Don't look at me that way. He was like this when I got here. I swear.
Above, a beautiful cover painted by Robert Maguire for Edgar Wallace's mystery Four Square Jane, originally published in 1929, with this Digit Books edition appearing in 1962. This one is short and fun. Someone known as Four Square Jane is executing clever heists against the rich all around London, and Chief Superintendent Peter Dawes is put on her trail. The only clues are a card Jane leaves at the crime scenes, each bearing her personal sigil. Dawes soon realizes that one person in particular seems to be financially damaged by the thefts, and when murder enters the mix, the stakes mount. This is an excellent classical style mystery from Wallace with a proto-feminist angle. The art here is a re-usage of Maguire's cover for Henry Kane's 1960 novel Private Eyeful, which you can see at the top of this collection of women standing over dead or dying men.
It's just the wind. Or possibly the screaming of damned souls in torment. But more likely the wind.
“You dare not even guess the strange story of The Red House,” this promo poster tells us about Edward G. Robinson's 1947 psychological suspense drama, but we dared, and we didn't have any trouble guessing correctly. What you get here is a mystery with a suggestion of the supernatural—always a draw for us. Some sites call this a horror movie. We're okay with that too. Horror, psychological suspense, and mystery walk hand in hand—in this case through the creepy night. Working from a screenplay adapted from George Agnew Chamberlain's 1945 novel, Robinson plays a man living in idyllic simplicity on a farm with his sister and adopted daughter. He hires a helper, a decision that goes awry when the new help develops an interest in the nearby cursed woods, in which there's supposedly a haunted red house, disembodied screaming voices (or maybe just the wind), and other dangers sane people would avoid.
But this new farmhand is filled with the arrogance of youth, isn't superstitious, and resolves to solve the mystery, a decision that threatens to tear Robinson's makeshift family apart and unearth terrors from the past. Edward the G. isn't at his very best working with what is a tricky script, but he gets useful support from young co-stars Lon McCallister, Rory Calhoun, Allene Roberts, and Julie London. Roberts in particular has a crucial role, and in her first film, and aged only nineteen, she manages to keep her head above water—barely. While The Red House isn't top notch, it's enjoyable enough, and if you appreciate vintage creepfests it might give you a chill or two. So what's in the woods? We can't tell you, but you can be sure there's something—and it ain't good. The Red House premiered today in 1947.
They say revenge is a dish best served cold. You have no choice about that when you spend twelve years in prison.
This is a nicely evocative poster for the British crime drama The Long Memory. The couple embracing against a backdrop of flames gets the mood across perfectly, because the film is, in fact about a couple, and especially one man, trying to hold onto something good amidst a moral conflagration. The story involves him being wrongly imprisoned, being released twelve years later, and immediately going on a mission to take revenge on the people who lied at his trial. We just talked about revenge yesterday, and here we go again with a character who has murderous impulses but who's basically a good person. Can he really go through with killing his persecutors?
We were surprised by this one. We watched it based solely on the poster and feel well rewarded for expending the time. Probably the newness of the movie's setting in 1950s London and the outlying areas along the River Thames helped a bit, but it's an effective tale on its own merits. John Mills stars, and is accompanied by John McCallum, Elizabeth Sellars, Geoffrey Keen, and beautiful Norwegian obscurity Eva Bergh. In the end the film asks a simple question: Is revenge worth it? Well, we can't say, but the movie is worth it, in our opinion. The Long Memory premiered in England today in 1953.
It's a marriage that goes from bad to worse.
Ever since the term “gaslighting” became an accepted part of the American lexicon we've been meaning to watch the original version of Gaslight. Finding this Spanish promo poster spurred us to finally screen the film. There are those who think any old black and white mystery or thriller is a film noir, which is why you'll occasionally see Gaslight referred to as part of that genre. But it's actually a melodrama falling into an unofficial category of mid-century films we like to call, “Don't Trust Your Husband.” Other entries in the genre include Rebecca, Dial M for Murder, and Sorry, Wrong Number. Based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, Gaslight tells the story of Bella, a woman living in early 1900s London who, because small items in her house are constantly missing or misplaced, thinks she's losing her mind. But it's her creepy spouse Paul who's orchestrating all of this. He intends to have her declared insane, which is part of a larger scheme having to do with—of course—money.
