Some guys just can't catch a break.
The Breaking Point is the second of three Hollywood adaptations of Ernest Hemingway's novel To Have and Have Not, and it's a very good one. You're already starting from an advantageous point when you have John Garfield in the starring role. He could act, and this part requires quite a bit from him. This was his next-to-last movie—he would be dead two years later, victim of a congenital heart problem, exacerbated by high stress, reportedly from his blacklisting that was the result efforts by commie hunters.
Casablanca director Michael Curtiz is on board here too, and he does a masterful job bringing the story to life. Curtiz, or Warner Brothers, or both, decided to transplant the novel's action from Cuba to Newport Beach, but the theme of a man caught in untenable economic circumstances remains. Those who wanted a reasonably faithful adaptation of Hemingway's story got it in this film. The first version, also called To Have and Have Not, was amazing but had little in common with the source material. The third adaptation, The Gun Runners, was also good but downplayed certain political themes. (There's also an Iranian version we haven't seen and which we'll leave aside for now.) So, which of the three U.S. versions is best? Is it really a competition? They're all compulsively watchable, but this effort with Garfield is the grittiest by far, and the most affecting. It's strange—To Have and Have Not is supposed to be Hemingway's worst book, but with three good movies made from it, maybe it isn't that bad after all. Perhaps because it's a work from one of the most influential authors ever to write in English, the bar was just set too high. Maybe it really is Hemingway at his worst, but personally we think it's very good. The Breaking Point premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.
It's shocking how many Hollywood stars did smack.
Everybody wants to slap somebody sometime. Luckily, actors in movies do it so you don't have to. The above shot is a good example. Edward G. Robinson lets Humphrey Bogart have it in 1948's Key Largo, as Claire Trevor looks on. In vintage cinema, people were constantly slapping. Men slapped men, men slapped women, women slapped women, and women slapped men. The recipient was usually the protagonist because—though some readers may not realize this—even during the ’40s and 50s, slapping was considered uncouth at a minimum, and downright villainous at worst, particularly when men did it. So generally, bad guys did the slapping, with some exceptions. Glenn Ford slaps Rita Hayworth in Gilda, for example, out of humiliation. Still wrong, but he wasn't the film's villain is our point. Humphrey Bogart lightly slaps Martha Vickers in The Big Sleep to bring her out of a drug stupor. He's like a doctor. Sort of.
In any case, most cinematic slapping is fake, and when it wasn't it was done with the consent of the participants (No, really slap me! It'll look more realistic.). There are some famous examples of chipped teeth and bloody noses deriving from the pursuit of realism. We can envision a museum exhibit of photos like these, followed by a lot of conversation around film, social mores, masculinity, and their intersection. We can also envison a conversation around the difference between fantasy and reality. There are some who believe portryals of bad things endorse the same. But movies succeed largely by thrilling, shocking, and scaring audiences, which requires portraying thrilling, shocking, and frightening moments. If actors can't do that, then ultimately movies must become as banal as everyday llife. Enjoy the slapfest.
Broderick Crawford slaps Marlene Dietrich in the 1940's Seven Sinners. June Allyson lets Joan Collins have it across the kisser in a promo image for The Opposite Sex, 1956. Speaking of Gilda, here's one of Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth re-enacting the slap heard round the world. Hayworth gets to slap Ford too, and according to some accounts she loosened two of his teeth. We don't know if that's true, but if you watch the sequence it is indeed quite a blow. 100% real. We looked for a photo of it but had no luck. Don't mess with box office success. Ford and Hayworth did it again in 1952's Affair in Trinidad. All-time film diva Joan Crawford gets in a good shot on Lucy Marlow in 1955's Queen Bee. The answer to the forthcoming question is: She turned into a human monster, that's what. Joan Crawford is now on the receiving end, with Bette Davis issuing the slap in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Later Davis kicks Crawford, so the slap is just a warm-up. Mary Murphy awaits the inevitable from John Payne in 1955's Hell's Island. Romy Schneider slaps Sonia Petrova in 1972's Ludwig. Lauren Bacall lays into Charles Boyer in 1945's Confidential Agent and garnishes the slap with a brilliant snarl. Iconic bombshell Marilyn Monroe drops a smart bomb on Cary Grant in the 1952 comedy Monkey Business. This is the most brutal slap of the bunch, we think, from 1969's Patton, as George C. Scott de-helmets an unfortunate soldier played by Tim Considine. A legendary scene in filmdom is when James Cagney shoves a grapefruit in Mae Clark's face in The Public Enemy. Is it a slap? He does it pretty damn hard, so we think it's close enough. They re-enact that moment here in a promo photo made in 1931. Sophia Loren gives Jorge Mistral a scenic seaside slap in 1957's Boy on a Dolphin. Victor Mature fails to live up to his last name as he slaps Lana Turner in 1954's Betrayed.
