|Jul 10 2022
James Mason's tropical paradise may not be an accurate portrayal, but you can't say it's not fun.
This nice poster was made for the British produced South Seas movie Tiara Tahiti, which opened in the UK today in 1963. There are a few posters but this one is the best, we think, though we had to do some heavy retouching to make it presentable. An alternate promo appears below. The movie is a comedy-drama about former business partners played by James Mason and John Mills, who clashed in England, fought the Germans in World War II, and have both turned up in Tahiti during peacetime. Part of their dislike for each other is due to their opposite personalities. Mills is the uptight sort who wishes to be respected but isn't, while Mason is naturally likeable and happy-go-lucky. One reason for him to be happy is that his girlfriend is Rosenda Monteros. She's supposed to be an island girl, and though she's Mexican in real life rather than Tahitian, she's smoking hot whatever her place of birth.
The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Geoffrey Cotterell, and we're tempted to acquire it. We've gotten pretty good at filling in between the scenes of vintage cinema, and because Monteros is Mason's girlfriend but has flirtatious interactions with other men, we suspect there's an explicitly sexual aspect to the book that was tossed into the screenwriter's garbage bin. We say that because we've read a couple of novels from the mid-century period set in Tahiti, and in both of those local women were portrayed—and we have no way of knowing whether this was true or a white Western fantasy—as readily available. Sex is only hinted at in Tiara Tahiti, but Monteros has a nude scene in a waterfall pool and another topless sequence, and she looks flat-out astonishing in both. We gather these occurred only in the non-U.S. version. Well, try to find that one.
You won't be surprised to learn that there are a few offensive characterizations here, even up to plastering Czech actor Herbert Lom with makeup and prosthetic eyes so he can play a Chinese islander named Chong Sing. There are some who resent this kind of thing being pointed out, but realizing how anachronistic these sorts of elements are isn't different in essence from noting that old vampire movies have bats on strings. It's impossible to look at it and not see it as kind of dumb. There's a better way to do it now, that's all, and that betterway also offers opportunities in cinema for historically erased groups like the Asian actor who could have played Chong Sing. But movies are still just attempts at entertainment. With notable exceptions like The Birth of a Nation, deliberately harmful portrayals of selected ethnic groups was not a goal. As it happens, Lom is quite good in his role.
While he and Monteros are important secondary attractions, it's Mason who provides the real reason to watch Tiara Tahiti. He's perfect as the layabout main character—charming, clever, selfish, and always able to improvise when circumstances require it. His old rival Mills is in Tahiti to develop pristine local land for a hotel chain, while Mason is on the opposite side of this paradise-wrecking business deal. He manages to get hired as the project's local expert, but all the while is trying to sabotage the deal from the inside. Of course, Tahiti eventually became dotted with hotels and barely-used millionaire hideaways like everyplace else, and currently is taking steps to reduce mass arrivals from overseas, but within the context of this quaint movie from a lifetime ago, maybe Mason can win. However it turns out, Tiara Tahiti should give you a few smiles.
BritainFrench PolynesiaTahitiMexicoTiara TahitiJames MasonJohn MillsRosenda MonterosHerbert Lomposter artcinemamovie review
|Jun 9 2022
An American con man in London.
Amazing that we haven't talked in detail about Night and the City yet, but all things in good time, and the time is now. Directed by Jules Dassin, this is one of the top entries in the film noir cycle, featuring Richard Widmark playing an American named Harry Fabian who's trying to hustle his way to riches in postwar London. Being a hustler, he long ago gave up the idea of working a fair job for a fair wage, and instead has been involved in so many spurious get-rich-quick schemes that nobody believes in him anymore. But when he stumbles upon the greatest greco-roman wrestler of all time, he cooks up a plot to take over wrestling promotion in London—and this scheme is a sure thing.
Widmark's performance hinges upon nervous energy and emotional desperation, as he shapes Harry Fabian into one of the greatest characters in the film noir annals, a man who's equal parts pitiable, ridiculous, and dangerous. He's the ultimate noir loser, a man who simply cannot see the forest for the trees. Gene Tierney, who any normal man would worship twenty-four hours a day, plays his girlfriend, beautiful and forbearing, but whose presence Fabian warps into yet another reason to grift his way to a fortune. He feels that a guy in his meager circumstances doesn't deserve her—which completely overlooks the fact that he already has her.
As Widmark tries to hold his caper together the rug is pulled from under him multiple times, yet like any serious hustler he manages to stumble improvisationally onward with lies and wishful thinking. His constant sowing of the seeds of his destruction is hard to watch, because as viewers we can see where and how he's going to fail—or possibly, just possibly, fate will grant him a miracle though he very much deserves to fail. One of the cool things about film noir is that its leads tend to be terribly flawed, but here Widmark is a human clearing house for bad character traits, and the worst of them is the one he has no control over—he was simply born under a bad star.
