Vintage Pulp Jan 28 2022
PHANTOM OF THE OPERATION
Everyone says she isn't real but could a figment of his imagination cause this many problems?


Secretaries make a habit of saving the boss's ass. It's in the job description. In Phantom Lady, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1944, the ass saving is literal, as Ella Raines finds herself the only person who believes her employer Alan Curtis didn't kill his wife. Curtis's alibi is as weak as they come—he spent the evening with a woman he never met before, whose name he never got, who he can only describe as wearing a strange hat, and who nobody can find to confirm his story. She's the phantom lady of the title—doesn't exist, at least as far as everyone besides Curtis is concerned. So after a quick trial, off to the death house he goes, where he sinks into a state of dismal acceptance of his own oblivion. That's when Raines decides to work her secretarial krav maga and crack the case. You think shorthand is hard? Try unraveling a vast conspiracy.

Phantom Lady also stars the great Franchot Tone, Elisha Cook, Jr., and one-ethnicity-fits-all character actor Thomas Gomez. As performers, the top end of the cast ranges from good to great, but the script isn't the best clay with which to mold. There are positives, though. The direction by Robert Siodmak is interesting, the set design is eye-catching in places, particularly in Tone's wacky bachelor pad with its odd concrete bed, and there's a great bit set in a jazz cellar that plays like something out of Reefer Madness without the drugs. It'll teach you that jazz music is crazy enough to bend reality all by itself. You'll also learn that in case of murder it's good to have someone in your corner. Preferably someone with a winning smile, a nice figure, and excellent investigative skills.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 20 2017
CROSSED UP
Bank heist goes every which way except the right way.

This year's Noir City Film Festival opens with the 1949 heist drama Criss Cross. Based on a bestselling novel of the same name by Don Tracy, it's the story of man played by Burt Lancaster who returns to Los Angeles after some years away to find that his ex-wife Yvonne De Carlo has hooked up with a local gangster. The exes rekindle their flame, but when it looks as if the gangster has caught them in the act Lancaster spontaneously cooks up a story about how he was putting together a plan to rob the armored car service for which he works.

Lancaster's robbery idea is not only designed to deflect the gangster's suspicion away from the affair, but to also fund the future he envisions with De Carlo when she and him run away. This scheme, which strains credulity, is probably one of the most obviously terrible ideas in the long, celebrated history of doomed ideas in film noir, but with good direction by Robert Siodmak, who had worked with Lancaster on The Killers, and good acting by all involved, the film concludes on the positive side of the effectiveness ledger. Numerous excellent Los Angeles exteriors, including at Union Station and on now mostly leveled Bunker Hill, make this noir an important time capsule as well, an aspect that increases its appeal. And an excellent musical number by Esy Morales & His Rhumba Band gives the proceedings a further boost. All in all, Criss Cross is a winner.

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Vintage Pulp Oct 11 2013
X AND THE CITY
There’s just no escaping the past.

This understated but great poster was made for the Swedish release of Robert Siodmak’s film noir Cry of the City, which starred Victor Mature. In Sweden it was retitled Ond stad, which means “vicious city,” and in getting across that idea we like how the art positions Mature atop an X, or perhaps a crossroads, which we guess represents his presence at the center of a clash of difficult circumstances. This is a great movie that we talked about in detail back in 2009, and today we’re reiterating that it’s one to see. It opened in Sweden today in 1948. 

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Vintage Pulp Aug 28 2011
RIGHT TO DIE
Blame it on the Gardner.

Above, a poster for Robert Siodmak’s Oscar nominated film noir The Killers. Adapted from a short story by Ernest Hemingway about an ex-boxer who meekly accepts his own murder for reasons that only become clear after a detailed investigation by an insurance adjuster, this was the film that gave us the great Burt Lancaster. Why did he let himself be murdered? Well, Ava Gardner had something to do with it. You can see the unusual French poster here, and the Swedish poster here. The Killers opened in the U.S. today in 1946.

