Vintage Pulp Jul 4 2024
KAREN A HEAVY BURDEN
Have you ever had a visitor that refused to leave?


Above and below are two posters for Bewitched, a movie we decided to watch because its title stood out when we saw it. Why? Well, we're still watching the entire run of television's Bewitched. Could this be about the supernatural, we wondered? If that sounds silly, remember, we try not to read synopses of these movies. It's just better, if possible, to go in knowing little or nothing. Obviously, we already know generally about all the more popular films we haven't yet seen, but this one is obscure.

Turns out it's a no-budget melodrama, written and directed by Arch Oboler, about poor Phyllis Thaxter, who suffers from a split personality, or more accurately a histrionic form of cinematic schizophrenia, that sees her taken over by an evil alter ego. This mental invader is named Karen, and she'a a bitch. She forces Joan to commit murder. We thought: Wait—if Joan is imprisoned or executed what does Karen get out of it? Well, Oboler tries to finesse that by suggesting Karen knows Joan will be acquitted because she/they look innocent and an all-male jury will think she's too pretty to kill. Okay.

Joan has never told anyone that she hears an evil voice. She doesn't break the pattern at trial, refusing to take the stand in her own defense. It looks bad, but surprise—that scheming Karen is right. But the moment the jury is about announce an acquittal, Joan realizes that if she's freed her evil side will make her do more bad things, so she stands up and screams: “Stop! I did it! I killed him! I'm guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” And... dissolve.

She ends up on death row. But a mere five hours before she's due to ride old sparky, she finally admits to her lawyer that she has a split personality, and the wheels of deus ex machina lurch into motion. It's as cheesy as it sounds. There's really nothing in the film but a good example of what a b-feature was like during the mid-century era. Sloppy. Slapdash. A baritone voiceover brackets the film, and though it's meant to hammer the movie's point home for viewers, there really is no point. None at all. Bewitched premiered in the U.S. today in 1945.

Do I want to stab the love of my life? Or maybe it's too harsh a method for breaking an engagement.

In the end, I guess it was really more of a rhetorical question.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 28 2024
UNMADE IN CHINA
Cross country train thriller never quite reaches its destination.

Our interest in Peking Express was wholly due to Corinne Calvet, who we've seen in promo images, but never speaking and moving. The movie, which was an update of 1932's Shanghai Express, is an overcooked spy adventure with cheesy, anti-commie filling, making for a creation that's hard to swallow. Joseph Cotten arrives in Shanghai as a World Health Organization specialist on a mission to operate on some bigwig general. On a Peking bound train he encounters two complications—his ex-flame Calvet, and attempted murder. The latter has to do with the smuggling of contraband inside WHO crates. Soon both Cotten and Calvet are held prisoner by ringleader Marvin Miller (playing a Chinese military officer named Kwon) who wants to engineer a hostage exchange.

The movie ultimately portrays Miller as a money-grubbing bandit willing to betray wife, party, and country for personal gain. Threats and torture are his methods of persuasion, along with a hefty dose of general sneakiness. He spouts some of the worst dialogue ever, often starting with, “We Chinese...” But he doesn't get the worst line. We just about upchucked on this, spoken about Miller by a saintly priest played by Edmund Gwenn: “If only he had as much devotion to God's cause we would never have to worry about the world.” Really? Is that so? History says otherwise. To add insult to cognitive dissonance, the soundtrack contains some of the worst villain music imaginable. Composer Dimitri Tiomkin must have worn out an entire brass section recording it.

We're fine, in principle, with the main plotline. The seemingly contradictory idea of a villain driven by a mix of entrepreneurial greed and communist doctrine is fertile. The crosscurrent of the WHO trying to save lives in a country where many are suspicious of its mandate struck us as relevant. But the operatic dimensions of the characters backfire to infantilise the movie's messages. We suspect that the average Christian would find Gwenn's missionary priest a pompous cardboard cut-out. The average communist would laugh the entire enterprise off as delusional b-grade propaganda. And the typical thief would judge Miller to be an incompetent boob. What would the typical Chinese person think? We can't say, but our special consulting critic Angela the sunbear, whose native habitat includes China, might be able to enlighten us. And finally, what do fans of Corinne Calvet think? We thought: What a waste.
Thanks for throwing that China question my way, boys. I disliked the movie, and I extend an invitation to any who want to understand the complicated reasons why to discuss it with me over grubs and beetles.


