MGM's fantasy version of Africa goes swinging into northern Europe.
From up Scandinavia way comes this colorful borderless Danish poster for Tarzan the Ape Man, which starred Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan. It was called simply Tarzan in Denmark, though Danes who've since seen it on DVD know it as Abemanden Tarzan. This was painted by Kurt Wenzel, whose signature you can see at the righthand margin, and who also painted well known posters for The Flying Tigers, The Killers, and The Searchers. We saw Tarzan for the first time last year and enjoyed it despite its flaws. We enjoyed the sequel too, equally flawed. Shorter version: watch it only with your historical accuracy and outrage filters turned off. After opening in the U.S. in March 1932, Tarzan premiered in Denmark today the same year.
He's going to fight to the last second of the last minute of the last hour.
Above: an alternate promo poster for The Big Clock, a quirky film noir we looked at closely last year on this date. Quirky because it has comedy interwoven into the plot. But at its core the movie tells the dramatic tale of a man who's about to be blamed for a murder he didn't commit, but who has a desperate last chance to avoid his fate because he's also—in a classic noir twist—responsible for investigating the crime. It's definitely worth a watch. It premiered today in 1948.
They may not have much but at least they're free.
Like the poster says, Johnny Weissmuller is back again. When we last saw him as Tarzan, earlier this month, he and love interest Maureen O'Sullivan had swung away into the African trees together. But her British friends were always going to return, and sure enough Neil Hamilton and company are back to get their mitts on that legendary cache of elephant ivory. You know the drill. Hamilton and Paul Cavanaugh seek the unobtanium. The jungle comes alive with lethal dangers. Bearers sacrifice their lives to keep the bosses safe. Meanwhile Tarzan and Jane deal with their own cavalcade of jungle horrors—first a lion, then a rhino, then a leopard, then a crocodile, then a lion. We don't have to detail it. What's fascinating is not the action, but the erotic subtext.
This flick oozes sex. O'Sullivan's role has evolved. She's no plain Jane. She's a fantasy of the perfect woman here, the perfect lover. Her character is—in a word—devastating. Her humor, cuteness, and coquettishness are off the charts. She wears less than ever. Her body double Josephine McKim wears nothing, or at most a patch over her pubic area. But audiences who saw the full cut thought it was a bare-assed O'Sullivan. All of this is designed to make her irresistible not only to the male audience, but to Cavanaugh, who goes after her with the charmless persistence of a high school sophomore. Dare we say this is a dangerous game when dealing with the King of the Jungle?
Of course, all the flaws we cited with Tarzan the Ape Man are recurrent here. Once again African bearers are whipped through the jungle, across dangerous rivers, and up that same deadly escarpment from installment one. At which point Cavanaugh says, “Well, I hope we've got the worst behind us.” No, not even. Tarzan and His Mate is not a good look, and what it stylizes—not big men in a big land, but the rape of Africa—is uglier still. But it's up to each viewer to decide whether to watch it, and if so, whether to decide it's simply entertainment, or to compartmentalize its implications, or maybe to use it as a launching point for further thought and discussion. Tarzan and His Mate premiered in the U.S. today in 1934.
Time keeps on ticking ticking ticking into the future.
Above is a poster for the film noir The Big Clock, based on Kenneth Fearing's 1946 novel, with Ray Milland playing a journalist at fictional Crimeways magazine who finds himself entangled with the boss's girlfriend, then in murder when she turns up dead. He had nothing to do with it, but had been seen all over Manhattan with her the night of her death, and is presumed to be the killer though nobody has identified him yet. In classic film noir fashion, Milland's boss sets him to solving the case. But how can he, when he's actually looking for himself? And how can he throw his numerous staffers off the scent while appearing to conduct a legit investigation, yet somehow find the real killer? It's quite a mess.
For casual movie fans, distinguishing film noir from vintage drama can be difficult, but of its many defining characteristics, flag this one: the man who finds himself in a vise that slowly tightens due to what had seemed at first to be inconsequential or random acts. A painting Milland bought in an art shop becomes a potential piece of evidence against him. The cheap sundial he acquired in a bar does the same. The random man he exchanged a few words with becomes a potential witness. And so on. He's the subject of a puzzle that has his face in the center. Other characters are slowly assembling pieces from the edges inward. If Milland doesn't outwit them before they find the piece with his face on it, he's screwed.
In addition to an involving plot, nice technical values, Ray Milland, and a large clock, The Big Clock brings the legendary Charles Laughton to the party, along with Maureen O'Sullivan, a decade removed from her ingenue period playing Jane in Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan movies, all grown up here as the smart, loyal, beautiful wife willing to come to Milland's aid when the chips are down. The film is unique, as well, for its interwoven comedy, unusual in films from this genre. These moments come often, and may seem obtrusive to some, but we thought they fit fine. And that's a good way to sum up The Big Clock. If you're a film noir fan, it'll fit you just fine. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1948.
Weissmuller's jungle classic continues to look weirder as time goes by.
