It's a must-have item for the fashion forward femme fatale.
Caviar et vodka, which is credited to Bob Toomey and is the first entry in French publisher SEF's Police Sexy series, came in 1978. That's late for our website, and we also tend to avoid photo covers, but the black-coated killer lady wearing nothing beneath her fur but some heavy steel makes it an appropriate share. The story is less police than espionage, having to do with a trio of Russian spies (interestingly named Elvire, Debrisse and Natacha) up to dastardly doings during the hottest period of the Cold War. Bob Toomey, a far less interesting name, was a pseudonym, but we can't trace it to its origin. There's a review of the book online and it isn't flattering, so maybe “Toomey” had only this one shot before being flushed out of the bottom of French publishing. In any case, cool cover.
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.
It's a tough job but some tabloid has to do it.
Above is the cover of a March 1953 issue of Sir! magazine, and in an example of the ephemeral nature of such items, shortly after we scanned this we spilled a glass of red wine on it. So behold! It's even more rare than it was when we bought it. Above the slash you see boxer Kid Gavilan, he of the famed bolo punch, and on the right is model Joanne Arnold, who we've featured before here, here, and here. She doesn't appear inside. But what you do get is a jaunt through such exotic locales as Melanesia, Tahiti, and Lisbon in search of knowledge and thrills.
We were drawn to the Lisbon story, which the magazine describes as a capital of sin. To us the word “sin” means late nights, good intoxicants, fun women, and excellent entertainment. To Sir! it means being cheated, robbed, framed, and arrested. To-may-to to-mah-to, we guess. We've spent some time in Lisbon and we love it. We don't know what it was like in 1953, but Europe was still coming out of World War II, which means many countries—even non-combatants like Portugal—were wracked by poverty. So we wouldn't be surprised if thieves were out in droves.
Elsewhere inside Sir! you get art from Jon Laurell and Joseph Szokoli, photos of model Jean Williams and Tahitian beauty queen Malie Haulani, a story on the danger of nuclear weapons, anthropological snobbery in exposés about New Caledonia and the Kogi people of Colombia, and fanciful theories about Russian scientists working to keep Josef Stalin alive for 150 years—which didn't work, because he died a mere five days after this issue of Sir! hit the newsstands. Clearly, the magazine is cursed. It certainly cursed our wine glass. We have thirty-five scans below for your enjoyment and other issues of Sir! here and here.
Tabloid perfects the unauthorized photo leak long before the internet age.
This issue of National Informer was published today in 1972. We love this tabloid, but we'd be have to be blind to not see how low rent it is. It's a mess. Words are misspelled, columns and graphics are crooked, and it's heavily padded. For example there's a random photo of a water buffalo and a sexual quip about its backside. That's pure editorial desperation to fill a gap in the layout. And to make sport of such gentle creatures. Sad!
And speaking of unauthorized usage of gentle creatures, Christina Lindberg pops up yet again in Informer. Rather than in an alleged orgy, this time she appears in the story, “Do Sexually Inadequate Hubbies Force Women To Become Lesbians?” Seems like the editors had a real thing for her. But we have to admit, if we had a bunch of photos of Lindberg around we'd probably squeeze her into our editorial content time after time after time after time too.
Um, where were we? Right—elsewhere in Informer, resident prognosticator Mark Travis makes another set of predictions. You know his track record isn't good, which gives us the idea to have a little quiz. So here you go: which of these two predictions did Travis get more wrong?
1: I predict the ghost of Josef Stalin will appear in Red Square in Moscow during a public ceremony and throw the crowd into a panic.
2: I predict a black governor for the state of Georgia in 1974.
It was a trick question. Both predictions were equally wrong. The ghost of Stalin has not appeared in Red Square, and the state of Georgia, which has a 30% black population, has never had a black governor. Actually, there are no black governors of any U.S. state at the moment, and there have been only four in U.S. history. Bunch of scans below.
Westerners undone yet again by the inscrutable Chinee.
The Shanghai Gesture is a movie we were excited to see. It’s a Josef von Sternberg directed vehicle adapted from a John Colton play (though neutered due to Hays Code worries), with Gene Tierney starring alongside Victor Mature, Walter Huston, Ona Munson, and Phyllis Brooks. Von Sternberg makes almost fetishistic use of his main asset—the luscious Tierney—by showing her in such extreme close-up you’d almost think it’s her breath fogging the lens, rather than one of the diffusion filters mid-century filmmakers utilized to shoot their female stars. A few minutes after she appears, as she observes the decadent tableau inside a Shanghai casino, she pulls out this line: “The place smells evil, like a place where anything can happen.” We’d suggest that if a place smells evil, something already happened. Blame the nearest person. Or the dog. Anyway, when Tierney makes her observation we understand pretty quickly that it’s going to be about her, a flower of Western purity, and her headlong descent into Oriental flooziedom.
All well and good, but the filmmakers fall prey to the type of easy characterizations that the best movies of the period were learning to avoid. When you observe, for example, the mostly respectful depiction of a character like Sam in 1942’s Casablanca, it becomes difficult not to cringe at such excesses here as Ona Munson's Chinesecharacter Mother Gin Sling entering rooms to the sound of a gong, or Walter Huston’s Sir Guy Charteris—a supposed old hand in Asia—querying Mike Mazurky with, “You speakee Chinee? Cantonee? You breakee window?” Did Westerners in China back then really say things like that? We’re dying to know. Mazurky gets the last line in the film, tossing off a smug echo of one of Huston’s earlier questions, and at that moment he’s a sort of stand-in for all Shanghai, which by now we know is a place where white people meet their ruin, but still—“You speakee Chinee?” The unintentional humor of such moments undermines the believability of the entire enterprise. Then there's Munson's insta-Asian makeover. It was standard practice back then, and you know that already before going into any Asian themed movie, but it still looks bad today.
Another problem for us is that Victor Mature comes across as singularly unappealing. He’s not supposed to be a nice guy, but depriving him of any shred of charm makes it hard to believe Tierney would desire him. In any case, the script requires this and other indignities of poor Gene, and soon her fall from grace is so complete she even loses her mellifluous upper class accent and starts braying like a donkey. Yes, there’s some good here. Tierney is spellbindingly beautiful (one reason so many people
think this movie is better than it really is, we suspect). Some of the interiors are excellent, especially Mother Gin Sling’s baroque circular casino. A couple of the set pieces are striking, such as when young women are hoisted in baskets above a crowd of men clambering to buy them for their flower boats—i.e., floating brothels. And Huston is solid in his portrayal of Charteris. But all in all, The Shanghai Gesture is strictly so-so.
Incidentally, the movie is widely labeled a film noir, but it really isn’t. It can be difficult to say definitively whether a film fits into a certain category because “genre” is a nebulous concept to begin with, but we submit that this one is well off the mark, no more a noir than is The Lost Weekend, or for that matter Casablanca. If we’d known in advance it was a run-of-the-mill melodrama—yes, an exotic one, but also clunky and unengaging—we would not have mistakenly expected the cutting cynicism and visual wit that characterize so many film noirs. If you go into it expecting something more along the lines of a B-picture, then The Shanghai Gesture might entertain. But whatever you expect, don’t thinkyou're going to see von Sternberg or Tierney doing their best work. At top you see the original American promo poster, and below that some production photos. The Shanghai Gesture premiered in New York City on Christmas 1941, and went into national release today in 1942.
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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