Any port in a storm—except maybe this one.
This French poster for the British made film Port Afrique was painted in a style that made us certain it was the work of Constantin Belinsky. But nope—it's signed by André Bertrand, and it's a very nice piece. As the art indicates, the movie is a North African adventure, a vehicle for Italian rising star Pier Angeli, and it can be described with one word—exotic. The filmmakers turned the E dial up to 11, location shooting in Tangier to create a fictional city of Port Afrique that's part Berber, part French, and part Spanish. Casablanca comparisons are inevitable, but solely in terms of exteriors Port Afrique is greatly superior. There's simply nothing like the real thing. The movie is also shot in color, which adds to its appeal, even if it detracts a bit from its noirish ambitions.
As in Casablanca, much of the action in Port Afrique revolves around a bar, in this case Le Badinage, which seemingly can afford to have more performers than customers. The bar's beautiful chanteuse—there's always a beautiful chanteuse—is played by the elfish Angeli, who's stuck in town without a passport and suffering under the attentions of the proprietor Nino. The threat in his overtures is unspoken but clear—no punani, no passport. Into this situation arrives a wounded American pilot with the unlikely name Rip Reardon, played by future b-movie stalwart Phil Carey. After his onscreen run he would find himself in soap opera purgatory as Asa Buchanan on One Life To Live, but here he gets his chance to help anchor a big drama. Shortly after Rip arrives his wife turns up dead. The cops call it a suicide, but Rip decides to take the investigation into his own hands, with all the usual twists and turns.
Port Afrique has a lot of problems. The script is clunky and improbable, the motivations of its characters murky, and the chemistry between its stars lukewarm. Carey ended up on soap operas for a reason, clearly on display here. He has little range, and none of the heft needed for his role. As for Angeli, she never became the superstar her advocates intended, and again, you can see why. She's better than Carey for sure, yet she still lacks the fire her role needs. But here's the thing—we think, for serious film buffs, the movie is worth watching anyway. It looks amazing, from the cinematography to the production design, and its goal of being a Technicolor noir is worth examination and discussion. But casual film fans may want to steer clear. After premiering in the U.S. in 1956 Port Afrique reached France today in 1957.
I know these regional airports lack the usual amenities, but a shuttle to the terminal sure would be nice.
We've mentioned before that we like to read books about places we've been, but we had no idea the 1960 thriller Seven Lies South was set in Spain and Morocco. We impulse-bought this 1962 Crest edition after seeing William P. McGivern's name and taking in the striking Harry Bennett cover art featuring a woman, an aircraft, two bedouins, and their camels. McGivern wrote the excellent 1961 juvenile delinquent thriller Savage Streets, so that was all we needed to know. We found out in the first page that the setting, as the story opened, was Malaga, Spain, and went, “Oh, okay—even better.”
The book stars Mike Beecher, a former bomber pilot, now in his late thirties and doing a belated Lost Generation bit—idleness, parties, a rotating cast of acquaintances, and a lot of solitary reflection in a foreign land. His Sun Also Rises-style fatalism is a little tedious, in our view. After all, he was never wounded in the sex organs like Jake Barnes, and if one's naughty bits function, there's always reason to smile. In any case, one day he meets a beautiful young woman named Laura Meadows, who embodies his dissatisfaction:
She symbolized everything that was unobtainable, beyond his reach; the rosy and prosperous life of America, with the tides of success sweeping everyone on to fine, fat futures.
But not everyone, of course. Entire ethnicities were excluded from that sweeping tide of success. Things are unobtainable for Beecher, but only because he's made a choice to reject them. What a luxury, to reject something, then bemoan what one “can't” have, when many people really can't have it. It's not a flaw in the book, so much as a cultural blind spot—perhaps deliberately inserted by McGivern, who was generally insightful about such issues. You have to sort of smile at Beecher's inability to appreciate being reasonably young, healthy, and knocking around the south of Spain drinking wine. Not everyone gets to do that. That's exactly what we do, and we appreciate it every day.
Beecher is coerced into helping to steal a plane headed for Morocco, but the mission goes wildly sideways, which unexpectedly mutates the narrative into a desert survival adventure. In order to set up and progress through this section, McGivern has his characters sometimes undertake actions that don't exactly resound with logic, but even so the book is good. McGivern can really write, even when it verges on the preposterous. He was more at home in the suburbs of Savage Streets, but he navigates the Spain and Morocco of Seven Lies South deftly enough. We have no hesitation about trying him again.
In Casablanca no other place compares.
