What's being stolen? A previous movie's most successful ideas.
Every Hollywood star has that brief moment when they're invincible at the box office, but it seems as if Robert Mitchum, more than most others, was a guy who maintained his power for many years. When The Big Steal came out he'd already run the gauntlet of a drug bust, jail time, and the public repentance circuit, and seemed to emerge unscathed. The executive brains at RKO decided to match teflon Rob with Jane Greer in an attempt to replicate the pair's runaway success in the film noir monument Out of the Past. This time the studio went for a lot of banter and not much in the way noir style, as Mitchum plays an army lieutenant accused of a payroll robbery who pursues the real thief Patric Knowles through Mexico. Greer plays Knowles' fiancée, who he cold-heartedly divested of two-thousand bucks, because thieves are just a little more pragmatic than they are romantic.
The movie is fueled by that Mitchum/Greer chemistry, plus high speeds, resort wardrobe, wry looks, and the Out of the Past memories of movie audiences. Greer brandishes a gun again, just as in that seminal sequence in Out of the Past. Mitchum has a desperate fistfight, just as in Out of the Past. All of this retreading is supported by visually helpful location shooting in Veracruz and other areas of Mexico. The end result is a pleasant little chase film that's even comical at times. Or maybe the laughs came from our dark senses of humor. For example, you know how car pursuits sometimes go right through flocks of chickens, but the chickens never get hurt? In this movie one actually gets run over—at least if the numerous feathers drifting in the car's wake were any indication. That really amused us. Also nearly flattened were goats, a few cows, mules, children, and middle-aged ladies. In fact, all the near misses felt like a running gag about how Americans are always in a hurry.
Other aspects of the movie are equally tongue-in-cheek, including Mitchum's ugly-American stabs at Spanish, but however lightweight this is at times, in the end it's still categorized as a thriller, which means it needs to make pulses race. We wouldn't say it fully achieves that requirement, but it isn't bad either. Mitchum gonna Mitchum, and that's all a studio needed at this moment in time to make a movie work. He'd go on to headline Where Danger Lives, Angel Face, and a long string of good-to-middling dramas and noirs, all the way up to his other cinematic monuments, 1955's The Night of the Hunter and 1962's Cape Fear. The Big Steal is an okay flick, but its true value may be that it shows what the Mitchum charm can do for material that doesn't even deserve him. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1949.
Good weather, excellent visibility, with a 100% chance of Santa.
What says Christmas more than 72 degrees and mostly clear? These photos were made at the 1950 Santa Claus Lane Parade, a decades long Los Angeles tradition, which we bet was never cancelled due to weather. Actually, it was cancelled several times—during World War II due to blackout restrictions. Otherwise, smooth sailing. At some point the name of the event was changed to the Hollywood Christmas Parade, but it still takes place today. The extravaganza's route begins on Hollywood Boulevard and turns onto Sunset. The above shots feature, from top to bottom, show business luminaries Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, Jimmy Durante, Peggy Lee, Leo Carrillo, Phil Harris, Alice Faye, Red Skelton, and William Bendix.
Los Angeles homecoming goes awry for Alan Ladd.
The Blue Dahlia is often cited as a top film noir, but it really isn't. That didn't matter to the Hollywood movers and shakers who nominated Raymond Chandler's screenplay for an Oscar, but we suspect the nod was for stringing together hard boiled dialogue, since it certainly wasn't for stringing together a coherent plot. The movie tells the story of a vet who returns home to find his wife cheating with the shady owner of a Hollywood nightclub. When she's murdered, the husband is sought by police, but he goes fugitive and attempts to find the real killer. With pretty boy Alan Ladd in the lead, plus support from Veronica Lake, William Bendix, and the beautiful Doris Dowling, The Blue Dahlia has a lot going for it, including a cool nocturnal vibe, but a script too reliant on improbable occurrences and Lake's flat performance in a basically ornamental role keep it from being upper echelon. It's worth a watch just to see Bendix go bathouse crazy every time he hears what he calls “monkey music,” but go into it knowing there are at least twenty better films in the genre.
Bankhead and Co. try to deal with an ocean of differences.
