Who needs a good script when you have Mitchum and Russell?
Above is a surpassingly lovely poster for the thriller Macao with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, reunited by RKO Studios after the previous year's His Kind of Woman. It's always interesting how old movies introduce the romantic leads to each other. In filmmaking parlance, these encounters are sometimes called “meet-cutes.” But it isn't very cute for the man to have to save the woman from a sexual assault. It's also not cute when the price for being saved is an uninvited kiss, but this is the early fifties and in movies you have to expect that stuff. Nonconsensual wrestling match—bad. Nonconsensual kiss—okay. Mitchum goes in for his reward and Russell doesn't mind.
We joked about these two being the best looking pair you can find in vintage cinema, and they're both in top form here. The honchos at RKO knew they had a dream pairing. Placing them in an exotic port, giving them an obstacle to overcome, writing them some quips, and hiring a respected director like Josef von Sternberg and charging him with capturing Casbalanca-style magic was a no-brainer. The adventure involves Mitchum coming across a stolen diamond, then trying to sell more gems to a local criminal kingpin. Little does he know that it's all a scheme hatched by an American police lieutenant to capture said kingpin, leaving Mitchum stuck in the dangerous middle. Russell plays a lounge singer and seems ancillary to all the intrigue, but as the plot evolves she becomes central to the caper. Macao has its moments, and we certainly enjoyed it, but objectively speaking it's a middling effort, with too many narrative holes and too much boilerplate dialogue to offer any real thrills. The caper isn't compelling, and the villain—played by Brad Dexter as if he's on Quaaludes—has no real sense of menace. So the movie has the exotic port, the obstacle, and the quips—but no magic. Mitchum gets the girl, though, so that's something. Or maybe Russell gets the boy. However you prefer. What we'd prefer is more of this pairing, but sadly this was the last time the two starred together. While both their collaborations are watchable, they never made the blockbuster their onscreen chemistry deserved. Why not? Probably because Macao flopped so hard. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1952.
Got a secretive husband? Poke around and see what you find. What's the worst that can happen?
Two days ago we discussed Katherine Hepburn's cinematic output and noted that Undercurrent was one of the few movies that qualified as pulp-style. We watched it last night and it falls into the always fun husbands-with-dark-secrets sub-genre. Hepburn marries into a rich San Francisco family and quickly finds that her hubby Robert Taylor is prone to sudden rages whenever he's reminded about aspects of his past. You know the drill: “Who was playing that song! Who's here? Was it you? Where did you learn that song!” Taylor is particularly sensitive with regard to his estranged possibly dead brother, and so are Taylor's employees, his domestic staff, and even his friends. Seems everyone is in on the secret except Hepburn. In typical suspense movie fashion, she decides to solve that problem by digging deeper.
Undercurrent is categorized on many websites as a film noir, because that's where people's minds go if there are any night scenes or shadows in a black and white flick, but you may be disappointed if you have such expectations. It's categorized as suspense drama by the American Film Institute, which we consider correct. You could even categorize it as a romantic suspense drama, one with shades of Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 film Rebecca. But on the other hand, since film noir is more a mood than a genre, there's always room for debate concerning whether a film should or shouldn't be included. For us, Undercurrent shouldn't. Two sequences bear some visual elements of film noir, and there's a brief nightmare interlude, but without the overarching cynicism and desolate central characters, we don't think it's a good fit.
Hepburn, who was probably never cynical or desolate in her entire career, occupies nearly every frame of Undercurrent and gives an emotional, almost melodramatic performance as a wife whose loyalty and belief in her husband are tested. To succeed fully in her role, she'd have needed better chemistry with Taylor, and the script and plot would have needed to be scintillating. None of those things happen, which means Hepburn isn't given the tools required to anchor the film. Even so, she gives it a hell of a go, and her efforts make it watchable. For her fans this one is a no-brainer—queue it up. For more general film buffs, you can probably take a pass. Undercurrent premiered today in 1946.
As far as I'm concerned whoever let the cops in should pay all our legal fees.
On this day in 1949, during the wee small hours of the morning, Robert Mitchum, Lila Leeds, Robin Ford, and Vickie Evans were hanging in a secluded Hollywood Hills home smoking a little mota when there was a scratch at the door. The house was the residence of Leeds and Evans, and it had become a spot where people, including Hollywood showbiz types, occasionally partook of the Devil's weed. By some accounts entry could be gained only via a secret knock, which—actually this is pretty clever—was to scratch at the front door like a cat. Since police had been tipped to the house's possible purpose, we can assume they too scratched at the door. We like to think they meowed too, but that probably didn't happen.
Anyway, Evans answered the door, and to her shock and dismay, in barged the police. Evans, Leeds, Mitchum, and Ford were corralled and escorted to the police station—and right into the cameras of the waiting press. The quartet are seen above with their legal representatives. Below, Mitchum, Leeds, and Ford are facing the camera, while Evans is facing away. Mitchum actually thought his career was ruined, but after being convicted of conspiracy to possess marijuana and serving sixty days in jail he continued as a top rank star. The up and coming Leeds, on the other hand, really was ruined by her conviction—at least according to her. Ford, who was a realtor, was also convicted, but we have no idea what happened to him afterward. Only aspiring dancer Evans was acquitted.
