors hurtle through space they encounter strange phenomena and new lifeforms. Schell played an alien named Maya from the planet Psychon, and could transform herself into anything organic, including, seemingly, an aficionado of intricate beadwork. She played Maya for twenty-five episodes, and is also well known for appearances in films such as On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Moon Zero Two. This shot is from 1975.
Ciné-Revue was the go-to publication for movie stars seeking exposure.
Here's your official Christmas gift, a prime example of that mid-century phenomenon we discuss often, the intersection of mainstream and adult cinema during the sixties and seventies. Ciné-Revue, which was published in Belgium and distributed there and in France, Switzerland, Canada, Portugal, Britain, and the Basque region of Spain, was at the vanguard of that idea. It highlighted both popular stars and their adult counterparts, blurring the line between the two. It wasn't hard to do. Famous performers often acted in sexually oriented films, and Ciné-Revue was a platform that helped cinematic explorations of sexual ideas be taken seriously. The issue you see above is the cover of Ciné-Revue Photos 49, a visual compendium of actresses both world famous and somewhat obscure. The names run the gamut from Anita Ekberg to Marina Marfoglia. Marfoglia gets the cover, while Ekberg gets the rear, and that's exactly what we're talking about—the obscure elevated over the known. Both are also featured in multiple pages inside—but while Ekberg gets seven, Marfoglia gets eight and the centerfold. The issue is about a hundred pages, but we're unable to put together a post that long. Instead, we've selected some of the nicer images to warm up this winter day. Enjoy, and don't worry about us slaving over a computer. We put this collection together last week. Right now, on Christmas, we're traveling with the PIs.
The gun is mightier than the pen.
Above: a shot of British actress Angela Lansbury made when she filming 1956's Please Murder Me, in which she starred with Raymond Burr and Dick Foran. Lansbury's first movie was 1944's classic version of Gaslight. In total she had more than fifty cinema roles, but it was on television that she became a major star, beginning with 1950's Robert Montgomery Presents, and continuing through more than two-hundred and fifty episodes of her smash hit series Murder, She Wrote. Personally, if we had to choose a favorite Lansbury role it was as Granny in 1984's gothic horror movie The Company of Wolves. She gets eaten, but not before dispensing wisdom like, “The worst kind of wolves are hairy on the inside,” and, “Never trust a man whose eyebrows meet.” Well, you can generally trust Lansbury. She was an excellent actress and improved almost everything in which she appeared.
Any port in a storm—except maybe this one.
This French poster for the British made film Port Afrique was painted in a style that made us certain it was the work of Constantin Belinsky. But nope—it's signed by André Bertrand, and it's a very nice piece. As the art indicates, the movie is a North African adventure, a vehicle for Italian rising star Pier Angeli, and it can be described with one word—exotic. The filmmakers turned the E dial up to 11, location shooting in Tangier to create a fictional city of Port Afrique that's part Berber, part French, and part Spanish. Casablanca comparisons are inevitable, but solely in terms of exteriors Port Afrique is greatly superior. There's simply nothing like the real thing. The movie is also shot in color, which adds to its appeal, even if it detracts a bit from its noirish ambitions.
As in Casablanca, much of the action in Port Afrique revolves around a bar, in this case Le Badinage, which seemingly can afford to have more performers than customers. The bar's beautiful chanteuse—there's always a beautiful chanteuse—is played by the elfish Angeli, who's stuck in town without a passport and suffering under the attentions of the proprietor Nino. The threat in his overtures is unspoken but clear—no punani, no passport. Into this situation arrives a wounded American pilot with the unlikely name Rip Reardon, played by future b-movie stalwart Phil Carey. After his onscreen run he would find himself in soap opera purgatory as Asa Buchanan on One Life To Live, but here he gets his chance to help anchor a big drama. Shortly after Rip arrives his wife turns up dead. The cops call it a suicide, but Rip decides to take the investigation into his own hands, with all the usual twists and turns.
