Vintage Pulp Apr 19 2024
REST UNEASY
When there's a killer on the loose you'd better sleep with one eye open.


This poster for While the City Sleeps doesn't impress with masterly art the way so many vintage promos do, but its simplicity is, in an oblique sort of way, we think, meant to echo tabloid covers from the era. RKO made a special poster in collaboration with Confidential magazine, which you'll see below. The movie's plot is pure tabloid fodder. A serial killer has slain women in New York City, leaving the cryptic message “Ask mother,” written on the walls of one murder scene. Vincent Price, owner of Kyne News Service, part of a media empire comprising ten newspapers, a wire service, and other interests, offers the position of executive director to three employees in order to draw them into cutthroat competition with each other. Soon it becomes clear that finding the identity of the “lipstick killer” is the winning move. Intrigue and subterfuge take over the office. Everyone gets involved, from senior editors to stringers to gossip columnist Ida Lupino, but the killer is too clever to be caught.

At least until intrepid Pulitzer Prize winning television reporter Dana Andrews airs a scornful and taunting broadcast, deliberately setting up his own fiancée as bait. He doesn't even ask her permission. Well, he does, but only after arranging to publish their engagement announcement in the New York Sentinel right next to a story about the killer. Reckless? Yes. Presumptuous? For sure. There are intertwined plotlines here, but Andrews using his true love as a lure was the most interesting aspect for us. He isn't the only heel on display. The movie is ostensibly about a serial killer, but is really a framework for exposing backbiting and cynical ambition in the big city. Director Fritz Lang, in what was his penultimate U.S. film, explores the cruel banality of what, these days, some call “hustle culture,” and brings the production to a conclusion that's, in the words of Thomas Mitchell's character, “Neat, but nasty.” Our words are: a mandatory watch. While the City Sleeps had a special world premiere today in 1956.
Edit: Vintage movies are excellent windows into bygone customs and practices. There's a great moment in this one. Rhonda Fleming and James Craig are chatting in her apartment late one night when the doorbell unexpectedly buzzes. They look at each other confused for a second, then Fleming says, “It's probably the drugstore. That was the last bottle of Scotch.”

You know, there were a lot of things wrong with the mid-century era. But there were a few things right too. Getting the all-night drugstore to deliver booze has to be one of the most right things we've ever heard of, so we give thanks to While the City Drinks—er Sleeps—for clueing us in, and suggest you call your congressional rep immediately and ask for a law allowing pharmacies to deliver alcohol. If not for yourself, do it for the children. 
 
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Vintage Pulp Dec 21 2023
JACK AND THE BOX
Rise by the camera, fall by the camera.


Above is a promo poster for the 1950 drama Shakedown made for the Italian market, where it was called Jack il ricattatore, or Jack the blackmailer.” It stars Howard Duff as a photographer whose ambition pushes him across the line into criminality. We talked about it a while back. The poster is signed by an artist we can't identify—it looks like “e-pic.” We've seen other work by this person, but we don't have a real name or any other biographical info. This is a nice effort, so we'll an eye out.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 1 2023
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDREL
Danger there's a Shakedown dead ahead.


If only real life were bounded by the same rules as mid-century cinema. In real life you can screw someone completely to succeed and in many quarters you're hailed as an amazing talent and can even run for president, but in vintage cinema anyone who succeeds had better do it via fair play or the screenwriters will punish them. In Shakedown, Howard Duff plays an ambitious photographer symbolically named Jack Early, who takes shortcuts to success in San Francisco. He talks his way into a job at a local newspaper, and during his duties quickly reveals himself to be not only ambitious, but amoral. He generates a pile of off-the-books cash with various hustles, and reaches a point where he's full of himself, reckless, and dressing like he runs a stable of hookers on the side.

It's not a surprise when, at this point, in an act of utmost hubris he pits two deadly gangsters against each other by using photos of one engaged in a criminal act. When his blackmail results in one crook blowing the other up with a bomb, Early is right there with his camera and is almost killed too. But he gets the photo. It earns him upper tier status among San Fran lensmen, and the best assignments. But even that isn't enough for him. When one magazine editor offers him top rates for his services, his response is: “The top's too low.”

Clearly someone suffering from this level of egomania is headed for a mugshot session or a mortuary—the mid-century movie censorship regime demanded it. The only question is how exactly does Early go down. We'll only tell you that his journey is entertaining, if unlikely, and the film on the whole is a better than average vintage drama, bolstered by the rock solid Peggy Dow in a supporting role, along with Brian Donlevy and Lawrence Tierney as Gangster A and Gangster B. When it's all over you'll believe the corrupt always lose—on the screen anyway. Shakedown premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 28 2019
36TH CHAMBER
We'd to hate to find out what the other thirty-five are like.


Private Hell 36. It doesn't mean anything, but what a great title. And it comes with two great promo posters. These are probably in the first two chambers of hell to lure you in. Made in 1954, this film noir co-stars and was co-written by Ida Lupino, who plays a woman who is convinced to help the police on a stakeout for a counterfeiter. She'd been passed a fake fifty but the police can't identify the crook unless she sees him and fingers him. As the days pass cop Steven Cochran takes a liking to her, and she to him. Star-crossed love in the noirish night. Lupino wants the finer things in life. Cochran wants to give them to her. When counterfeit bills start blowing on the wind, Cochran and his partner split over stealing the cash. You know where this goes—nowhere good.

Cochran is really good in this. As his decisions hurt those around him and his circumstances constrict his possibilities in the worst way, the performance he gives generates tension and empathy. Lupino does her usual great job, and the support from Dorothy Malone and Howard Duff is perfect, so in the end what you have is a solid film noir tinged with affecting interpersonal drama and working class pathos. In real life we don't feel the least bit bad for dirty cops, but that's the beauty of art—it puts you in other people's shoes and for an hour or two you understand. Private Hell 36 is short and to the point. It asks: If $80,000 landed in your lap would you keep it? In film noir, you better not.

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Vintage Pulp May 13 2011
CROWN JULES
There are eight million stories in The Naked City.

Above: a great French poster for Jules Dassin’s film noir La cité sans voiles, which was originally produced in the U.S. and called The Naked City. Dassin, who apprenticed under Alfred Hitchcock, was one of the quintessential noir directors, also helming 1947’s Brute Force, 1949’s Thieves’ Highway, and 1950’s spectacular Night and the City. His career in the U.S. was ruined when he was named during the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s, forcing him to live the rest of his life in more tolerant France. It was there that he made the 1955 heist thriller Du rififi chez les hommes, aka Rififi, possibly his best—and best remembered—work.

The Naked City, while not perfect, is certainly a significant piece, due to both its style and substance. Its tagline has become part of the American lexicon: "There are eight million stories in the naked city; this has been one of them." In 2007 the U.S. Library of Congress agreed that The Naked City was a special achievement when it selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically and aesthetically signifitcant.” For Dassin, who'd been persecuted for a political belief, maybe the award was some small consolation. If so he didn't get to enjoy it long—he died the next year. La cité sans voiles premiered in France today in 1949.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 21
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
April 20
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
April 19
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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