The temperature rises and the bodies fall in Fritz Lang's tense film noir.
In the thriller The Big Heat, which is based on a novel by William P. McGivern and directed by Fritz Lang, Glenn Ford plays one of the toughest men you'll find in film noir—ass kicking detective Dave Bannon, whose clash with organized crime sends him down a rogue path that leaves people battered, bruised, bloodied, burnt, and blown up. He co-starred with Gloria Grahame, and the way the plot develops, she turns out to be every bit as tough. We can't tell you anything about the movie others already haven't about a thousand times, so we're focusing instead on this top notch promo poster, a framable classic in the panel format we love. You'll see this online only occasionally because it's way too rare for sellers to ever have in stock, but it's a fitting piece for such a great movie. The Big Heat premiered in the U.S. today in 1953.
She's a nightmare on Scarlet Street.
This beautiful photo features U.S. actress Joan Bennett and was made as a promo for her 1945 drama Scarlet Street, in which she plays a con artist who steals credit from a struggling artist for his critically acclaimed paintings. Directed by Fritz Lang and starring Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea, it's a solid film noir, well worth seeing. Check out its promo poster at this link.
Someone in the sleeping compartment isn't going to wake up.
Film noir teaches us that anyone can get in too deep, even a railroad engineer. In Human Desire, Fritz Lang's retelling of Emile Zola's 1890 novel La Bête humaine, Glenn Ford finds himself trapped between lust for Gloria Grahame and reluctance to kill to have her. He's already helped her cover up another killing and gotten in the middle of blackmail plot, but every man has his limits. This is flawed but canonical noir, with a cocky Ford, a quirky Grahame, a brutish Broderick Crawford, and Kathleen Case playing the loyal gal pal, who for our money is much more alluring than Grahame. Ford figures that out too, eventually. Too bad his realization is sandwiched between two murders on his train. Human Desire premiered today in 1954.
Just point me to the palest of your women. She's the one I want.
This Dutch poster promotes De indische graftempel, which was originally a West German production called De indische grabmal, and later given the English titles The Indian Tomb and The Tomb of Love. Made by Fritz Lang, this was the fourth pass at a 1918 novel by Thea von Harbou, but this version strays far from the source material. The book is about an architect commissioned by a Maharaja to build a fantastic tomb, but who later discovers it's for the Maharaja's wife, who will be killed for being a generally unfit spouse and placed in the structure as soon as it's completed. This must have made for some fun jokes between Lang and von Harbou, since they had been married for a time but were divorced when they worked together here. The adaptation they came up with relegates the architect to secondary status, and instead focuses on the wife Seetha, played by Debra Paget, who is having an affair with a Western lover named Harald, played by Paul Hubschmid.
Just to get right to the heart of it, this isn't one of Lang's best efforts. Despite good location work and excellent sets, the romance is silly, the adventure elements are uninspiring, and there's no emotional realism at all. But the movie is instructive in one area—it could be a case study for this year's Academy Awards race controversy. Every Indian role of consequence is played by a white person in shoe polish. This was the norm back then and it happened in hundreds if not thousands of films. Now, after nearly a century of such silliness, some people are actually offended at demands that ethnic roles be played by ethnic actors, and lead roles be diversified. Those demands are beyond fair. For decades nobody made even a peep about white actors in brown makeup, let alone the industrywide denial of good roles to actors of color, but as soon as someone says maybe Joseph Fiennes shouldn't play Michael Jackson in a film or Star Wars should have a black lead it's suddenly racism against whites. You almost have to laugh. What's also funny is that Paget, though she's supposed to be Indian, is without dark coloration. This is another norm for the period—amidst the brown hordes the most beautiful woman is always the palest.
All that said, watching the spectacle of literally a dozen West German actors in brown make-up is actually quite funny in today's context. But the main attraction here is Paget, whose erotic dance routine before ranks of spray-tanned slaves and beneath a looming, twenty-foot-high, giant-boobed Hindu statue is one of cinema's great sequences. We don't mean great in terms of acting or dancing or directing. It's an immortal moment the same way Alicia Vikander looking at herself in a mirror in Ex Machina is, or Sharon Stone flashing her ragamuffin in Basic Instinct. It's one ofthose instances when mainstream filmmakers push everyone's comfort envelope and remind them that sex is actually the single most important aspect of all our lives. Save for a tiny subset of us, we all exist because of it, our existence can only be assured by having more of it, and pretending it isn't on all our minds much of the time is just a silly rule imposed by the people who conceived our civilizational costume party. In the envelope-pushing respect De indische graftempel is a roaring success. Otherwise, not so much. It premiered today in 1959.
In Cloak and Dagger Gary Cooper plays a physicist who causes a violent chain reaction of a different kind.