We're back in the house today—Casablanca, that is. Several days ago, on the film's Italian premiere date, we showed you some Italian posters, and today, on its U.S. premiere date, we're taking a close look at possibly the most famous fictional bar in cinema history—Rick's Café Americain. Casablanca is one of the greatest films ever made, and it's fair to say Rick's was a supporting character. Filmgoers of 1942 found themselves steeped in its otherworldly Moroccan atmosphere, as scenes were staged in its courtyard, dining room, gambling room, at its lively bar, and in Rick's roomy upstairs office and personal living quarters. We've never confirmed this, but we suspect one third of the film occurs inside Rick's Café. We have photos of every area we could find of this iconic and exotic “gin joint”—as Bogart cynically describes it—and we even turned up a blueprint. You'd be tempted to think bars like Rick's exist only in film, but you'd be wrong. We've been to places that have exotic architecture, excellent food and drink, lively musical entertainment, well dressed internationalclientele, and the aura of being in the middle of a spy caper. The decadent colonial bar Abaco, located in Palma de Mallorca, comes immediately to mind, as does the supper club Meson Pansa Verde in Antigua, Guatemala, where they have live jazz in a converted wine cellar and a friend of ours once famously pushed his date into the pool. We've been to Rick's-like places in Mexico, the Caribbean, the Greek Islands, and, appropriately, Morocco, in both Fes and Marrakech (we're not fans of the Rick's that currently operates in Casablanca—same name, very diminished feel). But magical places do exist, which means even if Bogart's beloved café was never real, having those types of nights is possible. We recommend making it your mission to seek them out.
The FBI stretches its jurisdiction all the way to Morocco in 1953 thriller.
Above, two beautiful Italian posters for F.B.I. divisione criminale, originally titled La môme vert de gris, but known in the U.S. as Poison Ivy. The film was based on a Peter Cheyney novel also named Poison Ivy, and starred Eddie Constantine as an American G-man in Morocco, and Dominique Wilms as a femme fatale known as—you guessed it—Poison Ivy. We talked about the movie at length in May, so if you're curious have a look here.
French crime drama throws Caution to the wind.
Here you see two posters for the 1953 French crime drama La môme vert de gris, which was called Poison Ivy in the U.S. This was adapted from a 1937 novel by Peter Cheyney that featured his recurring character FBI agent Lemmy Caution, who onscreen is played by Eddie Constantine. When two million dollars worth of gold goes missing Constantine is sent to Casablanca to determine its disposition and identify all malefactors involved. He finds himself pitted against a criminal mastermind of sorts, and a hive of henchmen that occupy a nightclub, a yacht, and a hideout in Casablanca's old quarter. Constantine deals with all comers by applying the time-honored advice: when in doubt, punch them out.
Film buffs the world over associate Casablanca with the Humphrey Bogart film of the same name, but the city you see here is different from the one made famous by Bogart and Co. ten years earlier. The Casablanca of this film is a maze of L.A.-style roads, white skyscrapers, and an industrial port the size of Long Beach. We checked population figures and learned it was already a major city of more than 500,000 people during the early 1940s, which means that Casablanca's village feel is really just a clever cinematic fantasy. Poison Ivy's Casablanca is real, and the many location shots mixed into the movie prove it.
That's Dominique Wilms on the top poster, and she's the reason we watched the movie. In this, her cinematic debut, she plays a femme fatale named Carlotta de la Rue, which of course indicates that she's a woman from the street. If that isn't enough to warn the men away, her friends call her Poison Ivy. Why? Because she burns. Hopefully that's meant figuratively, and above the waist. A character bringing so much heat must of course perform a torch song, which she sings with detachment, while the lyrics—as they usually do—indicate deeper issues: “I wander with my sorrow, along with my memories, looking for my old joys, which I've seen fade and die.” See? She just wants to be loved, assuming a man isn't thwarted by her acid tongue, that ironic right eyebrow, and the barbed wire encircling her heart.
The movie is certainly watchable, though it's nothing special aside from its exotic setting. But you have to appreciate the French love for U.S. crime fiction. In fact, director Bernard Borderie got the band back together and cast Constantine, Wilms, and her prehensile eyebrow in the next Caution movie, 1954's Les femmes s'en balancent. Constantine and Wilms also co-starred in 1957's Le grand bluff, another Caution adaptation, but helmed by Patrice Dally. Constantine went on to make Caution the signature character of his career. Wilms, who at age ninety is still out there somewhere, had about a dozen more roles before leaving cinema behind, but we think she had “it,” and will definitely check out some of her other work.
Are you absolutely sure the place we're staying is this way?
Smartphones have certainly made this situation less likely to occur, but on the other hand, when you come back from a trip which story do you tell your friends? The one about how you got exactly where you wanted to go, or the one about how you got lost and thought you were done for? Hammond Innes sets The Naked Land in French Morocco, as it was called then, and we can really sympathize with the two figures on the cover art because, as some of you may remember, we've been lost in Morocco too. One of the main characters here is a missionary—and we know that always goes well—who heads down to the Magreb and ends up trying to secure a mineral rich patch of land. You know the drill. Westerners trying to claim their divinely appointed riches while benighted locals stand in the way. You also get the added elements of assumed identity, spywork, communism, a murder mystery, Marrakech's mazelike central souk (awesome, by the way), and finally, an actual element—silver. The book was originally published in Britain as The Strange Land, with this U.S. edition coming in 1954 fronted by cover art from Ed Valigursky.
Around the world in sixty pages.
Exotic Adventures was a men's magazine put out by NYC based Gladiator Publications, Inc. It seems obvious the company had great ambitions, but it managed only six issues before folding. This one came in 1959 with cover art signed “Louis,” whose full identity is not given. In fact, only three people are listed as staff—editor George P. Wallace and two others—so the cover artist wasn't the only hard worker who got short shrift. The individual authors are given bylines, though, as are the men who narrated their "true" tales to biographers.
