Vintage Pulp Dec 4 2013
THIEVES' HIGHWAY
Like an Oreo cookie, the best part of Highway 301 is the stuff in the middle.


Though we can’t find much online about the making of the 1950 b-budget film noir Highway 301, we have a suspicion what happened during its production. The studio holding the purse strings, Warner Bros., had a look at the rough cut and said there’s no way we’re putting out a movie this intense. How intense is it? Influential New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called it “a straight exercise in low sadism.” So what does a studio do when it has on its hands a movie it thinks is likely to bad vibe audiences right out of the cinema? Simple—tell the audiences before the movie starts how it’s going to end. Get three sitting state governors—W. Kerr Scott of North Carolina, John S. Battle of Virginia, and William P. Lane, Jr. of Maryland—to announce in a prologue that crime does not pay, and that every member of the Tri-State Gang depicted in the movie ended up dead, except for one, who ended up in prison. Was Warner Bros. really responsible for such a blatant mutilation of Highway 301? It’s a very good bet, simply because a screenwriter can’t write a script that counts on the participation of three state governors. But for Jack Warner, well, all it would have taken was a phone call to each.

If you pretend the hamfisted prologue never happened, what you end up watching is one of the most underrated and entertaining noirs ever filmed. There are two robberies, a few shootouts, and other action pieces, but the intensity in this film is supplied by its unflinching exploration of the vagaries of fate. Taking an elevator rather than the stairs, choosing to hide rather than run, heading for the back exit rather than the front—it’s decisions such as that determine the fortunes and misfortunes of the characters, and which gnaw at the nerves of an audience that knows which choice is right but can only watch events unfold. At the center of it all is Steve Cochran as the gang’s murderous leader, a guy who solves every problem with a gun. The supporting cast includes Virginia Grey, Gaby Andre, and Robert Webber, and all are good in their roles.
 
While we know the Tri-State Gang will lose in the end, there’s still plenty of suspense supplied by Gaby Andre’s predicament—she knows too much and the only reason she’s still alive is because Cochran thinks she’s beautiful. But the spell will soon wear off and at that point she’ll be just another dead witness—unless she can escape. Fate continues to intervene. Will it intercede on her behalf? Or against? We know not to anticipate her survival based on her status as the protagonist female. The body count has already told us movie convention is no refuge. That’s the genius of Highway 301—there’s no respite from tension. Every sigh of relief catches in the throat as peril mounts yet again.

Writer/director Andrew L. Stone deserves a lot of credit for putting this together. He was an experienced hand at this point, but never before had he created something so innovative. Highway 301 ends on a down note with more moralizing, but sandwiched in between is a highly recommendable drama. Flawed, yes, but only due to the intrusion of front office types, we suspect. A re-release without the moral parentheses and intermittent narration would elevate this to classic status. The poster at top is classic in its own right. It was painted by someone who signed it Aziz, and the Arabic script in the lower right corner confirms it was made for release in the Middle East or North Africa, most likely Egypt, but don’t quote us on that.

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Hollywoodland May 11 2013
UPWARD MOBILITY
To get to the top you sometimes have to climb over someone else.

This publicity photo from Warner Bros. shows six members of the studio’s beauty chorus posing on a ladder that was part of a pirate ship being used in the 1933 Busby Berkeley musical Footlight Parade. This is not the first time this movie has been mentioned on Pulp Intl. We shared an excellent magazine cover related to it last year. Among the chorus girls who appeared in the film were nineteen-year-old Dorothy Lamour and twenty-two-year-old Ann Sothern, both just beginning their careers. The women above are not identified, but if we had to guess we’d say Lamour could be third from the top.

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Hollywoodland Feb 10 2012
DEAN OF FINANCE
It was a simple matter of dollars and sense.

Last time we featured Inside Story, we took a detailed look at the contents, concluded that there was good reason it was a strictly blah tabloid, and decided not to buy it again. But that doesn’t mean we can’t cull them from online, so today we have this February 1957 cover that promises to expose “the amazing James Dean hoax.” Make sure you’re sitting down when you read this. The globe-spanning conspiracy Inside Story uncovered is simply that Dean’s posthumous spike in popularity wasn’t entirely due to sincere outpourings of appreciation by fans, but also because of a deliberate, behind-the-scenes publicity campaign by Warner Bros., who had produced his last movie Giant. Warners had decided that, after dropping $5 million on production, they needed a major publicity angle to have any hope of recouping their investment in a movie whose star had been dead a year and a month. The money quote: “Unfortunately, Dean, living again only for the profits of the movie-makers, will never see a dime of that increased gross…” Well, no, because death will tend to put a crimp in one’s personal finances. At least Inside Story published a nice photo, from East of Eden, below. We have two more issues, with lots of scans, and you can see those here and here. 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 5 2012
SAILOR MADE
She just can't resist a man in a uniform.