All in all Night and the City deserves its reputation. We have a few quibbles, but they're purely personal. For example, female leads in these old films often perform a song and Tierney's is atrocious, sadly. And if we were going to be very picky we'd add that it's also hard to buy the wonderful Tierney and the unctuous, work-averse Widmark as a couple, but of course, willing suspension and all that jazz requires that we go with it. The movie works even if Widmark refuses to. Give it a watch. You won't regret it. Night and the City had its world premiere today in 1950.
LondonNight and the CityRichard WidmarkGene TierneyHugh MarloweGoogie WithersHerbert LomStanislaus ZbyszkoMike MazurkiJules Dassinposter artcinemafilm noirmovie review
|Feb 12 2021
It's a slippery slope down to the gutter—especially when you're pushed.
This cool British poster was made to promote Passport To Shame, a vice scare flick, a cautionary tale for women about how easy it is to end up a hooker. A number of such films were made back in the day. This one even has some authority figure or other introducing the film in stentorian tones, telling how a dead end life of vice is just one bad decision away. After the oratory, we see how the leaders of a prostitution ring use labyrinthine scams to force women onto the stroll. They frame Odile Versois into debt, lure her from France to London, and convince her she needs a work permit that she can only obtain by marrying a Brit.
The “Brit” is U.S. actor Eddie Constantine, who's being scammed to participate, also by being tricked into debt. We were baffled as to why he needed at all, but hey, it's in the script, so we went with it. The most curious part of the gang's scheme is that they own a boarding house connected to an adjacent boarding house via a secret door. We suppose this portal makes it easy for the ringleaders to get back and forth, but Odile, duly installed in the legit boarding house, finds the secret door to Sodom with the help of her inquisitive kitten, sees all the hookers hooking, and realizes she's been had.
She's going to be had in a different way by multiple men if she can't get out, but it isn't easy. Her keepers threaten her, starve her, and even drug her, which leads to a hallucinatory Spellbound-style sequence in which the addled Odile sees the literal pits of hell filled with half naked guys waiting to ravish her. Yup—she's in deep shit. But somewhere out there Constantine, her sham husband, who agreed to the marriage assuming Odile knew what she was getting into, realizes she's actually a naive young thing in need of help.
Of course the main selling point for film studio United Co-Productions was Diana Dors, an interesting actress, and an outsize personality in real life. Even though she's second billed, and probably third in screen minutes, she gets pole position on the poster because she was who audiences wanted to see. She plays a jaded prostie named Vicki, also in the game against her will, held by the cruelest of means. Her character has a pivotal part in how this drama turns out, but you'll have to watch to movie to find out what that is. We recommend it. Passport To Shame premiered in the UK today in 1959.
BritainPassport to ShameRoom 43Odile VersoisDiana DorsEddie ConstantineHerbert LomJoan Simsposter artcinemaprostitutionmovie review
|Jan 7 2021
Pawn to king's palace—pawn takes queen.
They really don't make many like this anymore. We're talking about high budget adventures in an international setting, combined with romance and a few laughs. Hollywood used to specialize in international glamour, but nowadays in big budget movies Americans go abroad mainly to slaughter or be slaughtered. Gambit, which starred Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine, and opened nationwide in the U.S. today in 1966, falls into the same category as Charade, To Catch a Thief, The Thomas Crown Affair, How To Steal a Million, Bedtime Story, and numerous other immensely pleasing cinematic excursions. Too bad those are far better films.
Michael Caine plays a con man who has found in Shirley MacLaine the physical double of the dead wife of Ahmad Shahbandar, the richest man in the world. Shahbandar's wife was in turn the virtual double of the ancient Burmese queen Li Szu. Shahbandar has an immensely valuable carved bust of this queen, which he bought for its resemblance to his wife. Caine hopes that once Shahbandar gets a look at MacLaine, he'll let his guard down and invite them into his inner circle, setting himself up for a theft of the bust. If this plot premise seems a bit cluttered to you, we thought the same.
But it doesn't matter because it's not really the main gimmick in the flick. That would be Caine's fantasy of his perfect crime, versus its reality. In his imagining, which makes up the first thirty minutes of the film, MacLaine goes through the motions of the heist like a mute automaton. Then the film restarts with the real MacLaine, and this one talks. Worse for Caine, she has questions, doubts, and, most upsetting of all, opinions. If half an hour of Caine imagining the perfect crime—especially when as a viewer you have no idea it's a fantasy—seems overly long, we thought the same. Again. But we mention it specifically to keep you from turning the film off, which is definitely a possibility for any MacLaine fans dismayed that she's trancewalking through her role. Stick with it and you'll get the same lively star from The Apartment, Irma la Douce, and other hits.
