Ice is nice, but harder than water.
Originally posted August 27, 2016
British skater and actress Belita, who was born Maria Belita Jepson-Turner, frolics in the pool at the Town House Hotel in Los Angeles for a cover of Life that hit newsstands today in 1945. We've shown you this pool before. A window from a swanky hotel bar known as the Zebra Room provided a view through one wall, which meant patrons could watch swimmers while enjoying cocktails. The hotel put together a group of women called Aqua Maidens who performed swim shows, but Belita was not a Maiden. She was already famous for skating in the 1936 Olympics (though she had finished only sixteenth), and had established a Hollywood career with 1943's Silver Skates and 1944's Lady, Let's Dance. She would also make 1946's Suspense, which was unique for combining skating with film noir.
In addition to being an ace skater Belita was an accomplished dancer, and the Life photos show her demonstrating her underwater ballet skills. She even wears a tutu in a couple of shots. Interestingly, Picture Post, a British Life-like magazine that was considered imitative, had already featured Belita on its cover, also at the Town House, two months earlier on June 16, 1945. Doubtless both sets of photos were from them same session. So in this case Life was the imitator.
Belita wasn't the most famous ice skater in Hollywood during the 1940s—Sonja Henie was a huge star, and Vera Ralston was probably better known as well. That may be one reason why Belita managed only eight or nine films before moving on to other pursuits. She eventually retired to the village of Montpeyroux, France, where she died in 2005 at age eighty-two. But the photos below are eternal.
Shit. I knew moving up to the behemoth division was a bad idea.
Above is a promo image made of Robert Ryan when he was starring in the gritty boxing noir The Set-Up. There's good news and bad news for Ryan here. The bad news is he's losing. The good news is he'll survive because his opponent only kills to eat. The film premiered today in 1949, and you can read what we wrote about it and see more promo images here.
Famed director ends up with too many cooks in his kitchen.
The film noir The Lady from Shanghai, starring Hollywood icons Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles, and directed by Welles, premiered in 1947 but reached Australia today in 1948, with this stunning promo poster having been distributed Down Under to help attract audiences. This film had amazing promos in many countries, some of which we'll show you later, and they all spelled Welles' last name correctly, which this one didn't. All the brilliant poster work around this movie is ironic, because Harry Cohn, who was the shot-caller at Columbia Pictures, hated it. He even shelved the flick for a year while he waited for what he deemed to be the best date to release it. When he finally did, what audiences saw was a radically altered version of Welles' original edit.
What did Cohn specifically hate about the film? Foremost there was its length, which was 155 minutes, and which Cohn ordered condensed, with the final running time coming to a mere 88 minutes. He also felt Hayworth didn't have enough close-ups, so he had those shot during extensive re-takes. Hayworth also didn't have a song, which was standard for film noir leading ladies, so Cohn had a number added and had Hayworth's voice dubbed. He hated the lighting, which he felt was a negative result of Welles choosing location work over controlled studio conditions. And he especially hated that Hayworth had agreed to chop off her auburn hair and dye it platinum. The list goes on but you get the point—clashing creative visions. Nothing new in Hollywood.
The Lady from Shanghai finds Welles playing a typical film noir schmo who falls in love with a femme fatale and is drawn into a murder plot. Other familiar film noir tropes include a trip to Mexico (not in the original novel by Sherwood King) and a tense court showdown. But what's decidedly uncommon here is Welles' visual mastery of the cinematic form. His abilities there have been exhaustively discussed and are in no way overrated, but visuals are only part of the filmic equation. There's also narrative pace and story cohesion and emotional tone, and those are areas where the movie runs into a bit of trouble. Since Welles' cut was so much longer (and presumably better) than what has ever been seen by the public, many of those problems were probably introduced by clumsy third parties.
