The deeper you go the tighter it gets.
We've all seen movies about the long con, the elaborate, drawn-out, multi-participant scam. The Crooked Web, aka The Big Shock, starring Frank Lovejoy, Richard Denning, and Mari Blanchard, is an early example of the sub-genre. The plan is for a group of crooks to sell a cache of gold one of them found in Germany during World War II, but the con takes an unexpected twist early, and we learn that the trap being set is deeper than it first seemed. We can't share more details, but we can tell you the film strives greatly to rise above its b-movie constraints with plenty of exterior shooting and a script with international scope. The plot even takes the principals to post-war Germany—which looks a lot like Southern California even with matte work designed to put the foreign illusion across. But you have to forgive budget woes. The flaw that's difficult to overlook is the unbelievable carelessness of the central scam artists, who are posing as brother and sister, but are really lovers and can't keep their hands off each other even when their mark is just around the corner. They're almost busted while in the clinch multiple times, which is a laughable lack of restraint when there's so much at stake. But the shortest route to dramatic tension is to make characters behave like morons. We've talked about it before. It's lazy screenwriting, but that's okay—The Crooked Web is still a fun movie. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1955
The best-laid plans of mice and miscreants often go awry.
This is a striking poster. It was made for the 1970 West German movie Mädchen mit Gewalt, which in Japan was called Shiki-jou Gunrentai, and in English was called The Brutes, among other titles. Basically it's about two sexual predators who meet Helga Anders at a go-kart track and manage to maneuver her to a remote quarry, where they intend to have their way with her. It's an indication of how strange the movie is that its remainder, all seventy minutes of it, takes place in that quarry. Without getting into too much detail, cooperation between the two guys devolves into a deadly enmity, leading to an ending that will provoke comment. It all sounds pretty dodgy, we know, but it's a serious movie, not any sort of nudie flick meant to appeal to your mini-brain. In fact, the most titillating moment you'll get is when you see Astrid Boner's name in the credits. This is real cinema, with a real attempt at a message. Successful? Well... Mädchen mit Gewalt premiered in Germany in 1970, and reached Japan today in 1971.
Nobody ever said finding the right balance in life was easy.
Above is a striking image of German-born Norwegian ballerina and actress Vera Zorina holding a very difficult pose. We know it's difficult because when we tried it we smashed a coffee table and crippled a cat. Just kidding. The table turned out to be fine. Zorina was born Eva Hartwig, a name that probably sounds beautiful to the German ear, but when she went to the U.S. most people she introduced herself to probably went, “You've a heart what?” So she changed her name to something more mellifluous and proceeded to showcase her dance skills throughout the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s in eight films and seven Broadway productions, some choreographed by her husband, the legendary George Balanchine. This photo was shot at their home in Beverly Hills in 1941.
Continental Film Review ties modern cinema up in a tidy little package.
Above and below, the cover and assorted interior pages from Continental Film Review, with all the rare imagery and erudite commentary from the European cinema scene readers had come to expect. The cover features German actress Brigitte Skay bound with rope, and those of note inside include Anna Gaël, Romy Schneider, Alain Delon, Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin, and Edwige Fenech. Skay and Gaël are featured because of their roles in the 1969 sci-fi film Zeta One, aka The Love Factor, which it happens we discussed way back in 2010. Shorter version: Barbarella it ain't. Continental Film Review had a secondary focus on non-performance visual arts. This issue looks at animation from Sweden and talks about some hot illustrators of the time, including Jan Lenica and Per Ahlin, drawing comparisons between them and famed painters like René Magritte. All of that and more in thirty-plus scans.
High quality poster art for a high quality film noir.
As far as posters go for the seminal Gene Tierney film noir Laura, this, we think, is the best of the lot. It's the West German promo, a real work of art, signed, but illegibly. We scoured the internet for hours for clues to the creator of this, but with no luck, so put it in the unknown file. Laura premiered in the U.S. in 1944, and reached West Germany today in 1947.
Bad guys turn island of delights into gangster's paradise.
L'ultima isola del piacere is the Italian title of a West German flick originally made as Die Insel der tausend Freuden, and known in English as Island of 1000 Delights and Triangle of Venus. Filmed in Mauritius, this is a disjointed sexploitation thriller about a tennis pro who squanders his fortune due to bad gambling habits, which culminates in him losing his wife in a poker game against an evil casino owner who is also a—wait for it—white slaver. You may ask yourself why the wife agreed to be wagered. The answer is she sort of hates her husband. Hubby has a mistress, so he isn't too broken up about the outcome of the bet either. Unfortunately, his sidepiece is a greedy sort who convinces him that murdering his own aunt for her fortune might be a good idea. Meanwhile Olivia Pascal plays a private investigator working for the aunt and charged with investigating the casino owner's trafficking ring. The two plot threads weave together shabbily at best, with the murder plot taking an unexpected turn.
