Vintage Pulp May 29 2012
REVOLUTIONARY NOIR
Only the good go to sleep at night.


The French coined the term film noir, so it seems only fitting to feature a collection of French posters celebrating the genre. Above and below are fifteen examples promoting films noir from France, Britain, and the U.S., representing some of the best ever produced within the art form, as well as some less celebrated examples that we happen to love. Of those, we highly recommend seeing Le salaire de la peur, for which you see the poster above, and Ride the Pink Horse, below, which played as Et tournent les chevaux de bois in France. Just a word about those films (and feel free to skip ahead to the art, because really, who has time these days to listen to a couple of anonymous internet scribes ramble on about old movies?).
 
1953’s Le salaire de la peur is about a group of men stranded in an oil company town in the mountains of South America. In order to earn the wages to get out, four of them agree to drive two trucks filled with nitroglycerine over many miles of dangerous terrain. The idea is to use the chemicals to put out a raging oil well fire that is consuming company profits by the second, but of course the film is really about whether the men can even get there alive. Le salaire de la peur was critically praised when released in Europe, but in the U.S., political factions raised their ugly heads and got censors to crudely re-edit the prints so as to reduce the movie’s anti-capitalist (and by extension anti-American) subtext. The movie was later remade by Hollywood twice—once in 1958 as Hell’s Highway, and again in 1977 as Sorcerer. The original is by far the best.

1947’s Ride the Pink Horse is an obscure noir, but a quintessential one, in our opinion. If many noirs feature embittered World War II vets as their anti-heroes, Robert Montgomery’s Lucky Gagin is the bitterest of them all. He arrives in a New Mexico border town on a quest to avenge the death of a friend. The plot is thin—or perhaps stripped down would be a better description—but Montgomery’s atmospheric direction makes up for that. Like a lot of mid-century films featuring ethnic characters, the most important one is played by a white actor (Wanda Hendrix, in a coating of what looks like brown shoe polish). It's racist, for sure, but within the universe of the film Lucky Gagin sees everyone around him only as obstacles or allies—i.e., equals within his own distinct worldview. So that makes up for it. Or maybe not. In any case, we think Ride the Pink Horse is worth a look. Thirteen more posters below. 
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Hollywoodland Jan 2 2012
PORTRAIT OF ELIZABETH
Whisper shows it’s still happy to wallow in the muck.

Hy Steirman’s Whisper magazine is generally considered to be less racy than when it was owned by Robert Harrison, but this issue from January 1959 shows a little of the old spark. It slams Elizabeth Taylor for stealing Eddie Fisher from Debbie Reynolds, with staff scribe Orson C. Green spewing forth this venom: But then Liz made clear to the whole world that beneath that lovely exterior there beats a heart of purest gall. She repaid the infinite kindness of her two friends by breaking up their marriage. Green goes on to describe Taylor trying to soak down New York’s PlazaHotel for two weeks of room charges, and then, when asked to pay, phoning up Montgomery Clift and getting him to help her trash the room. The article concludes: In short, Miss Taylor and friend Clift repaid [the Plaza] for its hospitality by deliberately making a mess for some forlorn chambermaid to clean up. Ingrate!

Whisper also takes on ex-King Farouk I of Egypt—who was a favorite tabloid target of the time—describing him as “Fatso Farouk”, “the roly-poly playboy of the Nile”, “the balding balloon boy” and worse. Readers are told that he was at Maxim’s in Paris one night and saw Coccinelle do a song accompanied by a striptease that left her in only a beaded g-string. Farouk, who was famously amorous, was so smitten that he sent his card and a bouquet of flowers backstage. Coccinelle came to say thanks, and when asked by Farouk agreed to go to dinner. Moments after she left thetable one of the ex-king’s aide’s hastily scurried over and explained that Coccinelle had once been a man. Allegedly, Farouk flipped. Whisper describes overturned tables, broken bottles, the works. Readers are told: The whole Riviera rocked with laughter. The bulging butt of the joke fled to Rome.

Whisper goes on to discuss sperm banks, state prisons, Vladimir Lenin, Josip Tito, and “white” slavery, but probably our favorite story is the one headlined: Do Ex-Prostitutes Make the Best Wives? A pertinent question. And whom did they get to write the answer? The byline says: by an Ex-Prostitute. We just love that. As far as whether Whisper gets any of its facts straight, we can’t really offer a guess, but this issue proves that even ten months after the sale from Harrison to Steirman, it hadn’t quite lost its spark. Things apparently went downhill pretty fast in the next few years, but we’ll judge that for ourselves as we examine more issues. Visit our entire Whisper collection by clicking its keyword at bottom. 

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Hollywoodland May 12 2011
FULL MONTY
In one instant Montgomery Clift’s life changed forever.

