It's just the wind. Or possibly the screaming of damned souls in torment. But more likely the wind.
“You dare not even guess the strange story of The Red House,” this promo poster tells us about Edward G. Robinson's 1947 psychological suspense drama, but we dared, and we didn't have any trouble guessing correctly. What you get here is a mystery with a suggestion of the supernatural—always a draw for us. Some sites call this a horror movie. We're okay with that too. Horror, psychological suspense, and mystery walk hand in hand—in this case through the creepy night. Working from a screenplay adapted from George Agnew Chamberlain's 1945 novel, Robinson plays a man living in idyllic simplicity on a farm with his sister and adopted daughter. He hires a helper, a decision that goes awry when the new help develops an interest in the nearby cursed woods, in which there's supposedly a haunted red house, disembodied screaming voices (or maybe just the wind), and other dangers sane people would avoid.
But this new farmhand is filled with the arrogance of youth, isn't superstitious, and resolves to solve the mystery, a decision that threatens to tear Robinson's makeshift family apart and unearth terrors from the past. Edward the G. isn't at his very best working with what is a tricky script, but he gets useful support from young co-stars Lon McCallister, Rory Calhoun, Allene Roberts, and Julie London. Roberts in particular has a crucial role, and in her first film, and aged only nineteen, she manages to keep her head above water—barely. While The Red House isn't top notch, it's enjoyable enough, and if you appreciate vintage creepfests it might give you a chill or two. So what's in the woods? We can't tell you, but you can be sure there's something—and it ain't good. The Red House premiered today in 1947.
Humphrey is pitch perfect as always but it's Edward who makes this movie sing.
Above, one of many promo posters for the classic drama Key Largo. This movie, as you doubtless know, is great. It hinges on Edward G. Robinson's bravura performance as a washed up gangster trying to make a comeback, but he gets ample onscreen help from co-stars Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Gomez, Claire Trevor, Dan Seymour, and others. And John Huston in the director's chair is no slouch bringing the foreground drama and hurricane background to life. Key Largo is often called a film noir. Is it though? Hmm... Bogart certainly fits the bill in terms of characterization, but since the movie lacks most other noir elements we're inclined to call it a straight crime drama. But that's just our opinion. It was first seen by the public at a Hollywood preview in mid-July 1948, and went into full national release today.
Deliveries go in the rear. And get your mind out of the gutter.
American actress Jean Parker, who enjoyed a long film career that ran from 1932 to 1965 and comprised more than seventy screen appearances, watches over some crates in this promo photo made for the 1954 crime drama Black Tuesday, in which she co-starred with Edward G. Robinson. Must be something very valuable in those boxes for her to be armed and ready to ventilate somebody. Is toilet paper still the valuable currency of the moment? It's never been scarce where we live but we heard people in other places were ready to kill for it a few weeks ago. We'd prefer if the cargo here were good booze, possibly Bulleit bourbon. Well, let's flip them upside down and...
Aha. So, they're items made in occupied Japan. We embarked upon the digital superhighway, conjured up several synopses for Black Tuesday, and using search-find on keyword “Japan,” so we wouldn't spoil the plot by actually reading any details, got no hits. Probably the crates are just props that had been sitting around RKO-Pathé Studios, where the movie was shot. But we can't be sure. It's just these sorts of small mysteries that influence our movie queue. We'll screen this and report back.
Bogart finds himself stuck on Key Largo when hurricane Edward blows into town.
Above is a West German poster for Hafen des Lasters, which translates as “port of vice,” but is better known as Key Largo. We love this piece of art. It's imitative of earlier posters, particularly a Belgian promo from 1949. But that one is by Wik. This one is signed by a different artist, but illegibly, so we can't tell you who painted it. We'll work on that. We've uploaded the signature in case you have an idea what this scrawl says. This is simply a great film, a crime drama set in a hurricane. Many books using the same idea were written later, such as Theodore Pratt's Tropical Disturbance and Russell Trainer's No Way Back. Whether they were inspired by Key Largo or earlier works like W. Somerset Maugham's Rain we can't say, but any writer will tell you never let a good gimmick go to waste. In any case, Key Largo premiered in the U.S. in 1948 and reached West Germany today in 1950.
The more it comes into focus the clearer the danger is.
Above, a beautiful promo by Roger Rojac for La femme au portrait, known in English as The Woman in the Window. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1944, but didn't reach France until 1947. We talked about this one a long while ago—Edward G. Robinson is bored with his life, but gets more than he bargained for when he helps a damsel in distress. Solid film noir, disliked by many for its ending, but with a French poster disliked by none.
You ever feel like you're going to lose no matter what?
This awesome cover art is by Tommy Shoemaker, a new talent to us, but not to more experienced paperback illustration aficionados, and his work fronts William Irish's The Night Has 1000 Eyes. The cover alone got us into this one. It tells the story a woman who has been burdened with very dark—and very real—predictions about the future, forecasts far too specific to be lucky guesses. For example, she's told she'll meet a woman who wears a diamond watch around her knee, and it comes true when one of her friends asks to borrow a garter, then raises her skirt to show how she's dealt with her broken one by fastening her watch around her stocking. Given that these predictions are so specific, the crucial announcement that the woman's father will be killed by a lion seems utterly unavoidable, even though they live in the middle of a metropolis.
