This one has arms and she knows how to use them.
From meager expectations often great entertainment arises. Such is the case with Ralph Carter's 1945 melodrama Blonde Venus. It's the story of a Kansas farm girl who goes to New York City to become a writer and finds that people are more interested in her body than her brain. We were surprised by this one. It's better than we expected for three reasons.
First, its protagonist Wandalee Fernald is uniquely likeable for a female character playing out a male writer's outdated Madonna/whore dichotomy. Often male writers fumble that theme, but Carter makes his take on it work.
Second, the narrative explores the change in attitudes toward sex that occurred during World War II, a time when the idea of female virginity before marriage was being temporarily tossed out the window due to the realization that life could be cut short.
And third, in a country that was rapidly urbanizing, the story makes good use of the tension between smalltown provincialism and big city cynicism, a struggle Wandalee internalizes as she tries to find out who she is.
Throughout the book we wondered whether she would end up with the backward hayseed hurt by her loss of purity or the jaded urbanite who accepts her as is but can't offer love in the romantic sense. Well, it turns out she chooses neither, and finds real love in New York City after all. That's a spoiler, but are you really going to seek out this flimsy old paperback? We don't think so. But if you happen to run across a copy, it's worth a read.
Himes' Harlemites take the prize.
Above is an unusual orange cover by an uncredited artist for Chester Himes' crime yarn The Big Gold Dream. We're Himes fans, but for us this wasn't as enjoyable as For Love of Imabelle or The Real Cool Killers, nor as well written, in our opinion, but the author's flair is undiminished in a tale about a lottery winner whose $36,000 cash prize is stolen. The most interesting character here is Dummy, a man permanently deaf from a beating and mute from having his tongue cut out, but whose disrespectful nickname belies his tenacity. And of course franchise detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones also star. There are caricatures many readers will find offensive, but that just makes Himes like most writers of the period. No matter what, with him you can count on a portrayal of Harlem that's quirky and insightful, and that's probably reason enough to read the book. It originally appeared in 1959, and this Signet edition dates from 1975.
Ekberg personifies every father's wish.
Swedish superstar Anita Ekberg poses in New York City for this promo photo commemorating Father's Day, which in the U.S. happens to be today. How many fathers wish they had someone like Ekberg around the house? All of them. This was shot in 1958.
Everybody who was anybody was fair game in Harrison's Hollywood.
In independent journalism there's a battle raging at all times, as those with power attempt to intimidate the press, make its work difficult, control its narrative, restrict its access, redefine what constitutes journalism, or even cast individual members of the press as public enemies. It's a battle that never ends. Confidential magazine was an important soldier on the journalistic battlefield. For ages anything that appeared in Hollywood gossip magazines was carefully crafted and groomed by the studios, which maintained power by denying access to all but officially accredited press outlets.
Maverick publisher Robert Harrison was a visionary who realized the public would open their wallets and pay for the lurid truth—even if the rush to get startling scoops meant the truth was sometimes only half-correct. Confidential appeared in 1952, and had the studios quivering in their boots by 1954. The issue you see here came later, this month in 1963, in what is acknowledged as the magazine's later, tamer period, a defanging that came about thanks to numerous lawsuits launched by Hollywood stars, backed by powerful California politicians.
Confidential still managed to entertain, even if its stories were of a less invasive nature than before. But notwithstanding the new rules of engagement, some targets received particularly scathing treatment. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were among them. The magazine says their legendary affair on the set of Cleopatra began as a studio publicity stunt, which backfired when Taylor actually fell for Burton—and into his bed. That may be true, but failure can be relative. On one hand Taylor's squeaky clean image was ruined forever, but on the other the story of her affair generated immense amounts of free press for Cleopatra.
Other celebs who get cooked on the rotisserie include Joan Collins, Anthony Newley, Rex Harrison, Vince Edwards, and pioneering trans entertainer Christine Jorgensen. The magazine also tackled the issue of street prostitution in New York City and an epidemic of glue sniffing among American teens. We have a set of scans below and—stop us if you've heard this before—an entire tabloid index with thirty more posts about Confidential, to be found here.
Last stop—the city morgue.
Watching lots of movies eventually brings everything your way. The promo poster for Grand Central Murder lured us, and we found ourselves watching an archetypal Sherlockian whodunnit, complete with the villain unmasked in the final moments. When a Broadway showgirl is murdered on a private train car the police gather a gaggle of suspects and go through each of their stories trying to uncover the killer. Among the detainees—her escaped convict boyfriend, her sad sack ex-husband, her jealous co-worker, her phony psychic stepfather, her theatrical understudy, and others, including the convict's lawyer, played by lead actor Van Heflin. Various alibis and reminiscences are shown in flashback until the killer is revealed via a monologue that wraps everything up nice and neat. We wouldn't call the movie screamingly thrilling and funny like the poster does, but it's okay if you like mysteries, and the mass transit backdrop is actually kind of interesting. Grand Central Murder premiered in New York City today in 1942.
The cover tries to shift the blame, but Sweet and Deadly is man-on-man mayhem at its most basic.