We watched this flick solely for the beautiful Pascal, but we have good news for our female readers: although these ’70s sexploitation movies usually have male stars of dubious physical grooming and charms, this time the male lead is Philippe Garnier, and we're pretty sure you'll like him. Unfortunately, he plays a total asshole, plus in order to see him—or Pascal for that matter—you'll have to wade through bad editing, terrible acting, a mean-spirited script, several scenes of torture, and, worst of all, an almost continuous Euro disco soundtrack. We certainly can't recommend this one, but we do like the poster. The production photos, few of which hint at the ugly subtext of the film, are interesting too. Maybe just look at those and call it a day. Die Insel der tausend Freuden premiered in West Germany today in 1978, and reached Italy at an indeterminate date sometime thereafter.
Verne does a great impersonation of a woman putting her own interests first.
It's a femme shoot dog world out there, but German actress Kaaren Verne seems ready for whatever comes. We last saw her taking care of Humphrey Bogart in All Through the Night, and in this photo made as a promo for her 1942 war drama The Great Impersonation, she's ready to take care of herself. Verne did another great impersonation, that of someone with a beautiful name, a role required by the fact that she was born Ingeborg Klinkerfuss. Owwwwwch, that's a bad one. No offense to any Klinkerfusses out there, but that name sounds like it belongs to the sadistic head nurse of a lunatic asylum, the one who whacks patients on the pee-pee with a yardstick. It gives us an idea, though—maybe we'll put together a post of all-time worst real names of actors. That should kill some quarantine time.
Bogart finds himself stuck on Key Largo when hurricane Edward blows into town.
Above is a West German poster for Hafen des Lasters, which translates as “port of vice,” but is better known as Key Largo. We love this piece of art. It's imitative of earlier posters, particularly a Belgian promo from 1949. But that one is by Wik. This one is signed by a different artist, but illegibly, so we can't tell you who painted it. We'll work on that. We've uploaded the signature in case you have an idea what this scrawl says. This is simply a great film, a crime drama set in a hurricane. Many books using the same idea were written later, such as Theodore Pratt's Tropical Disturbance and Russell Trainer's No Way Back. Whether they were inspired by Key Largo or earlier works like W. Somerset Maugham's Rain we can't say, but any writer will tell you never let a good gimmick go to waste. In any case, Key Largo premiered in the U.S. in 1948 and reached West Germany today in 1950.
Gestapo goes to extraordinary lengths to cancel a Czech.
This striking poster for Hangmen Also Die might make you think you're dealing with a death row film noir, but it's actually a war drama about the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. When a Czech assassin played by Brian Donlevy shoots the country's cruel German administrator Reinhard Heydrich and escapes into Prague's urban maze, the Nazis start executing people to force the population to turn over the shooter. As people die Donlevy struggles over whether to turn himself in. This was made in 1943 and qualifies as war propaganda, complete with flourishes such as discordant brass when Hitler's portrait appears onscreen, and a cheeseball closing song with a chorus of, “No surrender!” And to just bang the war drum even more, the movie premiered in, of all places, Prague, Oklahoma today in 1943, and the showing featured hanged effigies of Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini, while regional politicians made a point of attending. That must have been some night.
But while Hangmen Also Die may qualify as propaganda, it certainly isn't untrue in any major sense. The film's two architects, German director Fritz Lang and German writer Bertolt Brecht, both left their homeland to avoid the Nazis, and we can only imagine that their personal experiences made this project deeply important to them. But even people working from personal experience need help, and they get a major boost from co-star Walter Brennan. You'll sometimes read about him being a great character actor and this movie proves it. Watch him in this, then as the drunkard Eddie in To Have and Have Not, and you'll find him physically unrecognizable. Only his distinctive voice identifies him as the same person. Meanwhile it's Donlevy who's asked to personify the classic moral dilemma of sacrifice for the greater good, and he's mostly successful at portraying it as a heavy burden. While we wouldn't call Hangmen Also Die a great movie, there's no doubt it occupies its niche comfortably.
Pram, girl, that thing is the bomb!
Once upon a time in England, some industrious genius came up with the idea of poison gas resistant baby prams. This photo was shot in Kent in 1938, when the threat of war with Germany loomed large and the fear of bombs—gas bearing and otherwise—was in everyone's minds. This pram is not just a historical oddity—it's a sociological statement. Think about it. How many parents could afford one of these things? Certainly not the countless coal miners and haddock fishermen who made up so much of the British workforce, we'd wager. So it's also a symbol of capitalism at its finest—that part where the rich always have better survival odds.
Some websites caption this photo things like, “Mother in gas mask with infant in gas proof carriage.” Are they kidding? It would be the nanny who gets sent out to risk a poison gas attack. Upper crust mommy stays home for tea and scones in the drawing room, and maybe tops that off with a little medicinal scotch for her nerves. If the baby never makes it back she'll just make dirty spoons with the lord of the manor and give motherhood another go in nine months. As for the pram, it would probably be reusable after a gas attack. In fact, it's more than just durable—it's versatile too. Assuming it survives a long, ugly war of keeping German gas out, it can be used during peace time to keep baby gas in.
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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