Above, a January 1935 cover of the French art/cinema magazine Pour Lire a Deux with cover stars James Cagney and Ruby Keeler from the 1933 Warner Brothers musical Footlight Parade, which opened in France in 1934. Inside you get lots and lots of artsy photos, most of them nude, and most of them great. See ten scans below. 

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The Naked City Jan 4 2012
FIRST DEGREE BURNS
That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang.

Dalton Stevens’ cover for this January 1931 issue of True Detective looks a bit like a horror illustration, but it's actually supposed to represent Robert E. Burns, who in 1922 helped rob a Georgia grocery, earned himself 6 to 10 at hard labor, but escaped and made his way to Chicago, where he adopted a new identity and rose to success as a magazine editor. Years later, when he tried to divorce the woman he had married, she betrayed him to Georgia authorities, and what followed was a legal battle between Georgia courts and Chicago civic leaders, with the former wanting Burns extradited, and the latter citing his standing in the community and calling for his pardon. Burns eventually went back to Georgia voluntarily to serve what he had been assured would be a few months in jail, but which turned into more hard time on a chain gang.

Angered and disillusioned, Burns escaped again, and this time wrote a book from hiding, which True Detective excerpts in the above issue and several others. This was a real scoop for the magazine—it was the first to publish Burns’ harrowing tale. The story generated quite a bit of attention, and Vanguard Press picked it up and published it as I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang, which led directly to Warner Brothers adapting the tale into a hit 1932 motion picture starring Paul Muni. The movie differed somewhat from the book, of course, which differed somewhat from reality (Burns himself admitted this later), but his account cast a withering light on the chain gang system. The exposure helped chain gang opponents, who claimed—with some veracity—that the practice was immoral because it originated with the South's need to replace its slave labor after defeat in the U.S. Civil War.

Burns continued to live life on the run, but was eventually arrested again, this time in New Jersey. However, the governor of the state refused to extradite him. The standoff meant Burns was, in practical terms, a free man. That practical freedom was made official in 1945 when he was finally pardoned in Georgia, and his literary indictment of the chain gang system helped bring about its demise. Well, sort of—it returned to the South in 1995, was quickly discontinued after legal challenges, but may yet be reintroduced as politicians push for more and more extreme punishments to bolster their tough-on-crime credentials. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
May 07
1945—World War II Ends
At Reims, France, German General Alfred Jodl signs unconditional surrender terms, thus ending Germany's participation in World War II. Jodl is then arrested and transferred to the German POW camp Flensburg, and later he is made to stand before the International Military Tribunal at the Nuremberg Trials. At the conclusion of the trial, Jodl is sentenced to death and hanged as a war criminal.
1954—French Are Defeated at Dien Bien Phu
In Vietnam, the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, which had begun two months earlier, ends in a French defeat. The United States, as per the Mutual Defense Assistance Act, gave material aid to the French, but were only minimally involved in the actual battle. By 1961, however, American troops would begin arriving in droves, and within several years the U.S. would be fully embroiled in war.
May 06
1937—The Hindenburg Explodes
In the U.S, at Lakehurst, New Jersey, the German zeppelin LZ 129 Hindenburg catches fire and is incinerated within a minute while attempting to dock in windy conditions after a trans-Atlantic crossing. The disaster, which kills thirty-six people, becomes the subject of spectacular newsreel coverage, photographs, and most famously, Herbert Morrison's recorded radio eyewitness report from the landing field. But for all the witnesses and speculation, the actual cause of the fire remains unknown.
May 05
1921—Chanel No. 5 Debuts
Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel, the pioneering French fashion designer whose modernist philosophy, menswear-inspired styles, and pursuit of expensive simplicity made her an important figure in 20th-century fashion, introduces the perfume Chanel No. 5, which to this day remains one of the world's most legendary and best selling fragrances.
1961—First American Reaches Space
Three weeks after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly into space, U.S. astronaut Alan Shepard completes a sub-orbit of fifteen minutes, returns to Earth, and is rescued from his Mercury 3 capsule in the Atlantic Ocean. Shepard made several more trips into space, even commanding a mission at age 47, and was eventually awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
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