Up the river and into trouble.
Vintage Belgian movie posters are generally very nice. This one was made for Congo Crossing, which was titled Carrefour des proscrits in French and Het Kruispunt der Bannelingen in Dutch. The movie isn't actually set in the Belgian Congo. Instead it takes place in a fictional west African territory called Kongotanga, where George Nader and Virginia Mayo find themselves snared in an adventure that's part Casablanca and part African Queen. Sounds good, right? You can read what we wrote about the film here. There's no premiere date for Belgium but it probably played there in the spring of 1957.
In The Killers she's absolutely to die for.
We've shared Swedish, French, Australian, and U.S. promo art for The Killers over the years. But there was more than one U.S. poster, and you see an alternate version above, a nice crimson effort that has no artist credit. You already know the plot of this film, so we won't rehash it, but we wanted to single out something we love about film noir—the spectacular entrance of the femme fatale. Remember Rita Hayworth's first screen moment in Gilda? “Gilda, are you decent?” “Me?” That might be tops. Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, those white shorts and that weird headwrap. Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not. “Got a light?” There are many others, and men sometimes get good entrances too, but Ava Gardner's first moment in The Killers, sitting at a piano in a swank Manhattan apartment, with that light—you know the light we mean—glowing on her face, is another great example. Then she gets a song. You gotta love it.
The next few rounds are on her.
It's always fun until someone sprays gunfire around the bar. Above you see a promo image of British actress Virginia Field made for her 1950 film noir Dial 1119. This would be a controversial photo for an actress today, and understandably so, for reasons that regularly make headlines. We shared another promo of Field from Dial 1119 a long while back, which you can see here.
T-Men shows Uncle Sam's money men hard at work keeping the greenback safe.
As you know by now, film noir derived from several sources, one of them being the hard-boiled pulp fiction of the 1930s and ’40s, such as the aforementioned Kiss Me, Deadly. As the cycle rolled onward, filmmakers routinely mined crime fiction for movies, and it became common for a book to be purchased for adaptation immediately after it was published. It was a heyday for crime authors. T-Men, for which you see a cool poster above and another at bottom, was not adapted from a novel. It came from a story idea by Virginia Kellogg, the unheralded brain behind films such as White Heat and Caged.
T-Men is the narrated tale of two treasury agents who infiltrate the Detroit mafia to stem a wave of counterfeiting. Dennis O'Keefe and Alfred Ryder play the duo of undercovers, looking sharp in their tailored suits, as they climb the mob chain of authority pretending to be in the possession of flawless counterfeiting plates they're willing to sell. The two take numerous risks to get close to the unknown head of the mob, and find themselves in hot water more than once. The question quickly becomes whether they can catch the crooks and stay alive.
You get excellent noir iconography here, courtesy of director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton. In fact, though the movie is good anyway, the main reason to watch it is because it's a clinic in genre visuals, filled with beautiful shots where light and darkness intersect in sharp angles or blend like mist. The movie also makes good use of locations tailor-made for shadowplay—the steam room, the deserted street, the nighttime amusement park, the swank supper club, the gambling den, the photographer's darkroom, the industrial maze. If you didn't know better you'd think the filmmakers chose the locations first, then built a movie around them.
For those reasons, T-Men is a mandatory entry for film noir buffs, however it isn't quite perfect. Though there are many surprises, aspects of it related to survivability are predictable, and the narration nestles right up against pro-government propaganda, particularly toward the end. Generally, we think most vintage films could have done fine without narration, but here it's actually needed, so you'll have to ignore the filmmakers intent to teach the audience a lesson. That shouldn't be too hard—T-Men is an almost perfect noirscape, a place to get lost in darkness and enjoy the ride. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
Royal Crown helps consumers to stay awake at the movies.
Lauren Bacall brings her special brand of smoky sex appeal to this magazine advertisement for Royal Crown Cola, made as a tie-in with her 1946 film noir The Big Sleep. RC was launched in 1905 by Union Bottling Works—a grandiose corporate name for some guys in the back of a Georgia grocery store. The story is that the drink came into being after grocer Claud A. Hatcher got into a feud with his Coca Cola supplier over the cost of Coke syrup, and essentially launched RC out of equal parts entrepreneurialism and spite. Union Bottling Works quickly had a line of drinks, including ginger ale, strawberry soda, and root beer. However humbly RC Cola began, the upstart had truly arrived by 1946, because The Big Sleep, co-starring Humphrey Bogart, was an important movie, and Bacall was a huge star. She was only one jewel in the crown of RC's endorsement efforts. Also appearing in ads were Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, Joan Crawford, Virginia Mayo, Paulette Goddard, Gene Tierney, Ann Rutherford, Ginger Rogers, and others. Bacall flogged RC for at least a few years, including starring in tie-in ads for Dark Passage, another screen pairing of her and Bogart that hit cinemas in 1947. You see one of those at bottom. We can only assume these ads were wildly successful. After all, it was Bacall.
