If a boxer falls when nobody hits him is it still a knockout?
We've been neglecting French promo art lately, so here'a a little something—a poster for Plus dure sera la chute, which is better known as The Harder They Fall. This was painted by Jean Mascii, whose work we last saw several years ago when we talked about the 1960 thriller Plein soleil. We recommend having a look at that to get a better sense of Mascii's skill. He created a very interesting portrait of Humphrey Bogart for this effort. This was Bogart's last movie. He filmed it while gravely ill, having been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, but did his work in legendary style, a true professional, working long hours, shooting retakes, and generally doing all he could to prevent his condition from affecting the production.
Bogart plays a struggling sports writer hired by shady fight promoter Rod Steiger to be the press agent for his new discovery—a gigantic but glass-jawed carnival strongman from Argentina named Toro Moreno. Steiger wants Bogart to sell Toro as the next great heavyweight contender, but in order to do so they need to send him on a bum-of-the-month tour to knock out a series of hapless opponents paid to take dives. After Toro has been built up in the press as the second coming of the heavyweight division, Steiger plans to make a bundle with a match against the champ, played by Max Baer. Bogart signs on for this ride because after all his work in the newspaper business he has nothing, and wants to finally make real money. But it could cost his reputation, and because Toro has no clue the fights he's winning are fixed, the scheme can only end with the poor overconfident dupe slaughtered by the champ.
Steiger would win an Academy Award in 1967 for In The Heat of the Night, and here, more than a decade earlier, you can see that achievement as almost inevitable as you watch him dominate the screen. He's simply great in this, and Bogart gives an excellent performance too, failing physically but soldiering onward, using that world weary mug of his to impart a lifetime's worth of fatigue and disappointment. The movie also features Jan Sterling. We had no idea she'd gone in for rhinoplasty, and at first weren't positive it was her. It is though, and after writing just recently how gorgeous she was we're sad she didn't see her own perfection and instead chose to go under the surgeon's knife. But her body her choice. She's good as always, here playing Bogart's conscience, trying to keep him from sliding down the slippery slope to amorality.
There's another person who should be mentioned—Mike Lane as the lumbering Toro Moreno. This was his debut role, and you'd think there weren't many more parts out there for a guy standing 6'8”, but surprisingly he accumulated almost seventy acting credits, almost all on television, where he appeared in shows of every type, from Gunsmoke to Get Smart. Obviously, any vintage boxing movie involves mimetic acting, and the fighting here isn't realistic—quantum leaps in how to convincingly portray ring scenes came later—but they serve their purpose. And for boxing realists, the movie gets extra credit due to the presence of both Baer and Jersey Joe Walcott. The Harder They Fall opened in March 1956, and had its French premiere today at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.
Fine, Toro, you're huge. Massive. Enormous. But you need to learn how to box or the champ is going to crush your face like a graham cracker. Hi, champ! Before we start, I just want to say I'm probably your biggest admir— I thought that whole graham cracker speech was just Bogie being colorful.
Diana Dors dirties her golden locks for another turn as a woman behind bars.
The excellent promo above for Le femme et le rôdeur, aka The Unholy Wife was created by Roger Soubie, one of the best French poster artists of the mid-century period. His art drew us to the movie, which we watched only to discover Diana Dors in identical grime mode as in her prison drama Yield to the Night. Not only do both productions feature Dors locked down with her blonde tresses gone brown due to lack of available dye, but both involve her being on death row for murder. Since The Unholy Wife was the next film she did after Yield to the Night we can only assume her initial foray into crime and incarceration was such a success it needed to be repeated. Like almost exactly. Unfortunately, two visions of a bruise-eyed Dors about to receive state-sponsored revenge were too much for audiences, and her repeat excursion was roundly panned.
And sadly, we must agree. Dors is living in California and is married to a Napa winery baron, but since she’s also sharing her affections with a hot young lover, she soon ponders murdering her unsuspecting hubby for his estate. When we lived in Berkeley, just south of the California wine country, we rarely pondered anything more than sunlit grapes and a nice Schug Syrah. But okay, The Unholy Wife is a film noir, which means Dors is no more happy with her heaven-on-Earth existence than a Wall Street stockbroker is with his untaxable Cayman Islands shadow fortune. Both inexplicably want more. Dors starts the film in prison and tells her story via flashback, so we already know her schemes backfired. If only the same were true for stockbrokers. The Unholy Wife premiered in England in the summer of 1957 and premiered in France today the same year.
Welcome to the jungle, we got fun and games.
For fans of pulp, Anita Ekberg’s adventure Back from Eternity might be a must see—or at least a good laugh. When stormy weather forces a plane to crash land in the South American jungle, the passengers must survive the conditions, themselves, and angry Jivaro indians who want to make them into a post-flight meal. This is actually director John Farrow’s remake of his earlier film, the plot-spoilingly titled Five Came Back. But even without the earlier title, it's quickly clear that not everyone will get out of this jungle alive, and that who does depends mostly on Rod Steiger, whose character is a criminal on his way to be executed. Try to find this film if you can. It was made on the cheap by RKO, and the airplane footage is hilarious because it’s a plastic model, but you get Ekberg in a wet catfight with Phyllis Kirk, and that alone makes it worth watching, right? Back from Eternity premiered in the U.S. today in 1957. Check the trailer here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
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.
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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