Vintage Pulp Jan 21 2022
JOHNNY BE GOOD
The clock strikes trouble in Dick Powell crime thriller.


Above is a beautiful poster for the vintage film noir Johnny O'Clock, which starred Dick Powell at the height of his fame, and was probably greenlighted due only to his presence. The plot and script could be better, but Powell and his co-stars Evelyn Keyes, Thomas Gomez, Ellen Drew, and Nina Foch are all excellent, and the result is a twisty little noir that starts with power games inside a casino operation, but evolves into the suicide of a casino hatcheck girl, and an investigation by a cop working from a mistaken set of assumptions. Keyes plays the showgirl sister of the unfortunate suicide who jets into town, her arrival nudging casino manager Powell from indifference to curiosity about the death. Not that Powell has much of a choice in the end—the cops become extremely interested in him when the suicide turns out to be murder, his main rival turns up dead, and he's suspected of both crimes.

So the movie eventually falls into the familiar pattern—Powell needs to uncover the truth even as the cops are trying to put him behind bars; Keyes has the hots for a gangster though she's presumably old enough and smart enough to know better; Powell has gotten along fine without a conscience for years, but now Keyes is pressuring him to make the right choices; and finally there's that old film noir obstacle jealousy, ultimately the deciding factor in so much. But familiar as these ingredients may be, Johnny O'Clock manages to mix them into a decent movie. It isn't the best from the film noir cycle, but it's worth the time to watch it. As a side note, you know those old cartoons where a gangster flips a coin over and over, flipping it and catching it with the same hand? This is probably the movie where it originated. Powell is a master with that coin. And he's a master of film noir too. Johnny O'Clock premiered today in 1947.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 1 2021
SMALL POX, BIG CITY
Evelyn Keyes goes from jewel thief to disease vector in The Killer That Stalked New York.


Above are a couple of excellent posters for the drama The Killer That Stalked New York, one of which features Evelyn Keyes on a high ledge. The movie is sometimes classified as a film noir, and we really don't mean to act like pain-in-the-ass purists, but we don't consider it a film noir. Plotwise, it deals with a jewel smuggler who unknowingly brings smallpox from Cuba to New York City. Keyes smuggled the jewels in for her boyfriend, but when she turns them over to him the sneaky fucker absconds. Keyes knows he has to sell them in the city, so she tries to track him down and prevent him from stiffing her, even as doctors notice that people are falling ill, manage to identify the culprit as smallpox, and try to decide how to stop the spread of the virus. Obviously, there are numerous parallels and ironies involved in watching this in the COVID-19 era. Carl Benton Reid as NYC's health commissioner: “Anyone not vaccinated is liable to get the disease. If they still refuse to submit, then tell them what they face.”

Of course, smallpox had a 30% per-case death rate compared to 1.6% in the U.S. for COVID-19, but mention that difference to people who've watched others die and see what reaction you get. What 1.6% represents, aside from a death rate, is a level of suffering at which tens of millions of adults shrug and refuse to take a shot to help save lives—at least 775,000 dead in the U.S. and counting, each of them a real person, not just a statistic. We've lost two close friends to this virus, neither in a so-called high risk category, and so has PI-1—whose friend spent weeks on a ventilator only to finally succumb to brain death. She had a six-year-old daughter. That kind of disaster kills not just the victim, but quite possibly forever harms families and loved ones.

Keyes reaches the point where her smallpox makes her like a dead woman walking, but she won't drop until she's found that chiseler of a boyfriend and made him pay for crossing her. What The Killer That Stalked New York ends up being is a crime procedural-turned medical thriller-turned double-layered chase movie. Keyes is a great, unsung star, and her willingness to uglify herself shows her commitment to the art of storytelling, but even so, the movie could be better. The two layers of story are required, because it's only Keyes criminal status that causes her to run around dodging the cops—and by accident spreading the virus—however the film maybe should have done away with its framing narration and public service feel. At least it has Keyes. Nothing dims her luster for us—not even a mediocre script, dark rings under her eyes, and a layer of fever sweat. The Killer That Stalked New York premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.

Killer virus? Whatever. I'll take my chances.

Hi, is it too late for big government to save my ass?

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Vintage Pulp May 23 2021
PROWLING AROUND
Social critique lurks in the dark corners of Evelyn Keyes film noir.