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Vintage Pulp Jun 25 2024
HERE AND GONE
In an L.A. minute anything can be stolen.


The now-cult movie Gone in 60 Seconds is remembered partly because the 2000 Nicolas Cage remake rekindled interest, but also because a man named H.B. Halicki is famous for being the producer, writer, star, director, and stunt coordinator. He's a classic example from an earlier era of Hollywood of a guy with knowledge specific to an industry who dreamt up a story then cobbled together the funds to put his vision on the screen. He was a car mechanic who for years had been owner of a Southern California junkyard. In his work life he'd conceived or learned of a foolproof method for stealing and reselling cars. It involved boosting cars that were identical to wrecks, then swapping vehicle identification numbers and other elements so the stolen car disappeared and the wreck was reborn as a new ride. The technique became well known eventually, but back then it wasn't. That idea provided Halicki's entree into the world of moviemaking.

You see a Japanese poster above, with one more plus promo shots below. The movie opened in the U.S. in 1974, and premiered in Japan today in 1975. It's what some people these days like to call car porn, as audiences get to see formula one cars, custom sports cars, limousines, and a customized Ford Bronco owned by Parnelli Jones, who has a cameo in the film. The centerpiece (really more like the endpiece) is a forty minute chase sequence that in order to film allegedly resulted in ninety-three wrecked cars. Storywise, it's about an insurance investigator who moonlights as a professional car thief, who accepts a contract from a South American drug cartel to provide forty-eight luxury cars by week's end. The task seems impossible, but failure isn't an option. Several complications arise. Halicki, playing a character named Maindrian Pace, is called upon to investigate the very thefts his ring is perpetrating. When one of his crew steals a car packed with heroin things start to get really complicated.

That's all fine and fun, and Halicki's personal Hollywood success story is an inspiring one, but the movie does still have the touch of amateurism about it, particularly in the acting. That's to be expected with a quickly mounted production, starring a first-timer who also cast various family members and amateurs in small roles. In the writing area, the characters are mere sketches, which worked fine in other indie flicks from the period like Two-Lane Blacktop, but somehow doesn't quite come to fruition here. The great director John Huston once said Hollywood had a bad habit of remaking good movies. They should remake the bad ones, he advised. Since the remake wasn't as good as it could have been either, Gone in 60 Seconds could probably still use a revamp, but until that time comes audiences will have to make do. Halicki thought outside the box (did we mention the forty minute car chase?) which means his original Gone in 60 Seconds is the only one to watch.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 24 2024
LESS IS MORE
Sinatra and his band of merry men hit movie screens in streamlined form.


In 1960 the amusing self-promotional film known as Ocean's Eleven hit cinemas with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack in the starring roles. Four years later the Pack—minus Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford—assembled for another crime comedy with another numerical title—Robin and the 7 Hoods, which premiered today in 1964 (and came after the Sinatra/Dean Martin vehicle 4 for Texas). You see the movie's insert style poster above. It's a period piece set in Chicago during the gangster era, and deals with Sinatra and his cohort waging a crime war against wannabe kingpin Peter Falk, along the way becoming like the Robin Hood of legend by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

Ocean's Eleven is a very famous movie, perhaps even a landmark, as we discussed a while back, but we didn't love it. We thought Robin and the 7 Hoods would be worse, but we have to confess we liked it better. After we forgave ourselves for such heretical thoughts, we decided it's just possible that without the entire Rat Pack to apportion screen time to the writing is actually a bit better. Have you ever seen rats fight over food? Scripts, being made of paper, are particularly fragile. Could be, too, that fewer Rat Packers meant a bit less extemporizing.

