Vintage Pulp Oct 23 2020
SWAMPED AT WORK
A trapper's job turns into a battle of wits and a test of survival.


The movie Swamp Water is based on Vereen Bell's 1941 novel of the same name. We read the book a while back and loved it, so having a look at the movie adaptation was mandatory. Jean Renoir directs a heavyweight cast: Walter Brennan, Walter Huston, Dana Andrews, an eighteen-year old Anne Baxter, and even John Carradine. Brennan is the key character, playing a murder suspect hiding in the Okefenokee Swamp. He's considered an all-time great actor, and here he plays a backwoods good ole boy, mouthing dialogue like, “I bet I been cottonmouth bit a dozen times.” When we heard that line we had to laugh, because it prefigures his famous soliloquy from 1946's To Have and Have Not about being “bit by a dead bee.”

There's more excellent dialogue in this. Our favorite line: “It's gettin' so I don't expect nothin' from you 'cept a bossified tongue and a cussin' out.”

While the script is fun, we didn't think Bell's book would be easily adaptable and we were right. One of the pleasures of the novel is its extensive focus on the geography of the swamp, but there was no way that could fit into the film. The air of deep foreboding and mystery is also missing. For those and other reasons what you end up with is a so-so old movie made from an excellent old book. The script closely follows the source material, so if you want to know a bit more about the plot, we posted a short write-up on the novel here. Swamp Water opened across the U.S. in November 1941, but before its national debut had a special premiere in the town of Waycross, Georgia, where much of the movie was made. That was today, 1941.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 27 2020
EXECUTING STRATEGY
Gestapo goes to extraordinary lengths to cancel a Czech.


This striking poster for Hangmen Also Die might make you think you're dealing with a death row film noir, but it's actually a war drama about the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. When a Czech assassin played by Brian Donlevy shoots the country's cruel German administrator Reinhard Heydrich and escapes into Prague's urban maze, the Nazis start executing people to force the population to turn over the shooter. As people die Donlevy struggles over whether to turn himself in. This was made in 1943 and qualifies as war propaganda, complete with flourishes such as discordant brass when Hitler's portrait appears onscreen, and a cheeseball closing song with a chorus of, “No surrender!” And to just bang the war drum even more, the movie premiered in, of all places, Prague, Oklahoma today in 1943, and the showing featured hanged effigies of Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini, while regional politicians made a point of attending. That must have been some night.

But while Hangmen Also Die may qualify as propaganda, it certainly isn't untrue in any major sense. The film's two architects, German director Fritz Lang and German writer Bertolt Brecht, both left their homeland to avoid the Nazis, and we can only imagine that their personal experiences made this project deeply important to them. But even people working from personal experience need help, and they get a major boost from co-star Walter Brennan. You'll sometimes read about him being a great character actor and this movie proves it. Watch him in this, then as the drunkard Eddie in To Have and Have Not, and you'll find him physically unrecognizable. Only his distinctive voice identifies him as the same person. Meanwhile it's Donlevy who's asked to personify the classic moral dilemma of sacrifice for the greater good, and he's mostly successful at portraying it as a heavy burden. While we wouldn't call Hangmen Also Die a great movie, there's no doubt it occupies its niche comfortably.

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Vintage Pulp Oct 11 2019
THE HAVE-NOTS
They say you can't have everything but To Have and Have Not comes close.


This one has been a long time coming to Pulp Intl. To Have and Have Not. We love this flick. We never bothered to highlight it because it's so familiar to so many, but with the Pulp Intl. girlfriends out of town (did we mention that yet?) we decided to revisit a few movies we've seen often. First off, we get it, Hemingway fans. The film mutilated his 1937 novel. But what a shock—Warner Brothers was not going to make a Marxist themed movie in 1944. Hemingway may have, we like to imagine, wanted to keep the book out of Hollywood's hands for that very reason. But when Warners came across with a fat offer he was like, “Well, sure, okay, I suppose that amount of money will take the sting out of you whitewashing my Marxist opus.” You, see everyone has a price.

Howard Hawks directed, and Jules Furthman and William Faulkner wrote a screenplay that changed the location of the novel, its time period, its subtext, and its characters. Basically, Warners wanted a follow-up to Casablanca, and that's exactly what they got, though To Have and Have Not differs from Casablanca by being light-hearted in general, and wickedly comical in parts. But there are also thrills aplenty. The basic idea is Humphrey Bogart plays a diffident charter boat captain in French Martinique who finds himself drawn into World War II thanks to an idealistic anti-Vichy cabal that plans to rescue a French patriot imprisoned on Devil's Island.

Everything and everybody in the film is great. Lauren Bacall, in her debut, brings just the right tone to her character Marie Browning, Walter Brennan puts on a physical acting clinic as Bogart's alcoholic sidekick, and as the Vichy administrator of Martinique, Dan Seymour channels Major Strasser from Casablanca, adding a touch of torpor meant to disguise his snake-deadly nature. The film also adds great music performances in the down and dirty Bar du Zombie and the café of Hotel Marquis, with Hoagie Carmichael taking on the Sam role from Casablanca. To Have and Have Not is so iconic it has been studied in university courses and written of in modern treatises about race. The latter is a lot to pile onto this lightweight adventure. Set in the Caribbean, it tries to at least portray a high level of racial inclusiveness, though not perfectly.

There's one more reason to watch the movie. We've seen it so much we've developed a drinking game from it. We've developed lots of drinking games from movies, but don't generally play them when the Pulp Intl. girlfriends are around (did we mention they're out of town?). Take a shot every time someone throws something in the water. That's it. Bottles, matches, whatever. If you're really brave, take a shot every time someone litters, whether at sea, on land, or indoors. It's interesting to observe littering behavior from an era when the environment was thought to be boundless and impossible to ruin. As members of a generation trained to get our garbage in a receptacle at all costs, the polluting here is really funny to see. 10 out of 10 for this movie. Watch it. Love it. Watch it again. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1944.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 24
1929—Stock Market Crashes
Black Thursday, a catastrophic crash on the New York Stock Exchange, occurs when the value of stocks suddenly declines and continues to decline for a month. The event leads to a subsequent crash in world stock prices and precipitates the Great Depression. This after famous economist Irving Fisher had declared that stock prices had reached a permanently high plateau.
October 23
1935—Four Gangsters Gunned Down in New Jersey
In Newark, New Jersey, the organized crime figures Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz are fatally shot at the Palace Chophouse restaurant. Schultz, who was the target, lingers in the hospital for about a day before dying. The killings are committed by a group of professional gunmen known as Murder, Inc., and the event becomes known as the Chophouse Massacre.
1950—Al Jolson Dies
Vaudeville and screen performer Al Jolson dies of a heart attack in San Francisco after a trip to Korea to entertain troops causes lung problems. Jolson is best known for his film The Jazz Singer, and for his performances in blackface make-up, which were not considered offensive at the time, but have now come to be seen as a form of racial bigotry.
October 22
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.
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