Ronald Reagan teaches Angie Dickinson how supply side economics work for the middle class and poor in 1964's The Killers. Marie Windsor gets in one against Mary Castle from the guard position in an episode of television's Stories of the Century in 1954. Windsor eventually won this bout with a rear naked choke. It's better to give than receive, but sadly it's Bette Davis's turn, as she takes one from Dennis Morgan in In This Our Life, 1942. Anthony Perkins and Raf Vallone dance the dance in 1962's Phaedra, with Vallone taking the lead. And he thought being inside the ring was hard. Lilli Palmer nails John Garfield with a roundhouse right in the 1947 boxing classic Body and Soul. 1960's Il vigile, aka The Mayor, sees Vittorio De Sica rebuked by member of the electorate Lia Zoppelli. She's more than a voter in this—she's also his wife, so you can be sure he deserved it. Brigitte Bardot delivers a not-so-private slap to Dirk Sanders in 1962's Vie privée, aka A Very Private Affair. In a classic case of animal abuse. Judy Garland gives cowardly lion Bert Lahr a slap on the nose in The Wizard of Oz. Is it his fault he's a pussy? Accept him as he is, Judy. Robert Culp backhands Raquel Welch in 1971's Hannie Caudler.
And finally, Laurence Harvey dares to lay hands on the perfect Kim Novak in Of Human Bondage.
Pair of Italian posters show that the postman really does ring twice.
Above you see two beautiful Italian posters—one painted, the other a photo-illustration—for the classic film noir Il postino suona sempre due volte, better known as The Postman Always Rings Twice. It premiered in Italy today in 1947. We couldn't even begin to have enough wall space for all the promos we love, but if we owned the painted piece we might be willing to take down the photos of our families to make room. Hah, just kidding, fam. But could you blame us? The poster was painted by Ercole Brini and we think it's close to his best work. We've talked about the movie before. Shorter version: good sex makes a man's life a wreck.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can stay her from the swift completion of her appointed seduction.
Above is a trolley card for the classic Lana Turner/John Garfield film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice, which according to the text, opened at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles today in 1946. What's a trolley card? Pretty much self-explanatory, that. But you don't see many surviving examples, so this is a real treasure. The opening date represents new info. All the websites we checked said the movie opened in L.A. May 9. Maybe the managers of the Egyptian had connections at MGM. Awesome connections, we guess, to have helped them beat the rest of town by two full days. With that kind of juice, it's safe to assume they only had to ring once at the studio gates. We worked in the L.A. film industry. Relationships are everything. Or maybe the movie actually opened today, and the internet is wrong. Wouldn't be the first time. Not that we're trying to sound superior. We've made errors more than once. Interestingly, we were able to locate a vintage photo of the Egyptian with its marquee advertising Postman. It's a great movie. Nobody needs us to tell them that, but we did anyway, at this link.
They both like the beach, poetry, spicy food, and slaughtering cruel despots. They'll make a perfect couple.
The above posters for We Were Strangers, one of which seems celebratory and another that is more dramatic, could give the impression of a studio that wasn't sure what kind of film it was trying to market. Legendary director John Huston made a habit of confounding executive suites, and here produced a film that probably came close to sending studio bigwigs plummeting in despair off high ledges. The story is set in Cuba during the early 1930s rule of dictator Gerardo Machado y Morales, and deals with revolutionaries who devise a plot to tunnel from a house near a graveyard to the site of a funeral they know the president will attend, and blow him to kingdom come with dynamite.
The movie stars John Garfield and Jennifer Jones, and is beautifully shot, but the characters aren't well written, nor are the performances sufficiently involving. There's nice action, though, especially at the climax. Since the central personalities are revolutionaries in Cuba, many critics denounced the film as Marxist propaganda, which it really isn't. It's just historical drama with unavoidable economic context. You wouldn't think it would be terribly controversial to say that for Americans to live income-wise far above the global average, substantial portions of the world must remain stuck below it, but on the other hand maybe it's understandable that we want to avoid thinking about how earning a nice profit is usually dependent upon others providing raw goods and hard work dirt cheap.