On one level Gaslight is a drama about paranoia and the betrayal of marital trust. On another it's an unintentionally humorous examination of Edwardian values. Humorous because we doubt most women—either when the film was first released or today—would have been successfully manipulated in this way. If it were the Pulp Intl. girlfriends they'd both be like, “Do you think I'm stupid? Stop moving shit around the house.” But poor Bella is little more than a possession during the time in which she lives, and lacking the agency to question her husband she mostly swoons. But help eventually arrives from an unlikely quarter. Gaslight was remade in 1944 with Ingrid Bergman, and the original compares poorly to that excellent version, but it's still a quality film well worth viewing. It premiered in the UK in June 1940, and in Barcelona, Spain as Luz de gas today in 1942.
James Bond's daughter leaves the Soviets shaken and stirred.
The 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale was a box office disaster, but it had its moments. London born actress Joanna Pettet, playing Mata Bond, estranged daughter of Mata Hari and Sir James Bond (David Niven), performed an eye-catching, Buddhist-themed dance number in a faux temple that must have cost a huge chunk of the movie's budget. We don't know how actual Buddhists feel about the bit, but it looks like Pettet had a laugh or two. In the film she's sent to take on SMERSH, the Soviet spy agency that appeared in fictionalized form in Ian Fleming's Bond novels. Pettet appeared in a handful of other films, but her career mostly comprised television roles on shows such as The Fugitive and Night Gallery. Her Mata Bond dance is short but probably worth a look. You can see it while the link lasts here.
I'm smiling now, but if another man asks where my on button is located he'll regret it.
These photos show Elmina Humphreys bizarrely costumed as the official Radio Queen for the 1939 Radiolympia trade and consumer show, at which she greeted guests as a personification of the spirit of radio. This was held in London, and was the last Radiolympia before World War II forced a long hiatus. It's likely that Humphreys was a show business hopeful, but we found no mention of her anywhere except in reference to her appearance here.
This has been an amazing first date. Should we masturbate each other?
In this curious photo a British couple sports the latest in respiratory safety gear. You'd probably guess this is from World War II when German gas attacks were a worry, but it's actually from 1953 when the scourge of London was air pollution. We post it today for obvious reasons, and because we're wondering something. Crises sometimes change social mores. Could it be that because of this virus, kissing will be elevated to one stop short of sex, while a little manual-genital manipulation will become how you safely say good night? Or even better, good morning? Hey, our brains are always working overtime around here.
It's time for a Man to Man discussion.
Man to Man magazine was launched in December 1949 by New York City based Volitant Publishing, the same company behind Sir, Laff, and True. And indeed, sir, the magazine's a laff, true enough, not in the sense that it's terribly funny, but in the sense that it's wonderfully distracting. The issue you see here was published this month in 1952, with cover model Loris Pederson, and interior photos of other models, showgirls, and beauty pageant contestants, all striving for celebrity status, but all pretty much lost in the mists of time. Not that we're denigrating them in any way. With celebrity status usually comes financial independence, and the possibility of achieving that is reason enough to grasp for the brass ring, even if, like all the women here, you don't make it. Besides, we all grasp for that ring, one way or another. It's just that in show business, you do it in public.
Along with the many figures in Man to Man, there are also facts. At least, things purported to be facts. For instance, you learn that in 1952 London was the “world's largest paradise of prostitutes.” By definition, that sounds more like an opinion, but whatever. It struck us that only in a men's magazine would you come across the words “paradise” and “prostitutes” in the same sentence about civilization's oldest vice. There's also an article about taxi dancers, women who worked at nightclubs and took payment to dance with men. Apparently the going rate was a dime, and the article asks if the practice was immoral, its insinuation being that the practice groomed women for prostitution. We suspect most customers probably just wanted momentary companionship, but it only takes a minority of bad apples to spawn more vice, and those unpleasant men—like death, elections, and the end of baseball season—always seem to come around no matter what you do.
At least women get their revenge in this issue. An article on supernatural strength features art by Mark Schneider depicting an angry woman slinging a seated guy airborne across a room, chair and all. It's possible she had just learned what's in a typical men's magazine. If the photo had a caption it might be, “For the last time my name's not honey, cutie, baby, or sweetie!” We wouldn't even think of defending men's magazines from accusations of sexism—it's their overriding characteristic. But we will say that they're gold mines for Hollywood anecdotes that have been long forgotten and obscure celeb photos previously unseen online. Since many of our visitors are by now under some sort of quarantine or other, we recommend killing time with a digital stroll through our website, where you'll find many other men's magazine. We'll start you off with this one, this one, and this large group, plus, of course, the forty scans below.
Is there anything sweeter than a beautiful movie palace?
You probably recognize Grauman's Chinese Theatre, in Los Angeles. These days it's called TCL Chinese Theatre, because it's owned and operated by TCL Corporation—based in China, ironically. Since we write so often about movies we thought it appropriate to discuss the beautiful buildings in which the films were exhibited. Back in the day these were usually purpose-built structures, though some did split duty for stage productions and concerts. While many of these old palaces survive, nearly all surviving vintage cinemas in the U.S. were under threat at some point. Generally, if they hadn't been given historic protection they wouldn't be upright today.
