Songs of sadness, loneliness, and forgetting.
Above is a poster for the French crime drama Tirez sur le pianiste, known in English as Shoot the Piano Player, and based upon the David Goodis novel Down There. We raved about the book. The movie? Well, you're supposed to love it. Make no mistake there. Though it received mixed reviews when released, most critics rhapsodize it now. This isn't unusual. Opinion will shift over time. Since director François Truffaut said he intended to make a film mainly for cinephiles, it makes sense that it eventually won critics over. The question is will it win you over?
Truffaut took a quintessentially American novel and converted it into something quintessentially French. This wasn't his initial intention. He wanted to pay tribute to American films. There are certainly American references, but he couldn't help but let his French nature come through. For example, where the book conjures torch songs and jazz, Truffaut cast singer/songwriter Charles Aznavour in the lead, and the music he plays is mostly folk songs and ditties. It's a major shift in mood. Truffaut also elected to leaven the terminal darkness of the novel with humor.
But you have to judge the product on its own merits, so if you pretend you never opened the book, Tirez sur le pianiste is certainly interesting. Truffaut either wasn't aiming for or didn't have the budget to seek technical perfection. The shadow of his camera pops up. The physical action is disjointed and unconvincing. But the film is also kinetic and beautifully shot. There's a kind of guerrilla style to it, a feel of a director doing anything that comes to mind and the story following along. We were aware of watching something uniquely artful, but not uniquely successful. So again, the question is, will it win you over? We can't say. Try it and see for yourself. Tirez sur le pianiste premiered in France today in 1960.
She knows the best way to a man's heart—ballistically speaking.
It's been a couple of years since we had a cover by French illustrator Jean Salvetti, so here's one for Dorothy ouvre le bal, or “Dorothy opens the ball,” published in 1952 by Paris based Éditions le Trotteur and written by Oscar Montgomery, aka José del Valle. There were three books in the Dorothy series, with this one coming second. Short synopsis: Dorothy goes to Egypt, hurts a bunch of bad men. As you can see, Salvetti signed his work Salva. More Salva here, here and here.
Italian star takes a bite out of Paris.
Italian actress Elsa Martinelli is dressed like a vampire to attend a costume party being thrown by Gunter Sachs in Paris on Rue de Ponthieu today in 1972. The party was Count Dracula themed, which means Martinelli wasn't the only one dressed this way. Acquaintance Roman Polanski also rocks count couture. But Martinelli probably looked the best of all the guests, and we imagine many necks were offered to her before the festivities ended.
The FBI stretches its jurisdiction all the way to Morocco in 1953 thriller.
Above, two beautiful Italian posters for F.B.I. divisione criminale, originally titled La môme vert de gris, but known in the U.S. as Poison Ivy. The film was based on a Peter Cheyney novel also named Poison Ivy, and starred Eddie Constantine as an American G-man in Morocco, and Dominique Wilms as a femme fatale known as—you guessed it—Poison Ivy. We talked about the movie at length in May, so if you're curious have a look here.
It's just another case of Bardot being Bardot.
We don't know why, but Japanese posters of Brigitte Bardot movies are always beautiful. We've shared them from four films: Cette sacrée gamine, Une parisienne, La bride sur le cou, and Manina la fille sans voile. All are frameworthy. But today's poster for En effeuillant la marguerite might be the best so far. If you frame this one you'll need a transparent wall, because the rear is interesting too, as you see below. In Japan the movie was called 裸で御免なさい, which means something like “sorry for being naked,” but its English title was Plucking the Daisy. This led to us discovering that the French name Marguerite means daisy. You learn something new every day. The film was also called Mademoiselle Striptease, but we prefer the former, because Bardot always shows plenty of pluck.
Here she plays a rebellious young daisy who secretly publishes racy writing, but is outed to her authoritarian father, runs away to Paris, ends up in dire straits, and tries to make ends meet by winning an amateur striptease contest. Does she manage to generate the funds? Well, you can be sure she generates the fun. She does the sex kitten thing with a breezy verve matched only by Marilyn Monroe, the men stumble-swoon-fall over themselves with lust, and it's all pretty cute. Could the movie headline a film seminar on the objectification of women in mid-century media? Absolutely. But even in that seminar En effeuillant la marguerite would generate a few smiles. It premiered in France in 1956, and reached Japan today in 1959.
When it rains it pours talent.
Giovanni Benvenuti was an illustrator of unique skill. We've posted a couple of wonderful collections of his covers (you can see those here and here, and we really recommend them because it's all very striking work), but have neglected him these last several years. That stops today, because he's a top tier artist. Above you see the cover he painted for Dominique Dorn's thriller Véronique et la St. Médard, published by Éditions Ditis for its Collection la Chouette in 1961. There's a lot to like about this piece, but we're most struck by the indistinct lights seen through the veil of rain. They're suggestive but could really be anything.