The cover may seem to remove the need to read the novel, but don't worry—it actually depicts not the climax or any point in the middle, but the first several pages, in which a beat cop comes across a woman determined to leap from a bridge. It's after he rescues her that we learn the bizarre story of why she's there. Irish, aka George Hopley, aka Cornell Woolrich, is perhaps a bit too reiterative with his prose in this one, tending to belabor his points after they've been fully made, to the extent that the novel feels a bit like it's been padded out to reach a word threshold. Minor flaw. Even if you're periodically tempted to skip some of the existentialism 101 musings, Irish/Hopley/Woolrich weaves a compelling tale here—one later made into a film noir starring Edward G. Robinson—and it's well worth the time spent.
Nice guys finish last—until they're pushed too far.
The 1945 film noir Scarlet Street is one of the bleaker offerings from a generally bleak genre. Edward G. Robinson plays an aspiring painter in a loveless marriage whose need makes him a perfect mark for a pair of hustlers, played by Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, who shake him down for money, a free apartment, and even his recognition as an artist. The main treat here is seeing tough guy Robinson play a mild-mannered everyman, the sort of terminal pushover he also portrayed to great effect in the noir The Woman in the Window. The thing is, some people can only take so much abuse.
What was it Shakespeare wrote about rough winds and May?
Above is a publicity photo of American singer/actor/comedian Sammy Davis, Jr. with his Swedish bride, actress May Britt. The shot dates from today in 1960, and as you might guess, that was a very bad time for mixed couples. Sammy had for years been making tabloid headlines for dating white women ranging from Tinseltown icon Kim Novak to Canadian singer Joan Stuart, but when he announced plans to marry Britt, a chunk of the general public lost its collective mind. He faced racist banners and chants in London, received rafts of hate mail, and was confronted in Los Angeles with the bizarre spectacle of three men marching outside the Huntington Hartford Theater in nazi regalia. Even two admirers, John and Robert Kennedy, allegedly asked Frank Sinatra to tell Davis to delay the wedding until after the 1960 presidential election.
Professionally, Britt had to choose between her career and Davis, because it was quite clear that she would never be hired in Hollywood if she married him. Some websites suggest that she lost little because she was a minor talent at best, but she had appeared in over a dozen films and had made the cover of Life magazine twice before even meeting Sammy, so her expectations of a strong run in Hollywood were in no way delusional. Obviously, she chose love over career, and wed Davis at his home in the Hollywood Hills. Some of the guests at the reception included Peter Lawford, Diana Dors, Barbara Rush, Janet Leigh, Leo Durocher, Shirley MacLaine, Milton Berle, and Edward G. Robinson, Jr. The marriage lasted eight years—not long in the real world perhaps, but an eternity by Hollywood standards.
Only the good go to sleep at night.
The French coined the term film noir, so it seems only fitting to feature a collection of French posters celebrating the genre. Above and below are fifteen examples promoting films noir from France, Britain, and the U.S., representing some of the best ever produced within the art form, as well as some less celebrated examples that we happen to love. Of those, we highly recommend seeing Le salaire de la peur, for which you see the poster above, and Ride the Pink Horse, below, which played as Et tournent les chevaux de bois in France. Just a word about those films (and feel free to skip ahead to the art, because really, who has time these days to listen to a couple of anonymous internet scribes ramble on about old movies?).
1953’s Le salaire de la peur is about a group of men stranded in an oil company town in the mountains of South America. In order to earn the wages to get out, four of them agree to drive two trucks filled with nitroglycerine over many miles of dangerous terrain. The idea is to use the chemicals to put out a raging oil well fire that is consuming company profits by the second, but of course the film is really about whether the men can even get there alive. Le salaire de la peur was critically praised when released in Europe, but in the U.S., political factions raised their ugly heads and got censors to crudely re-edit the prints so as to reduce the movie’s anti-capitalist (and by extension anti-American) subtext. The movie was later remade by Hollywood twice—once in 1958 as Hell’s Highway, and again in 1977 as Sorcerer. The original is by far the best.
1947’s Ride the Pink Horse is an obscure noir, but a quintessential one, in our opinion. If many noirs feature embittered World War II vets as their anti-heroes, Robert Montgomery’s Lucky Gagin is the bitterest of them all. He arrives in a New Mexico border town on a quest to avenge the death of a friend. The plot is thin—or perhaps stripped down would be a better description—but Montgomery’s atmospheric direction makes up for that. Like a lot of mid-century films featuring ethnic characters, the most important one is played by a white actor (Wanda Hendrix, in a coating of what looks like brown shoe polish). It's racist, for sure, but within the universe of the film Lucky Gagin sees everyone around him only as obstacles or allies—i.e., equals within his own distinct worldview. So that makes up for it. Or maybe not. In any case, we think Ride the Pink Horse is worth a look. Thirteen more posters below.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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