A group of reckless truckers gear up for trouble.
Above is a beautiful poster for Hell Drivers, a working class thriller set in England dealing with an ex-convict who takes a trucking job for a gravel company and begins risking life and limb trying to break another driver's speed record. It has something of the feel of 1947's They Drive By Night mixed with a British road rally. It also has film noir legend Peggy Cummins in a co-starring role, along with Herbert Lom from the Pink Panther movies, and lead actor Stanley Baker. Oh, and a guy named Sean Connery. And there's a truck crash with a brutal body ejection. But it's this amazing purple promo that prompted us to talk about the movie. We love this art. The manhandling moment depicted, by the way, precedes a kiss, as the thin narrative line between masculine anger and lust is crossed yet again in a mid-century film. Hell Drivers premiered in London today in 1957.
Going under for the second time.
John D. MacDonald was a widely read author whose popularity endured, which means there are multiple editions of most of his books. We already showed you a cover for his 1963 thriller The Drowner. Here's a second version. This came from publisher Robert Hale Ltd. of England in 1964, and the art is by the incomparable Barbara Walton.
In the Ministry of Fear they bake better than they spy.
Fritz Lang was one of the most important directors of his era, both in his native Germany and in the U.S., and was a pioneer of the film noir form. Movies like Scarlet Street and especially The Big Heat are essential noir viewing. Ministry of Fear dates from a bit earlier and finds Lang saddled with what we consider to be a substandard script that through sheer artistry he makes into a watchable film. Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds, and Dan Duryea headline in a spy tale that revolves around Lang's favorite villains—the Nazis. Jewish and German, he left his homeland for Paris and beyond during the ascent of the Nazis during the 1930s, so the subject was personal for him, and was one he'd dealt with in previous films such as Cloak and Dagger and Hangmen Also Die.
In Ministry of Fear Milland plays a man who spends two years in a British asylum and is released at a time when World War II is raging and London is being bombed. He goes to charity carnival and is enticed into guessing a cake's weight for a chance to win it, and after being given the correct answer by a fortuneteller, is victorious. But it's soon clear that the correct weight wasn't supposed to be given to him, and he isn't supposed to have the cake. But he really wants it and resists attempts by the carny folks to take it back. He loses it during a train ride when a passenger beats the snot out of him for it, and at that point finally realizes the obvious—sweet though this confection may have been, it wasn't sought by various and sundry for its flavor, but because inside was something important. He wants answers, and he'll have to risk his neck to get them.
Generally with movies it's best to simply accept the premise, but there are limits. We were never clear on why it was necessary to put this important item in a cake. We understand subterfuge is involved in the spy game, but why not just hand the item over in an alley, or a pub bathroom, or a parked car? And if food must be involved, why a cake? Why not a haggis, or something else very few people want to just gobble up on the spot? A dried cod maybe. A blood sausage would have done. Plus they're easy to transport. You can just stick them in your pockets. And in a tight spot a whack across the nose with a blood sausage is far more effective than shoving cake in someone's mug. The cake gimmick was probably—strike that—certainly better explained in Graham Greene's source novel. We haven't read it but we're confident about that. It could have been Lang who screwed the pooch, but it was more likely Seton I. Miller. He was screenwriter as well as executive producer.
In any case Milland bumbles his way through a train trip, across a moor, in and out of a crazy séance, and into a maze of misdirection to the eventual revelation of what's inside the cake, but the whole time we kept thinking the movie should be called Ministry of Cut-Rate Spies. We don't mean to say it's a total loss. It isn't like the Eddie Izzard comedy routine, “Cake or Death.” You won't choose death over cake. But it's a pretty uninspiring flick. The old dramas that have survived have done so for a simple reason. Most of them are good. Ministry of Fear isn't bad. It's just meh. It's like a cake that fell—it's flat and dense, but teases you with how yummy it could have been. It premiered in England today in 1944.
