Hitchcock says no festival for you this year!
The 73rd edition of the Festival de Cannes, aka the Cannes Film Festival, would have kicked off today in the south of France, but was cancelled a while back. It's just one of a wave of event cancellations that will cascade through the year. Festivals as diverse as Burning Man and San Fermin, aka the Running of the Bulls, have also been shelved. But getting back to Cannes, we thought this would be a good moment to commemorate past fests with some historical photos. Above you see Alfred Hitchcock on a boat with the town in the background, in 1972, and below are about fifty pix from the 1940s through 1970s, documenting various iconic moments, and a few quieter ones. Maybe the Cannes Film Festival will back next year, maybe not. At this point, predicting anything is an exercise in futility. But at least we'll always have the memories.
Edith Piaf sings on the terrace of the Carlton Hotel on the iconic Boulevard de la Croisette at the first Festival de Cannes to be held under that name, in 1946. Back then the event took place in September and October, but would shift to May a bit later. Diana Dors and Ginger Rogers arrive at the fest the only way anyone should—breezing along the beachfront in a convertible, in 1956, with an unknown driver. Kirk Douglas holds court on the beach in 1953, and Brigitte Bardot soaks up rays in the foreground. Michele Morgan poses at the first Festival in 1946. Photo ops of this sort were essential sources of publicity for stars, and would soon become opportunities for non-stars seeking to be discovered. Case in point. Robert Mitchum poses with actress Simone Sylva in 1954. Sylva was allegedly not supposed to be there, but shucked her top and photo-bombed Douglas in an attempt to raise her profile. It didn't work. She made only a couple of credited movie appearances after her topless stunt. Romy Schneider and Alain Delon at the 1959 fest. An unidentified model or actress poses in the style of Anita Ekberg from La dolce vita in 1960. This looks like it was shot at Plage du Midi, which is a beach located a little ways west of the Cannes town center.
A unidentified partygoer is tossed into a swimming pool after La Dolce Vita won the the 1960 Palme d’Or. The Festival is almost as well known for legendary parties as for legendary film premieres. Another unidentified model or actress poses on the boardwalk in 1979. Generally, you don't have to be known to draw a crowd of photographers—you just have to be nearly bare. She's wearing lingerie, so that explains the interest, though this is modest garb for a Cannes publicity stunt. It's never a surprise to see a headline-seeking film hopeful strip all the way down to a string ficelle féminin, or thong, which is the limit of what is legal in Cannes Sidney Poitier and Jean Seberg have a laugh in 1961. This was the year Poitier's flick Paris Blues was released, so it's possible he had jetted down from the capital for the Festival. Philomène Toulouse relaxes on the sand in 1962 while a boy practices the classic French look of disgust he'll be using the rest of his life.
Actor Bernard Blier, 1975.
An unidentified bikini wearer boldly enjoys a lunch in a café on the Croisette, 1958.
Natalie Wood aboard a sailboat in 1962. Grace Kelly, 1955. Kelly times two—Grace Kelly and Gene Kelly, hanging out, also in 1955. Sammy Davis, Jr. poses in front of a billboard promoting his film A Man Called Adam, 1966.
Joan Scott gets sand between her toes in 1955. Scott is obscure. She isn't even the most famous Joan Scott anymore. The IMDB entry for the only Joan Scott near the appropriate age is for an actress born in 1920 who didn't begin acting until 1967. The Joan Scott above doesn't look thirty-five, though, and we doubt she would have been the subject of this somewhat well-known photo without parlaying it into a film appearance before twelve years had passed. So we don't think this is the Joan Scott referenced on IMDB.
Sharon Tate, with Roman Polanski, and solo, 1968. Marlene Dietrich brings glamour to a tiki themed bar in 1958. Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock release caged birds as a promo stunt for The Birds in 1963. Sophia Loren sits with husband Carlo Ponti, who was a member of the 1966 Festival jury. Raquel Welch poses on a motorcycle in 1966. Jane Birkin takes aim with one of her cameras in 1975.
Dorothy Dandridge frolics in 1955, when she was promoting her film Carmen Jones. Cinematic icon Catherine Deneuve and her sister Françoise Dorléac in 1965. Dorléac died in an automobile accident a couple of years later.
