I have to dig around in this dank cavern under Twentieth Century Fox to find good scripts, but I always manage.
The golden age film studios didn't take kindly to actresses who wanted input into their own careers. U.S. star Jean Peters, who you see above in 1954, had pretty firm opinions about the types of roles she wanted to play. These led to her withdrawing from her planned debut in I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now, being suspended by Twentieth Century Fox for refusing to appear in Sand, and later Yellow Sky, being replaced in Mr. Belvedere Goes to College, being suspended again for refusing The View from Pompey's Head, and refusing to play sexy roles of any type after her turn as a vixen in the film noir Pickup on South Street.
Yes, Peters was particular, but her hits were notable. Pickup on South Street was spectacular, Forever Amber was a star making turn, and Three Coins in the Fountain was a major success. In 1957 she married Howard Hughes and didn't act again until after divorcing him in the early 1970s. Correlation is not causation, or something like that, but it's too bad she lost those years because she chose to wed a kook. She had a good career by any measure, though. She may have hated playing sexpots but we think she was at her best as the smoldering Candy from Pickup on South Street. Watch it and see if you don't agree.
Let me be frank with you. Actually, that's unavoidable, isn't it? Instead I'll be deadly fucking blunt.
Frank Sinatra uses his ole blue eyes for a steely glare in this Twentieth Century Fox promo photo made for the 1968 thriller Lady in Cement. We last saw the movie on television when we were kids and don't remember much about it. Specifically, we don't remember who Sinatra is aiming at, but whoever it is had better pull up a chair and a whiskey glass, because the head of the Rat Pack does not drink alone. We figure this movie is worth a fresh look, so we're going screen it and report back.
Answer me honestly. Do men actually like this kind of cumbersome lingerie? No? Me neither. Ahh... that's better.
For a couple of years we were mystified by the identity of the above model, but recently learned that she's Virginia De Lee. There's actually some information out there about her, some of it quite interesting. For example, in June 1957, according to Hollywood columnist Erskine Johnson, she walked into his office dressed as a harem girl, accompanied by a "225-pound giant of a fellow and a four-foot [little person],” unrolled a rug, served him a cup of Egyptian coffee, and announced, “We are here to remind you that the Tyrone Power movie Suez will be on television tomorrow night. It's the premiere performance of a series of Twentieth Century Fox movies on KTTV.”
That's what's called an old fashioned publicity stunt and as far as we know stuff like that doesn't happen these days. De Lee also popped up in the press when famed Hungarian sculptor Sepy Dobronyi said she had a perfectly formed body, so it's possible she modeled for him at some point. She obviously sought stardom, but her only movie role was a minor appearance as a stripper in the b-drama Hell Bound. Whatever fame she has these days mainly derives from the many collectible Technicolor lithographs in which she and that quirky right eyebrow of hers were featured. We showed you a few lithos already, and we have one or two more sitting around. You may see them later.
Someone to watch over you.
Above, a Twentieth Century Fox promo item, a giant die-cut head of movie star Betty Grable made to promote her 1944 musical Pin Up Girl. That isn't the type of movie we usually talk about here, but for her we'll make an exception. This is the second time, actually, but we're into any kind of vintage memorabilia, especially something this rare and interesting. Plus Grable is kind of fun, as any viewing of her movies will show. This is a very large scan, as you can by our zoom of her eye. See another fun Grable image on the cover of Paris-Hollywood magazine here.
Sophia Loren is priceless as always.
Not much we can say about this. It's a brilliant Japanese promo for Sophia Loren's 1960 film The Millionairess, one of many movies, such as El Cid, Houseboat, and Arabesque, that she made in English at the height of her fame. Some were Hollywood productions, but this one was produced and shot in England and co-starred Peter Sellers. There's no Japanese release date on it, but if we had to guess we'd say between 1962 and 1965. We haven't watched this yet, but we'll report back.
Everyone says I'm amazing in the sack, so as a fashion choice this is really a no-brainer.
Above, Marilyn Monroe in her famed potato sack dress, circa 1951. Legend has it this photo was cooked up by Twentieth Century Fox after a journalist complained that a gown Monroe wore made her look “cheap and vulgar,” and suggested she'd look better in a potato sack. We don't think Monroe ever dressed in a way that could be truthfully described as vulgar, but you didn't get a lot of leeway back then when you had already posed nude. In any case, Fox decided to troll the journalist, with amazing results.
