California town develops a colossal problem.
We dipped into our sci-fi backlog last night and watched The Monolith Monsters, which had its world premiere in England today in 1957. The movie, which stars Grant Williams and Lola Albright, is typically half-baked sci-fi from the era. A meteor crashes near a podunk western town and the black fragments react with water and give rise to—well, we aren't sure, so have a look:
They look like basalt formations more than anything else. But they're alive—or we think so—and they suck the silicon out of any humans unlucky enough to pass near. It's fatal, of course, this silicon sucking. After some crackpot pseudo-scientific deductions Williams, Albright, and co. come up with a plan to fight the monsters. Do they prevail? Do b-movie airplanes hang from strings? Low budget efforts like The Monolith Monsters are rarely good, but they're always fun to watch.
Movie stars were always willing to give each other a hand.
Once again we've been struck, so to speak, by the sheer number of cinema promo images featuring actors and actresses pretending to slap each other. The just keep turning up. The above shot is more about the neck than the face, but it still counts, as Gloria Swanson slaps William Holden in 1950's Sunset Boulevard. Below we have a bunch more, and you can see our previous collection at this link. Since we already discussed this phenomenon we won't get into it again, except briefly as follows: pretend slaps, film is not reality, and everyone should try to remember the difference. Many slaps below for your interest and wonder. Diana Dors smacks Patrick Allen blurry in 1957's The Long Haul. Mob boss George Raft menaces Anne Francis in a promo image made for 1954's Rogue Cop. Bud Abbott gets aggressive with Lou Costello in 1945's Here Come the Co-Eds. Jo Morrow takes one from black hat Jack Hogan in 1959's The Legend of Tom Dooley. Chris Robinson and Anita Sands get a couple of things straight about who's on the yearbook committee in Diary of High School Bride. Paul Newman and Ann Blyth agree to disagree in 1957's The Helen Morgan Story. Verna Lisi shows Umberto Orsini who gives the orders in the 1967 film La ragazza e il generale, aka The Girl and the General. What the fuck did you just call me? Marki Bey slaps Betty Anne Rees loopy in the 1974 horror flick Sugar Hill. Claudia Cardinale slaps (or maybe punches—we can't remember) Brigitte Bardot in the 1971 western Les pétroleuses, known in English for some reason as The Legend of Frenchie King. Audrey Totter reels under the attentions of Richard Basehart in 1949 Tension. We're thinking it was probably even more tense after this moment. Anne Baxter tries to no avail to avoid a slap from heel Steve Cochran in 1954's Carnival Story. Though Alan Ladd was a little guy who Gail Russell probably could have roughed up if she wanted, the script called for him to slap her, and he obeyed in the 1946 adventure Calcutta. Peter Alexander guards his right cheek, therefore Hannelore Auer crosses him up and attacks his left in 1964's Schwejk's Flegeljahre, aka Schweik's Years of Indiscretion. Elizabeth Ashley gives Roddy McDowall a facial in in 1965's The Third Day. Tony Anthony slaps Lucretia Love in 1972's Piazza pulita, aka Pete, Pearl and the Pole.
André Oumansky goes backhand on Lola Albright in 1964's Joy House. Frank Ferguson catches one from Barbara Bel Geddes in the 1949 drama Caught. This looks like a real slap, so you have to credit the actresses for their commitment. It's from 1961's Raisin in the Sun and shows Claudia McNeil rearranging the face of Diana Sands. Gloria Grahame finds herself cornered by Broderick Crawford in 1954's Human Desire. Bette Davis, an experienced slapper and slappee, gets a little assistance from an unidentified third party as she goes Old West on Amanda Blake in a 1966 episode of Gunsmoke called “The Jailer.” There are a few slaps in 1939's Gone with the Wind, so we had our pick. We went with Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard. Virginia Field takes one on the chin from Marshall Thompson in Dial 1119. Clint Eastwood absorbs a right cross from nun Shirley MacLaine in 1970's Two Mules for Sister Sara.
Life there is an ongoing domestic disturbance.
The posters you see here were made for the French thriller Les félins. While the French posters are fine, we thought these Italian promos were a bit more interesting. The first two were painted by Enzo Nistri, the second two by Sandro Symeoni. The movie was called Crisantemi per un delitto in Italy—“chrysanthemums for a crime.” No idea why. But fine, it's lyrical, which is never bad. It's based on the imaginative Day Keene novel Joy House, which is the title the movie retained for its U.S. run. In the book a derelict is plucked from a Chicago homeless shelter by a rich widow who needs a chauffeur, but her benevolence seems likely to backfire because her new driver was in the shelter only because it offered a perfect hiding place from mobsters seeking to kill him. But she has her own secret plans, and they're as sinister as they come.