Port Afrique has a lot of problems. The script is clunky and improbable, the motivations of its characters murky, and the chemistry between its stars lukewarm. Carey ended up on soap operas for a reason, clearly on display here. He has little range, and none of the heft needed for his role. As for Angeli, she never became the superstar her advocates intended, and again, you can see why. She's better than Carey for sure, yet she still lacks the fire her role needs. But here's the thing—we think, for serious film buffs, the movie is worth watching anyway. It looks amazing, from the cinematography to the production design, and its goal of being a Technicolor noir is worth examination and discussion. But casual film fans may want to steer clear. After premiering in the U.S. in 1956 Port Afrique reached France today in 1957.
James Mason's tropical paradise may not be an accurate portrayal, but you can't say it's not fun.
This nice poster was made for the British produced South Seas movie Tiara Tahiti, which opened in the UK today in 1963. There are a few posters but this one is the best, we think, though we had to do some heavy retouching to make it presentable. An alternate promo appears below. The movie is a comedy-drama about former business partners played by James Mason and John Mills, who clashed in England, fought the Germans in World War II, and have both turned up in Tahiti during peacetime. Part of their dislike for each other is due to their opposite personalities. Mills is the uptight sort who wishes to be respected but isn't, while Mason is naturally likeable and happy-go-lucky. One reason for him to be happy is that his girlfriend is Rosenda Monteros. She's supposed to be an island girl, and though she's Mexican in real life rather than Tahitian, she's smoking hot whatever her place of birth.
The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Geoffrey Cotterell, and we're tempted to acquire it. We've gotten pretty good at filling in between the scenes of vintage cinema, and because Monteros is Mason's girlfriend but has flirtatious interactions with other men, we suspect there's an explicitly sexual aspect to the book that was tossed into the screenwriter's garbage bin. We say that because we've read a couple of novels from the mid-century period set in Tahiti, and in both of those local women were portrayed—and we have no way of knowing whether this was true or a white Western fantasy—as readily available. Sex is only hinted at in Tiara Tahiti, but Monteros has a nude scene in a waterfall pool and another topless sequence, and she looks flat-out astonishing in both. We gather these occurred only in the non-U.S. version. Well, try to find that one.
You won't be surprised to learn that there are a few offensive characterizations here, even up to plastering Czech actor Herbert Lom with makeup and prosthetic eyes so he can play a Chinese islander named Chong Sing. There are some who resent this kind of thing being pointed out, but realizing how anachronistic these sorts of elements are isn't different in essence from noting that old vampire movies have bats on strings. It's impossible to look at it and not see it as kind of dumb. There's a better way to do it now, that's all, and that betterway also offers opportunities in cinema for historically erased groups like the Asian actor who could have played Chong Sing. But movies are still just attempts at entertainment. With notable exceptions like The Birth of a Nation, deliberately harmful portrayals of selected ethnic groups was not a goal. As it happens, Lom is quite good in his role. While he and Monteros are important secondary attractions, it's Mason who provides the real reason to watch Tiara Tahiti. He's perfect as the layabout main character—charming, clever, selfish, and always able to improvise when circumstances require it. His old rival Mills is in Tahiti to develop pristine local land for a hotel chain, while Mason is on the opposite side of this paradise-wrecking business deal. He manages to get hired as the project's local expert, but all the while is trying to sabotage the deal from the inside. Of course, Tahiti eventually became dotted with hotels and barely-used millionaire hideaways like everyplace else, and currently is taking steps to reduce mass arrivals from overseas, but within the context of this quaint movie from a lifetime ago, maybe Mason can win. However it turns out, Tiara Tahiti should give you a few smiles.
Obviously the poor guy tripped and fell, breaking every bone in his body and bashing his brains out. Maybe someone up there saw it.
The Case of Spiv's Secret by Anthony Parsons was an entry in the Sexton Blake Library series, and came in 1950 from British publishing company Amalgamated Press. The Sexton Blake Library is what was known as a story paper, basically a magazine with illustrations, and this one appeared two to four times a month, starting all the way back in 1915 and continuing until 1968, which is an amazing run. We had to look up the word “spiv”—with serious trepidation. But it turned out to be relatively innocuous. A spiv can be a flashy dresser, but its other definition—which we suspect is Parsons' usage here—is a sort of petty or low-class criminal. The artist on this is Eric Parker. You can see a few more Sexton Blake titles here, here, and here.