But the main improvement over Ocean's Eleven is in the ancillary casting. Barbara Rush doesn't rise, perhaps, to the level of Angie Dickinson, but casting Falk as the villain was a masterstroke. He already had that Falk thing down pat, which meant that his screen time was engaging from beginning to end. An Edward G. Robinson cameo never hurts, either. Having him open the film as an aging Chicago capo was also a nice choice. Even so, we're not going out on a limb and claiming that Robin and the 7 Hoods is exactly a good movie. But in the end, whatever its flaws, it has Sinatra. And that's always enough.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 21 2024
BELLES DE LA NUIT
The French know how to put on a show, and the Japanese know how to put on a poster.


Here's a fantastic poster we've had sitting around for a while made for the Japanese run of the French film Ah! les belles bacchantes!, which was changed here to Hadaka no megami, or “the naked goddess,” and in English was known as Ah! The Beautiful Priestesses of Bacchus, Peek-a-Boo!, and other titles. Basically it follows a provincial morals cop played by Louis de Funès who decides to take a close look at the local cabaret revue expecting to shut it down, but due to a series of wacky events during the rehearsals he ends up appearing in the show.

This will be the first time this poster has ever been online, but it isn't the first time we've talked about the movie. We wrote about it eight years ago and shared a different, equally rare promo
. You'll notice that the Japanese title is different, but the French title in the upper right corner is the same. Ah! les belles bacchantes! is an extremely interesting historical curio, effervescent and sexy, evidencing how much more advanced the French were concering the human body than puritans in the U.S. It premiered in France the autumn of 1954 and reached Japan today in 1955. We also have two other posters in the same beautiful style that you can see here and here.
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Vintage Pulp Jun 18 2024
POWER AND PASSION
Mount Naomi erupts with deadly consequences in pinku revenge opera.


The Japanese appetite for pinku films was unquenchable. Conversely, ours is mostly quenched, but when we see a poster this striking we have to share it, and that means glancing at the movie that spawned it. Oryu joen: shibari hada, which premiered in Japan today in 1975, was known in English as Oryu's Passion: Bondage Skin, and it came from Nikkatsu Studios as part of its specialized roman porno line, with the so-called Queen of S&M Naomi Tani in the lead role.

Plotwise, the head of a yakuza clan is assassinated and Tani, his loyal charge, vows revenge. Her search for the killer doesn't go according to the blueprint, and after a betrayal she ends up in a dank bdsm dungeon along with her sister Terumi Azuma, subjected to rope discipline and forcibly dildoed and dp'ed with yam batter as a lubricant. Yam batter. You know how it goes in those pinku dungeons. Note: for novices, roman porno films are not porn. The term is short for “romantic porno,” and they're r-rated, equivalently. Or more likely, they'd not be able to obtain ratings at all under the U.S. system. Just thought we'd reiterate that.

Anyway, Tani eventually slips her bonds with assistance, and her long delayed revenge occurs, bloodily. No spoiler there. You knew it had to happen. We can't recommend this flick. There's really nothing worthwhile about it unless you're a fan of the form. Even then it's middling. Yes, Tani was the Queen of S&M, but she made more than one hundred films, so some will have the feel of going through the motions. Even so, you do get several of the expected roman porno tropes. Like action movies offer gunfire and romance movies offer kisses, it's what you sign up for. Knock yourself out.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 15 2024
JO COOL
Shishido and his last line of defense.


Jo Shishido fronts this poster for Koroshi no rakuin, aka Branded To Kill, flanked by armed and dangerous sidekicks Mariko Ogawa and Annu Mari. This serves as a second alternate promo to the original, which we showed you years ago. See that here, and the tateken promo here. Koroshi no rakuin premiered in Japan today in 1967. 

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Vintage Pulp Jun 14 2024
DOUBLE TROUBLEMAKERS
I'm conflicted. You strangled my husband, but you're the first man who does what I want without me nagging him.


Above: a U.S. six sheet poster and zoom followed by an insert poster for the all-time film noir classic Double Indemnity. If you don't like this one, you don't like movies. It premiered in the U.S.—at a special event in Norman, Oklahoma of all places—today in 1944. We shared its West German poster here, joked about one of its classic sequences here, wrote about its modernized remake Body Heat here, and shared its Australian poster and covered the film in detail here

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Modern Pulp Jun 11 2024
BEACH BODIES
People get topless, bottomless, legless, headless—anything goes.