Here, have your cake. And eat it too. Heh. I prefer blood sausage for train trips, but I guess it's better for you I'm not shoving one of those in your face, eh? Wow, you sort of... crush the shit out of your cake before eating it. Have I been eating cake wrong the whole time I've been in England?
Crook and cop play hide and seek in Maurice Procter's Brit crime thriller.
1954's Murder Somewhere in This City by Maurice Procter was originally published as Somewhere in This City, and it turns out it was the source material for a movie we saw last year called Hell Is a City. We didn't know that when we started the book. We just liked the cover (which it turns out is uncredited). The plot deals with a criminal and cop who have been enemies for so long their feud is personal. A robbery, a kidnapping, and a murder pit them against each other for what both suspect will be the decisive last time. But the cop has to actually find his nemesis, who's in hiding somewhere in the big city, making plans, achieving objectives, laying groundwork for his final escape overseas. The plot began to seem familiar pretty quickly, and no wonder the movie was good, because the book is too. Procter writes an entertaining story that is part detective procedural, part heist thriller, and part domestic drama. The film tracks it closely, which means you can find out more about the novel at our write-up on the movie here.
They say revenge is a dish best served cold. You have no choice about that when you spend twelve years in prison.
This is a nicely evocative poster for the British crime drama The Long Memory. The couple embracing against a backdrop of flames gets the mood across perfectly, because the film is, in fact about a couple, and especially one man, trying to hold onto something good amidst a moral conflagration. The story involves him being wrongly imprisoned, being released twelve years later, and immediately going on a mission to take revenge on the people who lied at his trial. We just talked about revenge yesterday, and here we go again with a character who has murderous impulses but who's basically a good person. Can he really go through with killing his persecutors?
We were surprised by this one. We watched it based solely on the poster and feel well rewarded for expending the time. Probably the newness of the movie's setting in 1950s London and the outlying areas along the River Thames helped a bit, but it's an effective tale on its own merits. John Mills stars, and is accompanied by John McCallum, Elizabeth Sellars, Geoffrey Keen, and beautiful Norwegian obscurity Eva Bergh. In the end the film asks a simple question: Is revenge worth it? Well, we can't say, but the movie is worth it, in our opinion. The Long Memory premiered in England today in 1953.
Sophia Loren is priceless as always.
Not much we can say about this. It's a brilliant Japanese promo for Sophia Loren's 1960 film The Millionairess, one of many movies, such as El Cid, Houseboat, and Arabesque, that she made in English at the height of her fame. Some were Hollywood productions, but this one was produced and shot in England and co-starred Peter Sellers. There's no Japanese release date on it, but if we had to guess we'd say between 1962 and 1965. We haven't watched this yet, but we'll report back.
Have a nice flight! See you after you land!
Paperback cover art changed radically with the arrival of so-called good girl art. Popular Library would become one of the foremost practitioners of the form, but Patricia Wentworth's 1941 mystery In the Balance, also published as Danger Point, features old style art. It's still pretty effective, in our opinion. The novel is a murder-for-inheritance tale, fourth in a series of more than thirty capers starring private investigator Maud Silver. But Silver doesn't make much of an appearance in this, instead influencing events from a distance. The star of the story is fragile rich girl Lisle Jerningham, whose wealth is coveted by one or more family members and close friends.
Lisle is really something. We lost count of how many times “the colour rose to her cheeks,” but that sort of stuff—along with pulses racing, feeling faint, and thoughts awhirl—is a package deal with these traditional whodunits. Is the book any good? We enjoyed it. Trembling English flowers are the opposite of our usual femmes fatales, which makes them refreshing changes of pace, especially when well written. You, on the other hand, might feel differently. In the Balance is of its place and time. That place and time is polite, stuffy, upper class Britain before the ravages of World War II. Hard-boiled pulp fans should proceed with caution.
Pram, girl, that thing is the bomb!