Whatever the occasion is she's perfectly suited for it.
We actually know exactly what the occasion is. This amazing photo of British actress and model Margaret Nolan, aka Vicky Kennedy, shows her at the 1968 British Film Awards wearing what has to be one of the coolest outfits of all time. Nolan came to mainstream attention in the opening credits for the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger, and made a quick appearance as Bond's masseuse, but she's also much beloved as a prolific nude model and star of occasional nudie loops. We've featured her photos in two issues of Folies de Paris et de Hollywood, which you can see here and here. Those represent a tiny fraction of her output, but we'll circle back to that later. As an actress she appeared in A Hard Day's Night and more than a dozen other films, but worked mainly on television, including on such shows as Mystery and Imagination, The Newcomers, and Take a Pair of Private Eyes. This shot was originally black and white, but has been colorized by an unknown. It's very nice work.
Mamie Van Doren can add value to anything, but even she can't save The Girl in Black Stockings.
This bright poster was made for the b-drama The Girl in Black Stockings. It had its world premiere in England today in 1957 and, in contrast to the art, is a colorless murder mystery set in and around a lodge hotel in a tiny western U.S. town—the kind of place where, you know, “nothing like this has ever happened before.” Lex Barker stars as a Los Angeles lawyer who goes to this arid little stopover for peace and quiet, but discovers a body that's been mutilated as though by a psychopath. A county official warns, “The type that did this—they don't stop with just one.”
Sure enough, more deaths follow and—as doctors are wont to do—Lex inserts himself right into the middle of the investigation. His professional acumen is needed. There are a lot of suspects. Anne Bancroft as the local beauty, Mamie Van Doren as a stereotypical blonde floozy, Ron Randell as a woman hating lodge owner who's confined to a wheelchair—or is he?—and Marie Windsor as his unhealthily attached spinster sister are all under the suspicious gaze of the plodding but tenacious sheriff John Dehner.
Sadly, the mystery isn't compelling and the dramatic aspects of the narrative are blah because none of the characters are interesting. All the main actors have done well in other movies, but here they're hobbled by a poor script, particularly Randell, who's forced to mouth numerous cynical and self pitying soliloquies. Van Doren, who we feel confident saying cannot act, is also bad here. She has a drunk scene that will make you cringe, it's so wooden.
The end result is a dismissable movie that's only barely remembered because it was shot in Utah, which provides some nice scenery, and because it has Van Doren, who was obviously cast to provide a different type of scenery, and achieves that function with ease. We'll always take a look at any film in which she appears. She's no Marilyn. But she's not far behind. Yet even with her presence and some long looks at the Beehive State, we can't recommend The Girl in Black Stockings.
Oh good Lord! She's been murdered and mutilated beyond recognition! Somebody call a doctor! What the..! Don't you knock? I'm in the midst of a consultation here! I can advise you only informally until I hear back from the town's insurance network, Sheriff. But you might start with an immediate canvassing effort and a check for similar crimes in the state going back at least ten years. Actually, knowing there's a killer on the loose and any of us could be snuffed out next doesn't make me horny, Diana. But thanks for thinking of me. Well, Sheriff, turns out the town has a three murder deductible. I'm afraid my hands are tied until a fourth person is slain.
I've got everything a growing boy needs.
This photo shows a favorite actress of ours—Yorkshire-born British beauty Kay Kendall, looking more than a bit come-hither here. She had a short career, owing to an unfortunate early death, however her movies are well worth watching, particularly the comedic romp Genevieve, the titular star of which is a 1904 Darracq. That's a car, and the movie is about an automobile rally, though it's Kendall who steals the show.
She was legendarily a central figure in one of those old school Hollywood dust-ups we love learning about. It involved one man slapping another. Sound familiar? It didn't happen during the Academy Awards ceremony, but still, it was one for the books, as it involved Rex Harrison and Frank Sinatra. We wrote about it here. Kendall is remembered today for being a brilliant comic actress, but this photo was made for her 1953 thriller Man in Hiding.
