Hollywoodland Mar 21 2024
ON BENDED KNEES
Strange ideas from the minds and lenses of mid-century promo photographers.
A while back we shared a promo photo of Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame from 1953's The Big Heat that was meant to imply oral sex (it absolutely was, and you can see for yourself here). We commented on its weirdness, and noted that an actress would probably not be asked or made to pose that way today. The shot got us thinking about whether there were other kneeling promo shots from the mid-century era, and above you see two others from The Big Heat.
 
Below we have more such shots, and while none are as jarring as that previous promo, they're all interesting. We assumed there would be few if any featuring kneeling males, but we found a couple. Even so, there are probably scores more kneeling actresses that we missed. While many of shots took the form they did to highlight the criminal/victim themes in their parent films, you still have to wonder what else—consciously or not—was in the various photograhers' minds. Anyway, just some food for thought this lovely Thursday. Ready, set discuss!
Rod Taylor and Luciana Pauluzzi swap subordinate positions for 1967's Chuka.

Edmund O'Brien goes for the time honored hair grab on Marla English for 1954's Shield for Murder.

Marilyn Monroe swoons as Richard Widmark snarls for Don't Bother To Knock, 1952.

Inger Stevens and Terry Ann Ross for Cry Terror, an adaptation of a novel we talked about a few years ago.

Kim Hunter soothes an overheated Marlon Brando in a promo for 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire.

George Raft menaces Marlene Dietrich in the 1941 comedy Manpower.

As promos go, these actually make sense. They show three unidentified models mesmerized by vampire Christopher Lee for 1970's Taste the Blood of Dracula.

Glenn Ford is at it again, this time looming over Rita Hayworth for the 1946 classic Gilda.
 
Aldo Ray and Barbara Nichols for 1958's The Naked and the Dead.

This one shows less domination and more protectiveness, as Humphrey Bogart prepares to defend Ida Lupino for High Sierra, 1941.

Humphrey once more. Here he's with Lizabeth Scott for Dead Reckoning, 1947.

This shot shows Brazilian actress Fiorella Mari with an actor we can't identify in a movie we also can't identify.

Shelly Winters and Jack Palance climb the highest mountain together for I Died a Thousand Times, 1955.

As we said, we didn't find as many examples of kneeling men, but we found this gem—Cappucine makes a seat of director Blake Edwards on the set of The Pink Panther in 1963. Does this count, though? While Edwards is subordinate, he isn't kneeling and it really isn’t a legit promo.

And lastly, in a curious example, Hugo Haas seems to tell Cleo Moore to stay in a shot made for 1953's One Girl's Confession

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Vintage Pulp Dec 22 2022
OCEANS APART
Expectation and reality don't meet in Rat Pack classic.


This is a tasty poster for Colpo grosso, and at first glance you'd expect the movie to be a dark thriller, giallo, or film noir. But then you notice the cast list at top—Martin, Sinatra, Davis, Jr.—and it probably dawns on you that this must be Ocean's Eleven. The poster was painted by Averado Ciriello and we have no idea why he went so dark with what is basically a comedy, but it's great work. Actually, it's better than the movie. For Sinatra-philes, Rat Pack lovers, or people who haven't yet seen Ocean's Eleven, that statement may seem sacriligious, so we won't try to back it up with our words—we'll just note that reviews of the day called it lazy and too long, and currently it has less than a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Basically, despite being a cultural touchstone of a film, it isn't that good, with its main problem being that it's plain boring in parts. However...

The movie has tremendous value. A lot of contemporaneous reviews hated it because of its insouciant attitude toward the heist. New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther said it was “nonchalant and flippant towards crime,” and also described it as amoral. “Young people,” he wrote, “are likely to find this more appropriate and bewitching than do their elders. The latter are likely to feel less gleeful in the presence of heroes who rob and steal.” So it's clear that Ocean's Eleven flagrantly defied the strictures of the Hays Code censorship regime, which was weakening but still intact. The Code stated that in no film should the sympathy of the audience be “thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil, or sin,” yet audiences loved Sinatra and his party bros, and their laissez faire attitude was a needed course correction after decades of creative suppression. It's a shame then, that Ocean's Eleven isn't just a bit better.
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Femmes Fatales Sep 12 2022
JANET FLAIR
A little of the old razzmatazz.