But we can only judge what we see. Since all that missing footage is thought to have been destroyed, it takes a major leap of faith to see a masterpiece in what Welles himself thought was a diced up travesty of his original vision. We don't understand how anyone can truly revere him, yet disregard his artistic opinion. But that's exactly what some contemporary film writers do. We recently read a review that discussed how well the visuals and music work together, but Welles hated the score, which he had no control over and which lacked the subtlety he wanted it to have. We suggest that a critic is trying way too hard when they lavish praise upon a director for something he didn't even do. Welles was a genius—agreement on that point is universal. But even geniuses are not so magical that their abilities can overcome the artistic myopia and careless scissors of studio heads.
The Lady from Shanghai received mixed reviews when released, and ultimately, those reviews strike us as fair. There's plenty here worth seeing, particularly the ravishing Hayworth and nice location work in Acapulco and Sausalito, and of course Welles makes shots like Steph Curry makes 3s. But even so, the final result is good but not great. Not a failure, but not a top notch film noir. Calling The Lady from Shanghai one of the best of the genre is just unfair to the many, many great noirs that were made. Still, if you're a noir fan you should see it. And we're confident you'll enjoy it like we did. On the other hand, if you've never watched a film noir and this happens to be first one you see, we can easily picture you giving a shrug and drifting away from the genre, never to return.
A film noir of a different color.
Above, two Italian posters for Operazione Lotus bleu, better known as The Scarlet Hour. Funny that the color in the title changed. Why not call it “operazione lotus rosso”? Actually, “bleu” isn't evan an Italian word, as far as we know, which makes this poster even weirder. Italian for blue is “blu.” The movie also played under a title translated literally from the English original—L'ora scarlatta—and we'd show you those posters but they don't compare to these. No surprise, since these were painted by the great Renato Casaro. As for the color change, that will likely remain a mystery. There's no known Italian release date for the film, but it premiered nearly everywhere in Europe between September and November of 1956. More here.
Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin, and Gloria Grahame raise the temperature in Italy.
Above, three Italian posters for Il grande caldo, better known as The Big Heat. The top piece was painted by Ezio Tarantelli, and middle one is by by Anselmo Ballester, both of whom we featured a while back, here and here. We already talked about the film. If you haven't watched it, try to make the time. It's good.
Everything that can possibly go wrong will.
Nora Prentiss, which stars Ann Sheridan and Kent Smith, has an innocuous title, but it's close to the most ingenious film noir ever made. It's about a mild-mannered doctor who falls for a beautiful nightclub singer and decides he's willing to leave his wife. Exactly how far he's willing to go to accomplish this split is one aspect of what makes the film interesting, but the aftermath of his decision, and how it leads to an ending that is simultaneously literal and metaphorical, is what makes it a top entry in the genre. Reviews of the day complained that the film was not believable, but are any of the pickles leading men get into in film noir believable? The fact that the filmmakers, writers, and actors pull off the plot at all is worthy of praise. We can say nothing more about Nora Prentiss, not even a hint, and we strongly suggest you don't get anywhere near a review before watching it. Just trust us that it's a film noir worth seeing. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
This is a Ride you should refuse.
Not every old movie survives because it's good. If you doubt us, check the contemporary reviews for The Devil Thumbs a Ride. They're disastrous. What you have here is a clunky RKO b-noir, only sixty-seven minutes long, about a bank robber who hitches a ride with an amazingly naive driver and proceeds to drag him into the worst trouble of his life. The pair and two women they pick up during a pit stop eventually end up in a secluded house where the villain reveals his true nature as a liar, bully, sexual predator, and worse. You have to feel bad for these dullards victimized by the hitchhiker, but you'll feel worse for the audiences that paid money to see the movie. Way back in 2009 when we featured the film's other promo poster we hadn't yet seen it, but now that we have we can't recommend it. Its terribleness does verge on humor at times, though, which is something, and movie buffs might be interested to know that it stars Lawrence Tierney, who's these days best known for having played Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs. But still, not the best vintage Hollywood has to offer. The Devil Thumbs a Ride premiered today in 1947.
