A group of reckless truckers gear up for trouble.
Above is a beautiful poster for Hell Drivers, a working class thriller set in England dealing with an ex-convict who takes a trucking job for a gravel company and begins risking life and limb trying to break another driver's speed record. It has something of the feel of 1947's They Drive By Night mixed with a British road rally. It also has film noir legend Peggy Cummins in a co-starring role, along with Herbert Lom from the Pink Panther movies, and lead actor Stanley Baker. Oh, and a guy named Sean Connery. And there's a truck crash with a brutal body ejection. But it's this amazing purple promo that prompted us to talk about the movie. We love this art. The manhandling moment depicted, by the way, precedes a kiss, as the thin narrative line between masculine anger and lust is crossed yet again in a mid-century film. Hell Drivers premiered in London today in 1957.
Sex scare movie cautions women to keep their vaginas in their pants.
Ukrainian illustrator Constantin Belinsky did special work on this French promo poster for Eva s'éveille à l'amour, which was originally made in England and is better known as That Kind of Girl. The French title translates as “Eva awakens to love,” which sounds nice, but this is actually a sex scare flick starring Margaret Rose Keil as a young Austrian woman in London who dates around a bit and as a result finds herself dealing with serious consequences. She only finds out there's a problem when she's attacked and the police force her to take a medical exam. Did you know that in Britain the euphemism for rape back then was to be “interfered with”? Neither did we. Those Brits are so circumspect. “But I told you he didn't interfere with me,” Keil insists to the cops. Nevertheless, off to the clinic she's sent, where the bad news comes down like a thunderclap—syphilis. This isn't just a b-movie—it's a vd-movie.
Poor Keil caught the clap from her first British lover, and gave it to two more. One of those two probably gave it to his fiancée. And worse, Keil works as an au pair, may have given it to the child she cares for, and has to tell the entire family they need to go to the clinic. Talk about mortifying. But that's the point of scare movies—for you to walk away afraid to have premarital sex/smoke marijuana/peruse a socialist pamphlet. The movie even lifts straight from the puritan playbook about “respecting your body”—i.e. people have premarital sex because they have no self worth. Some people actually believe this even today. It all sounds like a drag, we know, but as moral warning movies go this isn't bad thanks to the slice of London life it presents. Do you need to put it in your queue? We wouldn't say so, but if you do it won't be a waste of time. After premiering in England and other countries in 1963, That Kind of Girl opened in France today in 1964.
I have a natural facility for the carnal arts. What's a girl supposed to do? It seems unfair that I should have gotten a disease from something so fun. Why did the doctor have to call it "fire in the ho"? Was that really necessary? And then he said once the penicillin works he'll call me for a date. Doesn't that violate his hypocritic oath? It's all so confusing.
In the Ministry of Fear they bake better than they spy.
Fritz Lang was one of the most important directors of his era, both in his native Germany and in the U.S., and was a pioneer of the film noir form. Movies like Scarlet Street and especially The Big Heat are essential noir viewing. Ministry of Fear dates from a bit earlier and finds Lang saddled with what we consider to be a substandard script that through sheer artistry he makes into a watchable film. Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds, and Dan Duryea headline in a spy tale that revolves around Lang's favorite villains—the Nazis. Jewish and German, he left his homeland for Paris and beyond during the ascent of the Nazis during the 1930s, so the subject was personal for him, and was one he'd dealt with in previous films such as Cloak and Dagger and Hangmen Also Die.
In Ministry of Fear Milland plays a man who spends two years in a British asylum and is released at a time when World War II is raging and London is being bombed. He goes to charity carnival and is enticed into guessing a cake's weight for a chance to win it, and after being given the correct answer by a fortuneteller, is victorious. But it's soon clear that the correct weight wasn't supposed to be given to him, and he isn't supposed to have the cake. But he really wants it and resists attempts by the carny folks to take it back. He loses it during a train ride when a passenger beats the snot out of him for it, and at that point finally realizes the obvious—sweet though this confection may have been, it wasn't sought by various and sundry for its flavor, but because inside was something important. He wants answers, and he'll have to risk his neck to get them.
Generally with movies it's best to simply accept the premise, but there are limits. We were never clear on why it was necessary to put this important item in a cake. We understand subterfuge is involved in the spy game, but why not just hand the item over in an alley, or a pub bathroom, or a parked car? And if food must be involved, why a cake? Why not a haggis, or something else very few people want to just gobble up on the spot? A dried cod maybe. A blood sausage would have done. Plus they're easy to transport. You can just stick them in your pockets. And in a tight spot a whack across the nose with a blood sausage is far more effective than shoving cake in someone's mug. The cake gimmick was probably—strike that—certainly better explained in Graham Greene's source novel. We haven't read it but we're confident about that. It could have been Lang who screwed the pooch, but it was more likely Seton I. Miller. He was screenwriter as well as executive producer.
In any case Milland bumbles his way through a train trip, across a moor, in and out of a crazy séance, and into a maze of misdirection to the eventual revelation of what's inside the cake, but the whole time we kept thinking the movie should be called Ministry of Cut-Rate Spies. We don't mean to say it's a total loss. It isn't like the Eddie Izzard comedy routine, “Cake or Death.” You won't choose death over cake. But it's a pretty uninspiring flick. The old dramas that have survived have done so for a simple reason. Most of them are good. Ministry of Fear isn't bad. It's just meh. It's like a cake that fell—it's flat and dense, but teases you with how yummy it could have been. It premiered in England today in 1944.
Here, have your cake. And eat it too. Heh. I prefer blood sausage for train trips, but I guess it's better for you I'm not shoving one of those in your face, eh? Wow, you sort of... crush the shit out of your cake before eating it. Have I been eating cake wrong the whole time I've been in England?
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.
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