Calcutta is heavy on looks but light on substance.
We'll tell you right out that Calcutta came very close to being an excellent movie, but doesn't quite get over the hump. It deals with a trio of pilots flying cargo between India and China on fictional China International Airways. The trio, Alan Ladd, William Bendix, and John Whitney, stumble upon a highly profitable international smuggling ring and quickly find that the villains play for keeps. Along with the fliers, the film has Gail Russell as Whitney's girlfriend, and June Duprez as a slinky nightclub singer. While the exotic setting marks the film as an adventure, it also fits the brief as a film noir, particularly in Ladd's cynical and icy protagonist.
As we said, the movie isn't as good as it should be, but there are some positives. Foremost among them is Edith King as a wealthy jewel merchant. She smokes a fat cigar, the masculine affectation an unspoken but clear hint of her possible lesbianism, and with a sort of jocular grandiosity simply nails her part. Another big plus is the fact that the miniature work (used in airport scenes), elaborate sets and props, and costumed extras all make for a convincing Indian illusion—definitely needed when a movie is filmed entirely in California and Arizona (Yuma City and Tucson sometimes served as stand-ins for exotic Asian cities, for example Damascus in Humphrey Bogart's Sirocco).
On the negative side, Calcutta has two narrative problems: the head villain is immediately guessable; and Russell is asked to take on more than she can handle as an actress, particularly as the movie nears its climax. Another problem for some viewers, but not all, is that the movie has the usual issues of white-centered stories set in Asia (or Africa). However, within the fictional milieu the characters themselves seem pretty much color and culture blind, which isn't always the case with old films. Even so, the phalanxes of loyal Indian servants, and the dismissiveness with which they're treated—though that treatment is historically accurate—probably won't sit well with a portion of viewers.
Here's what to focus on: Alan Ladd. He's a great screen presence, a solid actor in the tight-lipped way you often see in period crime films, and the filmmakers were even smart enough to keep him shirtless and oiled for one scene. We swear we heard eight-decade-old sighs on the wind, or maybe that was the Pulp Intl. girlfriends. They'd never seen Ladd before, but immediately became interested in his other films. We were forced to tell them he was a shrimpy 5' 6” and they were a bit bummed. But he had it—and that's what counted. His it makes all his films watchable, but doesn't quite make this one a high ranker. Calcutta had its official world premiere in London today in 1946.
A rag is a gown, 'til a man comes around.
Above is an Italian poster for Il vestito strappato, better known as The Tattered Dress, starring Jeff Chandler, Jack Carson, Jeanne Crain, Gail Russell, and the lovely Elaine Stewart. The art, depicting an evening gown reduced to a useless rag by a disembodied male hand, is actually accurate in terms of the film's visuals. We mean a dress is ripped and you don't get a good look at who's attached to the hand. We talked about it a while back. Shorter review: disorder in the court.
Big shot attorney finds his defense strategy in tatters.
Above is a poster for The Tattered Dress, an unexpectedly entertaining flick about a craven New York City lawyer who ventures to smalltown Nevada to defend a local big shot against murder charges, only to find that the acquittal breeds a dangerous new enemy. The film stars Jeff Chandler, and amazingly this was the first thing we've seen him in. We were thinking, “Why wasn't this guy a huge star?” He could act, he had presence, and he was great looking. And then we internetted him and learned that died at age forty-two after complications from back surgery. Apparently his surgeon botched the job, cut an artery, and Chandler only survived the operation with the help of 55 pints of infused blood. But he never made it out of the hospital, as subsequent side effects laid him low. What a way to go.
You'd almost think Chandler originally hurt his back carrying The Tattered Dress, because the movie rides almost entirely on him. He gets a nice assist from Jack Carson, and co-stars Jeanne Crain, Gail Russell and super-hottie Elaine Stewart certainly don't hurt, but it's Chandler who's asked to handle all the toughest elements of this heavy courtroom drama, including two long cross-examinations and an emotional closing argument. And it's no wonder he's emotional—thanks to his new enemy that closing argument comes as he's serving as his own counsel, defending himself in court against bribery charges. They say the man who serves as his own counsel has a fool for a client. Chandler has to prove that adage wrong or he's prison toast.
