Femmes Fatales May 23 2013
SMOKING IN PUBLIC
Just a girl and her thoughts.

Above, Lizabeth Scott is smoking in more ways than one in this promo image shot for her 1948 film noir Pitfall. She was born Emma Matzo, if you can believe that, which makes her real name maybe the second worst in Hollywood history. But her career has to rank as one of the best in the sense that unlike most actresses she began with starring roles, debuting in 1945’s You Came Along, and later appearing in such classics as The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Dead Reckoning and I Walk Alone. She last acted in 1972’s Pulp with Michael Caine, and today, aged 90, is retired and living in Southern California. 

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Vintage Pulp Aug 30 2011
ONCE MORE WITH FEELING
The sins of the past always lead to a Reckoning.

A while back we made fun of some English-language websites for uploading a Japanese poster backwards. Well, now it’s Japan’s turn. Play it again Boggy? Seriously guys? Is that supposed to be phonetic? We think not. Well, it just goes to show you that whatever your language is, written down it’s just a bunch of chicken scratching to billions of other people. In any case, what you’re looking at is a poster for the film noir Dead Reckoning, starring Bogie, not Boggy. In Japan the movie was titled Great Split. At least that’s what the big red writing at bottom says. Platinum-haired Lizabeth Scott co-stars with Bogart, and we think she fares better in this than in Pitfall, which we discussed last week. She’s more alluring here, and has a meatier role to play as a woman with a complicated past.

The film is narrated by Bogart, and his tale is peppered with combat and gambling metaphors as various gambits come up “snake eyes,” or he’s “dealt a joker.” Of course, the real wild card is Scott—is she or isn’t she in with the villains? Bogart’s rational side says yes, but his gut—and groin—are seduced by Scott’s siren song. We mean that literally. Mid-century filmmakers often snuck in vocal numbers for their female starsto perform. Sometimes they fit seamlessly into the plot. In this case—not so much. Scott’s routine occurs at dinner while she’s sitting at the table with Bogie. You can see the thoughts playing on his face, above, and, “This is one freeeaky chick,” eventually loses out to, “I wonder if she dyes her muff?”

In the end, the whole conspiracy—the lies, the murders, the blackmail—is all about money. No shock there. And the head villain is the one with the best suit. Of course. So Dead Reckoning isn’t special, and in fact it borrows from a few other film noirs, but how can we resist it when Bogart sneers lines like: “I haven’t had a good laugh since before Johnny was murdered.”? It’s those hardboiled moments that make Dead Reckoning worth watching. As for the mandatory love angle, strings swell and eyes well, but despite best efforts from Bogart and Scott, their chemistry is a bit, er, boggy. So maybe the Japanese were right after all. 

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Vintage Pulp Aug 24 2011
TRAVAILS WITH LIZABETH
Write a check with your pecker and you may have to cash it with your ass.

We watched Pitfall for the first time yesterday, and like many noirs the main takeaway here is to be thankful for what you’ve got. Dick Powell plays an insurance investigator, and even though he’s married to Jane Wyatt, he loses a philosophical debate with his own penis and ends up in Lizabeth Scott’s bed. But these fast women are never truly single—there’s always a recent ex and a raft of current admirers. Scott’s ex isn’t the main worry, since he’s cooling his heels in county, but her number one admirer is a gumshoe played by Raymond Burr and he's the sinister scheming type who is capable of just about anything.

When the ex eventually gets out of jail, Burr realizes his plan to have Scott is in jeopardy, so he decides to pit the ex against Powell, which should result in one murder and one long prison sentence. Afterward he’ll just scoop up Lizabeth and sail away with her. Did we mention she despises him? Well, no matter—like all sociopaths, Burr figures she’ll come to love him in due time, especially when she finally understands that his violent tendencies are just a symptom of his devotion.

Pitfall is a serviceable noir, but it isn’t top notch. The main problem for us is simply that Lizabeth Scott isn’t alluring enough to make us believe a husband would spurn the lovely and supportive Jane Wyatt. We understand that in real life these matters are complicated, but this is a movie and if Powell is going to stray, we think his marriage should be unhappy, or Scott should have more going for her than a platinum coif. Neither is the case, and so his tumble into Scott’s arms is a bit inexplicable. But hey, we’re quibbling. This is a decent movie, and we recommend it. Pitfall premiered in the U.S. today in 1948. 

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Hollywoodland Feb 18 2011
MAXIMUM POWELL
Beware the man whose back is against the wall.

Above is American actor Dick Powell, née Richard Ewing Powell, seen here in a publicity photo for his 1948 film noir Pitfall. Powell’s career was slow getting started, but when he hit his forties he became a noir stalwart, starring in Murder My Sweet, Cornered, Johnny O’Clock, and Cry Danger, as well a number of more conventional melodramas. We’ll have more on Powell later. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 30
1945—Robinson Signs with Dodgers
Jackie Robinson, who had been playing with the Negro League team the Kansas City Monarchs, signs a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first African-American major leaguer of the modern baseball era.
1961—Soviets Detonate Super Nuke
The Soviet Union detonates an experimental nuclear weapon called Tsar Bomba over the Arctic Circle, which, with a yield of 100 megatons of TNT, was then and remains today the most powerful weapon ever used by humanity.
October 29
1901—William McKinley's Assassin Executed
Leon Czolgosz, the assassin of U.S. President William McKinley, is executed at Auburn State Prison in Auburn, New York by means of the electric chair. Czolgosz had shot McKinley twice with a cheap revolver and the President had lingered for several days before dying. After Czolgosz is executed, he is buried on prison grounds and sulfuric acid is thrown into his coffin to disfigure his body and result in its quick decomposition.
1982—Lindy Chamberlain Convicted of Murder
In Australia, Lindy Chamberlain is found guilty of the murder of her nine-week-old daughter. The baby was killed during a camping trip in the Australian interior. Chamberlain claimed a dingo had taken the baby, but a jury decided Chamberlain cut the infant's throat and buried her. The body was never found, but forensic experts played a large role in the conviction. Four years after the trial the baby's jacket is found inside a dingo lair, backing up Chamberlain's claim, and she is released from prison.
October 28
1919—Volstead Act Passed
The U.S. Congress passes the Volstead Act over President Woodrow Wilson's veto, paving the way for alcohol Prohibition to begin the following January. The Act, named for Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Andrew Volstead, was supposed to create a better society but instead helped lead to the rise of violent organized crime gangs. The law wouldn't be repealed until 1933.
1922—Mussolini Comes Into Power
During the second day of the event known as the March on Rome, Fascist leader Benito Mussolini officially takes control of the Italian government when King Victor Emmanuel III cedes power. Supported by a coalition of military, business, and right-wing leaders, Mussolini remains in power until 1943, when defeat in World War II begins to look inevitable.
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