Philip Marlowe tries not to go under for the third time in Lady in the Lake.
Lady in the Lake, for which you see a promo poster above, was the first motion picture shot almost entirely from the visual perspective of a single character. That character is Raymond Chandler's iconic private dick Philip Marlowe, played by Robert Montgomery, who also directed. As both a mystery and a seeing-eye curiosity, this is something film buffs should check out. You won't think it's perfect. Montgomery's version of Marlowe regularly crosses the line from hard-boiled to straight-up asshole, but that's the way these film noir sleuths were sometimes written.
Though the bad attitude is tedious at times, the mystery is interesting, there's plenty of directorial prowess on display from Montgomery, and a bit of unintentional comedy occurs when he gets knocked cold twice in that first person p.o.v. Seriously, Marlowe, you couldn't see those punches coming? We were reclined on the sofa with glasses of wine in our hands and we could have dodged them without spilling a drop. It's all in good fun, though. Every shamus gets forcibly put to sleep now and again.
If the movie has a major flaw it's that co-star Audrey Totter gives a clinic in overdone facial expressions before overcoming these bizarre poker tells to finally settle into normal human behavior around the halfway mark. Despite that bit of weirdness, film noir fans will like this. Those new to the genre maybe will find it too strange to fully enjoy. But it's indisputably a landmark, and that's worth something. Lady in the Lake premiered in London in late 1946, and went into general release in the U.S. today in 1947.
By any Reckoning this poster is a top quality piece.
This promo poster for Dead Reckoning is deliberately garish and highly effective at drawing the eye. They don't make 'em like this anymore, nor movies like this either. It had a special premiere today in 1947 in San Francisco, and went into wide release across the U.S. a month later. We shared a piece of Japanese promo art years ago and talked about the film, so if you want to know more, check here.
As far as they're concerned no crime means no fun.
The 1994 romantic action movie I Love Trouble is unrelated to the original from 1948, for which you see a beautiful promo poster above. The first I Love Trouble is a film noir, a neglected one not often mentioned as an entry in the genre. Franchot Tone stars as a detective hired by a politician to look into his wife's background. He's been getting anonymous notes implicating her in some sort of illegality. As Tone chases clues from L.A. to Portland, his investigation uncovers blackmail and hidden identities, and of course a love interest pops up in the form of the wife's sister. With its smug private dick and regular interjections of humor the movie feels derivative of The Maltese Falcon, and its romance angle is incongruous, but Tone is cool in his detective role and carries the weight of the narrative nicely. The cast is a who's-who of stars and soon-to-be stars, including Adele Jergens, John Ireland, Tom Powers, and Raymond Burr. If that doesn't pique your interest you just don't love trouble. I Love Trouble premiered today in 1948 and went into to wide release January 15.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1953—Jomo Kenyatta Convicted
In Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta is sentenced to seven years in prison by the nation's British rulers for being a member of the Mau Mau Society, an anti-colonial movement. Kenyatta would a decade later become independent Kenya's first prime minister, and still later its first president.
1974—Hank Aaron Becomes Home Run King
Major League Baseball player Hank Aaron hits his 715th career home run, surpassing Babe Ruth's 39-year-old record. The record-breaking homer is hit off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and with that swing Aaron puts an exclamation mark on a twenty-four year journey that had begun with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League, and would end with his selection to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame.
1922—Teapot Dome Scandal Begins
In the U.S., Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall leases the Teapot Dome petroleum reserves in Wyoming to an oil company. When Fall's standard of living suddenly improves, it becomes clear he has accepted bribes in exchange for the lease. The subsequent investigation leads to his imprisonment, making him the first member of a presidential cabinet to serve jail time.
1930—Gandhi Leads Satyagraha March
In India, Mahatma Gandhi raises a lump of mud and salt and declares, "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire." His words, which were a protest against the British salt tax, mark the beginning of the Satyagraha March, which in turn triggers the wider Civil Disobedience Movement that ultimately culminates in Indian independence.
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