So just out of curiosity, why aren't you paddling an Uber? Seems like everyone else is.
This spectacular cover for Thomas Sterling's Murder in Venice was painted by James Hill, an artist of obvious skill but one we rarely encounter. The book was originally published in 1955 as The Evil of the Day, with this beautiful Dell edition coming in 1959. Sterling tells the tale of a man named Cecil Fox who invites three guests from abroad to his Venetian mansion in order to pretend he's near death and tease them with the promise of inheriting his wealth. These three guests are people he's not had much contact with in recent years, which makes the game even more delicious for him, the way the trio feel plucked from their lives of obscurity to possibly be gifted wealth and status. Factions form and subterfuges abound, but everything is thrown into disarray when one of the guests is murdered. Was it to eliminate a possible inheritor? To add intrigue to the game? Or for other, unguessable reasons?
Go with option three. The whole point of murder mysteries is to be unguessable. Murder in Venice is a pretty good puzzler, with a small set of curious characters and a few forays into the Venetian night. Sterling gets inside the head of his protagonist Celia Johns quite effectively. She's the personal assistant to one of the invitees, and thus has no skin in the game. She just wants a fair wage for a fair day's work. At least that what she says. Her host Mr. Fox, on the other hand, seems to think everyone is corruptible, and everyone is money hungry—it's just a matter of baiting the hook in the right way. He thinks he knows most people better than they know themselves, and he doesn't see Celia as any sort of exception.
While Murder in Venice is a mystery, it's also a minor sociological examination of what it means to some people to be rich but face losing their money, and what it means to others to not value money at all. Sterling scored a success, but interestingly, he borrowed the idea from Ben Johnson's play Volpone, which premiered way back in 1606. Sterling was up front about his inspiration, and within his novel the play even makes an appearance on a drawing room shelf. Frederick Knott, who wrote the famed plays Wait Until Dark and Dial M for Murder, later adapted Sterling's novel into a 1959 play called Mr. Fox of Venice. The next year the book was published in France as Le Tricheur de Venise and won Sterling the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for foreign authors. And finally, Joseph Mankiewicz combined the original play, Sterling's novel, and Knott's play into a 1967 movie called The Honey Pot.
When material gets recycled to that extent, it's usually good, and Sterling does his part. He was a diplomat before becoming an author and lived in Italy for years, so we would have liked more color from someone who obviously knew Venice well, but he's an interesting writer even without the aid of scenery, as in this moment of musing from Celia: She said, “my sleep,” as though it were, “my dress,” or, “my ring.” It belonged to her. Every night had a certain amount, and if she lost it she was frantic. She had forgotten that sleep was not a thing, it was a country. You couldn't get it, you had to go there. And it was never lost. Sometimes you missed a train, but there was always another coming after. In the meantime, neither the green hills nor the nightmare forests ever changed. They stayed where they were and you went to them. And sooner or later you would go and not come back.
Gemser exercises her right to bare arms—and everything else too.
We try to document the top erotic stars of yesteryear—Lindberg, Forså, Annie Belle, Izumi Shima. Today it's Laura Gemser's turn again, this time starring in Emanuelle in America, which premiered in Italy today in 1977. This entry is third, fourth, or seventh in her Emanuelle series, depending on how you count them, and sees her investigating a multi-national sex trafficking ring that kidnaps women and kills them for the production of underground snuff films. That synopsis and the fact that the movie is helmed by Joe D'Amato are all you need to hear to suspect this is going all sorts of disturbing places, and indeed, your worst fears will be realized, as scenes of documentary-style transgressive violence occur, and there's a scene of a woman stroking off a horse. Fortunately, the snuff sequences are fake. They were staged by Italian special effects experts Giannetto de Rossi and Maurizio Trani. The horse thing? That's real.
Okay, so let's forget those problems for now. What's the thrust of the movie? It's a scathing indictment of the decadent wealthy, people who money has deadened inside and who must buy increasingly depraved thrills to bring stimulation to their lives. During the course of Gemser's investigation she goes undercover as a high priced call girl, jets from the U.S. to Venice to the Caribbean and back to the States, gets naked or topless numerous times, and has her skinny body handled and squeezed by man and woman alike, including her real-life husband Gabriele Tinti. As usual her sexual powers are transformative. For instance a carjacker wants to kill her but has never experienced sex and has his lid flipped by his first blowjob. Later a call girl with no self worth comes to see the world in a brighter light after a slippery steam room session with Gemser. She's like a superhero—with a superpower you really have to marvel at.
We won't tell you how the whole snuff plotline resolves. You'll just have to watch—all the way to the baffling postscript. Should you decide to partake, you'll probably end up with a version of the movie that has hardcore sequences featuring porn actresses Paola Senatore and Marina Lotar inserted, so to speak. Usually such scenes shred continuity, and they do here too, as well as failing to add much to the overall erotic value of the film. We'll admit though, that the bit where a woman sticks daisies in a man's nest of pubes then says, “Your bush is in flower,” was funny. The other high point is Gemser, hitting her stride here as the Emanuelle character, looking her best, making stick-thin more alluring than she has any right to. She does the same in many additional entries. A few of those efforts are better, but many are far worse, so we'll have to call Emanuelle in America above average.
