Alan Ladd plays white knight in India.
Above: a really nice paperback cover featuring U.S. actor Alan Ladd, made for the novelization of his 1946 film noir Calcutta. If a Hollywood movie is set in any warm foreign land you can count on the white suit making an appearance. Ladd certainly looks nice in his. Sadly, with only the front cover scanned, no author listed, and the internet absolutely packed with Calcutta references, there's no chance to find out who wrote this unless we were to recognize the publisher's logo—which we don't. We generally don't share covers without complete information, but this cool item? We made an exception. Eventually someone will sell a copy of it and we'll update this post with author and publisher info. Until then, if you're interested in our musings about the film Calcutta, you can find those here.
Update: Well, we are amazed and pleased. Thirty minutes? That's the fastest ever, thanks to Rhea. She even found it on Ebay for us. The author here is Alex Morrison, the publisher is London based Hollywood Publications Limited (what is that WFP logo on the cover?—no idea), and it came out in 1947. The movie premiered in England in 1946, and novelizations usually coincide, but because the premiere was 20 December, the book can carry a 1947 copyright and still have been more or less simultaneously relesased with the film. Should we buy it? We're very tempted.
Calcutta is heavy on looks but light on substance.
We'll tell you right out that Calcutta came very close to being an excellent movie, but doesn't quite get over the hump. It deals with a trio of pilots flying cargo between India and China on fictional China International Airways. The trio, Alan Ladd, William Bendix, and John Whitney, stumble upon a highly profitable international smuggling ring and quickly find that the villains play for keeps. Along with the fliers, the film has Gail Russell as Whitney's girlfriend, and June Duprez as a slinky nightclub singer. While the exotic setting marks the film as an adventure, it also fits the brief as a film noir, particularly in Ladd's cynical and icy protagonist.
As we said, the movie isn't as good as it should be, but there are some positives. Foremost among them is Edith King as a wealthy jewel merchant. She smokes a fat cigar, the masculine affectation an unspoken but clear hint of her possible lesbianism, and with a sort of jocular grandiosity simply nails her part. Another big plus is the fact that the miniature work (used in airport scenes), elaborate sets and props, and costumed extras all make for a convincing Indian illusion—definitely needed when a movie is filmed entirely in California and Arizona (Yuma City and Tucson sometimes served as stand-ins for exotic Asian cities, for example Damascus in Humphrey Bogart's Sirocco).
On the negative side, Calcutta has two narrative problems: the head villain is immediately guessable; and Russell is asked to take on more than she can handle as an actress, particularly as the movie nears its climax. Another problem for some viewers, but not all, is that the movie has the usual issues of white-centered stories set in Asia (or Africa). However, within the fictional milieu the characters themselves seem pretty much color and culture blind, which isn't always the case with old films. Even so, the phalanxes of loyal Indian servants, and the dismissiveness with which they're treated—though that treatment is historically accurate—probably won't sit well with a portion of viewers.
Here's what to focus on: Alan Ladd. He's a great screen presence, a solid actor in the tight-lipped way you often see in period crime films, and the filmmakers were even smart enough to keep him shirtless and oiled for one scene. We swear we heard eight-decade-old sighs on the wind, or maybe that was the Pulp Intl. girlfriends. They'd never seen Ladd before, but immediately became interested in his other films. We were forced to tell them he was a shrimpy 5' 6” and they were a bit bummed. But he had it—and that's what counted. His it makes all his films watchable, but doesn't quite make this one a high ranker. Calcutta had its official world premiere in London today in 1946.
Excuse me, Miss? Could you *cough cough* smoke elegantly in the opposite direction?
London born Irene Needham found the need for a new name when she made the journey to Hollywood to become an actress. She chose a pretty cool one—Sandra Storme. Though these days, let's admit, it sounds like it belongs to a porn star. During Storme's short career she made five movies, including 1937's Artists and Models and 1939's Murder in the Night. She looks quite nice in this smoking shot, which is one of more than a hundred we've colllected. We may post a group of those later. We don't have a precise copyright on this one, but it's probably from around 1935.