Above is a beautiful poster for Tarzan the Ape Man, which starred Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan and twenty-one year old Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane Parker. The plot here is simple. White explorers are desperate to find a million pounds of ivory they believe lies hidden in an elephant graveyard somewhere in the African interior. After scaling a massive escarpment (and losing a native bearer over the side), and traversing a river (and losing native bearers to rubber hippos and crocs), and stumbling across a tribe of dwarfs (and losing a native bearer to an arrow), they finally reach the right area—and promptly lose Jane to Tarzan. Although he's carried her away against her will, she and Sir Loincloth eventually establish a rapport. And no wonder—this particular Tarzan is handsome, has good hair, and a physique in top maintenance.
Tarzan the Ape Man was made way back in 1932, but it isn't the first Tarzan film, or even the fifth or the eighth. But this effort from MGM, with its somewhat detailed sets, scanty costuming, and numerous animal co-stars, was the first that was a big hit. The shooting took place in various locations around Southern California and Florida, although there is some legit African stock footage used in spots, and, according to some sources, some second unit stuff from Mexico. For the era it must have been pretty convincing, rubber hippos and all. Needless to say, this flick is not flattering to Africans, African Americans, or African anyones. As for what the little person community thinks about fifty of their number covered in shoe polish, you'd have to ask a little person. We don't know any. But we seriously doubt they like it.
As we are all part of the same human family, we all should feel empathy as we would if a brother or beloved cousin were insulted. Seems to us we've made halting progress on that front. What hasn't progressed at all is agreement about how to deal with literally trillions of dollars of stolen labor, goods, economic potential, and lives. If no recompense is to be offered, then at least we should be able to talk honestly about what happened. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recently admitted that his country's possession of some of the priceless Benin Bronzes amounted to harboring stolen goods. The U.S. and Britain, meanwhile, refuse even to entertain conversations about their share of these looted pieces. It's the same with people: some admit to crimes of the past, while others say there were no crimes, and even if there were, they don't matter anymore.
Tarzan the Ape Man presents a fictionalized version of the real-world history of capitalists strip-mining Africa. Without an iota of reflection, the characters here plan to steal local wealth, described by head bwana C. Aubrey Smith as, “Enough ivory for the entire world.” But what he really means is, “Enough ivory for the entire world to buy from me.” Of course, colonials didn't think they were looters. But then, colonials wrote the rules. So Tarzan the Ape Man scratches the surface of a contentious history, but here's the thing: it's still just a movie, and it's possible to watch it, be aware of what it portrays, yet have a laugh. It's a 100-minute over-the-top burlesque of historical wrongs, from colonialism to segregation in moviemaking. To enshrine so many bad practices in one film is a hell of a feat. Yet within its narrative universe it's still very entertaining. Is that a paradox? Maybe. But that's art for you. Tarzan the Ape Man premiered in the U.S. today in 1932.
Pick man up. Put man down. Pick man up. Let man sit on my head. I'm about to stomp this fool. Tarzan invent shaving armpits. Tarzan smooth like eel. Great pose, Johnny! Just great. And your nuts didn't fall out this time. Excellent! Jane feet funky. Also, Jane need pedicure. OooOOOoo... what's this here, Johnny? Is that a rock hard chest? I think it is. Who's got a rock hard chest? Johnny's got a rock hard chest... AHHHH-AHAHAHAH-AHAHAHAHA! Can Maureen and I get some goddamned lunch over here!
Wanna go out with me Friday? Oh, you’re committing suicide that night? How about Thursday?
Above is one of the great film noir posters—the three-sheet promo for Where Danger Lives (presumably de-seamed by some enterprising Photoshopper). The movie starred Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue, and the always excellent Claude Rains, and deals with a doctor who gets involved with a suicidal patient, a situation that simply can’t end well.
Like most noirs, Where Danger Lives is well regarded today, but it’s strictly second tier. That's just our opinion. Some very knowledgeable reviewers love the movie. The problem for us is that Mitchum takes a blow to the head and never recovers from it, and watching him stagger around for half the flick's running time making bad decisions because of a concussion just didn’t engage us.
More importantly there’s no real basis for his relationship with Domergue. Writing it into a script is not enough—the actors need to establish chemistry and heat to make recklessness understandable. When you start asking questions like, “But why would he have any interest in this crazy chick when he already has a great girlfriend?” (Maureen O'Sullivan) you know the movie is fatally flawed.
If you like noirs, you might be inclined to give this one’s failings a pass—after all, even so-so noir is better than 90% of what’s coming out of Hollywood today. And it has Mitchum, who’s also better than 90% of what’s coming out of Hollywood today. Where Danger Lives premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1916—Rockefeller Breaks the Billion Barrier
American industrialist John D. Rockefeller becomes America's first billionaire. His Standard Oil Company had gained near total control of the U.S. petroleum market until being broken up by anti-trust legislators in 1911. Afterward, Rockefeller used his fortune mainly for philanthropy, and had a major effect on medicine, education, and scientific research.
1941—Williams Bats .406
Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox finishes the Major League Baseball season with a batting average of .406. He is the last player to bat .400 or better in a season.
1964—Warren Commission Issues Report
The Warren Commission, which had been convened to examine the circumstances of John F. Kennedy's assassination, releases its final report, which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy. Today, up to 81% of Americans are troubled
by the official account of the assassination.
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