Twentieth Century Fox chooses goofs over thrills for Blaise adaptation.
After writing about the first four Modesty Blaise novels over the last few years we figured it was time to talk about Twentieth Century Fox's cinematic pass at character. You see a brilliant poster for the movie adaptation above by Bob Peak, who seems to be reminding people that Robert McGinnis wasn't the only painter capable of working in this style. Two more versions of the poster appear below, and you can another example of his work here.
We'd heard for years that Modesty Blaise is a terrible movie, but it isn't—lightweight might be a better description. It's based on the debut novel, and while author Peter O'Donnell plays it straight apart from the affable relationship between Blaise and her partner Willie Garvin, here in the movie Blaise has a space age apartment, a sentient computer, a huge lobster tattoo on her thigh, an adoptive father, and a referential theme song. The villain, meanwhile, drinks goldfish water, wears a chauffeur's cap, and uses a Japanese pai pai fan. At a couple of points Blaise and Garvin burst into song together. All these touches must have baffled fans of the book, and indeed the additions are pointless in our opinion, but that's cinema. Filmmakers are not transcribers—they're translators, and if you know anything about translation you know it's not done literally.
The main question is whether star Monica Vitti does the legendary main character justice. It was a lot to ask, after Modesty became popular thanks to three years of popular daily comic strips followed by a well received novel. We think she manages fine with the material she's given, but there's the rub. While the screenplay follows the basic thread of the novel, the flow is clunky and the dialogue is cluttered with non-sequitur asides and attempts to be cute that make Vitti resemble Emma Peel from The Avengers rather than the lethal woman O'Donnell created. In terms of the actual story, Modesty is tasked with stopping a master criminal from stealing a cache of diamonds meant for her father (we know, we know—she's an orphan in the books, and it defines her character). She's had dealings with this quirky crook before and would like to settle matters between them permanently. That means traveling from London to Amsterdam to his rocky stronghold on Sicily for a final showdown—in good pumps and a diaphanous haute couture a-line dress.
The action, which is central to the books and written with deadly seriousness, is mostly played for laughs. We mean even to the extent of villains crashing into each other to the accompaniment of circus music. We think this is probably the movie's only unforgivable sin. O'Donnell took pride in his action sequences, underpinning them with ingenious forethought by Blaise and Garvin and violent precision in execution. All the humor and cuteness would have been fine if the movie had thrilled where it most needed to, but no such luck. So in the end what you get is a cutesy spy caper of a type that was all too commonplace during the 1960s, but even goofier than most. We think the movie should have been something fresh and surprising, and in ways that go beyond its glossy high fashion aesthetic. Unfortunately, the final result is no better than watchable, though it becomes progressively more enjoyable the more booze that's ingested. Hit the liquor store before screening it and you'll find out for yourself. Modesty Blaise premiered in London today in 1966. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1916—Paris Is Bombed by German Zeppelins
During World War I, German zeppelins conduct a bombing raid on Paris. Such raids were rare, because the ships had to fly hundreds of miles over French territory to reach their target, making them vulnerable to attack. Reaching London, conversely, was much easier, because the approach was over German territory and water. The results of these raids were generally not good, but the use of zeppelins as bombers would continue until the end of the war.
1964—Soviets Shoot Down U.S. Plane
A U.S. Air Force training jet is shot down by Soviet fighters after straying into East German airspace. All 3 crew men are killed. U.S forces then clandestinely enter East Germany in an attempt to reach the crash but are thwarted by Soviet forces. In the end, the U.S. approaches the Soviets through diplomatic channels and on January 31 the wreckage of the aircraft is loaded onto trucks with the assistance of Soviet troops, and returned to West Germany.
1967—Apollo Fire Kills Three Astronauts
Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee are killed in a fire during a test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Although the ignition source of the fire is never conclusively identified, the astronauts' deaths are attributed to a wide range of design hazards in the early Apollo command module, including the use of a high-pressure 100 percent-oxygen atmosphere for the test, wiring and plumbing flaws, flammable materials in the cockpit, an inward-opening hatch, and the flight suits worn by the astronauts.
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