Money is always greener from a distance.
Sweet Smell of Success was a mandatory watch for us. It's considered by many to be a top film noir but we'd never seen it. Well, that's been rectified now, and what a good expenditure of time it was. Tony Curtis plays a New York City publicity agent whose business is falling apart because he's been blacklisted by the most important newspaper columnist in the country, played by Burt Lancaster. Why the rough treatment? Lancaster's sister is dating a jazz musician and he wants the relationship ended. He's trying to force Curtis to do the dirty work—smear the guy, frame him, whatever, just get him out of the picture. Curtis's desperation to climb to the top ranks of agents leads him to try breaking up the pair, but in film noir sleazy decisions have a way of pushing goals farther away rather than drawing them nearer.
Sweet Smell of Success, which had a special premiere in New York City in June 1957, and went into national release a week later, which was today, has a feel similar to another Big Apple drama—the excellent 2019 movie Uncut Gems. Both movies are very fast paced, even borderline chaotic, as desperate bottom-dwellers try to climb to the top of a dog-eat-dog industry while keeping one step ahead of karmic fate. Sweet Smell of Success is the better film largely thanks to Lancaster in one of the all-time heel roles. You'll want to punch his character J.J. Hunsecker—nice, right?—directly in the middle of his face. And you'll want to give Curtis a shaking fit to rattle his teeth. Anything to wake him up to the fact that in a cutthroat game, the most important thing isn't having a razor but lacking a conscience. Noir fans should push this one to the head of the queue.
Will His Majesty be cleaning the bathroom today? Because His Majesty's wife will not.
We've spent some time in tropic countries, which makes it hard for us to resist books with tropical settings. The above, His Majesty O'Keefe, is amazingly obscure considering it was made into a 1954 film by Warner Bros. starring Burt Lancaster. What you get here is a fictionalized account of actual Irish American roustabout as David Dean O'Keefe, who in 1870 flees a murder charge in Georgia by sailing away to the other side of the world. He ends up on the island of Yap, then part of Spanish East India, today part of Micronesia, and establishes himself as a respected copra trader. Other South Seas books tend toward irony and tragedy, but here O'Keefe achieves amazing success. From Yap he expands his trade to other islands, and becomes known as the King of Yap, the Monarch of Mapia, and the Sovereign of Sonsorol.
In addition, he's an enlightened type. We don't know if that part is true, considering the book was written nearly a lifetime after the real O'Keefe's death, and considering the authors Lawrence Klingman and Gerald Green seem to have a bone to pick with Germans, who are portrayed as racist brutes. We can understand that. It was published only five years after World War II, but weren't all colonials racist brutes? We suspect O'Keefe is portrayed better than he really was in order to create contrast with the hated Germans. The real O'Keefe ran Confederate cargos through Union naval blockades during the U.S. Civil War, so how enlightened could he have been? But it's possible he was opportunistic more than he was political. Or the blockade busting could have been pure fabrication. O'Keefe said so when investigated in 1867, but then what would he say?
But whatever—we're talking about the book, and we'll take the respectful and equality-minded character here over the bigoted heroes that tend to dominate novels set around this period. We're still reeling over Slave Ship. We won't go into how Klingman and Green conclude their story. We'll just say the result is pretty entertaining. We suspect the movie version is g-rated by comparison, and for sure it will be a whitewash historically, but we're going to look for it and have a watch. It has Lancaster, after all, and he's one of the reliable indicators of quality in vintage cinema—he's no Bogart or Cary Grant, mind you, but his movies tend to be good. We'll report back. His Majesty O'Keefe was originally published in 1950, and this Universal Giant edition came in 1952 with cover art by Warren King.
French magazine celebrates essential American film genre.
A few years ago we used this image of German actress Dorothée Blanck as a femme fatale, but didn't scan the rest of the magazine in which we had found her. By now you know why—the pages of these old film mags are large and we have to scan them in halves and put them together in Photoshop or GIMP, which is time consuming, something that's a real problem for lazy people like us. But here we are three years later and we've finally done it. Above is the full cover of the issue of Cinémonde—“cineworld” in English—from which Blanck came.
Cinémonde was first published in October 1928 and ran until being interrupted by World War II in 1940. Post hostilities the magazine reappeared, running from 1946 until 1968, taking another pause, running again from 1970 to 1971, and finally folding for good. This issue hit newsstands today in 1965. Like other European magazines of the era, the main attraction with Cinémonde is that its photos generally have not been seen online before. This issue was devoted to the American western, and the subjects include some of the biggest cowboy stars in cinema history, including John Wayne, Glenn Ford, Clint Eastwood, and Jimmy Stewart.
That's the first half of the issue. Afterward editors move outside the western milieu, and you get Marlon Brando, David Niven, Francois Dorléac, Barbara Bouchet, Serge Gainsbourg, hair secrets of the stars, the top ten Don Juans of French cinema, and more. Do we have other issues of this magazine? You bet. We own a group that includes Cinémonde, Ciné-Revue, and others. Will we ever scan them? Well, we make no promises at this point, but you never know—maybe we'll splash out for a bigger scanner and solve the problem with money instead of effort. Seems to work for everyone else. Thirty plus images below.