Dominque Dorn, appropriately, could really be anyone. It was the pen name of Marie-Anne Devillers, who also published as Mario Ropp, Maïa Walbert, Maïa de Villers, and Michèle Vaudois. That's a lot of names, and she used them to write a lot of books. Ropp was by far her most prolific pseudonym. She published more than one hundred novels under that identity. On the whole, Dorn churned out novels at an astounding rate, sometimes publishing six a year. That's a lot of output, so we'll probably run into her again. See another here.
Say it! Say it louder, you swine! With onion soup you should drink only a basic vin blanc or possibly an aligoté!
It's a cliché, but one we've noticed to be true, that the French tend to be polemical in their opinions about artistic matters. Movies, literature, painting, architecture, all of these things are either magnificent or total shit. Which leads to some interesting discussions. The big chasm between us and one of our French friends happens to do with food and drink—typically Champagne versus cava, or rillettes versus paté. So for us, this cover for Coup de main reminded us of those discussions. Just for the record, E.E., here on our website where you can't argue—we think cava and paté are just dandy no matter what you say.
Coup de main is number fifty-five in Éditions du Grand Damier's Espionnage series, published in 1958, and written by Jaques Dubessy under the pseudonym Slim Harrisson. That's a name you see a lot in vintage French fiction because it was credited with nearly one hundred novels, and we assume few if any of them are total shit. In this particular book Harrisson's franchise hero Sam Morgan's adventures carry him from FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. to Tangier, Lisbon, and beyond. The cover art here is by Alain Gourdon, aka Aslan, the towering figure of French paperback and pin-up illustration.
French paperback illustrators could teach real world spies all about leaving no clues or evidence behind.
When it comes to French pulp, the cover art will often be uncredited. Such is the case with this attractive front for the thriller Quadrille d'Espions, published in 1956 by Société d'Éditions Général, aka SEG, for its popular series Espionnage/Service-Secret. The book was written by Francis Richard, which was a pseudonym used by Paul Bérato, who also wrote as Yves Dermèze, Paul Béra, er al. We dug deeper into the identity of this artist, to no avail. Someone out there knows, though, and with luck, we'll hear from them.
Welch tries to Fathom the spy game in cheeseball ’60s thriller.
This great poster was painted by French artist Vanni Tealdi for the 1967 spy adventure Une super-girl nommée Fathom, originally made as Fathom. The film was based on an unpublished novel by Larry Forrester, and is set in Spain in various beautiful locations around the Costa del Sol, including Nerja, which we discussed not long ago. Sixties icon Raquel Welch plays a member of a skydiving troupe recruited by Headquarters Allied Defenses Espionage and Security—HADES—to locate the fire dragon, which is supposedly a trigger for a nuclear bomb. Mostly the mission involves Welch using her smile and showing off her supernaturel physique, which is the real nuclear bomb, packed with kilotons of destructive power.
She finds herself caught in a web of lies and soon doesn't know who's the good guy, whether the fire dragon is really a nuclear trigger, and whether she shouldn't just run away and catch up with the rest of her troupe. It's all quite lighthearted, and considering what Welch is given to work with scriptwise, she manages not to sabotage herself or the film. However, she was not that great of an actress at this point, so your primary motive for watching this would be to enjoy the scenery—certainly of Welch, but also of Spain. Those two reasons will get you through the film's ninety-nine minutes. Une super-girl nommée Fathom has no known French release date, but it premiered in the U.S. today in 1967, and would have made it to France later the same summer.
Nobody is who they seem in this crime collection.
Above are some covers from French publishers Éditions Baudelaire, specifically four entries from its collection Le Chat Noir, or Black Cat, written by various authors, and with cover art by Jacques Thibésart, who signed his work as Nik. The authors were pseudonyms too—or at least, Georges Méra and César Valentino were, which makes us pretty sure the others were, as well. Sharp eyed readers will notice that Thibésart was inspired by Hollywood's film noir wave. The first cover is definitely Dick Powell, and the male on the third cover has to be Alan Ladd from This Gun for Hire. Right? Or is that just us? Thibésart seems to have switched out Ladd's co-star Veronica Lake, though, because the female figure doesn't look anything like her. Oh, it's all such a riddle with these pen names and borrowed faces. In any case, nice art. These were all published in 1959. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1955—Rosa Parks Sparks Bus Boycott
In the U.S., in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city's African-American population were the bulk of the system's ridership.
1936—Crystal Palace Gutted by Fire
In London, the landmark structure Crystal Palace, a 900,000 square foot glass and steel exhibition hall erected in 1851, is destroyed by fire. The Palace had been moved once and fallen into disrepair, and at the time of the fire was not in use. Two water towers survived the blaze, but these were later demolished, leaving no remnants of the original structure.
1963—Warren Commission Formed
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson establishes the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However the long report that is finally issued does little to settle questions
about the assassination, and today surveys show that only a small minority of Americans agree with the Commission's conclusions.
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