When Mansfield makes a promise she keeps it—and then some.
Check out the poster at top for the infamous Jayne Mansfield movie Promises! Promises! It's so garish it almost hurts the eyes, but we think it's top notch, a framable classic made for an important cinematic landmark. Around the time this film was produced, Hollywood, for both financial and artistic reasons, was pushing the boundaries of censorship. There had been nude scenes prior to the advent of the creativity-strangling Hays Code, but from the mid-30s to 1960s there were no naughty bits onscreen. Europe was well ahead in that regard, with late 1950s films such as And God Created Woman taking advantage of greater freedoms to include snippets of nudity by major stars. In the U.S., low budget nudie flicks were being made, but no legit star had crossed the line. Marilyn Monroe probably would have been the first, but her flash in 1961's The Misfits was cut, and 1962's Something's Got To Give was never completed.
Cue Mansfield—also so garish she almost hurts the eyes—suffering from a career slump and deciding to seize the nude crown with both hands. Promises! Promises! falls into that classic American category of the schlub sex comedy, which is to say, the lead male is an unremarkable everyman miraculously paired up with a beauty. This formula holds true in American movies and television even today—think Big Bang Theory or Ross from Friends. The plot deals with two childless married couples on a cruise who get pregnant but suspect it happened because the husbands cheated with each other's wives. It sounds like a ripe concept, but unfortunately the filmmakers forgot one of the main ingredients necessary for a sex comedy—laughs. Promises! Promises! is borderline moronic.
But bad movies often make a mint. The producers' bet that audiences wanted to see Mansfield nude was correct. Sophomoric as the resulting film was, it was a big hit, though only non-U.S. filmgoers got to see the uncensored version at first. That's the one we watched, and the promise of a skinful experience was fully delivered—and then some. While Mansfield doesn't show her girlfur, she's naked as a Jaynebird from every angle, and her bare segments are also shown as flashbacks several times to let audiences relive those golden moments. To say she broke the censorship barrier is an understatement. She splintered it and stomped the pieces while screaming at them to stay down. So if you watch this you'll not only be flirting with a boner—you'll be watching a legitimate historical landmark. What more reason do you need? Promises! Promises! premiered in the U.S. today in 1963.
Without a doubt seeing you is always the best part of my day.
This cute photo shows U.S. actress Joan Blondell, who started her showbiz career in Vaudeville, and later made numerous pre-Code films, including The Public Enemy and Blonde Crazy. It was shot when she was making the 1936 film Stage Struck, in which she starred with her husband Dick Powell.
Oh, just hanging around the apartment making sure my liver knows who's boss. What about you?
Above is a promo photo of U.S. actress Dorothy Mackaill having a confab and several nightcaps in the 1931 crime drama Safe in Hell, in which she played a New Orleans prostitute who accidentally kills an abusive man and tries to escape to the Caribbean. Like many films made before censorship came into effect in the form of the Hays Code, it's racy stuff for the era, made for an audience of mature, intelligent adults. It's also quite good, though possibly hard to find. If you get a chance, be sure to check it out.
If clothes make the man, then clothes make the woman fabulous.
Above is a beautiful soft focus photo of U.S. actress Gwen Lee, née Gwendolyn Lepinski, wearing a striking dress made of a metallic looking fabric and decorated with fur and what seem to be diamond shaped mirrors. There's also a diamond shaped cut-out on her torso. So all-in-all this is a pretty amazing garment. She started as a model, moved into acting as a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player, and appeared in several dozen films between 1925 and 1938. She was considered an archetypal flapper and that's exactly what she looks like in this photo. It's from around 1928.
She's going to pay back everything she owes—plus interest.
In the pre-Code film The Cheat, Tallulah Bankhead plays a compulsive gambler who, due to her extensive debts, is branded on her chest by the sadistic man to whom she owes a bundle. You can see the mark near her left shoulder. Interestingly, it's kanji—i.e. Chinese logographic characters used as part of the Japanese alphabet—and it says “I possess.” Well, her cruel creditor doesn't possess her gun, and we have a feeling he'll be sorry he doesn't. The photo is from 1931.
It's incredible what the Southern California sun can do to your skin.
Myrna Loy goes for sultry and inscrutable in this promo photo from her pre-Code silent movie Across the Pacific, in which she plays a half-Filipina girl named Roma. Yeah, it's a stretch, but she does look quite sexy with frizzed out hair and dark skin. All prints of Across the Pacific (not to be confused with the later Humphrey Bogart movie) are considered lost, but Loy was at the beginning of a long career that would encompass scores of movies and span a remarkable seven decades, so there's no shortage of opportunities to see her work. This image is from 1926.