I may be a bum but that's Sergeant Bum to you.
Above, an Italian promo poster painted by Luigi Martinati for the U.S. adventure flick South Sea Woman, with Burt Lancaster and Virginia Mayo. In Italy it was called Il sergente Bum! There's no Italian release date known. We did a little write-up of the film you can see at this link, and you can check out more of Martinati's brilliant brushwork here.
Why did Lancaster cross the mob? To get to DeCarlo's side.
This is a beautiful poster for Doppio Gioco, better known as the U.S. film noir Criss Cross, with Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo. We were unable to determine who painted the piece, but it's a bang-up job. As for the movie, Burt Lancaster comes up with one of the classic terrible ideas in film noir history, and that's really saying something, because the genre practically hinges on cockamamie schemes. We talk about it in our brief write-up of the film here. Doppio Gioco opened In Italy today in 1949.
In a place like Atlantic City there's always one more chance.
The poster you see above was painted by the Spanish artist Francisco Fernandez Zarza-Pérez, who signed his work as Jano. As you can see, it was to promote Louis Malle's drama Atlantic City, U.S.A. Most sites call the film just Atlantic City, but we're going with what the opening credits called it. Though the movie starred U.S. performers and tends to be thought of as an American effort, it was French produced and premiered all over Europe in 1980 before reaching the States in 1981. It opened in Spain today in 1980 and tells the story of a sixty-something minor crook who finds himself involved with twenty-something hustlers and their sale of stolen drugs. Circumstances place both the party favors and the profits in his hands, and he suddenly has a chance to be the big time mobster he never was.
Not only did Atlantic City, U.S.A. win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, it's one of the few movies to be nominated for all five major Academy Awards—Best Actor (Burt Lancaster), Best Actress (Susan Sarandon), Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay. With a résumé like that we don't have to tell you the movie is good. Watch it. You'll like it. The woman on the poster, by the way, looks nothing like Susan Sarandon, but it was early in Sarandon's career, and we suspect Jano wasn't too invested in getting her likeness correct. It was within his capability, certainly—his Lancaster looks great. We don't know why he got Sarandon wrong. Considering how famous she eventually became, we have a feeling he wished he'd done better.
Bank heist goes every which way except the right way.
This year's Noir City Film Festival opens with the 1949 heist drama Criss Cross. Based on a bestselling novel of the same name by Don Tracy, it's the story of man played by Burt Lancaster who returns to Los Angeles after some years away to find that his ex-wife Yvonne De Carlo has hooked up with a local gangster. The exes rekindle their flame, but when it looks as if the gangster has caught them in the act Lancaster spontaneously cooks up a story about how he was putting together a plan to rob the armored car service for which he works.
Lancaster's robbery idea is not only designed to deflect the gangster's suspicion away from the affair, but to also fund the future he envisions with De Carlo when she and him run away. This scheme, which strains credulity, is probably one of the most obviously terrible ideas in the long, celebrated history of doomed ideas in film noir, but with good direction by Robert Siodmak, who had worked with Lancaster on The Killers, and good acting by all involved, the film concludes on the positive side of the effectiveness ledger. Numerous excellent Los Angeles exteriors, including at Union Station and on now mostly leveled Bunker Hill, make this noir an important time capsule as well, an aspect that increases its appeal. And an excellent musical number by Esy Morales & His Rhumba Band gives the proceedings a further boost. All in all, Criss Cross is a winner.
God, I love these pants. Fashion may be transitory, but these will never go out of style.
Here's an interesting cover for Romana Stewart's Desert Town showing that confidence is the key to fashion. You gotta wear it like you mean it. Even if it's jodhpurs. The story here is a coming of age tale about a seventeen-year-old girl pursuing an older man, with the pursuit complicated by her eerie resemblance to the man's dead wife, the fact that her mother is basically the queenpin of the town, and the fact that the man is a hustler and the story behind his wife's death may not be as simple as it seems. There's even more to it—a fierce rival for the man's attention, crooked cops, a dangerous gangster, an alcoholic wife, and other curious smalltown characters. The story was adapted for cinema in 1947 as Desert Fury, starring Burt Lancaster, John Hodiak, Lizabeth Scott, and Mary Astor. The cover artist on this 1948 Pocket Books edition is Roswell Keller, whose work was last seen on the front of Slay the Loose Ladies, a paperback we included in our alpha males collection. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
1947—HUAC Hearings Begin
The House Un-American Activities Committee begins its investigation into Communist infiltration of Hollywood, resulting in a witch hunt that destroys lives, ruins careers, and makes Senator Joseph McCarthy the most feared politician of the era.
1968—Jackie Kennedy Marries
Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy marries Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. The marriage comes as a total surprise to the American public, and results in a terrible backlash against her and also makes her the number one target of paparazzi for years.
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