Above is a photo of American actor Montgomery Clift’s automobile after it skidded off a dark road and smashed into a telephone pole. Clift, along with actor Kevin McCarthy, had been attending a party at Elizabeth Taylor’s house in Beverly Hills. When they left, they got into their respective cars and began driving down the steep, curving road. We’ll let McCarthy describe what happened next: Behind me I saw Monty’s carlights weave from one side of the road to the other and then I heard a terrible crash. A cloud of dust appeared in my rearview mirror. I stopped and ran back. Monty’s car was crumpled like an accordion against a telephone pole. The motor was running like hell. I could smell gas. I managed to reach in the window and turn off the ignition, but it was so dark I couldn’t see inside the car. I didn’t know where Monty was. He seemed to have disappeared. I ran and drove my car back and shone my headlights into Monty’s car. Then I saw him curled under the dashboard. His face was torn away—a bloody pulp. I thought he was dead. I drove back to Elizabeth’s shaking like a leaf and pounded on the door. “There’s been a terrible accident!” I yelled. “I don’t know whether Monty’s alive or dead—get an ambulance quick!” Mike Wilding and I both tried to keep Elizabeth from coming down to the car with us, but she fought us off like a tiger. “No! No! I’m going to Monty!” she screamed, and she raced down the hill. She was like Mother Courage. Monty’s car was so crushed you couldn’t open the front door, so Liz got through the back door and crawled over the seat. Then she crouched down and cradled Monty’s head in her lap. Then he started to choke. Some of his teeth had been knocked out and his two front teeth were lodged in his throat. I’ll never forget what Liz did. She stuck her fingers down his throat and pulled those teeth. Otherwise he would have choked to death. That was today in 1956. 

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Hollywoodland Jan 12 2011
TRICK OF THE LIGHT
Strangers when we meet.

Above, a promo shot of Robert Montgomery from the underappreciated film noir Ride the Pink Horse, 1947. 

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The Naked City Jun 29 2010
TOLL OF THE BELLE
A real life case of arsenic and old lace.
Above is a Police Files from fifty years ago this month with a story on an Alabama waitress named Rhonda Belle Martin who killed her mother, two husbands, and three of her children by poisoning them with arsenic. It’s one of the most bizarre stories of the time. Martin was fifteen the first time she married. That union ended in divorce four years later. She married again, at twenty-one, to a man named George Garrett who became her first poisoning victim. She had no motive for killing him. There was an insurance policy, but she was well aware it would do little more than cover funeral expenses. Like the delusional old aunts in Arsenic and Old Lace, her reasons for killing seemed unfathomable.
 
Martin married a third time but divorced after five months. Or at least she tried to—but somehow, she married her fourth husband before the divorce was final. Her fourth had a son named Bud. When Martin poisoned husband number four, stepson Bud became her companion, and soon thereafter her fifth husband. This would normally have led to a prosecution for incest, but the fourth wedding was invalid from the start due to Martin’s failure to obtain a divorce from her third husband. This meant Bud had never legally been Martin’s son-in-law.
 
She claimed to love Bud with all her heart, but the old compulsion took hold and she poisoned him too. But this time she botched the job and left him not dead, but paraplegic. Bud’s illness set off police warning bells, finally, and prompted an investigation that uncovered the suspicious deaths of not just two previous husbands, but three children and Martin’s mother. All had been buried in the same cemetery and police exhumed the bodies in a carnival atmosphere as the story caught like wildfire and dominated front pages nationwide. A Montgomery Advertiser article blared: “Waitress Admits Guilt in Seven Poison Cases; Six Victims Met Death.”

At trial Martin pleaded insanity. The jury wasn’t buying. Rhonda Belle Martin was executed in October 1957 in the Alabama electric chair. As to whether she was truly insane like the aunts in Arsenic and Old Lace, we’ll never know, but her third husband, an orderly at a Veteran’s hospital that housed hundreds of insane people, said she wasn’t. “Rhonda Belle, she ain’t no good-looking woman,” he said, “but she’s got personality and she’s smart.” In the end though, she wasn’t smart enough to elude detection. And as far as her magnetic personality went—when she was buried there were fewer people at her graveside than she had killed.     

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 15
1912—The Titanic Sinks
Two and a half hours after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage, the British passenger liner RMS Titanic sinks, dragging 1,517 people to their deaths. The number of dead amount to more than fifty percent of the passengers, due mainly to the fact the liner was not equipped with enough lifeboats.
1947—Robinson Breaks Color Line
African-American baseball player Jackie Robinson officially breaks Major League Baseball's color line when he debuts for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Several dark skinned men had played professional baseball around the beginning of the twentieth century, but Robinson was the first to overcome the official segregation policy called—ironically, in retrospect—the "gentleman's agreement".
April 14
1935—Dust Storm Strikes U.S.
Exacerbated by a long drought combined with poor soil conservation techniques that caused excessive soil erosion on farmlands, a huge dust storm known as Black Sunday rages across Texas, Oklahoma, and several other states, literally turning day to night and redistributing an estimated 300,000 tons of topsoil.
April 13
1953—MK-ULTRA Mind Control Program Launched
In the U.S., CIA director Allen Dulles launches a program codenamed MK-ULTRA, which involves the surreptitious use of drugs such as LSD to manipulate individual mental states and to alter brain function. The specific goals of the program are multifold, but focus on drugging world leaders in order to discredit them, developing a truth serum, and making people highly susceptible to suggestion. All of this is top secret, and files relating to MK-ULTRA's existence are destroyed in 1973, but the truth about the program still emerges in the mid-seventies after a congressional investigation.
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