Other times, if a city was poor, real estate costs didn't rise and old buildings stood unthreatened, usually idle. This happened often in the American midwest, where movie houses were neglected for decades before some were resurrected amid downtown revitalizations. It sometimes happens in Latin America too, although occasionally the formula fails. For example, Cartagena's majestic and oft photographed landmark Teatro Colón, located in the historic section of Colombia's most popular coastal tourist city, was torn down fewer than six months ago to make way for a Four Seasons Hotel.
Some of the cinemas below are well known treasures, while others are more unassuming places. But even those lesser known cinemas show how much thought and work was put into making moviegoing a special experience. The last photo, which shows the Butterfly Theatre in Milwaukee, exemplifies that idea. The façade is distinguished by a terra cotta butterfly sculpture adorned with light bulbs. As you might guess, many of the most beautiful large cinemas were in Los Angeles, which means that city is well represented in the collection. Enjoy.
Paramount Theatre, Oakland (operational).
Cine Maya, Mérida (demolished).
The Albee Cinema, Cincinnati (demolished)
Cooper Theatre, Denver (demolished).
Paras Cinema, Jaipur (operational).
Cathay Cinema, Shanghai (operational).
Academy Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Charlottenburg Filmwerbung, Berlin (demolished).
Pacific's Cinerama Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
York Theatre, Elmhurst (operational).
La Gaumont-Palace, Paris (demolished).
Essoldo Cinema, Newcastle (demolished).
Théâtre Scala, Strasbourg (operational).
Teatro Colón, Cartagena (demolished in 2018).
Teatro Coliseo Argentino, Buenos Aires (demolished).
Pavilion Theater, Adelaide (demolished).
El Molino Teatro, Barcelona (operational).
Fox Carthay Theatre, Los Angeles (demolished).
Kino Rossiya Teatr, Moscow (operational).
Nippon Gekijo, aka Nichigeki, Tokyo (demolished).
Cine Impala, Namibe (operational).
Cine Arenal, Havana (operational).
Teatro Mérida, Mérida (operational, renamed Teatro Armando Manzanero).
Ideal Theater, Manila (demolished).
Odeon Cinema, London (semi-demolished, converted to apartments).
Mayan Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Rex Cinema, Port au Prince (being restored).
Urania Kino, Vienna (operational).
Tampa Theatre, Tampa (operational).
The Butterfly Theater, Milwaukee (demolished).
Biggers isn't always better but he tried.
What's an agony column? Basically it's a newspaper feature in which readers writes messages to other readers. For example: “Regular at Main Street Cafe who takes her coffee every weekday morning just before 9:00. Would you be amenable to meeting a certain gentleman who has admired you from afar?” You get the idea. The “agony” in the terminology derives from the fact that people who write in generally are suffering from some sort of heartache or other.
The Agony Column is basically an epistolary mystery, in which a man writes letters to the crush he contacted through a London newspaper's agony column, and details his involvement in a puzzling murder case. It's a very esoteric set-up for a novel, and besides mystery there's a dose cute romance. Nearly the entire book takes the form of the main character's letters, though some sections are conventionally written.
The nature of the novel requires more suspension of disbelief than usual, simply because nobody really writes letters with detailed, multi-character dialogue, but once you get over that hurdle it works pretty well. There are other hurdles. About London's Chinatown the main character writes, “Not only the heathen Chinee so peculiar shuffle through its dim-lit alleys, but the scum of the earth of many colors and of many climes. The Arab and the Hindu, the Malayan and the Jap, black men from the Congo and fair men from Scandinavia.”
Ouch. That brought the cuteness to a screeching halt. But readers should note that Biggers evolved, and would later create the Chinese American detective Charlie Chan partly as a counter to racist portrayals of Asians. The books were popular, but as the decades progressed people soured on them because Chan too is a racial stereotype. It's difficult for authors to write characters—especially outside their own ethnic group—that stand up over time as social mores change. But they keep trying, and should, in our opinion. What would fiction be like if they didn't?
The Agony Column has plenty of positives. Being set on the eve of World War I in a London gripped by tension over the looming global hostilities lends it atmosphere, and the mystery itself contains a few surprises we doubt most readers will foresee. It's also a short tale, which keeps the epistolary gimmick from wearing thin. We think it's worth a read. The Agony Column originally appeared in 1916, with this Avon edition, illegibly signed by the cover artist and unattributed inside, coming in 1943.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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