This unusual poster was made for the film noir The Prowler, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1951 starring Evelyn Keyes and cinephile fave Van Heflin. When a woman reports a prowler one of the cops that responds to the call becomes infatuated with her and decides to make her his own, despite the fact that she's married. The process of claiming her involves him forcing himself upon her, but this being a mid-century drama, after the fade to black we fast forward a few weeks and the two are now having an affair.

This is the set-up of the film, not its story arc, so we haven't given anything anyway in terms of major plot points, however we wanted to mention the preamble because it's uncomfortable viewing—though we should note that the film doesn't present this behavior as normal. It also seems clear that Heflin is able to pull this off specifically because a fizzled Hollywood career has made Keyes' character vulnerable, and she's unhappy in a marriage that she agreed to for reasons of security. So if you watch the film don't get your hackles up. In order to condemn behavior it's useful to show it, and that's what Heflin's manipulations are all about.

But there's more going on here than just a noir drama about a bad man and a targeted woman. The movie was written largely, if not wholly, by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, and he always has a deeper message. Here's a notable line of dialogue concerning bad police officers: “It depends on what you think a cop's job really is. I figure that the job of a cop is to protect lives. Now some of these trigger happy guys, they think they have to protect things.”

Hmm. Relevant to today? Quite possibly.

Often you can identify a film noir by the simple fact that the lead male is screwed, and gets progressively more screwed as the movie unfolds. The Prowler reverses the formula and places Keyes in the screwed role and makes Heflin a sort of homme fatale, a sociopathic manipulator determined to get what he wants no matter the cost. What he wants is Keyes, and he'll destroy her marriage, her self respect, her mental stability, and any other pillar of her existence to have her. And of course, in so doing, he'll risk losing what humanity he has and descending into soulless desolation.

Evelyn Keyes was a talented performer. We've seen her several times now and she always kills it. Thanks to her and others The Prowler is a well acted movie. It's also beautifully shot. It was directed by Joseph Losey—soon to be blacklisted along with Trumbo, so presumably they were on the same page concerning social critique as cinematic subtext. Millions of average Joes made the same gripes as Trumbo and Losey, and millions of average Joes still do today. But when filmmakers weave a narrative tapestry that calls America broadly corrupt, trouble with the empty suits in Washington D.C. always looms.

Here's a parting shot from Trumbo: “So I'm no good. But I'm no worse than anyone else. You work in a store you knock down on the cash register. The big boss, [he cheats on] the income tax. [Politician] sells votes. The lawyer takes bribes. I was a cop. I used a gun.”
 
Don't criticize America like that! People will think you're a communist.

I have been re-educated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. I am happy. America is perfect. 

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Femmes Fatales Jul 26 2016
A MAJOR KEYES
She's at the top of the scale.


We're big fans of return engagements, especially when they look like this. So here's Evelyn Keyes reprising her first femme fatale appearance, which was back in January of 2013. Keyes was a versatile actress, playing a mocking wife in The Seven Year Itch, an ambitious city girl in 99 River Street, and a quirky genie in A Thousand and One Nights, among many other roles. She's been great in everything we've seen so far, and has become one of our favorites. This excellent promo photo dates from around 1950.

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Vintage Pulp Jul 20 2016
BEST WISHES
A thousand and one nights with Evelyn Keyes is not nearly enough.

Above, the U.S. poster for A Thousand and One Nights, which we talked about in detail last year. The movie starred Evelyn Keyes as a wish-granting but mischievous genie, and Cornel Wilde as the lucky owner of her lamp and undeserving object of her affection. Terminally cute, this one, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1945. As a bonus, there's the magical Keyes below making herself disappear (behind a hat).

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Vintage Pulp Sep 9 2015
UNLUCKY SEVEN
Is there anything worse than an itch you can’t scratch?