What's being stolen? A previous movie's most successful ideas.
Every Hollywood star has that brief moment when they're invincible at the box office, but it seems as if Robert Mitchum, more than most others, was a guy who maintained his power for many years. When The Big Steal came out he'd already run the gauntlet of a drug bust, jail time, and the public repentance circuit, and seemed to emerge unscathed. The executive brains at RKO decided to match teflon Rob with Jane Greer in an attempt to replicate the pair's runaway success in the film noir monument Out of the Past. This time the studio went for a lot of banter and not much in the way noir style, as Mitchum plays an army lieutenant accused of a payroll robbery who pursues the real thief Patric Knowles through Mexico. Greer plays Knowles' fiancée, who he cold-heartedly divested of two-thousand bucks, because thieves are just a little more pragmatic than they are romantic.
The movie is fueled by that Mitchum/Greer chemistry, plus high speeds, resort wardrobe, wry looks, and the Out of the Past memories of movie audiences. Greer brandishes a gun again, just as in that seminal sequence in Out of the Past. Mitchum has a desperate fistfight, just as in Out of the Past. All of this retreading is supported by visually helpful location shooting in Veracruz and other areas of Mexico. The end result is a pleasant little chase film that's even comical at times. Or maybe the laughs came from our dark senses of humor. For example, you know how car pursuits sometimes go right through flocks of chickens, but the chickens never get hurt? In this movie one actually gets run over—at least if the numerous feathers drifting in the car's wake were any indication. That really amused us. Also nearly flattened were goats, a few cows, mules, children, and middle-aged ladies. In fact, all the near misses felt like a running gag about how Americans are always in a hurry.
Other aspects of the movie are equally tongue-in-cheek, including Mitchum's ugly-American stabs at Spanish, but however lightweight this is at times, in the end it's still categorized as a thriller, which means it needs to make pulses race. We wouldn't say it fully achieves that requirement, but it isn't bad either. Mitchum gonna Mitchum, and that's all a studio needed at this moment in time to make a movie work. He'd go on to headline Where Danger Lives, Angel Face, and a long string of good-to-middling dramas and noirs, all the way up to his other cinematic monuments, 1955's The Night of the Hunter and 1962's Cape Fear. The Big Steal is an okay flick, but its true value may be that it shows what the Mitchum charm can do for material that doesn't even deserve him. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1949.
Mitchum packs everything he needs for traveling except his sleuthing hat.
This beautiful poster for the Robert Mitchum thriller Foreign Intrigue is yet another framable delight from the golden age of Hollywood. Wikipedia calls this movie a film noir, but genre designations are often wrong there and on IMDB. This is actually a spy movie, often light in tone, sort of like the later films Charade and Arabesque. Mitchum is an American in Paris working as a press agent for a reclusive one percenter. When his employer dies of a heart attack, Mitchum comes to believe there was more to the death than a blown ventricle. He follows a trail of clues from the French Riviera to Vienna and Stockholm, which is where the foreign part of Foreign Intrigue comes in. The intrigue part? Well, that never fully develops. In fact, the movie falls back on the cliché of having the villains explain their plot to the protagonist. It has to do with money, blackmail, traitors, and Hitler. Trust us, it's not as interesting as it sounds. Compounding the narrative problems is a dopey soundtrack and a Mitchum who's short on charm here. The flirtations between him and Swedish love interest Ingrid Thulin are solid wood. She went on to win Best Actress at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival, which goes to show that half of acting is screenwriting. Are there any saving graces to Foreign Intrigue? Of course. It's well shot, atmospheric, cast with international actors and their wonderful accents, and is a nice travelogue, encompassing Mediterranean villas, Vienna backstreets, and Swedish lakes, all in lush Eastmancolor. And Mitchum is watchable even in a film that mostly wastes his considerable star power. Intrigued? Then go for it. Foreign Intrigue premiered today in 1956.
They say white is appropriate only for your first shooting, but you know what? Screw convention.
We last saw Jane Greer using a gun in a promo image we shared from the 1947 film noir classic Out of the Past, and here she is waving one around again in a shot made when she starred in 1949's The Big Steal, which reunited her with Out of the Past leading man Robert Mitchum. We haven't seen The Big Steal, but it's on the list now.
Does this look like the face of a homicidal maniac?
Above are two nice posters for the film noir Angel Face, starring Jean Simmons as an incredibly sneaky nineteen-year-old who wants to kill her stepmother, and Robert Mitchum as a hapless chauffeur who finds himself sucked into the plot. The movie opened in the U.S. today in 1953. The bottom poster, made to look like a tabloid cover, in true tabloid style gives everything away. We debated posting it, but decided to do it for historical purposes, because this is the only promo poster we've ever seen that explicitly gives away the ending of the film it promotes. Is it still worth watching? We think so.
She was a very intriguing star.