The cover of Sweet and Deadly is pulp style, thanks to Zenith Books' 1959 rebranding of Philip MacDonald and A. Boyd Correll's 1948 novel The Dark Wheel, but this is actually more a melodrama than a true pulp style novel. And there's no femme fatale, as implied by the title. What you get here is a tangled web woven by men in love, women with ambition, and an homme fatale who has a serious mental problem.
To detail it a bit more, when a rich man's actress wife dies, he begins habitually attending the play in which she starred, so that he can observe and obsess over her replacement. Not healthy. The new actress has a psychosomatically paralyzed husband who she thinks will be cured if his brilliant new play is produced. So, not knowing anything about her rich secret admirer, she's steered in his direction looking for financial backing, and unwittingly sets into motion his plan to murder her husband and take his place.
However you categorize this one, it was good, if a bit contrived in reaching its climax. Set in the rarefied world of New York City's performing arts community, with characters that are all actors, playwrights, producers, and such, it felt fresh compared to the career criminals that often populate the books we read. Perhaps its most serious flaw—one we always hate—is that its cover art is uncredited.
Cleo Moore tries to picture a better life.
The drama Over-Exposed came with the mighty cool promotional poster you see above, and we think it perfectly captures the amoral, tabloid-style themes of the film. Cleo Moore plays a woman at loose ends who meets a kindly photographer and decides to learn his trade. She quickly shows a talent for camera work, moves to New York City, and schemes her way into increasingly better jobs in pursuit of money and fame. She gets plenty of both, and also scores a gig as the house photographer at Club Coco, a mobster backed watering hole where she eventually lands in a big kettle of red hot trouble.
There are aspects of Over-Exposed that play differently now than they would have even a dozen years ago. Richard Crenna as her love interest is bummed to be taking more and more of a back seat as Moore climbs the ladder. This friction is portrayed sympathetically toward Crenna, with Moore shown to be losing her soul, but modern viewers might find this sexist, and point out that ambitious women are nearly always treated shabbily—both in vintage cinema and modern life. So in that sense there's unintended feminist tension to the movie that makes it more complex than you'd expect going in.
You'll see Over-Exposed labeled a film noir in many places, but it's one of those movies that mostly doesn't fit the brief. It isn't until the climax that it has the look and feel of noir. This wasn't uncommon—numerous old movies spent eighty minutes as pure drama before turning to noir stylings to spice up their finales. The Time To Kill, which we talked about a while ago, is a prime example. So is Over-Exposed a film noir? Ultimately, we think not, but when borrowing from the genre it does so better than most. An improbable but enjoyable flick, it premiered this month in 1956.
People say romance is dead now, but in this magazine it was on life support a long time ago.
In parts of the world today is Valentine's Day, so in commemoration of this lovely corporate holiday we have this issue of True Romances, with awesome cover art painted by Georgia Warren. It goes way back to 2012. Well, it goes back, really, to 1935. But for us it goes back to 2012, when we picked it up on a trip to Denver. We gave it to one of the Pulp Intl. girlfriends, and she was flattered, but strangely, never read it. She prefers to read about cryptocurrencies for some reason. So after a while we took the magazine back, and now we've torn it apart and scanned it. We actually swore not to damage it, but it was impossible to scan something so fragile and keep that promise, so now Romances is truly dead.
But it's not a great loss, because there isn't much romance in the magazine anyway—certainly not enough to lure P.I.1 away from her cryptocurrency news. There are a few sweet stories, yes, but it's mostly emotional extortion and body shaming. Scan five, titled “Mental Cases I Have Met,” pretty much encapsulates the entire enterprise. Turns out the mental cases were suffering from a lack of confidence in their maxi pads. The P.I. girlfriends say all of this had to be written by men, and they could be right, though most of the credits are feminine. We tend to think the attributions are accurate, but we'll never know. Below we have almost forty scans from this rare publication, and whether the content was created by men in disguise or not, from a 2019 perspective it's all pretty enjoyable. See for yourself.
It should have launched a memorable career but didn't quite work out that way.
Do people who like film noir also like NFL football? We ask because the Noir City Film Festival wraps up tonight in head-to-head competition with the Super Bowl. For football haters, the fest is a chance to get out of Super Bowl households for the duration of the game, but for others it's a tough choice. Film noir and football are similar. Both feature hardheaded men pitted in mortal struggle against forces arrayed against them. Both feature unexpected plot twists. Both put physical safety at risk. In both cheating is rampant (at least when the Patriots are involved). In neither is victory assured. We wonder what the festival organizers would have done if the 49ers had made it to the title game. Hah hah‚ that's a joke. They knew—everybody knew—the 49ers would suck this year.
Anyway, tonight the festival features two films, one of which is 1961's Blast of Silence. Written, directed by, and starring Allen Baron, the film is a fascinating counterpoint to Stanley Kubrick's Killer's Kiss, which showed at Noir City a few days ago. Both are low budget crime thrillers shot in New York City about men desperate for better lives whose needs center on women. Where Kubrick's protagonist is a pug boxer whose interest in a beautiful neighbor makes him want out of the ring, Baron plays a killer-for-hire whose random encounter with a woman from his youth triggers second thoughts about his chosen career.
