Crawford tries to get away from it all, only to have it all come to her.
We've been neglectful of Joan Crawford, but we remedied that at least partly last night by screening her drama Female on the Beach, which premiered today in 1955. Plotwise this is pretty straightforward. Seeking peace and quiet, Crawford moves into a Newport Beach seaside house owned by her late husband. It's usually rented, but the previous tenant has just vacated the place. Crawford soon learns that the tenant vacated alright—by way of a swan dive off the deck onto the beach. But whether this was an accident, suicide, or the wicked work of someone's hand is unclear. What viewers do learn is that the neighbors—played by Cecil Kellaway and Natalie Schafer, aka Lovie Howell from Gilligan's Island—are con artists. They partner with a local boytoy played by hunky Jeff Chandler, helping him to romance vacationing women and divide them from their cash. This may be why the previous occupant of Crawford's house ended up dead.
The plot set-up is interesting enough, but the most notable aspect of Female on the Beach is that it's another one of those old movies that shows how little ownership mid-century women had over their bodies and spaces. Chandler is a lothario, which of course means he's scripted as romantically insistent, but even factoring that into his character his sheer presumption is amazing. As a viewer you absorb it on two levels: cinematically and sociologically. Chandler's behavior, though fictional, is rooted in 1950s reality. The filmmakers wanted him to be forward but a little charming, and that fact will instill within you a sense of wonder and amazement at what women were expected to endure. Chandler paws and manhandles Crawford against her will, and when she objects he treats her as though something is wrong with her. He refuses to remove his boat from her pier, enters her house without permission and refuses leave when asked, answers a knock at her door though told not to do so, initially avoids returning a key he acquired before she moved in, feels her leg without consent, embraces her against her will, and more. “A woman's no good to a man unless she's a little afraid of him,” Chandler tells her at one point. Big red flag.
At first Crawford hates the guy, but eventually he sucks her in by pouting, being surly, pretending a loss of interest. We'd say nobody would fall for it, but we've seen it work. When Crawford finds a diary hidden by the dead woman she learns about Chandler's scams, but even this won't scare her off. She just can't resist the big lug. Is he a killer? Is she a moron? Do viewers need so many hints that the railing of her beach house is ready to give way? All of these are pertinent questions, but in terms of enjoying Female on the Beach what's most important is whether you can accept Crawford's attraction to Chandler's retrograde alpha male. If so, then lay on. But even if watching their antics sets your teeth on edge, the movie is probably worth a viewing just to see an evil Mrs. Howell. If all else fails, perhaps you'll want to watch it to observe Joan Crawford at work. She was one of Hollywood's great stars—even in not-great movies. That's Female on the Beach—not great, but not bad.
Hi, take a real good look at me, baby, because I'll be your stalker.
See? Stalking. Here I am in your kitchen this morning without permission. Surprise! Stalking! This time I swam all the way across the bay to stalk you. Lovely calves. Shapely but not too developed. Which means you won't be able to outrun me. Is this your diary? I'm gonna read it. I know—presumptuous as hell, right? Wow. You write that I'm a walking vomit stain with sadistic eyes, the manners of a crocodile, and a bulge in my swimsuit the size of a wine cork. You've been looking at my bulge, eh? I hate you, lady. That's reverse psychology. It's right out of the stalker's handbook. Not so fast, Joan. What do you take me for? Let the delicious irony stretch out a little. In fact, maybe I won't even kiss you. That'd teach you. Just kidding. Let's do this. Tonsils here I come. There's something about that man...
They call it maximum security to scare you. I still get hair dye, cigarettes, good shoes, and pedicures, so I'm all good.
Let's circle back to Jan Sterling, shall we? As you know, she's become a favorite actress of ours, and since she has a number of excellent promo images we might as well run through a few. This one was made for her 1955 drama Women's Prison, in which her co-stars were Ida Lupino, Audrey Totter, and Cleo Moore. Think we'll be watching that? Well, with three great film noir icons in the cast, along with Sterling herself as one of the most elegant felons ever, you can bet on it.
If a boxer falls when nobody hits him is it still a knockout?
We've been neglecting French promo art lately, so here'a a little something—a poster for Plus dure sera la chute, which is better known as The Harder They Fall. This was painted by Jean Mascii, whose work we last saw several years ago when we talked about the 1960 thriller Plein soleil. We recommend having a look at that to get a better sense of Mascii's skill. He created a very interesting portrait of Humphrey Bogart for this effort. This was Bogart's last movie. He filmed it while gravely ill, having been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, but did his work in legendary style, a true professional, working long hours, shooting retakes, and generally doing all he could to prevent his condition from affecting the production.
Bogart plays a struggling sports writer hired by shady fight promoter Rod Steiger to be the press agent for his new discovery—a gigantic but glass-jawed carnival strongman from Argentina named Toro Moreno. Steiger wants Bogart to sell Toro as the next great heavyweight contender, but in order to do so they need to send him on a bum-of-the-month tour to knock out a series of hapless opponents paid to take dives. After Toro has been built up in the press as the second coming of the heavyweight division, Steiger plans to make a bundle with a match against the champ, played by Max Baer. Bogart signs on for this ride because after all his work in the newspaper business he has nothing, and wants to finally make real money. But it could cost his reputation, and because Toro has no clue the fights he's winning are fixed, the scheme can only end with the poor overconfident dupe slaughtered by the champ.