The Tattered Dress goes the route of portraying defense lawyers as devoid of morals, when in the real world it's often prosecutors that are the dodgy ones, but it's still fun to see Chandler progress from pure mercenary to a man with newfound respect for his profession. The “tattered dress” of the title at first seems to refer to a torn dress worn by co-star Elaine Stewart that becomes crucial in the opening case, but we later learn it really refers to dress worn by Lady Justice. Chandler finally understands that the law needs to be protected above all. Too bad it doesn't seem to work that way anywhere except on the silver screen. The Tattered Dress premiered in the U.S. today in 1957.
Don't worry, baby. We have a stand-your-ground law in this state, so theoretically my stalking and murdering this guy shouldn't be a big deal.
Hypothetically speaking, if I botched your husband's defense, would that increase or decrease the odds of the two us having hot filthy sex? So, long story short, banging guys in this convertible has become sort of a way of life. Objection! Melodramatic! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client is extremely rich. Defense rests.
She's the reason you should have disaster insurance.
Above, a great promo image of U.S. actress Gail Russell from the 1957 drama The Tattered Dress, in which she co-starred with Jeff Chandler, Jeanne Crain, and Elaine Stewart. We aren't kidding about disaster insurance, by the way—she once crashed her car into a bar.
They say even bad publicity is good publicity.
In this March 1957 issue of the tabloid Behind the Scene editors take swipes at assorted Hollywood icons, among them Yul Brenner, John Wayne, and others. Highlights include the allegation that Elvis Presley's career is mob controlled, that camera clubs are just fronts for porn peddlers, that Hedy Lamarr used Linda Lombard as a body double for Samson & Delilah, and that Lucrezia Borgia is the sexiest movie ever made. Also Mamie Van Doren's “secret weapon” is that anywhere she goes she always wears the least clothing of any woman present.
The shocking tales about Brynner have mainly to do with his claims of being a real life man of action, born on the Russian island of Sakhalin to Mongol ancestors. The truth was more mundane, but the lies helped Brynner establish himself as a star. As far as Elvis goes, he was dogged by rumors of Mafia ties later in his career, but this mention of a connection as far back as 1957 was a surprise to us. As always, people on both sides of the issue are willing to shout their version of the facts to the mountaintops, but nobody really knows who’s telling the truth. We’ll check with Elvis himself on this, since he lives just over in the next town since faking his death in 1977.
The interesting story here is the one about Gail Russell and John Wayne. Their acquaintanceship began when they starred in Angel and the Badman together in 1947, and continued when they reunited for Wake of the Red Witch in 1949. Whether they were more than just friends, nobody really knows. At the time Wayne was married to Esperanza Baur Díaz, and the relationship was marred by drinking and fighting, including one incident when Baur shot at Wayne. When the divorce inevitably came, it turned into one of the nastiest splits in years, with Baur accusing Wayne of being a violent drunk who beat her and fucked around with various women, including Russell, and Wayne accusing Baur of hanging around sleazy dive bars in Mexico, hooking up with strange men, and spending his money to entertain them.
The divorce was in 1953, but Behind the Scene, with this cover, is offering its readership dirt from an event that was still fresh in the public’s minds because it had been such a knock-down-drag-out spectacle. Russell had never weathered the limelight well, and she used booze to cope. Her long term drinking problem was exacerbated by the turbulence surrounding the Wayne-Baur split. Two weeks after the divorce she was arrested for drunk driving. It caused Paramount to decline renewing her contract, and she kind of floated around for a few years, trying to hook on with a new studio but drinking steadily all the while. In 1955 she crashed her car and fled the scene, and in early 1957 she drove though the plate glass windows of Jan’s Restaurant in Hollywood.
