Vintage Pulp Jul 13 2021
RIVER US FROM EVIL
Bogart shows the way for the makers of Congo Crossing.


This poster for Congo Crossing has all the elements—firearms, some romantic nuzzling, and a huge crocodile. The trifecta. So we watched it, and what you get here is a Technicolor adventure set in the fictive West African land of Kongotanga, which sits geographically on the border of Belgian Congo, and is a stand-in thematically for Casablanca. Which is to say Congo Crossing uses the basic set-up of Casablanca—transitory expats and shady types in an ass-end outpost riven by local political tensions and power struggles. Virginia Mayo plays a wanted woman fleeing a murder charge she picked up on the French Riviera, George Nader plays the rakish stud who you aren't sure whether to like at first, and in the supporting cast are corrupt local kingpin Tonio Selwart, killer for hire Michael Pate, and Peter Lorre as the local chief of police. Here are some Casablanca similarities:

Expats desperate to catch the next day's plane to anywhere.

A climactic airport shootout.

A woman greatly desired by two men.

Lots of gun toting guys in tropical suits.

A comedic police official whose loyalties shift where the wind blows.

A moment when one man tells a rival it looks like the beginning of a friendship.

We mention Casablanca as shorthand to give you an idea of the set-up, and now we'll mention The African Queen—another Humphrey Bogart classic—as shorthand to tell you what the middle of the movie becomes. Mayo, Nader, and a few others embark on a boat trip upriver to a jungle hospital. There Mayo realizes she's the target of a killer, and flees farther along the river with Nader, dealing with an ambush, a sexual predator, a swarm of terrible tse-tse flies, a sneaky croc, and a deadly illness. You've seen The African Queen, right? A couple of strong similarities there. The group faces these problems and, unlike their African helpers, come away more or less intact, then the movie disembarks from the river—and The African Queen—to shift back to Kongoblanca, er, we mean Kongotanga, where everything began.

So does a movie that starts and ends kind of like Casablanca and has something kind of like The African Queen stitched into the middle work? Not with this script and budget it doesn't. And though the cast is game and experienced, the material doesn't give them much of a chance to sparkle. We can't call the movie bad, but we certainly can't describe it as recommendable either. And going back to the jungle segment for a moment, why is it that in such films the people born and raised in Africa always get eaten while white folks like Mayo and Nader can snog in the bush and be just fine? That's a rhetorical question of course. Congo Crossing premiered today in 1956.
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Vintage Pulp Jan 22 2021
ANIMAL BEHAVIOR
Competition for mates gets vicious in the Hollywood jungle.


This poster really catches the eye. It was made for The Female Animal, Hedy Lamarr's last motion picture, filmed when she was forty-four. It's the story of an aging star who finds herself a younger man, but watches him immediately become the target of her sexpot daughter.
 
The age issues strain credulity a bit. The younger man is played by George Nader, who's only seven years Lamarr's junior, while twenty-nine year old Jane Powell plays Lamarr's adopted daughter. But okay, they were the ones cast, so we have to go with it. And really, who's going to complain? Nader is a muscular uberhunk who'd fill out a Marvel superhero costume no problem, and Powell is dangerously cute straining the seams of a form fitting swimsuit.
 
And incidentally, speaking of casting weirdness, Powell—yeah, that's her in the polka dots—had three children of her own by the time she played this troublesome stepdaughter role. Yes, three. There's no substitute for lucky genes, an adage doubly proved by the fact that Powell is still kicking around today at age 90.

Moving on to the performances, Lamarr does fine in a sort of detached way, and Nader is solid enough, but it's Powell who's asked to spark the movie as the daughter determined to steal her mom's man. She's required at turns to be blind drunk, violently angry, coquettish, sexually predatory, and disconsolate. She mostly hauls that heavy load, but in the end the movie is still pretty lightweight. Probably part of the problem is the scripting by Robert Hill. Some of his other screenplays include Sex Kittens Go to College and The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, so his insights into the female animal are negligible. You may want to seek your own, though frankly, we personally have never figured them out and have abandoned any expectations that we ever will. To be fair, they probably feel the same way about us. The Female Animal premiered in New York City today in 1958.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 27 2020
DROPPING HER GUARD
Esther Williams learns that privileged pretty boys can get very ugly.


The Unguarded Moment is one of those films that, although it's basically a lifetime old, is amazingly topical in 2020. The subtext of this mystery concerns whether a person is redeemable, whether they deserve forgiveness for their errors. When a high school football star stalks his beautiful thirty-five year old teacher, sends her provocative notes, breaks into her house, and even physically accosts her, the script positions him as someone who can be redeemed. He's just frustrated, confused, and acting out behavior taught to him by his terrible father. You know the sentiment by heart, because it still pervades today (though not for the non-white or non-privileged): “He has his whole life ahead of him and it's a shame to ruin it over one youthful mistake.”
 
Surprisingly, Esther Williams herself becomes this wayward soul's main advocate, despite the peril and fear she's endured. It's a noble turn for her character to take—and an unlikely one. Barring interruptions, Williams would have been raped. That's not our opinion. The script leaves no real doubt. The plot contrivance of giving this almost-rapist a break didn't sit well with us, but leaving that aside, it's interesting to watch Williams negotiate this role. It was a leap for the former Olympic swimmer and longtime musical star. The idea was to nix the singing and water ballet and get her into meatier roles, and sure enough, the only singing and dancing she does here is singing the praises of her attacker and dancing around her duty to assist the law.
 
The film wasn't well received by the public, though we aren't sure if the reticence had to do with performance, casting, subject matter, or something less tangible (a feeling of overall creepiness, perhaps). Even so, we think it's pretty well made, and Williams as an angel of mercy is worth watching, if only for the discussion her role might engender. Our girlfriends didn't like it at all. But for our part, we'll watch just about anything that has brand name stars in it, and Esther Williams, around this period, was about about big as they came. Watch and debate. After a special in premiere in Los Angeles, The Unguarded Moment began its nationwide run today in 1956.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
January 23
1912—International Opium Convention Signed
The International Opium Convention is signed at The Hague, Netherlands, and is the first international drug control treaty. The agreement was signed by Germany, the U.S., China, France, the UK, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Russia, and Siam.
January 22
1946—CIA Forerunner Created
U.S. president Harry S. Truman establishes the Central Intelligence Group or CIG, an interim authority that lasts until the Central Intelligence Agency is established in September of 1947.
1957—George Metesky Is Arrested
The New York City "Mad Bomber," a man named George P. Metesky, is arrested in Waterbury, Connecticut and charged with planting more than 30 bombs. Metesky was angry about events surrounding a workplace injury suffered years earlier. Of the thirty-three known bombs he planted, twenty-two exploded, injuring fifteen people. He was apprehended based on an early use of offender profiling and because of clues given in letters he wrote to a newspaper. At trial he was found legally insane and committed to a state mental hospital.
January 21
1950—Alger Hiss Is Convicted of Perjury
American lawyer Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury in connection with an investigation by the House unAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC), at which he was questioned about being a Soviet spy. Hiss served forty-four months in prison. Hiss maintained his innocence and fought his perjury conviction until his death in 1996 at age 92.
1977—Carter Pardons War Fugitives
U.S. President Jimmy Carter pardons nearly all of the country's Vietnam War draft evaders, many of whom had emigrated to Canada. He had made the pardon pledge during his election campaign, and he fulfilled his promise the day after he took office.
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