Robert Redford lounges on the beach in 1972. Based on his outfit you'd think he was in Cannes to promote The Sting, but he was actually there for his western Jeremiah Johnson, which screened May 7 of that year. Sophia Loren waves to well-wishers in 1964. Bogie and Bacall paired up and looking distinguished in 1957. John and Cynthia Lennon in 1965, and John with Yoko Ono in 1971. Every story John told on that second trip probably started with, “When I was here with the first love of my life...” until Yoko smacked him across the mouth. Rock Hudson and bicycle in 1966. Unidentified actresses pose on the beach in 1947. To the rear is the Hotel Carlton, mentioned in the Edith Piaf image, built on the Croisette and finished in 1910. George Baker, Bella Darvi (right—your right, not his), and an unknown acquaintance have a surfside run/photo op in 1956. Jayne Mansfield and Russian actress Tatiana Samoïlova enjoy a toast in 1958. Mansfield probably shared the story of how she once made Sophia Loren stare at her boobs, and Samoïlova said, “Cheers to you—well played, you provocative American minx.” French actor Fernandel, whose real name was Fernand Contandin, on his boat Atomic in 1956. Arlette Patrick figures out a different way to generate publicity—by walking her sheep on the Croisette in 1955. A pair of water skiers show perfect form in 1955, as a battleship floats in the background. Jeanne Moreau, for reasons that are unclear, poses on a banquet table in 1958. Most sources descibe this in such a way as to make it seem spontaneous, but we have our doubts. It's a great shot, though. Two unidentified women take in the scene from the terrace of the Hotel Carlton, 1958. This shot is usually said to portray two tourists, but the woman on the left is the same person as in the bikini lunch shot from earlier, which tells us she's a model or actress, and both photos are staged. Like we said, publicity is everything in Cannes.
Danielle Darrieux and Sophia Loren at the 11th Cannes Film Festival, 1958. Italian actress Monica Vitti chills on a boat in 1968. Aspiring stars catch some rays on the Croisette beach in 1955. The two large posters behind them are for The Country Girl with Grace Kelly, and Jules Dassin's Du rififi chez les hommes, both below. The renowned opera singer Maria Callas, 1960.
If she ever gets her hands on the agent who talked her into that Frankenstein movie there’ll be hell to pay.
Above, French actress Yvonne Furneaux, née Elisabeth Yvonne Scarcherd, seen here in a set photo made when she was filming 1960's La dolce vita. After appearing in more than thirty films between 1952 and 1972, she made only one more movie—1984’s disastrously bad Frankenstein's Great Aunt Tillie—and has been retired ever since.
With the sweet often comes bitter.
La dolce vita, aka The Sweet Life, is one of those movies everyone claims to have seen, but surprisingly few have actually sat through. Fellini’s ironically titled 1960 masterpiece hit American shores for the first time today in 1961. There’s nothing we can tell you about it that hasn’t been said, as reviews both professional and amateur abound on the interwebs. But the two posters above, both painted by Giorgio Olivetti, may be new to you. You can see more examples of Olivetti’s work here. In the meantime watch the movie. Seriously.
Anita Ekberg dies in Italy.
She was born Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg in Malmo, Sweden, but became famous as simply Anita Ekberg. Some of her screen roles included 1955’s Artists and Models, and 1956’s Zarak Khan and Back from Eternity, films that made her very famous. But it was 1960’s La Dolce Vita and her portrayal of the wild starlet Sylvia for which she’s most remembered. The uniquely talented Anita Ekberg, dead in Rocca di Papa, Italy, aged 83
The mission statement was simple—take potshots at every star in the firmament.
Top Secret is in fine form in this issue from October 1962 as it goes after all the biggest celebrities in Hollywood and Europe. Treading the line between journalism and slander is no easy feat, but take notice—Top Secret’s editors and hacks manage to pull off a high wire act. And of course this was key to the tabloids' modus operandi—they had to present information in a seemingly fearless or even iconoclastic way, yet never actually cross the line that would land them in court.
For example, there’s this dig at Frank Sinatra: “Mr. Snarl, Mr. Nasty, Mr. Do-You-Want-A-Belt-In-The-Mouth was as gentle as a lamb. Gone was the usual sneer, the wise-guy leer. Was this the same surly singer whose idea of a good morning’s exercise had been to watch his bodyguards work over a photographer?”