Usually they're pretty bold but these are impossible to find.
It's rare for us to be unable to find a U.S. or European movie, but it happens. We didn't let it stop us from sharing this amazing poster, though, which was made for the French thriller La loups chassent la nuits, known in English as Wolves Hunt at Night. It's a spy flick set in Trieste and Venice, and stars Jean-Pierre Aumont and Italian actress Carla del Poggio. The poster was designed by Léo Houper using a photo of del Poggio as its central element. We'll keep looking for this film and maybe one day we'll get lucky. It premiered in France today in 1952.
If you're going to have a fantasy make it a doozy.
We have two exceptionally beautiful Japanese posters today. These were made for Hakujitsumu, known in English as Daydream. That's an unusually concise Japanese title, but this won't be a concise post. The movie is loosely based on a 1926 novel by Junichir Tanizaki, and was one of the first films classified as pinku eiga, as well as one of the first erotic productions to have a big budget and a run in mainstream cinemas. It also played outside Japan, with a screening at the 1964 Venice Festival and a release in Stateside cinemas. And because of its success, director Tetsuji Takechi remade the film in hardcore style, not once, but twice, in 1981 and 1987, both times starring Kyōko Aizome, who we've talked about before.
The premise of this is fascinating. Akira Ishihama meets Kanako Michi in their dentist's waiting room. Later, as both of them are receiving anesthesia, Ishihama looks over and sees—because apparently Japanese dentistry meant placing two patients into the same room—the dentist and a nurse strip Michi, then seemingly suck her blood like vampires. Was it an anesthetic dream, or a real occurrence? Ishihama needs to uncover the truth. He goes to a nightclub where Michi sings, sees the dentist approach her and demand that she leave with him. Ishihama follows—or actually sort of teleports after them—and later sees Michi submit to various forms of kinky bondage. But is any of what he's seeing real? The title of the film gives that away, doesn't it?
We wonder if Hakujitsumu used the plot device of fantasy because it softened the idea of the bondage and weirdness Michi goes through. Well, all that would soon become routine in Japanese cinema. In addition this was the first Japanese film to show an actress fully naked—which happens for extended periods. Most write-ups say there's even pubic hair shown, but we'll admit we blinked and missed it if that was the case. What we didn't miss was what a clear precursor to the pinku genre of roman porno Hakujitsumu is. Here those elements seem novel; by the 1970s, they wouldn't be, and as a result filmmakers were by then pushing the envelope with violence, water sports, and enemas. That envelope could have stayed flat, as far as we're concerned. Hakujitsumu premiered in Japan today in 1964.
Big screen Thief gets the job done but isn't quite the perfect crime.
This is a spectacular Italian poster for Caccia al ladro, aka To Catch a Thief, with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. The moviemakers opted for a photo-illustration rather than a painting, and it befits the star power of the movie. It was based on David Dodge's best seller of the same name, and in truth it's a pretty simple-minded adaptation of the book. You can just hear the studio execs saying: “We know it's in the novel, but we can't have the star in disguise half the movie, we can't have the romance go unacknowledged until the final reel, and we for damn sure can't have the secondary female lead be more beautiful than Grace Kelly.” Movies are a different medium than books, and changes always happen, but it's just interesting to observe what those changes are. The main change is this: Dodge's novel has suspense, while Hitchcock's adaptation does not. That probably wasn't intentional.
To Catch a Thief is a superstar vehicle, and with Grant and Kelly in the lead roles, and Hitchcock in the director's chair, it's pretty clear the studio considered the hard work done. Extensive French Riviera location shooting and VistaVision widescreen film processing are nice bonuses, but the honchos should have had screenwriter John Michael Hayes hammer the script out a little smoother. We're not being iconoclasts here. The movie received mixed reviews upon release, with some important critics calling it a failure. That's going too far—it isn't a failure. We don't think Grant, Kelly, and Hitchcock would have been capable of making anything but a good movie at this stage. But considering the source material it could have been a perfect movie. To Catch a Thief premiered in the U.S in early August 1955, and in Italy at the Venice Film Festival today the same year.
Nocturnal postcards showcase a magical Los Angeles.
Around the turn of the last century, and particularly during the 1910s, nocturnal postcards became all the rage in the U.S. They were made for virtually every tourist locale in the country, but it seems Los Angeles was an exceedingly popular subject. Above you see a nocturnal postcard depicting the Venetian Gardens in Venice, California, and below you'll find more moonlit cards showcasing various places around the L.A. area. These were published by many companies, among them the California Greeting & Post Card Co., and Edward H. Mitchell Co., which was located in San Francisco. Most of the places depicted, including the Venetian Gardens, the spectacular Ocean Park Bath House, and the Dragon Gorge, a scenic railway (rollercoaster) also located in Ocean Park, are long gone. These postcards are a reminder of a more romantic Los Angeles that has long since succumbed to the wrecking ball of progress.