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Vintage Pulp Apr 3 2010
SHADOW OF HER FORMER SELF
If Ava I see your face again.

Above is an unusual one-sheet for Robert Siodmak’s 1946 film noir Les Tueurs, aka The Killers, with Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. You may remember we showed you the colorful Swedish poster last year. This rather hazy French effort is unusual because it features a photo of one of the stars, which is a promotional technique that wouldn’t become popular until decades later, when retouched (later digitally tweaked) photography replaced handpainted images, forever to the detriment of the art world. We’ve talked about this before, and we still have the same question. Namely, what is it inside of us that made us divorce art from commerce? We’ve embraced the soulless in every form of promotional art from movie posters to book covers to billboards. Is it simply about money? Does capitalism drive us inexorably toward an artless pursuit of profit? We have our theories, but what do you think? Or is this a little too much to be dumping on you on a spring Saturday? Right, we can take a hint. Les Tueurs premiered in Paris today in 1947. 

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Vintage Pulp Sep 29 2009
WHEN THUGS CRY
In noir you can run but you can’t hide.

You can’t explore film noir without getting acquainted with director Robert Siodmak. We mentioned him before when we showed you the Swedish promo art for his great film The Killers, and today we have the U.S. poster for his also brilliant Cry of the City. The story involves two friends who both grew up in good families, but ended up on opposite sides of the law—one as a cop, the other as a criminal.

Victor Mature plays the cop, and we have to say, we wish he hadn’t gone on to do all those sword and sandal epics, because we kept picturing him covered with bronzer, splitting Philistines’ heads with the jawbone of an ass. But his performance here is good, a perfect counterbalance to the intense Richard Conte’s ailing crook, who opens the film wounded in a hospital bed.

Conte eventually escapes to track down the real perpetrator of a jewel heist the police have pinned on him. After a few twists and turns, he finds the real thief, but in noir, you can't buy off fate even with a last act of selflessness. Conte is still a bad man, and he's still gotta pay the piper. Cry of the City premiered in the U.S today in 1948. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
March 04
1969—The Krays Are Found Guilty of Murder
In England, twins Ronald and Reginald Kray are found guilty of the murder of Jack McVitie. The Kray brothers had been notorious gangsters in London's East End, and for their crimes both were sentenced to life in prison, and both eventually died behind bars. Their story later inspired a 1990 motion picture entitled The Krays.
1975—Charlie Chaplin Is Knighted
British-born comic genius Charlie Chaplin, whose long and turbulent career in the U.S. had been brought to an abrupt end when he was branded a communist and denied a residence visa, is bestowed a knighthood at London's Buckingham Palace. Chaplin died two years later and even then peace eluded him, as his body was stolen from its grave for eleven weeks by men trying to extort money from the Chaplin family.
March 03
1959—Lou Costello Dies
American comedian Lou Costello, of the famous comedy team Abbott & Costello, dies of a heart attack at Doctors' Hospital in Beverly Hills, three days before his 53rd birthday. His career spanned radio and film, silent movies and talkies, vaudeville and cinema, and in his heyday he was, along with partner Abbott, one of the most beloved personalities in Hollywood.
March 02
1933—King Kong Opens
The first version of King Kong, starring Bruce Cabot, Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray, and with the giant ape Kong brought to life with stop-action photography, opens at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The film goes on to play worldwide to good reviews and huge crowds, and spawns numerous sequels and reworkings over the next eighty years.
1949—James Gallagher Completes Round-the-World Flight
Captain James Gallagher and a crew of fourteen land their B-50 Superfortress named Lucky Lady II in Fort Worth, Texas, thus completing the first non-stop around-the-world airplane flight. The entire trip from takeoff to touchdown took ninety-four hours and one minute.
1953—Oscars Are Shown on Television
The 26th Academy Awards are broadcast on television by NBC, the first time the awards have been shown on television. Audiences watch live as From Here to Eternity wins for Best Picture, and William Holden and Audrey Hepburn earn statues in the best acting categories for Stalag 17 and Roman Holiday.
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