With hindsight, it’s clear Russell was in a death spiral, but in the Tinseltown of that day the situation was perhaps not so obvious. In August 1957, Russell was found unconscious in her home, passed out after a drinking binge. Even in Hollywood, she had now crossed the line from being merely a party girl to having a problem. She was persuaded to join AA, but couldn't stop drinking, and in August 1961 was found in her L.A. apartment, having died from liver damage, aged 36, another beautiful star that flamed out. All that and more, in thirty-plus scans below.
Happiness in Hollywood can be hard to hold onto.
Uncensored gives readers the lowdown on all the Hollywood trysts and splits in this issue published this month in 1962. José Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney apparently broke up—after eight years and five children—over Ferrer's insistence on carrying on extramarital affairs, as was his natural right. At least that's what he thought: “Since the beginning of our marriage he has engaged in a series of affairs with other women,” Clooney is quoted. “I discussed this with him prior to our separation, but he said he couldn't change his way of life.” Apparently the Puerto Rican born Ferrer was old school with the whole machismo thing. But all was not lost between him and Clooney. They married again in 1964 and managed to stay together another three years.
Pivoting to the hook-ups, Uncensored explains how Joan Collins stole hotel heir Nicky Hilton from Natalie Wood, but Robert Wagner stole Collins from Hilton, leading to Natalie Wood stealing Wagner from Collins, and Collins falling into the arms of Warren Beatty. Mixed in with those four are James Dean, Tab Hunter, Lance Reventlow, and Elvis Presley. Or so the magazine says. That's a lot of guys and only two women, but the old tabloids loved to slut shame women while either ignoring or approving the antics of men. For example, Beatty was already known in 1962, after some years in television and with two hit movies behind him, as a fuckboy, but that's not mentioned here at all. These days, though, that immunity is largely gone. Although you'd have to have the brain of a fourteen-year-old to believe—as many people do—that he's slept with 12,000 women.
Uncensored next gets to Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. It's since been established that the two hooked up, but at the time this magazine was published the pair were generating mere rumors. Why? Because Monroe was flying to Las Vegas regularly and staying in Sinatra's home there. There's no rationale needed for this pairing—beautiful people tend to get together. But the editors actually offer a rationale for Monroe's interest in Sinatra and it's simply amazing: “Monroe is having all kinds of troubles with her studio and would like a man around the house to fight her battles for her.” Huh? That one makes no sense to us. Let's run it through our trusty Mid-Century Tabloid Filter™: Buzz...whirrrr... clickety click... Aha. What Uncensored means is Monroe was so emotionally fragile she had to have a guy around 24/7 to handle angry phone calls. Interesting, but we're still not buying it. Twenty scans below.
Good things come in small packages.
Here’s a new addition to the ever expanding roster of mid-century tabloids on Pulp Intl.—Inside, which we mentioned in relation to our post on Liberace a while ago. Inside was a pocket-sized magazine that came to newsstands in 1955 thanks to New York City’s Dodshaw Publishing Corporation. It seems to have lasted only three years. This August 1955 issue, which was originally scanned and uploaded by Darwin’s Scans, features singer Mario Lanza, filmmaker Elia Kazan, and actors George Raft and Gail Russell, among other subjects. Because the print in a pocket publication is readable when scanned and enlarged, we’re going to let you check out the stories yourself. You can read a bit more about Inside here. Enjoy.
I've seen the bottle and the damage done.
Above is a photo of American actress Gail Russell from today in 1957, and well, her 4th of July has taken a very bad turn—right through a plate glass window. She's in the midst of failing a field sobriety test after imbibing a few too many cocktails and crashing her convertible through the front of Jan's Restaurant in Los Angeles. You see the aftermath below. She managed to pin an unlucky janitor beneath her car, but all things considered the accident could have been much worse.
This was not the only automotive mishap Russell had. She had been arrested in 1953 for drunk driving, and had also crashed in 1955 and fled the scene. She once said of herself: “I was a sad character. I was sad because of myself. I didn’t have any self-confidence. I didn’t believe I had any talent. I didn’t know how to have fun. I was afraid. I don’t exactly know of what—of life, I guess.” If she was indeed afraid of life she conquered that fear decisively—by dying young at age thirty-six. We'll talk about her more a bit later.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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