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.
He didn't become a doctor by quitting when things got tough.
Above is an eye catching Italian poster painted by Ezio Tarantelli for Ik. Dr Fu Manchu, aka The Face of Fu Manchu, part of a series of films based on Chinaphobic novels by Sax Rohmer. According to IMDB and other sources this film played in Italy as Fu Manciù A.S.3: Operazione Tigre, but this poster suggests otherwise, or at least suggests it played there under more than one title. There's no known release date, but it would have shown sometime in 1966.
We gave it a look, and plotwise the infamous crime boss Fu Manchu is executed via beheading in the first scene, much to the delight of various police authorities, but they later suspect that a double died—a man with Fu's face, hypnotized into marching to his own death. And of course, they're right. Fu can do most anything he sets his mind to, including setting other people's minds to doing things detrimental to their earthly existence.
Christopher Lee, who specialized in movies of this ilk, occupies the starring slot, with his yellow make-up shading toward a grayish brown. Other cast members include Nigel Green, Karin Dor, Joachim Fuckburger—er, we mean Fuchsberger—and several more white folk pretending to be Asian. You'll have to ignore that and other racist aspects of the film. Or not, at your option. Setting that aside, is The Face of Fu Manchu any good? Umm... no, we wouldn't say so. But you might get a laugh or two from it.
Big trouble in little China.
After running across a poster this pretty we simply had to watch The Terror of the Tongs. Of course, the quality of an old Hollywood movie set in Asia is inversely proportional to the number of times you hear a gong. In The Terror of the Tongs you hear quite a few. You know the drill. Someone says the bad guys' headquarters is in the old part of town—GONG!—cut to the villains in their lair. Usually such movies feature white cast members Asianized with make-up and putty eyelids, and this is also an inverse indicator of quality.
But on that score Tongs defies the rule. Most major cast members are white, but the movie, though inherently racist, is not a bad piece of entertainment. A paradox? Indeed, young one. But we mean to say that once you get over the minstrel aspects—if you ever do, and we don't suggest that you should—what you get here is a fun little tale of a white ship captain in the mysterious Orient dealing with forces he can barely comprehend. When he accidentally comes into possession of a valuable item it results in the murder of his airhead daughter and sends him on a mission to make the responsible tong—i.e. Hong Kong mafia—pay.
Geoffrey Toone plays the noble and aggrieved captain, while veteran Brit actor Christopher Lee stars as the evil tong honcho Chung King. The film is beautifully made, with big sets and florid colors that dazzle the eye, and it's less predictable than you'd expect. It's clear the filmmakers were deadly serious, which makes it funny that the final product is considered pure cheese today. If you can look past the yellow makeup and prosthetic eyelids you'll find some entertainment here. And if not, at the very least you'll be thankful how far we've all come. The Terror of the Tongs premiered today in 1961.
The moment you doubt is the moment it stops being real.
Corridor of Mirrors is fascinating movie, though not one everyone will appreciate. There’s an actual corridor of mirrors, and it’s a place of infinite reflections and madness, located in the sprawling mansion of man, played by Eric Portman, who believes he’s the reincarnation of someone who lived four-hundred years ago. As they say, when you’re rich you’re not crazy—you’re merely eccentric. The problem, though, is that Portman believes he was in love with a woman way back then, and that she has been reincarnated too, in the person of Edana Romney. This is very interesting work from a director—Terrence Young—who would go on to helm three James Bond movies (trivia: Lois Maxwell, the original Miss Moneypenny, makes an appearance here, as does future Hammer horror icon and Tolkien baddie Christopher Lee).
Perhaps the most successful element of Corridor of Mirrors is how the audience is dragged into the lead’s carefully constructed fantasy world. The film takes place in modern (1948) times, but by midway through, it has become a Renaissance period piece, as the camera rambles through Portman’s foreboding mansion where nary a lamp or electrical convenience of any sort is found. The use of candles is particularly effective when Portman unveils a painting of his centuries-old love—gasp!—she looks exactly like Romney. Well, maybe not so shocking, but the appearance of a flashlight late in the proceedings is actually shocking, as it’s a reminder that the previous hour has been spent inside the Neverland of a madman.
Is Corridor of Mirrors a film noir? Not even. It’s been placed on a double bill at Noir City with the stylistically similar The Picture of Dorian Gray, but noir fans might be disappointed to have bought tickets for this particular night. In fact, this year's festival features a high proportion of non-noir cinema—ten of the offerings aren't film noir, and arguably even a couple more fall outside the category. Still, Corridor of Mirrors is a nice melodrama, dripping with irony by the end, and worth seeing on its own merits. A British production, it seems as though no English language posters survive, so at top you see the nice promo from its run in Belgium, where it was called L’etrange rendezvous.
Satan claws is coming to town.
Nothing says Christmas like a cheesy horror movie, and they don’t get much cheesier than Hammer Film Productions’ b-flick Satanic Rites of Dracula. This was the seventh and last movie to feature Christopher Lee playing Dracula, a role he inhabited with great gusto, and the third with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. In other words, Hammer really knew how to beat a dead horse. Plenty of summaries of this online, so we won’t bother. We just wanted to show you the nice art. Satanic Rites of Dracula first played in Japan today in 1974.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
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