This fun Italian poster, which is uncredited, was created for the monster movie Spiaggia di sangue, which was originally filmed in the U.S. and released as Blood Beach in 1980, before reaching Italy today in 1981. We riffed on it many years ago because it's nothing more than a left coast remix of Jaws on a frayed shoestring budget, not really deserving of a proper review, in our opinion. The producers were even sued by the Jaws franchise for using a catchphrase—Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water you can’t get to it—just a little too similar to that for the previous year's Jaws 2Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. We said last time that you never really see the monster. Actually, you do, briefly, at the end, in all its papier mâché glory. Total. Letdown. Don't visit Blood Beach. Instead, look at the lobby cards below and call it a day.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 10 2024
THE FURIOUS 5
Don't push them 'cause they're close to the edge.


Sizzling is a good word for Kim Novak. In her fourth film, 5 Against the House, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1955, she wasn't quite a star yet, but her backers at Columbia Pictures had tabbed her for the Hollywood firmament. They placed her in this drama about a quartet of men who've spent a few years in the Korean War (Novak makes the 5 of the title but she spent that time on the home front) and are back to finish law school. Distressed by their lack of resources and opportunities, one of them, who's a gambler and dreamer, convinces two of the others they can rob a Reno casino. Guy Madison, top-billed, has no idea what's occurring, at least at first, and Novak plays his girlfriend and has even less of an idea. They figure it out, though, while the group are road-tripping to Nevada. Madison and Novak want out, but both are blackmailed into participating.

The movie has an interesting tone. They guys are all quipsters, and some of their Rat Pack interplay is legitimately funny, but their simmering disaffection eventually comes to the fore as they amp themselves up for the robbery by talking about all they've lost having been sent to war. Most of all, they've lost time. That idea makes narrative sense, but the actors are a little old for the roles. Madison, Alvy Moore, and Brian Keith are all in their mid-thirties. How long did they spend in Korea—a decade? Kerwin Matthews is twenty-nine, which maybe works, but Novak, as Madison's college sweetheart, is in her early twenties. How the hell did that happen? Did he start dating her when she was thirteen? Maybe their ages are minor points, but we noticed, and you will too.

In any case, the guys resent being years behind law students who avoided the war, and figure the country owes them something, even if it's only cash. Later, though, right when it looks like they might get smart and back out, Keith shows that he had a screw knocked loose by combat and manages to force the issue. The subsequent robbery involves fake mustaches and a misdirection play, but it's never the point. The movie is really a sympathy piece for the boys who fought overseas and a mild remark about the psychological cost of warfare. All fine, but—and it pains us to say this about any Novak movie—it's weak, entirely unrealistic, and climactically ludicrous. Ultimately, 5 Against the House is probably only worth seeing for the banter between the fellas, and a gander at captivating Kim. She's hotter than Reno in July. You can bet on it.
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 14
1921—Sacco & Vanzetti Convicted
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Dedham, Massachusetts of killing their shoe company's paymaster. Even at the time there are serious questions about their guilt, and whether they are being railroaded because of their Italian ethnicity and anarchist political beliefs.
July 13
1933—Eugenics Becomes Official German Policy
Adolf Hitler signs the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and Germany begins sterilizing those they believe carry hereditary illnesses, and those they consider impure. By the end of WWII more than 400,000 are sterilized, including criminals, alcoholics, the mentally ill, Jews, and people of mixed German-African heritage.
1955—Ruth Ellis Executed
Former model Ruth Ellis is hanged at Holloway Prison in London for the murder of her lover, British race car driver David Blakely. She is the last woman executed in the United Kingdom.
1966—Richard Speck Rampage
Richard Speck breaks into a Chicago townhouse where he systematically rapes and kills eight student nurses. The only survivor hides under a bed the entire night.
July 12
1971—Corona Sent to Prison
Mexican-born serial killer Juan Vallejo Corona is convicted of the murders of 25 itinerant laborers. He had stabbed each of them, chopped a cross in the backs of their heads with a machete, and buried them in shallow graves in fruit orchards in Sutter County, California. At the time the crimes were the worst mass murders in U.S. history.
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