The Seven Year Itch is one of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic roles. She’s great in it, but the movie is stagey and clunky and some of its humorous elements haven’t aged well. But Monroe successfully personifies temptation as the upstairs neighbor of married schlub Tom Ewell, and her sexy-but-virginal interplay with him demonstrates once again that she was a uniquely talented comic actress. There’s also really no way to overstate her beauty, nor the ease with which she inhabited these sorts of oops-I-made-you-love-me roles. Simply put, she made everything better, and did it with skill and something more—pure magic. The promo shots below show her famed upskirt scene, which, by the way, never occurs in quite this form in the film. Onscreen we only see her legs twice and two reaction shots. Not sure why director Billy Wilder made that decision—the whole of Monroe is surely better than just a part, no? The German title of the movie was Das verflixte 7. Jahr, which means “the cursed seventh year,” and the poster you see above is from the West German re-release of the film in 1966. The Seven Year Itch, with Monroe, Ewell, and Evelyn Keyes, originally premiered in West Germany today in 1955.

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Vintage Pulp Aug 21 2015
99 TEARS
Rock bottom is always a lot closer than you think.


This excellent promo poster is for a down and dirty little film noir called 99 River Street, the story of a boxer who was almost champion, but instead was knocked out at the moment of his seeming triumph. Now he’s a cab driver with big dreams but a wife that hates him for his low station in life and undermines him at every turn. She’s having an affair with a well-heeled criminal, and this situation leads to murder, which of course brings the cops knocking on our hero’s door. John Payne does an excellent job as a boxer with a bad eye and worse instincts, Peggie Castle is his two-timing conniver of a wife, and Evelyn Keyes is his bright-eyed and ambitious female friend—and probably his only hope for redemption. The plot takes a few twists and turns before speeding toward a nighttime dockside climax. Highly recommended. 99 River Street premiered in the U.S. today in 1953.

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Vintage Pulp May 27 2015
RUBBING ONE OUT
When Evelyn Keyes comes out of a lamp, is there really any need to wish for more?

The unusually beautiful French language poster above was made for the Belgian run of Aladin et la lampe merveilleuse, which was originally produced in the U.S. as A Thousand and One Nights. Some of the other posters for this set-in-Baghdad musical adventure are excellent too, such as the one you see at right (presumably made for the French run), but the version at top is the best—and rarest.

The art also manages to convey the mood of the movie quite accurately—it’s ninety minutes of cheeseball musical numbers, Vaudevillian slapstick, and Cornel Wilde caught in the world’s silliest love triangle. All of this is slightly marred by the unfortunate sight of white actors hamming it up with brown shoe polish on their faces, but that's to be expected in a Middle-Eastern themed movie made during an era when actors of color were more-or-less barred from cinematic roles.

On balance, the movie is a real mood lifter, but the whole effort is just a little too stupidly sweet for us to truly call good, with a bit too much syrupy baritone crooning from Cornel Wilde (or more likely his voice double), and too much of the various love interests making cow-eyes at each other. But Evelyn Keyes as the troublemaking genie is a fun touch. She makes the movie worth it. Aladin et la lampe merveilleuse premiered in the U.S. in 1945, and played for the first time in France/Belgium today in 1949.

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Femmes Fatales Jan 30 2014
STACK IN THE PAST
Evelyn Keyes puts the common handkerchief to uncommon usage.

American actress Evelyn Keyes started in film in 1938 and came to wide attention in 1939’s Gone with the Wind. Later she appeared in movies such as Johnny O’Clock, 99 River Street, and The Seven Year Itch. This great shot pairing her with a haystack and wearing a swimsuit put together from handkerchiefs was probably made around 1950.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
May 25
1938—Alicante Is Bombed
During the Spanish Civil War, a squadron of Italian bombers sent by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to support the insurgent Spanish Nationalists, bombs the town of Alicante, killing more than three-hundred people. Although less remembered internationally than the infamous Nazi bombing of Guernica the previous year, the death toll in Alicante is similar, if not higher.
1977—Star Wars Opens
George Lucas's sci-fi epic Star Wars premiers in the Unites States to rave reviews and packed movie houses. Produced on a budget of $11 million, the film goes on to earn $460 million in the U.S. and $337 million overseas, while spawning a franchise that would eventually earn billions and make Lucas a Hollywood icon.
May 24
1930—Amy Johnson Flies from England to Australia
English aviatrix Amy Johnson lands in Darwin, Northern Territory, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia. She had departed from Croydon on May 5 and flown 11,000 miles to complete the feat. Her storied career ends in January 1941 when, while flying a secret mission for Britain, she either bails out into the Thames estuary and drowns, or is mistakenly shot down by British fighter planes. The facts of her death remain clouded today.
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