Monroe finds herself in a room with no space to maneuver.
It says plenty about Don't Bother To Knock that we queued it up last night, popcorn and adult beverages in hand, having forgotten that we already watched it several years ago. That has less to do with the overall film than with Marilyn Monroe, but we'll get to that in a minute. The film was based on Charlotte Armstrong's Mischief, which was serialized in 1950 in Good Housekeeping magazine, and deals with a mentally disturbed babysitter watching over a child in a fancy New York City hotel suite. Along with Monroe it stars Richard Widmark and Anne Bancroft, with their three characters suffering respectively from derangement, detachment, and disillusionment—three ailments suggested to be caused or exacerbated by life in the big city. Widmark as a cynical single looking for easy action and Bancroft as a world weary torch singer working the hotel lounge don't have any problems a change in luck wouldn't solve, but the movie revolves around Monroe, who, thirteen credited roles into her career at this point, gets a chance to stretch her range as a nutty nanny in need of a lot more than just kind words to get back on the beam.
Monroe's performance in this heavy drama is tough to judge. To us it feels a bit flat, but contemporary reviewers generally liked it, and it's fair to say it helped her climb that last rung to the superstardom she'd reach a year later with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Watch that film and you'll see that, while Don't Bother To Knock asked her to stretch, it did so by requiring that she suppress her natural charisma. That's no easy trick for an actor, let alone someone as incandescent as her, and that, in short, is probably why we forgot we'd already watched the movie. Monroe was so big in her other performances that this flick went down the memory hole. Her iconic movies feel as if they could only have starred her. This one feels like it could have starred anyone. Monroe just isn't Monroe in it. But that probably means her performance is a success. Watching it afresh, we can tell you it's certainly a must for Marilyn fans, and will probably work for vintage film fans of all types. But those unschooled in the oldies might walk away from this effort thinking, Meh, I don't get all the Monroe fuss. But the fuss was appropriate and deserved. Don't Bother To Knock—not a film noir as labeled on many sites, by the way—premiered today in 1953.
Money is always greener from a distance.
Sweet Smell of Success was a mandatory watch for us. It's considered by many to be a top film noir but we'd never seen it. Well, that's been rectified now, and what a good expenditure of time it was. Tony Curtis plays a New York City publicity agent whose business is falling apart because he's been blacklisted by the most important newspaper columnist in the country, played by Burt Lancaster. Why the rough treatment? Lancaster's sister is dating a jazz musician and he wants the relationship ended. He's trying to force Curtis to do the dirty work—smear the guy, frame him, whatever, just get him out of the picture. Curtis's desperation to climb to the top ranks of agents leads him to try breaking up the pair, but in film noir sleazy decisions have a way of pushing goals farther away rather than drawing them nearer.
Sweet Smell of Success, which had a special premiere in New York City in June 1957, and went into national release a week later, which was today, has a feel similar to another Big Apple drama—the excellent 2019 movie Uncut Gems. Both movies are very fast paced, even borderline chaotic, as desperate bottom-dwellers try to climb to the top of a dog-eat-dog industry while keeping one step ahead of karmic fate. Sweet Smell of Success is the better film largely thanks to Lancaster in one of the all-time heel roles. You'll want to punch his character J.J. Hunsecker—nice, right?—directly in the middle of his face. And you'll want to give Curtis a shaking fit to rattle his teeth. Anything to wake him up to the fact that in a cutthroat game, the most important thing isn't having a razor but lacking a conscience. Noir fans should push this one to the head of the queue.
She likes to chill out, but never so much that she fully lets down her guard.
Above you see U.S. actress Judy Holliday, who debuted in cinema in 1938 and appeared in such films as Adam's Rib and The Solid Gold Cadillac. Her career was going okay until she was named in the red-baiting publication Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and TV as having communist connections. Called before a congressional committee, she refused to name names, but learned that freedom of association was an illusion in 1950s America. Holliday kept working in films until 1960, and died early five years later, at age 43, from throat cancer, in the place where she had been born and spent most of her life, New York City. The photo above was made in 1944, when she was filming Winged Victory.
If it bends, it's pulp. But if it breaks, it's parody.
Does the line in our subhead ring a bell? It's from Crimes and Misdemeanors, the 1989 Woody Allen film, spoken by Alan Alda, but applied to comedy. The quote is: “If it bends it's funny, but if it breaks it isn't.” That jumped into our heads when reading James Gunn's Deadlier than the Male. Gunn is described by New Yorker reviewer Clifton Fadiman as bloodier, nastier, and tougher than James M. Cain. Well, okay, but Gunn and Cain come at crime fiction from slightly different angles. Gunn is a good writer, though. No doubt about it. He plays with subtle alliterations, symmetries, and anastrophes that mark him as a skilled practitioner of his art. But can he write a murder book? Was he even trying? Was his primary goal to bend the genre, or to break it?