Rosanna Schiaffino gets a kick out of Venice.
According to Italian actress Rosanna Schiaffino it's easy to tame a wolf. And it probably is—for her—because she looks part wolf herself, based on the expression she's wearing on the cover of this National Enquirer published today in 1962. The photo, which we'd say doesn't capture her true appearance, was made in Venice in 1960, right when her career got very busy. Venice was the site of her cinematic breakthrough in 1958 when La Sfida won two prizes at that year's Venice Film Festival and was nominated for The Golden Lion. During the next two years Schiaffino would make ten films. She continued to be busy until 1977, when she left show business to focus on marriage and children. We have another shot from the Venice session below, and a trio of nice images of her we uploaded of her from Triunfo magazine several years ago here.
In a place like Atlantic City there's always one more chance.
The poster you see above was painted by the Spanish artist Francisco Fernandez Zarza-Pérez, who signed his work as Jano. As you can see, it was to promote Louis Malle's drama Atlantic City, U.S.A. Most sites call the film just Atlantic City, but we're going with what the opening credits called it. Though the movie starred U.S. performers and tends to be thought of as an American effort, it was French produced and premiered all over Europe in 1980 before reaching the States in 1981. It opened in Spain today in 1980 and tells the story of a sixty-something minor crook who finds himself involved with twenty-something hustlers and their sale of stolen drugs. Circumstances place both the party favors and the profits in his hands, and he suddenly has a chance to be the big time mobster he never was.
Not only did Atlantic City, U.S.A. win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, it's one of the few movies to be nominated for all five major Academy Awards—Best Actor (Burt Lancaster), Best Actress (Susan Sarandon), Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay. With a résumé like that we don't have to tell you the movie is good. Watch it. You'll like it. The woman on the poster, by the way, looks nothing like Susan Sarandon, but it was early in Sarandon's career, and we suspect Jano wasn't too invested in getting her likeness correct. It was within his capability, certainly—his Lancaster looks great. We don't know why he got Sarandon wrong. Considering how famous she eventually became, we have a feeling he wished he'd done better.
How Venice evolved into Not-Venice
The shot at top of Windward Avenue in Venice, California was made around 1905. Owned by the Venice Historical Society, the image caught our eye because we were just there in July (actually, we used to live in Venice). The second shot was made from basically the same angle in 1939. Note how most of the original Venetian gothic windows have disappeared, and the gothic cornices have likewise vanished. In addition to the buildings, Venice had sixteen miles of canals, but by the time of the 1939 photo all but 1.5 miles of those had been filled in. During the 1950s financial neglect began to turn Venice into a slum, and in the following years not only did the remaining gothic elements go, but also most of the structures. Today the famed colonnade of Windward Avenue fronts only five buildings.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1941—NBC Airs First Official TV Commercial
NBC broadcasts the first TV commercial to be sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC began licensing commercial television stations in May 1941, granting the first license to NBC. During a Dodgers-Phillies game broadcast July 1, NBC ran its first commercial, from Bulova, who paid $9 to advertise its watches.
1963—Kim Philby Named as Spy
The British Government admits that former high-ranking intelligence diplomat Kim Philby had worked as a Soviet agent. Philby was a member of the spy ring now known as the Cambridge Five, along with Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross. Of the five, Philby is believed to have been most successful in providing classified information to the Soviet Union. He defected to Russia, was feted as a hero and even given his commemorative stamp, before dying in 1988 at the age of seventy-six.
1997—Robert Mitchum Dies
American actor Robert Mitchum dies in his home in Santa Barbara, California. He had starred in films such as Out of the Past, Blood on the Moon
, and Night of the Hunter
, was called "the soul of film noir," and had a reputation for coolness
that would go unmatched until Frank Sinatra arrived on the scene.
1908—Tunguska Explosion Occurs
Near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai in Russia, a large meteoroid or comet explodes at five to ten kilometers above the Earth's surface with a force of about twenty megatons of TNT. The explosion is a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic blast, knocks over an estimated 80 million trees and generates a shock wave estimated to have been 5.0 on the Richter scale.
1971—Soviet Cosmonauts Perish
Soviet cosmonauts Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev, who served as the first crew of the world's first space station Salyut 1, die when their spacecraft Soyuz 11 depressurizes during preparations for re-entry. They are the only humans to die in space (as opposed to the upper atmosphere).
1914—Rasputin Survives Assassination Attempt
Former prostitute Jina Guseva attempts to assassinate Grigori Rasputin in his home town of Pokrovskoye, Siberia by stabbing him in the abdomen. According to reports, Guseva screamed "I have killed the Antichrist!" But Rasputin survived until being famously poisoned, shot, bludgeoned, and drowned in an icy river two years later.
1967—Jayne Mansfield Dies in Car Accident
American actress and sex symbol Jayne Mansfield dies in an automobile accident in Biloxi, Mississippi, when the car in which she is riding slams underneath the rear of a semi. Rumors that Mansfield were decapitated are technically untrue. In reality, her death certificate states that she suffered an avulsion of the cranium and brain, meaning she lost
only the top of her head.
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