It's a shame the film isn't good enough to sweeten its message with high level drama and thrills. Huston was a workmanlike director who, despite helming numerous classics, wasn't any sort of auteur. He tried to tell stories in ways he felt was best for the material, but he also loved travel, which led him to accept projects based on the potential for exotic location work. Sometimes, as in The African Queen, he struck gold. Other times, as here, he spent a lot of investment capital and made a lot of Hollywood suits cry. We Were Strangers will be of interest to Havanaphiles, but in what was a famously up and down career, this effort comes out on the lower end of the Huston scale. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1949.
Comic book icon Stan Lee goes Hollywood.
Nostalgia Illustrated was a New York City based magazine published by none other than comic book kingpin Stan Lee. It debuted in November 1974, with the issue you see here coming this month in 1975. It's exactly as its title suggests—a collection of vintage photos of American icons. We imagine Lee wanted to get into the burgeoning tabloid market, but one that didn't go full Hollywood gossip. Instead the stories are more along the lines of respectful bios, which makes it less tabloid than fanboy publication.
Except for the cover, its design is nothing special, but it contains a wealth of old Hollywood photos we haven't seen before, which makes it worth a share. You get John Garfield, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe (because what's a nostalgia magazine without her?), a youthful John F. Kennedy, and many other celebs. There's also a story on John Lewis Roventini, the “world's smallest bellhop” at four feet in height, who was famous in New York City for a time. All in thirty scans below.
There's no way to avoid paying what's owed.
We just talked about the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, so why not take a moment to focus on the movie, since it premiered today in 1946? Even if it weren't a widely known classic of lust and murder, when John Garfield fetches up at a rural gas station and sees a sign that reads “man wanted,” you suspect where the movie is going. Such a sign, if posted by Nick, the owner, could say “help wanted” or “job available,” but as worded it cleverly establishes the subtext that it's his platinum blonde wife Lana Turner that really wants a man. Garfield and Turner's mutual attraction is immediate and obsessive. The affair starts shortly thereafter, leads to a failed scheme to run off together, then finally devolves into a murder plot. But murder in film noir is never easy. Character-wise, some edges were rounded off James M. Cain's novel, which was a good decision—those two lovers are throughly reprehensible; Garfield and Turner at least generate some sympathy. But not too much—murderers are murderers and just desserts are just for a reason. Highly recommended flick.
Pair arrested in payoff scheme profess shock. “We were incredibly subtle about it,” claim jailbirds.
This cover for Ira Wolfert's The Underworld is uncredited, which is a shame considering it's wonderfully executed and wraps cleverly around to the rear of the book. Wolfert won a 1943 Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles about the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, aka the Battle of the Solomons, then the same year wrote Tucker's People, which was the original title of The Underworld. The Bantam paperback edition above was published in 1950. The book details the numbers rackets of New York City, which were executed far more subtly than the not very casual depiction in the art. The story captured Hollywood's attention and was produced as 1948's Force of Evil, starring John Garfield. We'll get around to talking about that movie a bit later.
All he had to give was everything he had.
Was boxing ever honest? We doubt it. How could a sport with the scoring done in secret be anything but a scam? Body and Soul tells the story of a champion boxer named Charley Davis whose rise has occurred under the thumb of organized crime and who is now required to lose his title to a brash, 20-year-old upstart. That doesn’t sit too well with Charley, who may be corrupt and mob-owned, and who has wrecked everything good in his life for money and a femme fatale, but whose talent is real. One of the first and best boxing movies, Body and Soul—with John Garfield as Charley, Hazel Brooks as the femme fatale Alice, and Lilli Palmer as his loyal girlfriend—is a nearly flawless classic. After his performance here, and in the previous year’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, Garfield’s film career should have been long and decorated, but in 1950 he was blacklisted during the Communist witch hunts that swept Hollywood, and by 1952 he was dead from a heart attack. Body and Soul premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
Hazel Brooks was born in Cape Town, South Africa but emigrated to the U.S. and appeared in her first Hollywood production at the age of eighteen. She became a true star four years later in the 1947 noir Body and Soul, which for most critics remains one of the best boxing movies ever made. You see her above circa 1946.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1935—Four Gangsters Gunned Down in New Jersey
In Newark, New Jersey, the organized crime figures Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz are fatally shot at the Palace Chophouse restaurant. Schultz, who was the target, lingers in the hospital for about a day before dying
. The killings are committed by a group of professional gunmen known as Murder, Inc., and the event becomes known as the Chophouse Massacre.
1950—Al Jolson Dies
Vaudeville and screen performer Al Jolson dies of a heart attack in San Francisco after a trip to Korea to entertain troops causes lung problems. Jolson is best known for his film The Jazz Singer, and for his performances in blackface make-up, which were not considered offensive at the time, but have now come to be seen as a form of racial bigotry.
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
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