Grace Kelly takes a few arrows: “It’s a pretty good bet that the immediate bust-up of the marriage won’t come in the next few months, but it sure as shooting looks like her six-year reign as the glamorous princess of that silly little kingdom on the Mediterranean is going to blow up in her prim face.”
Christina Paolozzi gets roughed up thusly: “If anything, Christina in the buff is proof that clothes are an underdeveloped girl’s best friends. Therethe Countess stands with a pleased expression that seems to say, ‘Aren’t I something, Mister?’ But all it takes is one quick look to see that there isn’t really anything to get excited about—unless [you love] barbecued spareribs.”
Anita Ekberg receives this treatment: “[La Dolce Vita] was something like a peek into the boudoir antics of its star—the gal with the fantastic superstructure that looks like nothing less than two tugboats pulling a luxury liner into port.”
And what tabloid would be complete without Marilyn Monroe? Top Secret says she’s dating writer José Bolaños (who the magazine calls a Mexican jumping bean). Editors opt to unveil the news this way: “It seems that this bold bundle of blonde has suddenly gone on a strange Mexican hayride!!! Si, amigo, MEXICAN!”
And then there’s cover star Elizabeth Taylor: “And she acted wilder than ever, satisfying all her most urgent urges for Dickie in the most wide open ways. [She] had jumped from tragedy right into disgrace by having a wild fling with Eddie Fisher a mere six months after hubby Mike Todd had been planted six feet under. ‘Mike is dead, and I’m alive,’ she said cynically after running off for a riotous romp in the fall of 1958 with the guy who just then happened to be married to Debbie Reynolds. 'I’m not taking anything away from Debbie, because she never really had it,' luscious Liz sneered."
This issue of Top Secret is, succinctly put, a clinic in mid-century tabloid writing—alliterative and spicy, insinuative and sleazy, but never quite legally actionable. How could Ekberg argue that the tugboat similie wasn’t interpretable as a compliment? Could Christina Paolozzi deny that her ribs show? Could Sinatra claim that his bodyguards neverslugged a photographer? The magazine skirts the edge a bit with Taylor—did you catch how the editors paired “urges for Dick(ie)” with “wide open ways”?—but was she misquoted or truly slandered? Highly doubtful. Top Secret is pure, trashy genius. Magazines don’t have such writing anymore, and that’s probably a good thing—but it sure is fun to look back at how things were. More scans below.
All murders great and small.
We double up on the murders today, thanks to the always informative true crime magazine Master Detective. This issue is from October 1954, with Barye Phillips cover art, and amongst the horrors revealed is one involving Massachusetts spouses Melvin and Lorraine Clark. The Clarks were heavy into key-swapping parties, at which opposite sexes blindly selected each other's keys from a bowl or sack to randomly determine who would be whose companion for the evening. If you’ve ever seen the Sigourney Weaver movie The Ice Storm, it was exactly like that—a few drinks, a few joints, and some freewheeling, no-strings-attached sex. But when Melvin came home the night of April 10, 1954, and found Lorraine in bed with another man outside the context of a swapping party, an argument ensued that escalated to the point where Lorraine stabbed her husband with a knitting needle and shot him twice. She wrapped Melvin’s body in chicken wire, weighed him down with a cement block or two, and dumped him off Rocks Village Bridge into the Merrimack River, where the current was supposed to carry him out to sea.
Lorraine never expected to see her husband again we can be sure, and even filed for divorce as part of her cover story, claiming he had abandoned her after a bitter confrontation. But Melvin hadn’t abandoned her—in fact, he hadn’t gone far at all. A bird watcher found his mostly skeletonized body in a riverside marsh in early June. Under police questioning Lorraine caved in pretty much immediately and, long story short, earned a life sentence in federal prison. She never named an accomplice, but no bodybuilder she, it seemed clear she could not have done the heavy lifting involved in the murder without a helping hand. Also, for someone who had little to no experience with firearms, she sure had good aim. Melvin had taken one in the forehead and one in the temple. But Mrs. Clark was not pressed to name a partner in crime, did her time in silence, and was eventually paroled. In retrospect, you wonder if local bigwigs wanted the case to go away. After all, you meet the most interesting people when you swap.
