Vintage Pulp Jul 4 2024
Have you ever had a visitor that refused to leave?

Above and below are two posters for Bewitched, a movie we decided to watch because its title stood out when we saw it. Why? Well, we're still watching the entire run of television's Bewitched. Could this be about the supernatural, we wondered? If that sounds silly, remember, we try not to read synopses of these movies. It's just better, if possible, to go in knowing little or nothing. Obviously, we already know generally about all the more popular films we haven't yet seen, but this one is obscure.

Turns out it's a no-budget melodrama, written and directed by Arch Oboler, about poor Phyllis Thaxter, who suffers from a split personality, or more accurately a histrionic form of cinematic schizophrenia, that sees her taken over by an evil alter ego. This mental invader is named Karen, and she'a a bitch. She forces Joan to commit murder. We thought: Wait—if Joan is imprisoned or executed what does Karen get out of it? Well, Oboler tries to finesse that by suggesting Karen knows Joan will be acquitted because she/they look innocent and an all-male jury will think she's too pretty to kill. Okay.

Joan has never told anyone that she hears an evil voice. She doesn't break the pattern at trial, refusing to take the stand in her own defense. It looks bad, but surprise—that scheming Karen is right. But the moment the jury is about announce an acquittal, Joan realizes that if she's freed her evil side will make her do more bad things, so she stands up and screams: “Stop! I did it! I killed him! I'm guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” And... dissolve.

She ends up on death row. But a mere five hours before she's due to ride old sparky, she finally admits to her lawyer that she has a split personality, and the wheels of deus ex machina lurch into motion. It's as cheesy as it sounds. There's really nothing in the film but a good example of what a b-feature was like during the mid-century era. Sloppy. Slapdash. A baritone voiceover brackets the film, and though it's meant to hammer the movie's point home for viewers, there really is no point. None at all. Bewitched premiered in the U.S. today in 1945.

Do I want to stab my fiancée? Or maybe it's too harsh a method for breaking an engagement.

In the end, I guess it was really more of a rhetorical question.


Vintage Pulp Jun 28 2024
Cross country train thriller never quite reaches its destination.

Our interest in Peking Express was wholly due to Corinne Calvet, who we've seen in promo images, but never speaking and moving. The movie, which was an update of 1932's Shanghai Express, is an overcooked spy adventure with cheesy, anti-commie filling, making for a creation that's hard to swallow. Joseph Cotten arrives in Shanghai as a World Health Organization specialist on a mission to operate on some bigwig general. On a Peking bound train he encounters two complications—his ex-flame Calvet, and attempted murder. The latter has to do with the smuggling of contraband inside WHO crates. Soon both Cotten and Calvet are held prisoner by ringleader Marvin Miller (playing a Chinese military officer named Kwon) who wants to engineer a hostage exchange.

The movie ultimately portrays Miller as a money-grubbing bandit willing to betray wife, party, and country for personal gain. Threats and torture are his methods of persuasion, along with a hefty dose of general sneakiness. He spouts some of the worst dialogue ever, often starting with, “We Chinese...” But he doesn't get the worst line. We just about upchucked on this, spoken about Miller by a saintly priest played by Edmund Gwenn: “If only he had as much devotion to God's cause we would never have to worry about the world.” Really? Is that so? History says otherwise. To add insult to cognitive dissonance, the soundtrack contains some of the worst villain music imaginable. Composer Dimitri Tiomkin must have worn out an entire brass section recording it.

We're fine, in principle, with the main plotline. The seemingly contradictory idea of a villain driven by a mix of entrepreneurial greed and communist doctrine is fertile. The crosscurrent of the WHO trying to save lives in a country where many are suspicious of its mandate struck us as relevant. But the operatic dimensions of the characters backfire to infantilise the movie's messages. We suspect that the average Christian would find Gwenn's missionary priest a pompous cardboard cut-out. The average communist would laugh the entire enterprise off as delusional b-grade propaganda. And the typical thief would judge Miller to be an incompetent boob. What would the typical Chinese person think? We can't say, but our special consulting critic Angela the sunbear, whose native habitat includes China, might be able to enlighten us. And finally, what do fans of Corinne Calvet think? We thought: What a waste.
Thanks for throwing that China question my way, boys. I disliked the movie, and I extend an invitation to any who want to understand the complicated reasons why to discuss it with me over grubs and beetles.


Vintage Pulp Dec 3 2018
Do you, Edmund, take this woman to be—and stop me if you've heard this before—your lawful wedded wife?

The title of The Bigamist may seem to give the plot of the film away, but the point of this once-neglected-now-rediscovered drama is not the revelation of bigamy, but rather the details of how a man ends up with two wives. Edmond O'Brien plays a successful traveling salesman married to lovely Joan Fontaine, and their lives in San Francisco seem pretty good, despite all the time O'Brien spends away on sales trips. When they decide to adopt a child the agency's investigation uncovers O'Brien's other wife Ida Lupino in Los Angeles, and an entire domestic existence with her. Oh what a tangled web.

From that point forward The Bigamist is O'Brien's mea culpa to the insurance agent who busted him. This movie pops up a lot on television but not because it's great—because it's in the public domain, and because people are interested in the output of Lupino as a director. Yes, she helmed this one and did so with style, turning what was probably destined to be a forgettable melodrama into a quasi film noir. In the end the movie still isn't great, but it's a lot better than it should be thanks to Lupino. The Bigamist premiered in the U.S. today in 1953.


History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 19
1966—Sinatra Marries Farrow
Superstar singer and actor Frank Sinatra marries 21-year-old actress Mia Farrow, who is 30 years younger than him. The marriage lasts two years.
July 18
1925—Mein Kampf Published
While serving time in prison for his role in a failed coup, Adolf Hitler dictaes and publishes volume 1 of his manifesto Mein Kampf (in English My Struggle or My Battle), the book that outlines his theories of racial purity, his belief in a Jewish conspiracy to control the world, and his plans to lead Germany to militarily acquire more land at the expense of Russia via eastward expansion.
July 17
1955—Disneyland Begins Operations
The amusement park Disneyland opens in Orange County, California for 6,000 invitation-only guests, before opening to the general public the following day.
1959—Holiday Dies Broke
Legendary singer Billie Holiday, who possessed one of the most unique voices in the history of jazz, dies in the hospital of cirrhosis of the liver. She had lost her earnings to swindlers over the years, and upon her death her bank account contains seventy cents.
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