Vintage Pulp Dec 9 2022
EAGER TO PLEASE
Taylor and Turner make an explosive pairing in hit gangster romance.


MGM produced a beautiful poster for its 1941 melodrama Johnny Eager, which you see here in all its vibrancy and clever design. Starring Robert Taylor and Lana Turner, the unknown creator or creators used the stars' names crossword style to include “TNT” into the text. MGM knew they had something special on their hands in Turner and had been trundling her out for audiences to goggle at in awe and wonder, building up her career in comedy, musicals, straight drama, a western, and even horror in 1941's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Now at age twenty it was time for her to co-anchor a crime melodrama.

Turner is a sociology student who crosses the path of an ex-con named John Eager (Taylor) at his parole office. Turner is smitten, as well as impressed with Taylor's efforts to stay on the straight and narrow by working as a cab driver. The problem is Taylor is actually running an elaborate scam, heading a criminal enterprise in the form of a profitable gambling racket while keeping his parole officer bamboozled, and others either paid off or bedazzled into silence. Such is his charm that even the head secretary at the parole office is helping him.

Turner, as an innocent young student who isn't in on the scam, of course throws a wrench in Taylor's plans by finding out he's lying. But it turns out she's a little more worldly than she at first seemed. When she learns Taylor is still an underworld goon she's fine with it. She's just gotta have the guy. It means jilting her square boyfriend and disappointing her protective dad, plus she's warned that disaster will result, but the heart wants what it wants. Will she be corrupted? Will Taylor become so loopy that he loses control of his empire? Can true love blossom in the barren soil of the organized crime underground?

In the end Johnny Eager is a smart, well-written movie, with memorable lines aplenty and several refreshing plot surprises. Burgeoning superstar Turner does just fine in her key role, and it helps that her surrounding cast are all confident and talented. Van Heflin even won a supporting actor Academy Award for his role as a poetry spouting, alcoholic sidekick to Taylor's smooth gangster, and the accolade was well deserved. Johnny Eager is a movie every vintage film buff should add to their queue. It premiered today in 1941.
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Vintage Pulp Jun 15 2021
RIDING A RAFT
George Raft does the heavy lifting in 1935 crime thriller.


Is there any vintage movie star as overlooked these days as George Raft? The man was one of the top box office draws of the 1930s and had a string of hits through the 1940s and into the 1950s, including the 1959 smash Some Like It Hot. He was an ace stage dancer at the beginning of his career, but onscreen this natural athlete strikes many modern viewers as too dumpy for the tough guy roles he pioneered. Which makes it ironic that he was associated in real life with several gangsters, which led to him appearing in court, and in turn led to the public believing he was really living the thug life. Rather than hurting his popularity, the whiff of criminality made him more popular—something to keep in mind whenever some self-appointed sociologist slams kids for liking rappers.

Above you see a poster for one of Raft's biggest successes, the 1935 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel The Glass Key. A 1942 version would also be a big hit for Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and the fact that it was rebooted just seven years after the original would seem to tell you plenty. But Raft's version isn't bad. We think it's simply a case of technical advances in the process of shooting films and the continuing popularity of Hammett making the property an attractive one to redo. Watching both movies back to back is a clinic in how quickly filmmaking advanced as the ’40s rolled around, particularly ideas around staging and editing action.

Even so, Raft made this earlier version of The Glass Key a hit by virtue of his star power, despite the fact that critics were not overly impressed with the film. No less a figure than Graham Greene said it was “unimaginatively gangster,” which is a curiously millennial turn-of-phrase. But Raft, playing the capable right hand man of a top underworld figure who's on the verge of open warfare with his enemies, doesn't deserve any of the blame. His hard boiled persona is the only reason this otherwise static film is worth watching. The Glass Key premiered in the U.S. today in 1935.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
January 31
1928—Soviets Exile Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky, a Bolshevik revolutionary, Marxist theorist, and co-leader of the Russian October Revolution, is exiled to Alma Ata, at the time part of the Soviet Union but now located in Kazakhstan. He is later expelled entirely from the Soviet Union to Turkey, accompanied by his wife Natalia Sedova and his son Lev Sedov.
January 30
1933—Hitler Becomes Chancellor
Adolf Hitler is sworn in as Chancellor of Germany in President Paul Von Hindenburg's office, in what observers describe as a brief and simple ceremony. Hitler's first speech as Chancellor takes place on 10 February. The Nazis' seizure of power subsequently becomes known as the Machtergreifung.
January 29
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.
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