Deadlier than the Male has been described as a pulp parody but we aren't sure about that. Gunn comes up with some off-the-wall similes, but we don't see them as satirical. We think he simply wanted to push the established tropes of the crime novel a bit farther than usual. He wanted to write a femme fatale that was more of a femme fatale, and write deadpan cynicism that was even more so, to be more Cain than Cain perhaps, which we think Clifton Fadiman was correct to point out in his review. So then, returning to the question of whether Gunn's goal was to write a murder book, we think it was. It bends, but we don't think it breaks.
In terms of plot, what you have here is a woman who vows to unmask the murderer of her friend, while another woman decides to dig into the shady history of the man who's married her younger sister. Murderer and husband are the same man, and his plan is to get his mitts on his new bride's fortune, while of course avoiding any connection to the previous murder. Both women are metaphorically deadlier than the male, since both could be the ruin of the main male character, but their deadliness derives from loyalty, persistence, wiliness, and a lack of scruples. It's not's quite good versus evil, so much as scalpels versus hammer, which we thought was a cool approach.
But you know how you read something, know it's artful, yet fail to be fully engaged? For us this was one of those books. Is it a failure of the writer or the reader? We'll take the blame. We have certain tastes. By now, if you've visited Pulp Intl. often, you know what types of books get our juices flowing. If you tackle Deadlier than the Male you'll probably have the sense of reading something notable. And if you like to get under the hood you'll find a lot of stylish work inside. But will it get your pulse racing? Umm.. *looking over our shoulders to see if any literary critics are near* ...we doubt it.
Some people really don't like being in photos.
Here's a pulp style historical oddity we've seen floating around the web of late. This photo shows a frame from a bank security camera at the moment a bank robber shoots it. It's from United Press International, and first came to public attention thanks to an art exhibition called “Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play,” which was mounted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City back in 2016. Based on the fact that the men are wearing fedoras we would have guessed the robbery to have taken place during the ’40s or ’50s, but it actually happened in Cleveland, Ohio, today in 1975.
Interestingly, one of us was actually in an armed robbery. A young PSGP was in a Kroger grocery store when a guy charged in with a gun and yelled at everyone to get on the floor. People were so stunned they just stood there, and the would-be robber turned around and ran. PSGP's dad, decisive as always, said, “Let's get the fuck out of here,” and they took off mere seconds after the robber. Fast forward to later and the local news reported that the store had been robbed. It turns out the thief had come back just a few minutes later. One hates to imagine what would have happened if PSGP and his dad had bumped into the guy. Anyway, does that count as being in an armed robbery? We think so.
To be a sidewalk pancake or not to be a sidewalk pancake. That is the question.
We have a friend who once said that everyone's problems can be boiled down to, “Mommy and daddy didn't love me enough.” We don't agree, but 14 Hours, aka Fourteen Hours, takes that idea and runs with it as far and fast as it can, as Richard Basehart climbs onto a New York City hotel ledge and engages in the eternal existential wrestling match: To be or not to be? Most of the movie takes place on that ledge, as a beat cop played by Paul Douglas tries to talk Basehart out of splattering himself all over 55th Street.
The performances in this film were acclaimed at the time, and it also has an interesting collection of young, soon-to-be stars, including Debra Paget, pretty boy Jeffery Hunter, Barbara Bel Geddes, and the legendary Grace Kelly, who's twenty-two yet plays a mother of two about to be divorced. Yes, there are twenty-two-year-old mothers of two facing divorce, but it feels like a case of shoehorning her into the movie when her role was clearly written for an older actress. But hey, shoehorn away—she's Grace Kelly. She can play King Kong as far as we're concerned.
14 Hours is, on the whole, an involving and speedy flick. It is not a film noir, and we wish IMDB and Wikipedia didn't let their users label every vintage black and white drama a noir. This one is not even close to noir. It has almost none of that genre's standard iconography, and also lacks its required thematic underpinning. The American Film Institute officially calls it a suspense drama. Whatever its category, 14 Hours' ninety-two minutes are entertaining and technically proficient. To watch or not to watch? We say yes. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1951.
If you'd had sex with me I wouldn't be out here with the pigeons right now. Headquarters? Do not—I repeat do not—eat all the donuts. We'll get this nutjob off the ledge and be back there as quick as we can. I certainly don't want you to get desperate enough to climb onto a ledge. Let's go to your place and I'll show you what life is all about. Don't jump, son! Without you there'll be nobody around to listen to me complain about what a loser your father is! Hello, headquarters? Status check on those donuts. Just cooperate, mister! There are a lot of hungry cops up here!
I heard you the first time. I'm just choosing to ignore you.