Many reviews of Blast of Silence are of the glowing variety, but while it's seamlessly put together and the noir flourishes are well executed, it suffers from Baron's acting, as well as that of other performers. But everyone loves an auteur in the rough. It's easy to look past the acting and see Baron's behind-the-camera talent. Given a chance he might have had a very different career. Watching Blast of Silence you can imagine it. Like gruff voiced narrator Lionel Stander says at one point, “You get a feeling this is how it was meant to be.”
Instead Baron put together one more low budget movie before migrating into television, where he intermittently directed shows like The Brady Bunch and Charlie's Angels. Hmm... Brady like Tom Brady and Angels like Los Angeles? Um... where were we? Oh yes. It's amazing how Baron's career diverged from Kubrick's despite both making low budget NYC thrillers of similar quality. Was Baron as talented as Kubrick? We aren't saying that. Just that it would have been interesting to see what his cinematic career might have looked like. But if film noir teaches anything it's that in life, as in football, things don't always work out the way they should. Go Rams.
Widmark/Peters noir looks great and packs a punch.
It wouldn't be a film noir festival without at least one anti-commie thriller and Pickup on South Street is it. The movie stars Richard Widmark as a two-bit pickpocket who lifts a wallet during an NYC subway ride and unexpectedly ends up with a priceless government secret meant to be given to commie spies by a cabal of sweaty traitors. Widmark sneers his way into a position where he thinks he can sell the stolen info for fifty grand. He's got another think coming.
Best line: If you refuse to cooperate you'll be as guilty as the traitors that gave Stalin the A bomb!
Well, Stalin had help from spies but we don't think any gave him the bomb like a borscht recipe. He had help on other fronts as well, including from captured German scientists and homegrown Russian knowhow, but this is film noir, so go with it. The good team vs. bad team dynamic continues throughout, and numerous people try to convince Widmark to put his own interests aside and play for the home squad. They're wasting their breath.
The movie co-stars Jean Peters, a good actress and amazing knockout who's been a bit forgotten, even though she was in a few other good films and went on to marry nutball billionaire Howard Hughes. Her opening scene on a humid subway will stick with you. Sadly, she harbors yet another inexplicable film noir infatuation with a male lead who's about as nice as a sack of cold dick tips, but this is film noir so go with it. Ditto for the pushing and slapping Peters endures. She's even knocked cold by Widmark in their initial encounter. Deliberately.
His apology: You okay or did I bust something?
These sly flirtations increase Peters' ardor. The female heart wants what it wants, at least in the minds of wannabe-tough-guy Hollywood screenwriters. That screenwriter would be Samuel Fuller, who actually was acquainted with the underworld from his days as a crime reporter. So it could be that he knew more about gutter love than we do, but we doubt it. Here's what really matters—Peters absolutely kills her role, and does her own stunts too. Thelma Ritter, later of Rear Window, also gets a pivotal turn and nails her part as a tired older lady just trying to get by.
In the end Pickup on South Street comes full circle. While it's about patriotism, and trying to survive in New York City with zero means, and a weird kind of masochistic 1953 infatuation we'll never really understand, it starts with pickpocketing and eventually returns, in a symmetry that feels very modern in screenwriting terms, to that idea for the excellent climax. With Fuller directing and Joe MacDonald handling the cinematography, the final result is a knockout in both senses of the word—looks great, packs a punch.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1916—First Battle of the Somme Ends
In France, British Expeditionary Force commander Douglas Haig calls off a battle against entrenched German troops which had begun on July 1, 1916. Known as the Battle of the Somme, this action resulted in one of the greatest losses of life in modern history—over three-hundred thousand dead for a net gain of about seven miles of land.
1978—Jonestown Cult Commits Mass Suicide
In the South American country of Guyana, Jim Jones leads his Peoples Temple cult in a mass suicide that claims 918 lives, including over 270 children. Congressman Leo J. Ryan, who had been visiting the makeshift cult complex known as Jonestown to investigate claims of abuse, is shot by members of the Peoples Temple as he tries to escape from a nearby airfield with several cult members who asked for his protection.
1973—Nixon Proclaims His Innocence
While in Orlando, Florida, U.S. President Richard Nixon tells four-hundred Associated Press managing editors, "I am not a crook." The false statement comes to symbolize Nixon's presidency when facts are uncovered that prove he is, indeed, a crook.
1938—Lysergic Acid Diethylamide Created
In Basel, Switzerland, at the Sandoz Laboratories, chemist Albert Hofmann creates the psychedelic compound Lysergic acid diethylamide, aka LSD, from a grain fungus.
1945—German Scientists Secretly Brought to U.S.
In a secret program codenamed Operation Paperclip, the United States Army admits 88 German scientists and engineers into the U.S. to help with the development of rocket technology. President Harry Truman ordered that Paperclip exclude members of the Nazi party, but in practice many Nazis who had been officially classified as dangerous were also brought to the U.S. after their backgrounds were whitewashed by Army officials.
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