Working from a screenplay co-written by director René Clément and crime author Charles Williams, the movie slightly alters the approach of Keene's book. With Lola Albright playing the widow and Alain Delon as the hunted man, the story is transplanted from urban Chicago to the Côte d'Azur. Pre-Barbarella Jane Fonda features in a co-starringrole as Albright's cousin and household helper. The two are soon in competition for Delon's affections, though he never forgets that his main goal is to escape the mobsters. While the general thrust of the plot remains a mystery as in Keene's novel, there's a heavy dose of action too, with excellent stunts. The ending differs as well. The result is good, but also an example of both the highs and lows of French cinema of the period. Delon, Fonda, and Albright are decent actors bestowed a good script, and are all gorgeous and charismatic, but the movie spends a lot of time being cute. Even so, Clément and company pull it all together. Make sure you appreciate the production design, especially the Rolls Royce that Delon drives, with its completely transparent roof, c-pillars all. It's something we never knew existed. To us it looked like a good way to get heatstroke, but we guess it was made for rich occupants to see and be seen. We think Joy House should be seen. It premiered in France in June 1964, then opened at the Taormina Film Fest in Italy today the same year.
Evelyn Keyes goes from jewel thief to disease vector in The Killer That Stalked New York.
Above are a couple of excellent posters for the drama The Killer That Stalked New York, one of which features Evelyn Keyes on a high ledge. The movie is sometimes classified as a film noir, and we really don't mean to act like pain-in-the-ass purists, but we don't consider it a film noir. Plotwise, it deals with a jewel smuggler who unknowingly brings smallpox from Cuba to New York City. Keyes smuggled the jewels in for her boyfriend, but when she turns them over to him the sneaky fucker absconds. Keyes knows he has to sell them in the city, so she tries to track him down and prevent him from stiffing her, even as doctors notice that people are falling ill, manage to identify the culprit as smallpox, and try to decide how to stop the spread of the virus. Obviously, there are numerous parallels and ironies involved in watching this in the COVID-19 era. Carl Benton Reid as NYC's health commissioner: “Anyone not vaccinated is liable to get the disease. If they still refuse to submit, then tell them what they face.”
Of course, smallpox had a 30% per-case death rate compared to 1.6% in the U.S. for COVID-19, but mention that difference to people who've watched others die and see what reaction you get. What 1.6% represents, aside from a death rate, is a level of suffering at which tens of millions of adults shrug and refuse to take a shot to help save lives—at least 775,000 dead in the U.S. and counting, each of them a real person, not just a statistic. We've lost two close friends to this virus, neither in a so-called high risk category, and so has PI-1—whose friend spent weeks on a ventilator only to finally succumb to brain death. She had a six-year-old daughter. That kind of disaster kills not just the victim, but quite possibly forever harms families and loved ones.
Keyes reaches the point where her smallpox makes her like a dead woman walking, but she won't drop until she's found that chiseler of a boyfriend and made him pay for crossing her. What The Killer That Stalked New York ends up being is a crime procedural-turned medical thriller-turned double-layered chase movie. Keyes is a great, unsung star, and her willingness to uglify herself shows her commitment to the art of storytelling, but even so, the movie could be better. The two layers of story are required, because it's only Keyes' criminal status that causes her to run around dodging the cops—and by accident spreading the virus—however the film maybe should have done away with its framing narration and public service feel. At least it has Keyes. Nothing dims her luster for us—not even a mediocre script, dark rings under her eyes, and a layer of fever sweat. The Killer That Stalked New York premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.
Killer virus? Whatever. I'll take my chances. Hi, is it too late for big government to save my ass? Update: It's illuminating to lurk on the Facebook pages of COVID skeptics. The farther we get from the height of the epidemic—when there were literal mass graves in New York City—the more people seem to think they're smarter than doctors and virologists. Someone we know put up a photo of a convenience store with a plexiglas screen separating them from the clerk, and railed against the precaution, calling it dumb and all the rest: "What's the point? She touches my stuff anyway when she scans it! God, people are such stupid sheep!"
People in the comments agreed. It was illustrative of social media bubbles, and how self-centered people are, and how ego shapes their thinking. It never occurred to anyone in the thread that the plexiglas screen is not for customer, but for the clerk.
The customer comes and goes, and, in their genius, scoffs at the screen and determines that it's useless. But after this genius has left, the clerk they've forgotten is exposed to another customer, and another, and another, up to hundreds a day. Some of those customers probably carry COVID, but the screen will at least prevent them from coughing or sneezing on the clerk. The upshot of the entire Facebook thread was, “I don't see how this plexiglas screen helps me!” Well, it doesn't help you. It helps the person who does the essential work that keeps you fed—and skeptical. One has to marvel at people.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1922—Challenge to Women's Voting Rights Rebuffed
In the United States, a conservative legal challenge to the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishing voting rights for women is rebuffed by the Supreme Court in Leser v. Garnett. The challenge was based partly on the idea of individual "states rights" to self determination. The failure of such reasoning as it applied to basic human rights created a framework for later states rights losses involving the denial of voting rights to African-Americans.
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
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