The best thing about Lifeboat is Tallulah Bankhead. Simple as that. Top billed, tasked with bringing a complex character to life, and working in a film with huge expectations because it was written by literary laureate John Steinbeck and helmed by internationally renowned director Alfred Hitchcock, she delivers the goods. If you haven't seen it, it's an adventure and character study about a group of cruise ship passengers who survive a German u-boat attack and find themselves adrift on the Atlantic Ocean. There's a tinge of war propaganda to it, a touch of we're-humans-and-the-other-side-aren't, but when you consider that Germany was a genocidal regime, and news reports had been touching on this fact for two years (though visual evidence wouldn't appear until after May 1945) Lifeboat is remarkably subtle in that regard.
Anyway, if you ever want to see a star go full nova, check this film out—Bankhead is funny, bitter, sly, ironic, desperate, and more, helped along by reliable old William Bendix, as well as Hume Cronyn, Mary Anderson, and Walter Slezak in a pivotal role. And I guess we don't have to tell you one of Hitchcock's most famous stories came from this movie, the one about his camera accidentally getting upskirt shots of a pantyless Bankhead, and the question of whether the problem was one for hair, make-up, or wardrobe.
The poster above is a really nice piece of mid-century promo art and we spent a lot of computer time trying to discover who painted it, but to no avail. That wasn't a surprise, though. It's a painted version of the photo-illustration used on the panel length promo you see below, which means it's basically a copy job that numerous artists could have executed. But it's still nice compositionally, with its beautiful blue coloration, bright yellow title, and diagonal arrangement of faces. Lifeboat premiered in the U.S. today in 1944.
No place to run, no place to hide.
Today the Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco will be screening The Dark Corner, a movie that starts fast and keeps up a breakneck pace throughout, telling the story of small-time detective who is tormented and eventually framed by an unknown enemy. The script, which is credited to five writers, is filled with entertaining jargon, and treats viewers to one of the better quotes from the film noir canon when Mark Stevens references the title with, “I feel all dead inside. I’m backed up in a dark corner and I don’t know who’s hitting me.”
Lucille Ball, top-billed, is pitch perfect as Stevens’ secretary, love interest, and driving force, and William Bendix, who made a career out of tough-and-volatile, nails his role even more solidly than usual here. You also get good work from Clifton Webb and femme fatale Cathy Downs. Atypically violent, and brilliantly wrapped in shadows and cut by black silhouettes by director Henry Hathaway and director of photography Joseph MacDonald, The Dark Corner is what watching film noir is all about. Favorite line: after a character is pushed thirty-one floors to his death a witness on the street gestures at a high window and remarks to a policeman, “Brother, he came out of there like a hot rivet. You know it’s a funny thing, I never yet seen one of those guys bounce.” A must-see.
Was it self-defense or murder? That’s always the question.
Do embezzlers even exist anymore, or is all that legal now? That’s the first question we had about The Web. The second was whether it’s believable for a lawyer to accept a gig moonlighting as a bodyguard for a wealthy and arrogant businessman. Well, maybe, if he wants mainly to get close to his new employer’s hot secretary Ella Raines. And his plan seems to be working, too, but just when things are heating up between them he has to shift into bodyguard mode and ends up killing an intruder bent on ventilating the businessman. But was the shooting legit or was it all a set-up to eliminate a rival? The lawyer starts to have suspicions when the dead man’s daughter appears and accuses him of being a hired murderer. From her perspective, what else could he appear to be? Raines, Edmond O’Brien, William Bendix, Vincent Price, John Abbott, and Maria Palmer do tolerable work here, but director Michael Gordon hits a few snags. For example, he shoots a restaurant scene between O’Brien and Bendix on two different sets and splices the halves together. Did one set burn down? Did the budget not include provisions for continuity? You can spot that gaffe at about 45:00. There are others. If you don’t mind such details there’s enjoyment to be had here, but if you like technical proficiency in your cinema, perhaps steer clear. The Web premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
Good things come in small packages.
Here’s a new addition to the ever expanding roster of mid-century tabloids on Pulp Intl.—Inside, which we mentioned in relation to our post on Liberace a while ago. Inside was a pocket-sized magazine that came to newsstands in 1955 thanks to New York City’s Dodshaw Publishing Corporation. It seems to have lasted only three years. This August 1955 issue, which was originally scanned and uploaded by Darwin’s Scans, features singer Mario Lanza, filmmaker Elia Kazan, and actors George Raft and Gail Russell, among other subjects. Because the print in a pocket publication is readable when scanned and enlarged, we’re going to let you check out the stories yourself. You can read a bit more about Inside here. Enjoy.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
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.
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