You can always bank on Andress.
Colpo da 500 milioni alla National Bank was originally made in England as Perfect Friday, and as you can see from the poster, it starred the Swiss vision known as Ursula Andress. That makes it a must watch, and what you get is the type of erotic caper Andress made more than once, as this time she becomes the center of a plot to rob a London bank of £200,000. Her partners are her husband and the deputy bank manager, and she's playing both ends against the middle, so to speak—i.e. doing the nasty with both while telling neither. The heist develops as heists always do, but the real question becomes who she'll choose to run away with in the end.
Andress must have loved making these films. If they weren't the easiest money in cinema history they sure look like it. Every time she got one of these scripts we imagine her going, “Ker-ching.” All she had to do was work in various European capitals, be charming and sophisticated, speak in that impossibly sexy Germanic rasp of hers—and of course strip. In that respect Andress was as reliable as government bonds. Getting naked isn't easy for some, let alone doing it in front of twenty people, but she had a pretty insouciant attitude about it, once saying, “I have no problem with nudity. I can look at myself. I like walking around nude. It doesn't bother me.”
Of course, the anti-nudity set in today's new age of prudishness would claim she said that because it was expected/demanded of her. Well, we have only her words to go by. When a person's own statements are ignored, that makes it mighty easy to turn them into whatever one wishes. There's a lot of that going around today. But we'll show her some respect and assume she said what she she meant. Her face and body got her in the door and kept her at the party, and she was aware of that. While she was a solid actress, she wasn't about to win any awards. At least not with these scripts. Colpo da 500 milioni alla National Bank is a silly little movie but it shows Andress at her best—in every way. For her fans it's mandatory. It had its world premiere in Italy today in 1970.
How do you show your man you love him? Show your love to other men.
Here's another amazing and framable movie poster, this time for Le trottoir, which was originally made in England as The Flesh Is Weak. The art is by René Brantonne, who typically illustrated book covers, such as here and here. This is stylish work, very different from what we've seen him do before. It's cartoonish, but captures the mood of the film, an urban drama starring John Derek. Yes, that John Derek, the one who— Or has he been forgotten already? We'll reacquaint you. Derek was an actor, photographer, screenwriter, and director, but he's best known as a sort of Svengali who directed his fourth wife Bo Derek in several erotic films in which male actors got to squeeze and lick her soft parts. In 1984's Bolero he shot Bo in three love scenes, one of which made viewers wonder if there was more than acting involved. That's unlikely, but even so, actual penetration was about the only thing missing, which makes John Derek a different kind of husband indeed.
His partnership with Bo in using her body to make money is even more interesting considering the subject matter of The Flesh Is Weak. He plays London agent who meets naive Milly Vitale and convinces her to attempt resolving his debt problems by selling her womanly favors. Of course, he has no debt problems, and he's no agent—he's a pimp, and chose Vitale to convert to prostitution. She ends up tricked into selling herself because she's in love, and though for some readers that surely seems impossible to comprehend, we read Iceberg Slim's autobiographical Pimp some years back and he confirmed from a firsthand perspective that love was what he often used as a lever. It's hard to imagine but true. And its pretty sad, even in the sanitized version presented in The Flesh Is Weak. Is it worth watching? There's no need to clear your schedule, but overall it's pretty good. There's no known French release date, but it had its world premiere 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 a charity carnival and is enticed into guessing a cake's weight for a chance to win it, and because he's been 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 won 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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1955—Rosa Parks Sparks Bus Boycott
In the U.S., in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city's African-American population were the bulk of the system's ridership.
1936—Crystal Palace Gutted by Fire
In London, the landmark structure Crystal Palace, a 900,000 square foot glass and steel exhibition hall erected in 1851, is destroyed by fire. The Palace had been moved once and fallen into disrepair, and at the time of the fire was not in use. Two water towers survived the blaze, but these were later demolished, leaving no remnants of the original structure.
1963—Warren Commission Formed
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson establishes the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However the long report that is finally issued does little to settle questions
about the assassination, and today surveys show that only a small minority of Americans agree with the Commission's conclusions.
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