U.S. actress Janet Blair does the top hat and cane routine in this promo image made for her 1942 movie Broadway. It was one of her early roles, and she starred opposite George Raft, who portrayed himself in the film. Blair went on to amass many screen credits, but for our money her best effort is I Love Trouble, which we discussed a couple of years ago. You can read about it here

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Vintage Pulp Jan 25 2022
WHISTLE IN THE DARK
George Raft and Ava Gardner are lost in tepid 1946 drama.


A whistle stop, for any who don't know, is a term for a small town, a place where a train pulls in for a few minutes before moving on. 1946's Whistle Stop is based on Maritta M. Wolff's acclaimed novel, published when she was just twenty-two. It was not only acclaimed, but controversial, as its frank language scandalized bluenoses of the era.
 
In the film, Ava Gardner returns from Chicago to her whistle stop home town and gets tangled up up with her ex, George Raft, who's a gambler and all around shady guy. Tom Conway has feelings for Gardner and hates Raft, and the rivalry leads to big trouble as both try to win Ava's affections. She doesn't help the situation with her fickleness. Each time Raft makes her mad she turns to Conway. Nothing good can result when hearts are used as toys.
 
This is another one of those old films that, because it has some night scenes and a partial crime focus, is labeled on some sites as a film noir. That's way off and you'll be disappointed if you watch it expecting noir. It's actually a melodrama, with star-crossed lovers, sweet violins, and a dance sequence set to the 1848 folk classic “Oh, Susanna.” Even Variety at the time called it “heavy melodrama.” There's a heist in the film, but heists happened in the movies before, after, and outside film noir. Raft is supposed to take part in the robbery, which as a bonus would result in the death of his rival Conway. Think things work out as planned? Not quite. We wanted to like Whistle Stop, because Gardner is ravishing, but it's not up to the standard of most old films. It premiered today in 1946.
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Vintage Pulp Jun 15 2021
RIDING A RAFT
George Raft does the heavy lifting in 1935 crime thriller.


Is there any vintage movie star as overlooked these days as George Raft? The man was one of the top box office draws of the 1930s and had a string of hits through the 1940s and into the 1950s, including the 1959 smash Some Like It Hot. He was an ace stage dancer at the beginning of his career, but onscreen this natural athlete strikes many modern viewers as too dumpy for the tough guy roles he pioneered. Which makes it ironic that he was associated in real life with several gangsters, which led to him appearing in court, and in turn led to the public believing he was really living the thug life. Rather than hurting his popularity, the whiff of criminality made him more popular—something to keep in mind whenever some self-appointed sociologist slams kids for liking rappers.

Above you see a poster for one of Raft's biggest successes, the 1935 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel The Glass Key. A 1942 version would also be a big hit for Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and the fact that it was rebooted just seven years after the original would seem to tell you plenty. But Raft's version isn't bad. We think it's simply a case of technical advances in the process of shooting films and the continuing popularity of Hammett making the property an attractive one to redo. Watching both movies back to back is a clinic in how quickly filmmaking advanced as the ’40s rolled around, particularly ideas around staging and editing action.

Even so, Raft made this earlier version of The Glass Key a hit by virtue of his star power, despite the fact that critics were not overly impressed with the film. No less a figure than Graham Greene said it was “unimaginatively gangster,” which is a curiously millennial turn-of-phrase. But Raft, playing the capable right hand man of a top underworld figure who's on the verge of open warfare with his enemies, doesn't deserve any of the blame. His hard boiled persona is the only reason this otherwise static film is worth watching. The Glass Key premiered in the U.S. today in 1935.

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Vintage Pulp Aug 2 2020
CRIMINAL MINDED
Robert Taylor plays the bad cop blues.


Here you see a nice blue promo poster for Sur la trace du crime, better known as Rogue Cop, with Robert Taylor, George Raft, and Janet Leigh. We talked about this last year. Shorter version: decent but not great. It opened in France today in 1955. 

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Vintage Pulp Sep 17 2019
ROGUE ONE
To protect and serveā€”his own self-interest.


As bad cops in mid-century cinema go, Robert Taylor is not close to the worst, but he's pretty bad. Rogue Cop gives its take on an archetypal story—two brothers, played by Taylor and Steve Forrest, end up on opposite sides of the law. Both are cops, but Taylor has been dirty for years, moonlighting for gangsters. When they tell him to make his squeaky clean brother refuse to testify against one of their assets, the brother answers no. This, of course, makes Taylor's gangster pals resolve to plant baby brother under the dirt. Taylor turns against his puppetmasters, instead resolving to bring them down. Or try, anyway.