O'Donnell shows how sex, violence, and style are supposed to be done.
First of all, we recognize that Peter O'Donnell set down his comic strip character Modesty Blaise in book form almost a decade after the Ficklings created Honey West, but we don't think O'Donnell had any advantages. We don't think his way was paved by earlier sexy heroines, or that he was working under fewer constraints because the permissive ’60s were underway. He simply had a better feel for how to titillate readers. But while his 1965 Blaise debut, entitled simply Modesty Blaise, was erotic, it was also carefully plotted, scenically enthralling, and technically convincing. For example, Blaise and her partner Willie Garvin discuss calibres of weapons, preferred approaches to combat, and the logistics of dealing with adversaries in a way that not only feels natural, but lends credibility to what is at its core a preposterous premise.
The premise: Modesty Blaise is an orphan who, abandoned somewhere in the near east, rises from the life of a street urchin to become the biggest crime kingpin in the Mediterranean. She has help along the way, learning how to fight, shoot, organize, roleplay, meditate, dominate men, and generally survive in a brutal world. There's an edge of harsh realism to this fantasy. Her backstory contains two rapes, a gunshot wound, and beatings, but she perseveres to become a feared, almost mythical figure of the criminal underworld, known by name to many but personally only to Garvin, her partner, protector, sounding board, and trainer, who like her is a former street crook.
Modesty Blaise picks up after Blaise and Garvin have retired with a pile of money but are bored. The British government comes calling with a proposal: work for them under minimal management and return to the life that thrilled them, this time on the side of law and order. The government wants Blaise to stop the theft of a pile of diamonds andprevent a potential international incident. They know a man named Gabriel plans to steal them but they don't know how, where, or when. Blaise and Garvin first work preventatively at a distance, but soon realize the only chance they have is to infiltrate Gabriel's deadly organization and be on hand when the theft is carried out.
In the tradition of James Bond, each Blaise villain tends to employ a particularly unusual henchman, and in this case it's a woman, speculated to be hermaphroditic, definitely sadistic, named Mrs. Fothergill, a martial arts expert and slavering loon. The eventual showdown between Blaise, with her analytical mentality, and Fothergill, who's dense but animalistically clever, doesn't disappoint thanks to O'Donnell's descriptive skills, which allow him paint the action in a step by step way that makes it cinematically easy to picture. He may have picked up this ability from visualizing and writing the Modesty Blaise comic strip, or he may have had it all along. In any case, more writers need the gift.
O'Donnell would write twelve more Blaise books, several of which are—within the constraints of the erotic adventure genre—excellent. When we say erotic we don't mean sex defines the narratives. Blaise is merely a red-blooded beauty in the bloom of youth who happens to be free of inhibitions and possessed of strong appetites. Some of the eroticism is wrapped in action. In The Silver Mistress there's a great climax set beside an underground lake where she evens the odds against a physically superior opponent by stripping and coating herself in slippery cave mud. O'Donnell describes her as he might a creature made of mercury, in constant, fluid motion and silvery in color.
And speaking of visuals, the art on this 1966 Fawcett paperback was painted by Robert McGinnis and was a tie-in to a Twentieth Century Fox film adaptation starring Monica Vitti, whose stylized likeness McGinnis placed on the cover. There's also extra Vitti on the rear. As always, this is great work from McGinnis, a master of his craft. As for O'Donnell's craft, now that we've revisited Blaise and Garvin's debut we'll probably take another look at a few of their other adventurous forays. But this one we can strongly recommend, both on its own and as a superior alternative to Honey West.
When the Belle rings it's time for everyone to get it up.
Above is a Japanese poster and a pamphlet front for the French sexploitation flick Laure, aka Forever Emmanuelle, which premiered in Japan today in 1976 after opening in Italy nine months earlier. We watched it, and first of all the movie looks great. It's crisp, bright, and colorful—three things you really want when Annie Belle is the star. We gather that the palpably high budget was due to an infusion of big studio money from Twentieth Century Fox via Cinecittà Studios, as they tried to cash in on the 1970s sexploitation phenomenon. None of this means the movie is good.