Bette Davis tries to hang on to her freedom in a man's world.
This is a killer poster. You'd think Ex-Lady was a crime movie about a deadly femme fatale, but it'a actually a breezy little drama about a modern Manhattanite—played by a twenty-five-year old Bette Davis—who has always rejected marriage in favor of freedom and fun. She has a lover—made pretty clear in this pre-Code production—as well as a career as a commercial artist, but society and her father apply pressure for her to be conventional. Davis is fun in this, playing a woman who's smart and sweet, ambitious yet insouciant, and great with a quip. She's basically perfect, and this movie is an instructive artifact from the Jazz Age, a time when sexual mores went out the window and women began having sex before marriage. In fact, some data suggests the majority of unmarried women were non-virgins before tying the knot. Will Davis retain her independence? Will she marry and turn into Susie Normal? Can she and her boy toy Gene Raymond hang on to their love in this crazy mixed up world? We aren't telling. This is worth a watch, though some dialogue that's meant to be snappy comes across flat today. As a side note, though the film wasn't censored, several scenes would have been cut had it been released a few years later. See if you can spot them. You'll have to think like a Hays Code censor—i.e. a repressed, dirty-minded killjoy who sees filth in everything. Ex-Lady premiered in the U.S. today in 1933.
You’re a spoiled boy, Tommy. You want things and you’re not content until you get them.
One thing about writing Pulp Intl. is it gives us an excuse to fill in blanks in our movie résumé. The Public Enemy, starring James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, and Joan Blondell, was one such blank—until last night. A rags-to-riches-to-ruin story, it was one of the earliest gangster flicks, one that was a big hit but which had suffered the scissors of Hays Code censors. It’s always interesting to note the scenes cut from a post-Code movie, because those say the most about attitudes of the times. For example, the scene in which Cagney is measured for a suit by a gay tailor differs in no discernable way from such scenes in today’s movies. There’s macho discomfort by the lead and effeminate fussing by the tailor that leads to the inevitable inseam measuring, all played for cheap humor. We don’t condemn or endorse this sort of thing—it’s just fascinating to see how little has changed in eighty some years. Two other scenes were cut due to sexual suggestiveness, and those are also quite interesting to watch.
But what’s most important of course is James Cagney, and he is indeed amazing as Tom Powers, a kid whose ambition propels him toward the big cash and high risk of the Chicago bootlegging underworld. Not only was The Public Enemy a career-solidifying role for Cagney; it brought Jean Harlow to the notice of a much wider audience than she had reached up to that point. Her true breakout would come months later in The Platinum Blonde, but to be blunt, it’s lucky for her she had Howard Hughes molding her career, because her performance in The Public Enemy could have killed her chances to land a starring role. To a certain extent, she’s supposed to be damaged goods, someone who isn’t ever particularly fazed or impressed or emotive, but the scenes she should ignite—like the one in which she tells Cagney he’s just a spoiled boy—feel like rehearsals for later, better work. Contemporary reviewers agreed, panning her performance, but Harlow doesn’t damage the film. She isn’t really given much to work with, so watch this for Cagney, who scorches. The Public Enemy premiered in the U.S. today in 1931.
Lucy, you got some ’splainin’ to do.
Here’s a rare promo shot from the 1933 pre-Hays Code musical Roman Scandals, an interesting film about a guy from West Rome, Oklahoma who has a vivid dream that he lives in ancient Rome. If you can deal with the sight of Eddie Cantor cavorting in blackface, it’s probably worth a rental. The movie was produced by the Samuel Goldwyn Company, and starred Sam Goldwyn’s dance troupe the Goldwyn Girls, whose most famous ex-member is Lucille Ball. And in fact, that’s Lucille Ball above, on the right, though it may be hard to believe. Trust us, though. The Hays Code, by the way, was actually enacted in 1930 but ignored until 1934, which is why cinema historians consider Roman Scandals to be a pre-Code production. The Code was finally ditched in 1968, but unfortunately in favor of the almost equally arbitrary MPAA rating system. Below, just for the fun of it, we’ve posted the back of the photo because with its writing and tape marks it strikes us as a pretty nice piece of abstract art. And at bottom we’ve posted a much clearer shot of Miss Ball.
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