Exotic Destinations lived up to its name, with pieces set in Kashmir, French Cameroon, Morocco, Honduras, Malaya, and Borneo, and nude models who are supposedly from Japan, Brazil, France, and Germany. It was all printed on glossy paper, which is why you won't see the usual yellowing you get with old magazines, though the printing got a little streaky and inconsistent in the middle pages. Still, taken as a whole Exotic Adventures is a high quality publication, which we snared courtesy of the now idle Darwin's Scans blog. Forty-plus panels below.
Huh? What do you mean you tipped him enough earlier to cover our whole stay?
David Dodge was a very deft writer. When he died in 1974 The Last Match hadn't been published, but Hard Case Crime put it out in 2006, and it falls into the same category as his To Catch a Thief, as well as jet-set grifter novels by other authors. For us this was tremendously entertaining. Dodge takes his protagonist to Spain, southern France, Tangier, Central America, Brazil, and other exotic locales, weaving in foreign vocabulary and mixing it all up to reflect his character's life as an international rolling stone. Like when he explains offhand that the Brazilian soft drink guaraná is fizzy like a Portuguese vinho verde, but sweet, and perfect for mixing with cachaça. Little things like that give the tale great flavor. And the story of an inveterate con man knocking about from country to country while stalked by a smitten aristocratic beauty (who he refers to as Nemesis) has plenty of amusements. Some say it's not Dodge at his best because it has no plot, but stories only need to entertain. Dodge, like his main character, is remembering the highlights of his life and mixing in a portion of male-oriented fantasy. We'll admit to having a weakness for the tale because we've been to most of the places mentioned, had high times drinking guaraná mixed with cachaça, and met more than one charming hustler or beauty who arrived from parts unknown to send the town reeling. But as objectively as we can manage to assess, we think The Last Match is good, lighthearted fun. Highly recommended.
MI5 files reveal another compromising John Profumo affair.
An interesting report came out of Great Britain earlier today about John Profumo, the disgraced Secretary of State for War who resigned in 1963 after it emerged that he was having an affair with Christine Keeler, who also had sexual ties to a Russian intelligence officer. When authorities learned of the potential security threat, Profumo was interrogated, at which point he denied involvement with Keeler. When his denial was found to be false, he resigned amid the spiraling scandal.
Now MI5 files have revealed that Profumo had a previous affair with a Nazi spy who may have tried to blackmail him. The woman was named Gisela Klein, and she and Profumo met at Oxford University in 1936 when he was an undergrad. During World War II she began working for Nazi intelligence, and after the war was imprisoned as a spy. However the American in charge of her jail got her released and married her. As Gisela Winegard she maintained contact with Profumo after he entered politics, and he allegedly wrote letters to her on House of Commons stationery.
There's no evidence Profumo knew about his old flame's Nazi connections, but he may have learned of her blackmail schemes by becoming a target. In 1951 Winegard was living in Tangier with her husband when she applied for a visa to visit Britain and listed “Jack Profumo MP” as a reference.
Observers are speculating whether Profumo may have been under pressure to help push her application through. But the visa was eventually refused because of Winegard's Nazi past, with the head of British intelligence in Tangier also noting: “We have good reason to believe Mr. and Mrs. Winegard have recently engaged in blackmailing activities and now think it is possible their intended visit to the UK may be connected with this affair.”
Since we've mentioned the Profumo Affair several times, we found this to be an interesting footnote, especially in light of the ongoing U.S. Justice Department investigation into White House connections to Russian operatives. It's curious that Profumo's affairs would twice send him orbiting so close to spies of adversarial countries, but it doesn't seem as if the Klein/Winegard connection will produce any real smoking gun in terms of improper favors. As for Trump and Russia, that remains to be seen. You can read some previous posts on the infamous Profumo Affair here, here, and here.
North Africa provides the setting for another Hollywood overseas adventure.
We have a strong affinity for Morocco after our adventures there a few years ago, so any movie that references that strange and wonderful country is one we must seek out. The Woman from Tangier, starring Adele Jergens, is basically another attempt to catch Casablanca lightning in a bottle. The story deals with a dancer in trouble with the law trying to flee from Morocco to Gibratar, but being sidetracked when the ship she's sailing on has its safe robbed and its purser murdered. Detective work follows, conducted by insurance investigator and love interest Stephen Dunne. Together he and Jergens solve the mystery, which of course loops tidiliy right back to her original difficulties.
We're fascinated by how outward looking Hollywood was during the 1940s. Though most of the productions never left Southern California, the action was set in dozens of countries. In the thriller/film noir category alone we've seen Gilda and Cornered (Argentina), The Shanghai Gesture, Bermuda Mystery, To Have and Have Not (Martinique), Temptation (Egypt), Sundown (Sénégal), Appointment in Honduras, and The Mask of Dimitrios (Turkey), not to mentions dozens of others set wholly or partly in France, England, Spain, and Mexico. The Woman from Tangier, then, was part of a well established trend. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1948.
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