Emmanuelle flicks are chaste and atmospheric, more romance than raunch, and Laure is no exception. Belle plays a highly sexed minister's daughter running wild in the Philippines, from Manila to the jungly outer reaches. There's a plot having to do with searching for the isolated Mara tribe, but the movie is more a series of swinger lifestyle lectures and sexualized vignettes, such as when Belle drops her skirt so she can walk around in public wearing nothing but a shirt that flashes her muff, and when she gets laid in a bamboo hut that's being dragged through the woods by a dozen Filipino workers. She's wanted by everyone whose path she crosses, but it's Al Cliver who piques her interest, thanks to his unwillingness to attempt caging her or cooling her hot blood. At one point he announces, “Jealousy is an obscenity.” It takes quite a man to watch the woman he loves have explosive orgasms with every stranger who happens along.
Of special note is a co-starring turn from Thai/French personality Emmanuelle Arsan, who in 1959 anonymously published the book Emmanuelle, source of the film franchise. Or at least she was thought for years to have been responsible for the book. Her husband Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane is now considered the author. Arsan was also credited with directing Laure, or at least co-directing it, but that was Rollet-Andriane again, whose name isn't on the film for reasons too involved to go into here. Well, it's definitely Arsan playing the role of Myrte, adding to the film's visual allure by looking great naked at age forty-four. She can't act, but she's good at giving wise looks and secretive smiles. She's easy to buy as the source—or at least inspiration—for Emmanuelle, because she's a very sexy woman. Despite all the film's beauty, we aren't going so far as to recommend it generally, but for lovers of globetrotting softcore or fans of Annie Belle it's mandatory.
Documentary charts Marilyn Monroe's climb to the top of Tinseltown.
Completing the third of a triptych of poster for the documentary Marilyn, above we have a U.S. poster made for the movie's premiere there today in 1963. We already shared the Yugoslavian and Japanese posters. They're all similar—the dress and the backgrounds change color but they all have the same image of Monroe in the hands raised pose you see here. And we love the shot. The movie, as we mentioned before, was put together by Twentieth Century Fox to celebrate Monroe, and mission accomplished. It's a must for fans.
Michael Shayne stabs Phillip Marlowe in the back.
Above you see a promo poster for the detective yarn The Time To Kill, a movie that premiered in the U.S. today in 1943 and has a mildly convoluted provenance that will be interesting to pulp fans. Mystery authors Brett Halliday and Raymond Chandler were both popular writers, but Twentieth Century Fox had already made six movies based on Halliday's novels. So they bought Chandler's The High Window and changed the main character from Phillip Marlowe to Halliday's franchise detective Michael Shayne. We don't know if Chandler and Halliday had any sort of rivalry to that point, but we wouldn't be surprised if one started.
Fox had made the previous Shayne flicks in just two years, and they're light in tone, which is one reason we think websites that label The Time To Kill a film noir are stretching. The lead character is not a driven loner, the general sense of corruption is nowhere to be found, and most of the usual noir iconography, such as rain or water, neon, newspapers, sidewalks, etc., is absent. No flashbacks. No voiceover. Nothing. Co-star Doris Merrick is a femme fatale perhaps, but virtually any woman in a crime thriller can fit that cubbyhole. Then surprise—four fifths of the way through its running time the movie shifts gears—Shayne walks into a nighttime murder scene that's draped with shadows and ill portent, but even this is played for laughs when he pratfalls down a staircase. And the ultimate fate of the villain is basically a bad barroom joke.
Director Herbert Leeds had worked on a variety of low budget westerns, comedies, and serials, and was a technician, not a stylist. His spliced in noir sequence is a nice nod to an emerging trend, but we don't think it pushes what is mainly a goofball detective film into noir territory. In general, his were a safe pair of hands tasked with churning out movies at high speed. The Time To Kill is a typically perfunctory Leeds effort—one hour and one minute long, meant to be consumed like penny candy. So we don't think it's a film noir, but hey—we just run a silly website. What do we know? And does it even matter? The Time To Kill is a decent enough distraction, however you categorize it.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
1947—HUAC Hearings Begin
The House Un-American Activities Committee begins its investigation into Communist infiltration of Hollywood, resulting in a witch hunt that destroys lives, ruins careers, and makes Senator Joseph McCarthy the most feared politician of the era.
1968—Jackie Kennedy Marries
Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy marries Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. The marriage comes as a total surprise to the American public, and results in a terrible backlash against her and also makes her the number one target of paparazzi for years.
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