These posters promote the Italian run of the American War World II propaganda thriller Cloak and Dagger. The film even admits to being propaganda, with a dedication to the OSS in the ending credits. But since all states produce propaganda, and each generation’s is clumsy and laughable to those who come later, the silly flag waving here isn’t really the problem—rather it’s a tepid central romance, an unlikely plot, and an overcooked musical score that loudly punctuates every mood and movement of the characters. There are other flaws, especially with Gary Cooper’s fighting physicist, who begins the movie as a lab egghead but by the halfway point inexplicably unveils better fighting skills than the seasoned fascist killers on his trail. But whatever—willing suspension and all that. At least these action sequences are well staged—in fact, they’rethe highlight of the movie. And if you don't mind Coop's unsubtle moralizing about courage, country, sacrifice, and love, then Cloak and Dagger may hold some charms for you. For our part, we think seeing a cynic converted to the cause à la Casablanca is infinitely more interesting than a true blue patriot trying to convert others, but that’s the difference between drama and propaganda—in the latter the hero’s doubts are merely cursory if they exist at all. The promo posters above are by Renato Casaro, the one directly below is by Luigi Martinati, who we’ll revisit soon, and the last is illegibly signed, which means it goes into the unknown category. We’ll try to figure out who painted that and get back to you. Cloak and Dagger premiered in the U.S. in 1946 and made it to Italy as Maschere e pugnali today in 1948.
Edward G. Robinson learns to be thankful for what he’s got.
Above is a Swedish promo poster for Kvinnan i fönstret , better known as The Woman in the Window, from German expressionist master Fritz Lang. Anything from the director who gave us Metropolis is must-see, however, we have to warn you that the finale to this one may come as a let-down, or more accurately a cop-out. But don’t blame Lang—blame the censors of the day, who wouldn’t let him use the ending from the source material, J. H. Wallis’s novel Once Off Guard. If judged in the forgiving frame of mind that the ending shouldn’t be held against it, The Woman in the Window can’t be considered anything but a top-notch effort. Basically, it’s worth it just to see Edward G. Robinson in the lead as a stuffy college professor who wishes for more excitement in his life. He learns the hard lesson—thanks to femme fatale Joan Bennett—that he isn’t built for adventure. So the film is a cautionary tale. It warns middle-aged men that stable lives may be boring, but hot young women lead to directly to trouble, terror and tragedy (best case scenario: after a lot of screamingly good sex). The Woman in the Window opened in Sweden today in 1947.
Early Adam hadn’t yet figured out the “skin” part of pulp’s sin & skin formula.
Above are selections from a March 1952 Adam magazine, with interesting cover art of a blonde being narrowly missed by several rounds of machine-gun fire. By the 1970s Australia’s Adam was publishing pages of fully nude women, as you can see for yourself here and here, but in this early issue there’s exactly one photograph—American actress Sally Forrest, who you see in panel two. Forrest is pretty much unknown now, but she appeared in notable films such Fritz Lang’s noir While the City Sleeps, Joseph Pevney’s horror flick The Strange Door, and Hard, Fast and Beautiful, which was directed by Ida Lupino, who as a woman director during the forties and fifties kicked open some of the doors that led to Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar win last night. More Adam magazines soon.
A classic noir raises the temperature in the icy north.
When Swedes heard about The Big Heat, they said “Gud, tack själv,” because they were all freezing their asses off and thought the movie was a documentary about how to stay warm. But no, it was just top-notch film noir, which generated its own warmth, especially if you looked at Gloria Grahame. The movie was directed by film noir black-belt Fritz Lang, and tough guy Lee Marvin had a great supporting role. Oh, and if you’re wondering, yes, Jocelyn Brando is related to Marlon—she was his older sister. She died in 2005 after a lengthy career acting mostly on the telly. The Big Heat opened today in Stockholm, 1953.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—Prohibition Ends in United States
Utah becomes the 36th U.S. state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, thus establishing the required 75% of states needed to overturn the 18th Amendment which had made the sale of alcohol illegal. But the criminal gangs that had gained power during Prohibition are now firmly established, and maintain an influence that continues unabated for decades.
1945—Flight 19 Vanishes without a Trace
During an overwater navigation training flight from Fort Lauderdale, five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo-bombers lose radio contact with their base and vanish. The disappearance takes place in what is popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle.
1918—Wilson Goes to Europe
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sails to Europe for the World War I peace talks in Versailles, France, becoming the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office.
1921—Arbuckle Manslaughter Trial Ends
In the U.S., a manslaughter trial against actor/director Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle ends with the jury deadlocked as to whether he had killed aspiring actress Virginia Rappe during rape and sodomy. Arbuckle was finally cleared of all wrongdoing after two more trials, but the scandal ruined his career and personal life.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
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