Femmes Fatales Mar 4 2024
GOODNIGHT IN WHITE SATIN
Zip your pants and keep them zipped, Harry. I'm going to bed and you aren't coming with me.

Above is U.S. actress Joan Perry in a promo image made for her 1936 crime drama Shakedown. She appeared in about twenty films beginning in 1935 and was out of acting by 1941, when she married Columbia Pictures co-founder and president Harry Cohn, one of the most hated and feared men in Hollywood. Cohn allegedly attacked actresses, demanded and received sex for film roles, and infamously had mob acquaintances threaten to kill Sammy Davis, Jr. if he kept canoodling with Kim Novak. Perry stayed wedded to the guy for seventeen years, until his death. Afterward, she married twice more, but one union lasted only two years, and the other lasted three. Which goes to show that you never can tell about relationships—or for that matter, people.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 21 2023
JACK AND THE BOX
Rise by the camera, fall by the camera.


Above is a promo poster for the 1950 drama Shakedown made for the Italian market, where it was called Jack il ricattatore, or Jack the blackmailer.” It stars Howard Duff as a photographer whose ambition pushes him across the line into criminality. We talked about it a while back. The poster is signed by an artist we can't identify—it looks like “e-pic.” We've seen other work by this person, but we don't have a real name or any other biographical info. This is a nice effort, so we'll an eye out.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 1 2023
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDREL
Danger there's a Shakedown dead ahead.


If only real life were bounded by the same rules as mid-century cinema. In real life you can screw someone completely to succeed and in many quarters you're hailed as an amazing talent and can even run for president, but in vintage cinema anyone who succeeds had better do it via fair play or the screenwriters will punish them. In Shakedown, Howard Duff plays an ambitious photographer symbolically named Jack Early, who takes shortcuts to success in San Francisco. He talks his way into a job at a local newspaper, and during his duties quickly reveals himself to be not only ambitious, but amoral. He generates a pile of off-the-books cash with various hustles, and reaches a point where he's full of himself, reckless, and dressing like he runs a stable of hookers on the side.

It's not a surprise when, at this point, in an act of utmost hubris he pits two deadly gangsters against each other by using photos of one engaged in a criminal act. When his blackmail results in one crook blowing the other up with a bomb, Early is right there with his camera and is almost killed too. But he gets the photo. It earns him upper tier status among San Fran lensmen, and the best assignments. But even that isn't enough for him. When one magazine editor offers him top rates for his services, his response is: “The top's too low.”

Clearly someone suffering from this level of egomania is headed for a mugshot session or a mortuary—the mid-century movie censorship regime demanded it. The only question is how exactly does Early go down. We'll only tell you that his journey is entertaining, if unlikely, and the film on the whole is a better than average vintage drama, bolstered by the rock solid Peggy Dow in a supporting role, along with Brian Donlevy and Lawrence Tierney as Gangster A and Gangster B. When it's all over you'll believe the corrupt always lose—on the screen anyway. Shakedown premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
May 30
1914—Aquitania Sets Sail
The Cunard liner RMS Aquitania, at 45,647 tons, sets sails on her maiden voyage from Liverpool, England to New York City. At the time she is the largest ocean liner on the seas. During a thirty-six year career the ship serves as both a passenger liner and military ship in both World Wars before being retired and scrapped in 1950.
May 29
1914—RMS Empress Sinks
Canadian Pacific Steamships' 570 foot ocean liner Empress of Ireland is struck amidships by a Norwegian coal freighter and sinks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the loss of 1,024 lives. Submerged in 130 feet of water, the ship is so easily accessible to treasure hunters who removed valuables and bodies from the wreck that the Canadian government finally passes a law in 1998 restricting access.
May 28
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
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