Master Detective treats us to a second fascinating story, this one on Italian fashion model Wilma Montesi, who in April 1953 was found dead on Plinius Beach near Ostia, Italy. Police declared her death a suicide oraccidental drowning—case closed. But the public had many questions. How had she drowned in just a few inches of water? If it was suicide, why had she shown no signs of depression? Why were her undergarments in disarray? The police weren’t keen to reopen the case, but agreed to an informal re-investigation. Weeks later they announced once more: suicide or accidental drowing. But the public suspected cops weren’t trying to reach any other conclusion.
When the editor of the neo-fascist paper Attualita charged in print seven months later that Wilma Montesi had not gone to Ostia the day of her death, but to a fancy hunting lodge in nearby Capocotto, the story was not just ignored—Italian authorities hauled the editor before a court and threatened him with charges for spreading false information. But his tale was backed up by a witness—Anna Maria Caglio, who had spent time at the lodge and dropped a bomb on Italian society when she said it was a front for drugs and sex parties—sort of like The Ice Storm again, but with much richer and more powerful people involved. By powerful, we're talking about judges, politicians, the Pope’s personal physician and other Vatican officials, and the well-connected Foreign Minister’s son Piero Piccioni, who you see pictured just above.
When the national Communist party began making waves, the carabinièri—Italy’s military police—stepped in. Like the local cops, they weren’t keen to pursue the case, but they weren’t about to let the Communists break it open and potentially expose the corruption of the entire political establishment. The carabinièri’s involvement angered many upper crust Italians, but when their officers walked the streets during those months the general public literally applauded them for daring to tread where the police had not. Their investigation soon focused on Piccioni, who besides being the scion of a political family was a famous jazz composer. But Piccioni had an alibi—at the time of the murder he was in the house of actress Alida Valli in Amalfi, where he claimed to be sick in bed. Rumors sprang up that he was Valli’s lover. Why did anyone care? Because Valli, a big star at the time who had appeared in Orson Welles’ The Third Man, was married to another famous musician, Oscar de Mejo. The case was now a full-blown media circus.
This is the way it may have gone: every direction the carabinièri turned, politically connected Italians threw up walls in their path. Alternatively, it may have gone like this: the carabinièri made a noisy show of annoying a few heavy hitters, but were only performing for a suspicious and cynical public. What was clear was very powerful people wanted the orgiastic activities in Capacotto forgotten. Behind-the-scenes manuvering was rife. Anna Maria Caglio even wrote a letter to the Pope warning him that there were people around him who meant him harm, presumably because they wanted to expose the involvement of Vatican officials in the late night shenanigans at the lodge. Pressure came down from the highest levels of the Italian establishment to put the case to bed quickly. It wasn’t quick. But neither was it necessarily thorough. Eventually four people were brought to trial, including Piero Piccioni. All were acquitted. Perhaps the only consequence of the investigation is that it became one of the most celebrated mysteries of all time, inspiring many books, and even a symbolic reference in the incomparable Federico Fellini film La Dolce Vita. But what really happened to Wilma Montesi? Nobody knows. Today the case is still unsolved.
Argento’s first film was among his most restrained and most successful.
Above we've posted two Spanish one-sheets for El Pajaro de las Plumas de Cristal, aka L’uccello dale piume de cristallo, aka The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. This was horror grandmaster Dario Argento’s first film, a thriller in the Hitchcockian mode about an American in Italy who witnesses an attempted murder. The police make him stay in the country, the would-be killer soon begins stalking him. After an attempt on his life he realizes unmasking the maniac himself is probably his best defense.
This was the beginning of a storied career for Argento. In subsequent efforts, he would explore realms of gore Hitchcock probably never dreamt of, but in this early effort he relies on mood to achieve his goals, and the English language version mostly succeeds despite the distraction of some less than breathtaking dubbing. Overall, we consider this well worth a viewing, imperfections and all. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage premiered in Italy today in 1970.
Turning to the poster art, it was painted by another grandmaster, Spanish illustrator Francisco Fernandez Zarza-Pérez, who worked under the pseudonym Jano—aka Janus, the two-faced Roman god of doorways, arches, beginnings and endings. Jano painted thousands of pieces beginning in the 1940s, and we’ve cobbled a few more together and posted them below for you to enjoy this lovely Friday. More on Jano later.
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