Vintage Pulp Mar 18 2020
INCOMPLETE PASS
Mixed race woman finds herself in a cultural grey area.


You sometimes hear the term “mixed race,” but as far as black and white in America goes, in practice there isn't any such thing. In the past, half black was termed “mulatto,” a quarter black was “quadroon,” and one eighth black was “octoroon.” The fact that white America invented these terms shows you that whites were obsessed with knowing at all times exactly what the ratio was of cocoa to milk. And in reality, of course, all those people with their various shades were fully black in terms of day-to-day treatment. The same is true in 2020, without the demeaning terminology. Government forms may have a box for mixed race or n/a, but in the real world a person who appears to be even a little black is still treated fully black.

I Passed for White, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1960, deals with this cultural truth. It was based upon a novel by Reba Lee, as told to Mary Hastings Bradley, and stars Sonya Wilde, a white actress. Her mere casting says more than the script can, but even so, this is an interesting little b-movie. Not good, exactly, but certainly watchable. Wilde plays Bernice Lee, a beautiful young woman who'd be happy to be either white or black but can't stand being something in between. Tired of all the unpleasantness and uncertainty, she decides to take the solution available to her and become white, renaming herself Lila Brownell. Respect, career, and romance quickly follow.

The question soon arises for Bernice/Lila of whether she can pretend to be something she's not, whether she can disown her black family, whether she can live in peace when there's the constant fear of discovery, whether she can be to witness racism and, like most of white America, ignore it or pretend it doesn't exist, and whether she can explain to her white husband why she dances so well. It's not possible to explore all this to great depth in ninety-three minutes, but the film doesn't have to because all these questions are familiar to viewers. As we've noted before, science has trash-binned the concept of race because it doesn't exist biologically. I Passed for White is more than sixty years old, yet is still a reminder that, culturally, the day when race doesn't exist is a long, long way off.

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Vintage Pulp Feb 11 2013
TAILS OF THE CITY
Dario Argento’s Code may prove difficult for most to unravel.

Above are three excellent posters for Dario Argento’s Il gatto a nove code, aka, Cat o’ Nine Tails. Only one bears a signature—P. Franco, who in everyday life was Franco Picchioni. We suspect he painted the others as well. With posters this great, plus Argento at the helm, we had to watch the movie, but while it’s a serviceable giallo with an interesting central murder mystery, it’s nothing to write home about. But it does have Karl Malden doing a bang-up job as a blind ex-newspaperman and James Franciscus as a solid lead.

And then there’s the heavenly French creature known as Catherine Spaak. You have to work pretty hard to somehow make a love scene featuring this stunner possibly the worst ever filmed, but Argento manages to make her romp with Franciscus as erotic as watching a hardware store clerk stack two wooden planks. Want your kids to avoid premarital sex? Have them watch this scene. They won’t even have a clue what happened.

The title of the movie refers to neither a cat nor a nine-tailed whip, but rather to the many leads that need to be investigated before the mystery can be unraveled. It could also describe Argento’s struggle to weave an involving narrative. In the end, even with his stylish direction framing the story, it’s Malden that carries this movie to the finish line. Plus he has a sword cane, which is always a bonus. Many Argento fans use the term “underrated” to describe this effort. That’s a euphemism for strictly average. Il gatto a nove code premiered in Italy today in 1971.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
May 28
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
May 27
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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