Once upon a time in England, some industrious genius came up with the idea of poison gas resistant baby prams. This photo was shot in Kent in 1938, when the threat of war with Germany loomed large and the fear of bombs—gas bearing and otherwise—was in everyone's minds. This pram is not just a historical oddity—it's a sociological statement. Think about it. How many parents could afford one of these things? Certainly not the countless coal miners and haddock fishermen who made up so much of the British workforce, we'd wager. So it's also a symbol of capitalism at its finest—that part where the rich always have better survival odds.
Some websites caption this photo things like, “Mother in gas mask with infant in gas proof carriage.” Are they kidding? It would be the nanny who gets sent out to risk a poison gas attack. Upper crust mommy stays home for tea and scones in the drawing room, and maybe tops that off with a little medicinal scotch for her nerves. If the baby never makes it back she'll just make dirty spoons with the lord of the manor and give motherhood another go in nine months. As for the pram, it would probably be reusable after a gas attack. In fact, it's more than just durable—it's versatile too. Assuming it survives a long, ugly war of keeping German gas out, it can be used during peace time to keep baby gas in.
When you're rich you're never insane. You're just a little eccentric.
La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba, aka The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, premiered in Italy today in 1971, and is an Italian made, set-in-England, gothic giallo flick for which we shared an unusual Greek poster some years ago. The art on that was retasked from the original poster, which was painted by Sandro Symeoni, a genius we've featured often. If you don't know his work, click his keywords below and have a look. He's worth your time.
In the movie a British lord violently obsessed with his deceased redheaded wife goes nuts and is committed to a mental institution. When he gets out he immediately brings disrepute to the entire psychiatric profession's notion of “cured” by going on a redhead killing spree. While he's busy reducing rural England's carrottop population one pale person at a time, his headshrinker, who knows nothing of the murders, is encouraging him to remarry in order to get over his dead wife.
That doesn't strike us as responsible psychiatric advice, but as we mentioned, there are lousy doctors in this film, so the Lord indeed picks out a suitable spouse, who's blonde, importantly. Things go fine until Mrs. Lord notices a redheaded maid in the manor. This is impossible, you see, because the Lord hates (and kills) redheads. So it goes without saying he'd never hire one. Who was this woman, and why was she there? Soon we're treated to the reliable giallo staples of imposters, unknown people creeping through the woods at night, disappearing corpses, and the question of whether what's happening is real, or is an attempt to induce insanity.
What might induce insanity for you is the screenwriting of the female characters in this flick. They're pure murder magnets. For example, whenever the Lord meets a redhead he yanks painfully on her hair to see if it's real. “Ouch! That hurt!” “Sorry, I thought it might be a wig.” “Oh.” Here's some advice: kick him in the gonads and run like Flo-Jo. Yet the women instead decide painful hair-pulling is just a cute quirk, and later meet their bloody ends.
There's also an incredible scene where the Lord slaps his wife around until she's bloody-mouthed, only to finally be stopped by the appearance of a friend, who asks, “Why were you fighting?” Why were you fighting? A more appropriate line might be, “Why were you beating the fuck out of your beloved?” But with this latter incident there may actually be a plotworthy reason the Lord is forgiven. We could reveal it, but that would be a spoiler. Of course, saying it would be a spoiler is a spoiler too. Oh no! Everything is spoiled! We have to murder a redhead now. Is that a non-sequitur? No, it's just giallo.
Bisset holds all the cards.
English actress Jacqueline Bisset peeks out from behind the suits of a card deck in this striking promo image made sometime during the late 1960s. A different photo from the session was used for the cover of Italian publisher Garzanti's 1970 release of 007 Casinò royal, which you see here as well. Bisset was born as Winifred (ouch!) Bisset in 1944 and made a name for herself in such impactful films as Bullitt, Murder on the Orient Express, The Deep, and Casino Royale. You could include efforts like Under the Volcano, The Man from Acapulco, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and Two for the Road in the aforementioned list. All told, Bisset seems a bit under-appreciated considering her filmography, but not by us. |
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