We've been told that this low rent cover for Justin Kent's 1955 fetish cheapie Touch Me Not! is by sleaze art master Eric Stanton. If so, it's a mere sketch compared to his normal style, but we'll accept that it's him. Last time we checked, Touch Me Not! was selling for $155, which is outrageous for something that looks like it was stapled at a Kinko's. But in this case at least, the buyer would get something historically significant. This book was central to an obscenity case brought in 1959 by the state of New York against Times Square bookstore owner Edward Mishkin that after seven years went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966. Mishkin lost the case, and Touch Me Not!, which had been confiscated with numerous other books, remained under wraps for fifty years. You can see plenty more Eric Stanton art by clicking his keywords below.
One motivated American outsmarts an entire cabal of communists in Spillane crime drama.
Mickey Spillane's 1951 red scare caper One Lonely Night is, on one hand, classic Spillane starring his franchise sociopath Mike Hammer, but on the other, silly, polemical, and painfully dated. Mike Hammer the insane killer is kind of likeable, but Mike Hammer the insane killer with a political agenda is a bit tedious. Hammer's anti-commie pronouncements usually come across like set-ups for punchlines, as if he might go, “Just kidding! If we're comparing body counts we capitalists are running neck and neck! Gen-o-cide! Sla-vuh-ree!” But nope—Hammer remains both privileged and aggrieved throughout. In that way he's a very modern character. Since Spillane clearly thought Soviet influence in America was a serious threat he at least should have populated this violent slog through NYC's leftist underground with canny commies. But when they're this sloppy, why worry? Oh well. We'll always have Kiss, Me Deadly.
Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto give their all and then some in hard luck crime thriller.
Across 110th Street premiered today in 1972, which makes it one of the early arrivals in the blaxploitation wave that was sweeping American b-cinema. With its ample budget and its well established headliner in Anthony Quinn, you could make the case that it isn't fully part of the genre, but we think it fits, even if it's atypical. Outlier or not, you'll see several faces in this that would soon become well known in blaxploitation, and you'll also see Burt Young, later of Rocky and Chinatown.
Plotwise, the movie centers on odd couple cops—old school racist Quinn and college educated reformist Yaphet Kotto—thrown together à la In the Heat of the Night to solve an NYC murder/robbery. As familiar as this oil vs. water dynamic may be, the movie still comes together in exciting fashion thanks to the way it tracks the robbers' storylines. They're a trio of amateurs who ripped off the Mafia for $300,000 and now are being hunted by both crooks and cops. Quinn and Kotto must find these thieves before the Mafia turns Harlem into a war zone.
When the film was released it was criticized for its violence and bitter racial subtext, but upsetting the herd is one of the things it tries to achieve. And while it may not appeal to people's better angels, it's quite interesting, with the grit of Wally Ferris's otherwise radically altered source novel left intact, and the central metaphor embodied in the title—that of which lines will be crossed and what the consequences will be—deftly observed. Across 110th Street is rough stuff, but well worth a watch.
After seventy-three years she's finally lost her title.
We've seen this photo in numerous online spots, and why not? It's amazing. But none of those sites bother to explain the provenance of the image. We dug around, and it appears we're the first website to have done it. The Mystery Writers of America, which was founded in 1945 in New York City and soon expanded to other locations, in its early years used to throw what they called a Clues Party. In November 1947 the party was in Chicago, and the MWA awarded the title of Mystery Girl to the woman who performed best in a scream test—as opposed to screen test. Four contestants—Marybeth Prebis, Betty Rosboro, Bobby Jo Rodgers, and Portia Kubin—let fly with their most bloodcurdling screams, and the winner was Kubin, above. The MWA stopped throwing Clues Parties at some point, which seems a shame, but they established the coveted Edgar Award, so maybe that's an okay trade. Kubin was probably an aspiring actress but a glance at various online sources shows no film credits, which means this was her only shot at celebrity. But what a shot.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1945—Churchill Given the Sack
In spite of admiring Winston Churchill as a great wartime leader, Britons elect
Clement Attlee the nation's new prime minister in a sweeping victory for the Labour Party over the Conservatives.
1952—Evita Peron Dies
Eva Duarte de Peron, aka Evita, wife of the president of the Argentine Republic, dies from cancer at age 33. Evita had brought the working classes into a position of political power never witnessed before, but was hated by the nation's powerful military class. She is lain to rest in Milan, Italy in a secret grave under a nun's name, but is eventually returned to Argentina for reburial beside her husband in 1974.
1943—Mussolini Calls It Quits
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini steps down as head of the armed forces and the government. It soon becomes clear that Il Duce did not relinquish power voluntarily, but was forced to resign after former Fascist colleagues turned against him. He is later installed by Germany as leader of the Italian Social Republic in the north of the country, but is killed by partisans in 1945.
1915—Ship Capsizes on Lake Michigan
During an outing arranged by Western Electric Co. for its employees and their families, the passenger ship Eastland capsizes in Lake Michigan due to unequal weight distribution. 844 people die, including all the members of 22 different families.
1980—Peter Sellers Dies
British movie star Peter Sellers, whose roles in Dr. Strangelove, Being There and the Pink Panther films established him as the greatest comedic actor of his generation, dies of a heart attack at age fifty-four.
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