Swedish actress, director, and screenwriter Ingrid Thulin perches on a chair in this blonde on black promo image from 1956. She's best known for appearing in several Ingmar Bergman movies, including 1957's Smultronstället, also known as Wild Strawberries. Interestingly, Thulin guested on a U.S. spy series called Foreign Intrigue in 1954 and 1955, and the next year co-starred in the spy thriller Foreign Intrigue with Robert Mitchum, a movie that was unrelated to the television show despite its identical title. We guess the casting agent must have been like, “So, Ingrid, can you be intriguing? Just kidding. I see on your credits that you've been there, done that, so you're hired.”
Up and coming actress gets weeded out of Hollywood.
It was during wee hours, today in 1948, that fledgeling actress Lila Leeds was arrested, along with Robert Mitchum and two others, for possession of marijuana. The photo above was shot at her Hollywood bungalow a few days later to accompany a Los Angeles Times article about the arrest. Leeds was out on bail, and was given the opportunity to explain the circumstances around that fateful night. Her home had been portrayed in newspaper accounts as a party spot for drug users, a characterization she denied. She explained to Times readers that she'd rentedthe place because it was feminine, and because it had space for her two dogs. She also admitted that she used marijuana, which considering she hadn't gone to trial yet maybe wasn't a great idea. When Leeds had her day in court she was convicted of “conspiring to violate state health laws,” and sentenced to sixty days in jail. Robert Mitchum went to jail too, and fretted that his career had been ruined, but it was Leeds who never got another shot in Hollywood, apart from a role in the 1949 drug scare movie Wild Weed, aka The Devil's Weed, aka She Shoulda Said No. And indeed, she probably shoulda said no, because in 1948 a woman who got out of her lane was always severely punished if caught. But even if the drug conviction cost Leeds her career, she remains part of Hollywood lore, and though that's small consolation, it's still more than most can claim.
You know what I love about you, Jane? You're as hot as me. It's like I switched my gender with FaceApp.
The promo poster for the classic film noir His Kind of Woman declares Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum the hottest combination ever to hit the screen. The windscreen? The screen door? We'll assume it means the silver screen. The movie was made by RKO Radio Pictures when it was run by Howard Hughes, so if you know anything about vintage cinema you already know this production was a mess. Hughes' micromanaging, meddling, and firings of actors led to heavy cost overruns and more than an hour of retakes. Despite these issues Mitchum and Russell do fine as the romantic leads, and support from Vincent Price, Jim Backus, and Raymond Burr helps them immensely. Are they the hottest whatever to hit the whatever? Well, of course. They'd be the hottest pushing a stalled car up a hill, or flossing their rearmost molars, or yakking in the toilet after an all night tequila binge. When you're hot, you're hot. We know quite well because—not to boast—people have said the same about us.
Anyway, Mitchum plays a classic film noir patsy who accepts a pile of money to go to Mexico for unknown purposes, only to discover that the sweet deal he thought he was getting isn't so sweet after all. Russell plays a rich girl idling down south with her lover, a famous actor, but when she gets a gander of Mitchum she starts rethinking her romantic priorities. Any smart woman would. We won't reveal the plot other than to say it's adequate, though not awe inspiring. The last few reels make a hard right turn into comedy, which some viewers hate, but the major problem for us is that the ineptness of the villains during the extended climax strains credulity. In the end His Kind of Woman may not be your kind of movie, but guys (or girls) get to see Russell dress slinkily and sing a couple of songs, and girls (or guys) get to see Mitchum go about twenty minutes with no shirt, so there's a silver lining for everyone here. The film premiered in the U.S. today in 1951. Do you have someplace I can store this suitcase filled with my excess masculine heat?
Sure, you can sit next to me. But first you have to sign a liability waiver in case you get scorched.
You'll love this next trick. I put my finger in this cognac and it catches fire.
Hot as this guy is, I don't know whether to keep beating on him or start beating on me.
And once I take your face off I'll be the hot one. I'll have it all! Respect, envy, women, excellent service wherever I go! The world will be mine! Mwahh hah hah! Haaaaaaaah haha hahah!
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1934—Bonnie and Clyde Are Shot To Death
Outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who traveled the central United States during the Great Depression robbing banks, stores and gas stations, are ambushed and shot to death in Louisiana by a posse of six law officers. Officially, the autopsy report lists seventeen separate entrance wounds on Barrow and twenty-six on Parker, including several head shots on each. So numerous are the bullet holes that an undertaker claims to have difficulty embalming the bodies because they won't hold the embalming fluid.
1942—Ted Williams Enlists
Baseball player Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox enlists in the United States Marine Corps, where he undergoes flight training and eventually serves as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida. The years he lost to World War II (and later another year to the Korean War) considerably diminished his career baseball statistics, but even so, he is indisputably one of greatest players in the history of the sport.
1924—Leopold and Loeb Murder Bobby Franks
Two wealthy University of Chicago students named Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr. murder 14-year-old Bobby Franks, motivated by no other reason than to prove their intellectual superiority by committing a perfect crime. But the duo are caught and sentenced to life in prison. Their crime becomes known as a "thrill killing", and their story later inspires various works of art, including the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, and Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film of the same name.
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