Taylor and Forrest as the good and bad brothers (complete with black hair on Taylor and golden locks on Forrest) are solid, George Raft co-stars as the mean-ass, woman-beating, head hood, and Anne Francis goes against type to play an (almost) irredeemable drunk. An extra attraction here is a young Janet Leigh, and she's good too, though the script makes her out to be unrealistically weak. Hey, but no film is perfect. Well, actually some might be. Just not this one. But it's good enough. It premiered today in 1954.
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Hollywoodland Nov 14 2018
A BITE OUT OF HOLLYWOOD
Confidential sinks its teeth into the juiciest celebrity secrets.


Confidential magazine had two distinct periods in its life—the fanged version and the de-fanged version, with the tooth pulling done courtesy of a series of defamation lawsuits that made publisher Robert Harrison think twice about harassing celebrities. This example published this month in 1955 is all fangs. The magazine was printing five million copies of each issue and Harrison was like a vampire in a blood fever, hurting anyone who came within reach, using an extensive network spies from coast to coast and overseas to out celebs' most intimate secrets.

In this issue editors blatantly call singer Johnnie Ray a gay predator, spinning a tale about him drunkenly pounding on doors in a swanky London hotel looking for a man—any man—to satisfy his needs. The magazine also implies that Mae West hooked up with boxer Chalky White, who was nearly thirty years her junior—and black. It tells readers about Edith Piaf living during her youth in a brothel, a fact which is well known today but which wasn't back then.

The list goes on—who was caught in whose bedroom, who shook down who for money, who ingested what substances, all splashed across Confidential's trademark blue and red pages. Other celebs who appear include Julie London, Jack Webb, Gregg Sherwood, and—of course—Elizabeth Taylor. Had we been around in 1955 we're sure we would have been on the side of privacy rights for these stars, but today we can read all this guilt-free because none of it can harm anyone anymore. Forty panels of images below, and lots more Confidential here.

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Vintage Pulp Aug 3 2015
ROUGH RIDE
Breakdown dead ahead.

Speaking of driving, here’s another poster for the thriller They Drive by Night. We already talked about it a bit last month and shared a French poster from 1947. The movie is excellent, considering how the last act is written, and Ann Sheridan is especially good. We also like her in the center of this photo-illustrated poster. They Drive by Night had its world premier today in 1940.

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Vintage Pulp Jul 2 2015
DRIVING TEST
Scenes from the class struggle in film noir.

This nice piece was painted by French artist Emmanuel Gaillard for Une femme dangereuse, which was originally released in 1940 as They Drive by Night. The movie, which is adapted from A. I. Bezzerides’ 1938 novel Long Haul, deals with two wildcat truckers caught in the American class struggle—you know, that thing all the millionaire pundits on television tell you doesn’t exist? The drivers want to rise above their station, but find many obstacles in their way, including leasing companies, fruit buyers, competing truckers, road accidents, injuries, fatigue, and eventually, murder. While the world-against-the-working-man aspect is interesting, the best part is watching George Raft and Humphrey Bogart play the two hard luck drivers. The movie also boasts the excellent Ann Sheridan, as well as film noir icon Ida Lupino in full-on crazy mode. But like the several trucks onscreen that veer off the road, the movie itself lurches into melodrama at the end. Une femme dangereuse had its French premiere today in 1947.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 13
1953—MK-ULTRA Mind Control Program Launched
In the U.S., CIA director Allen Dulles launches a program codenamed MK-ULTRA, which involves the surreptitious use of drugs such as LSD to manipulate individual mental states and to alter brain function. The specific goals of the program are multifold, but focus on drugging world leaders in order to discredit them, developing a truth serum, and making people highly susceptible to suggestion. All of this is top secret, and files relating to MK-ULTRA's existence are destroyed in 1973, but the truth about the program still emerges in the mid-seventies after a congressional investigation.
April 12
1945—Franklin Roosevelt Dies
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies of a cerebral hemorrhage while sitting for a portrait in the White House. After a White House funeral on April 14, Roosevelt's body is transported by train to his hometown of Hyde Park, New York, and on April 15 he is buried in the rose garden of the Roosevelt family home.
April 11
1916—Richard Harding Davis Dies
American journalist, playwright, and author Richard Harding Davis dies of a heart attack at home in Philadelphia. Not widely known now, Davis was one of the most important and influential war correspondents ever, establishing his reputation by reporting on the Spanish-American War, the Second Boer War, and World War I, as well as his general travels to exotic lands.
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