Steiger would win an Academy Award in 1967 for In The Heat of the Night, and here, more than a decade earlier, you can see that achievement as almost inevitable as you watch him dominate the screen. He's simply great in this, and Bogart gives an excellent performance too, failing physically but soldiering onward, using that world weary mug of his to impart a lifetime's worth of fatigue and disappointment. The movie also features Jan Sterling. We had no idea she'd gone in for rhinoplasty, and at first weren't positive it was her. It is though, and after writing just recently how gorgeous she was we're sad she didn't see her own perfection and instead chose to go under the surgeon's knife. But her body her choice. She's good as always, here playing Bogart's conscience, trying to keep him from sliding down the slippery slope to amorality.
There's another person who should be mentioned—Mike Lane as the lumbering Toro Moreno. This was his debut role, and you'd think there weren't many more parts out there for a guy standing 6'8”, but surprisingly he accumulated almost seventy acting credits, almost all on television, where he appeared in shows of every type, from Gunsmoke to Get Smart. Obviously, any vintage boxing movie involves mimetic acting, and the fighting here isn't realistic—quantum leaps in how to convincingly portray ring scenes came later—but they serve their purpose. And for boxing realists, the movie gets extra credit due to the presence of both Baer and Jersey Joe Walcott. The Harder They Fall opened in March 1956, and had its French premiere today at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.
Fine, Toro, you're huge. Massive. Enormous. But you need to learn how to box or the champ is going to crush your face like a graham cracker. Hi, champ! Before we start, I just want to say I'm probably your biggest admir— I thought that whole graham cracker speech was just Bogie being colorful.
You're asking to scrub my back? Where's your sense of adventure?
Above is a nice shot of U.S. actress Rhonda Fleming from the 1953 western Pony Express. She's looking a lot cleaner than in the image we shared back in 2010. The sequence from Pony Express is interesting because in another tub just behind a partition is the gorgeous Jan Sterling, who you see in the photo below. After Sterling has a peek over the partition, the two get out of their baths and do a little mutual hair touching. Fleming plays a classically feminine woman, while Sterling plays a short-haired tomboy. Standing there in nothing but towels, they briefly explore and discuss these differences. Subtle but deliberate bi-sexual subtext? We doubt it. Bath scenes were often inserted into Westerns to inject sex appeal. When there's something between the lines of scenes like these, only the filmmakers know for sure. In any case, it's a fun little sequence.
Competition for mates gets vicious in the Hollywood jungle.
This poster really catches the eye. It was made for The Female Animal, Hedy Lamarr's last motion picture, filmed when she was forty-four. It's the story of an aging star who finds herself a younger man, but watches him immediately become the target of her sexpot daughter.
The age issues strain credulity a bit. The younger man is played by George Nader, who's only seven years Lamarr's junior, while twenty-nine year old Jane Powell plays Lamarr's adopted daughter. But okay, they were the ones cast, so we have to go with it. And really, who's going to complain? Nader is a muscular uberhunk who'd fill out a Marvel superhero costume no problem, and Powell is dangerously cute straining the seams of a form fitting swimsuit.
And incidentally, speaking of casting weirdness, Powell—yeah, that's her in the polka dots—had three children of her own by the time she played this troublesome stepdaughter role. Yes, three. There's no substitute for lucky genes, an adage doubly proved by the fact that Powell is still kicking around today at age 90.
Moving on to the performances, Lamarr does fine in a sort of detached way, and Nader is solid enough, but it's Powell who's asked to spark the movie as the daughter determined to steal her mom's man. She's required at turns to be blind drunk, violently angry, coquettish, sexually predatory, and disconsolate. She mostly hauls that heavy load, but in the end the movie is still pretty lightweight. Probably part of the problem is the scripting by Robert Hill. Some of his other screenplays include Sex Kittens Go to College and The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, so his insights into the female animal are negligible. You may want to seek your own, though frankly, we personally have never figured them out and have abandoned any expectations that we ever will. To be fair, they probably feel the same way about us. The Female Animal premiered in New York City today in 1958.
Unknown photo retoucher increases the value of Sterling.
We've seen this photo of U.S. actress Jan Sterling numerous times, but never in color, which leads us to believe it's a colorization. If so, it's a nice, subtle job, as well as a clever choice of model, since Sterling was the subject of one of the iconic black and white photos of the mid-century period. Know the one we mean? Look here. Despite the fame of that particular shot, Sterling was never what you'd call a top tier star. But she appeared in many films, earned a Golden Globe Award as a supporting actress, and was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar. We'll be getting back to her film work a bit later.
American star adds pizzazz to a pair of Aussie thrillers.
Today we have two more paperbacks from Australia's Horwitz Publications, a company that, as we've documented often, opportunistically used numerous Hollywood celebs on its covers. This time it's Jan Sterling, who appears on 1955's Blueprints for Murder and 1956's The Bride Wore Black, both written by the prolific Marc Brody. Sterling was never a top tier actress but she was in a lot of good movies and earned an Oscar nomination for The High and the Mighty. She also posed for some stunning photos, including the two at this link. These book scans float around online, which means we don't know where they originate, but if we had to guess we'd say Flickr, so thanks to the first uploader.
Where there’s smoke there’s fire.
These two gorgeous promo photos of Jan Sterling, née Jane Sterling Adriance, were shot for her role in Columbia Pictures’ drama Women’s Prison. Sterling also appeared in Johnny Belinda, Mystery Street, Appointment with Danger, and was Academy Award nominated for her role in The High and the Mighty. Women’s Prison was released in 1955, and these images date from the year before.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
1942—Nightclub Fire Kills Hundreds
In Boston, Massachusetts, a fire
in the fashionable Cocoanut Grove nightclub kills 492 people. Patrons were unable to escape when the fire began because the exits immediately became blocked with panicked people, and other possible exits were welded shut or boarded up. The fire led to a reform of fire codes and safety standards across the country, and the club's owner, Barney Welansky, who had boasted of his ties to the Mafia and to Boston Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
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