Obviously, we wouldn't have placed this movie in the same category as Charade et al unless there's romance, and MacLaine and Caine—whose names, by the way, sound like a country band or a Vegas magic duo—duly fall in love. But you won't buy it. The script says they fall in love, so okay, by the three-quarters mark they adore each other, but the love spark is never there. Luckily there's also a heist, some comedy, and all the other trimmings of the adventure/romance genre, so despite the film's shortcomings you may find it enjoyable. Then after you finish you can watch any of the movies we mentioned at top and note the difference when this formula is well executed.
Hi, I'm not Chinese but I get to pretend I am in this movie.
What a coincidence. I get to pretend I'm Arab.
Hi, guess what? I'm white too, but Sikh and you shall find!
And me? I basically get to play myself, because, well, I'm Michael frickin' Caine. Plus I can't do accents.
Regarding the above quips about ethnicity, they aren't completely out of the blue. We happen to be doing some work on a television series that's causing consternation online because of its casting of black and latino actors. See, there's a sizable contingent out there that wants an all-white cast in this thing, because the source material (written back when no white authors were putting characters of color in their lightweight adventure novels, because, why hurt your book sales?) is ostensibly all white.
It's a headache, dealing with these folks. Most of the complainers talk about “their” territory being encroached upon, and say idiotic things like, “Why can't blacks and latinos write their own books?” They've invented a term—“blackwashing.” These intellectually deficient people forget—or never bothered to learn—that blacks and others were erased from, let's see, pretty much every Bible movie ever made (since none of the people in the Middle East of that era were white), and pretty much every western ever made (up to 25% of cowboys in the old west were black), and those films alone comprise many thousands of opportunities, both creatively and financially, wiped out by American segregation.
A look around Pulp Intl. will reveal white actors made-up yellow to play Asians and Pacific Islanders, brown to play Native Americans, Indians, Mexicans, Arabs, and so forth. We've written about maybe two dozen such films, but there were literally thousands. Hell, even stage minstrels came about partly because audiences wanted to see comedic black performances but were for the most part not about to watch actual black men do it. So we thought Gambit would be a good moment to point out yet again the century-long erasure of actors of color from lucrative opportunities in cinema, both in front of and behind cameras, and to note that diversity in media is (inadequate) redress of a hundred years of racist exclusion.
Every time someone sees the cast in this tv show we're working on and complains about white culture being encroached upon, if you were to check their music collection you'd probably find such thefts as white guys rapping, white guys playing the blues, white guys playing jazz, and white guys playing rock and roll, from Elvis on down the line. When you include clothing, style, dance, language, and more, pretty much everything people of color have invented in America has been co-opted by white culture and magically transformed into money, while simultaneously all the literature people of color supposedly don't produce was summarily ignored by Hollywood.
Despite all we've written about this today, we're basically pretty dispassionate on the subject. White casts reflected an understanding among filmmakers of the shortest path to making money. Sure, there has long been a tiny percentage of cinema about race that had performers of color, but basically, movies were filled with whites (even if they had to wear shoe polish to play characters of color) because audiences were understood to be white. So why alienate your audience? But the diverse peoples that have always existed in America are today both more numerous and more economically significant—and the younger folks who actually fuel movie industry profits are particularly diverse. Therefore yesteryear's logic still applies for studios: Why alienate your audience?
Hollywood diversity is about making money, just as yesteryear's segregation was. We don't mind that people hate diverse casts. They're racists—duh. No further explanation needed. But what irks us is racists who pretend to be oppressed, conveniently ignoring generations of exclusion perpetrated either directly by them, or on their behalf. Nobody in their family tree was ever denied economic opportunity by nationwide industries because of skin color. People in Hollywood are in essence saying today, "Hmm.. you know, maybe it would be nice for our industry to stop screwing over people of color and actually give them some opportunities here. That's fair, right?" We think it's sad that so many people either don't get that, or pretend not to, but whatever, there's our explanation for why we joked about it above. Because behind every quip there's a story, if not an unsolicited rant.
|Jul 23 2010
A group of reckless truckers gear up for trouble.
Above is a beautiful poster for Hell Drivers, a working class thriller set in England dealing with an ex-convict who takes a trucking job for a gravel company and begins risking life and limb trying to break another driver's speed record. It has something of the feel of 1947's They Drive By Night mixed with a British road rally. It also has film noir legend Peggy Cummins in a co-starring role, along with Herbert Lom from the Pink Panther movies, and lead actor Stanley Baker. Oh, and a guy named Sean Connery. And there's a truck crash with a brutal body ejection. But it's this amazing purple promo that prompted us to talk about the movie. We love this art. The manhandling moment depicted, by the way, precedes a kiss, as the thin narrative line between masculine anger and lust is crossed yet again in a mid-century film. Hell Drivers premiered in London today in 1957.
EnglandLondonHell DriversThe Pink PantherStanley BakerPeggy CumminsHerbert LomSean Conneryposter artcinemamovie review