Bogart shows the way for the makers of Congo Crossing.
This poster for Congo Crossing has all the elements—firearms, some romantic nuzzling, and a huge crocodile. The trifecta. So we watched it, and what you get here is a Technicolor adventure set in the fictive West African land of Kongotanga, which sits geographically on the border of Belgian Congo, and is a stand-in thematically for Casablanca. Which is to say Congo Crossing uses the basic set-up of Casablanca—transitory expats and shady types in an ass-end outpost riven by local political tensions and power struggles. Virginia Mayo plays a wanted woman fleeing a murder charge she picked up on the French Riviera, George Nader plays the rakish stud who you aren't sure whether to like at first, and in the supporting cast are corrupt local kingpin Tonio Selwart, killer for hire Michael Pate, and Peter Lorre as the local chief of police. Here are some Casablanca similarities:
Expats desperate to catch the next day's plane to anywhere.
A climactic airport shootout.
A woman greatly desired by two men.
Lots of gun toting guys in tropical suits.
A comedic police official whose loyalties shift where the wind blows.
A moment when one man tells a rival it looks like the beginning of a friendship.
We mention Casablanca as shorthand to give you an idea of the set-up, and now we'll mention The African Queen—another Humphrey Bogart classic—as shorthand to tell you what the middle of the movie becomes. Mayo, Nader, and a few others embark on a boat trip upriver to a jungle hospital. There Mayo realizes she's the target of a killer, and flees farther along the river with Nader, dealing with an ambush, a sexual predator, a swarm of terrible tse-tse flies, a sneaky croc, and a deadly illness. You've seen The African Queen, right? A couple of strong similarities there. The group faces these problems and, unlike their African helpers, come away more or less intact, then the movie disembarks from the river—and The African Queen—to shift back to Kongoblanca, er, we mean Kongotanga, where everything began.
So does a movie that starts and ends kind of like Casablanca and has something kind of like The African Queen stitched into the middle work? Not with this script and budget it doesn't. And though the cast is game and experienced, the material doesn't give them much of a chance to sparkle. We can't call the movie bad, but we certainly can't describe it as recommendable either. And going back to the jungle segment for a moment, why is it that in such films the people born and raised in Africa always get eaten while white folks like Mayo and Nader can snog in the bush and be just fine? That's a rhetorical question of course. Congo Crossing premiered today in 1956.
The forecast calls for a slight overcast with a possible hail of bullets.
U.S. actress Virginia Grey may not be well known today, but she appeared in a large number of movies, more than ninety by our count, including Another Thin Man, Grand Central Murder, Highway 301, and Mr. and Mrs. North. As she got older she then slid neatly into television roles and racked up probably a hundred credits in that medium as well. The shot above is from 1940 and was made when she was filming The Golden Fleecing with Lew Ayres and Rita Johnson.
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.
But she's about to solve it permanently.
This photo of U.S. actress Virginia Huston was made when she was filming her debut feature, 1946's Nocturne. From that auspicious beginning she went on to appear in Out of the Past, Flamingo Road, The Racket, and Sudden Fear. Her online bios are contradictory. Wikipedia notes that she broke her back in a car accident, and her career slowed afterward. That isn't true. Her accident was in 1950, and though she was convalescing for a year, most of her film roles came afterward. Meanwhile IMDB says she pretty much retied after marrying in 1952. That's probably closer to the truth, though without more sources we can't say if she stepped away from cinema by choice, or if her moment was simply over. Whatever the case, this is a cool photo.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1959—Dark Side of Moon Revealed
The Soviet space probe Luna 3 transmits the first photographs of the far side of the moon. The photos generate great interest, and scientists are surprised to see mountainous terrain, very different from the near side, and only two seas, which the Soviets name Mare Moscovrae (Sea of Moscow) and Mare Desiderii (Sea of Desire).
1966—LSD Declared Illegal in U.S.
LSD, which was originally synthesized by a Swiss doctor and was later secretly used by the CIA on military personnel, prostitutes, the mentally ill, and members of the general public in a project code named MKULTRA, is designated a controlled substance in the United States.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
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