Bogart crime drama misses the bullseye but still scores a few points.
For us there's no such thing as a bad Bogart vehicle. Every movie we've seen from him in a starring role is at least decent. Above is a poster for The Big Shot, in which he co-starred with Irene Manning. Consensus is it's not one of his best. Bogart plays a career criminal who finds it incredibly difficult to go straight, and whose best efforts are confounded when he gets tangled up in an armored car robbery. We know from the beginning it went bad because the story is told in flashback as Bogie languishes in a hospital bed. Exactly how it went wrong is where the movie attempts to deliver the thrills. Despite its status as second tier Bogart, it has a couple of memorable sequences. The first is a prison break, and the second is a chase on icy roads as Bogart's car is pursued by motorcycle cops. This was Bogart's last gangster role for a while, because he was on the verge of becoming the cinematic leading man we all know and love. He had already proved all he needed to in gangster parts, and was thrilled to leave them behind. But this film showed that he would still need the help of a compelling story, an excellent script, and solid co-stars. From this point forward, he usually got the best of all those. The Big Shot premiered today in 1942. Humphrey, don't be rude. Look at me when I talk to you. Turn around and look at me, Irene. I said— Oh, you're doing me, aren't you? Nice. You've got that Bogart thing pretty much perfected, Irene. Irene?
Susan comes down with a case of the bends.
Above, an interesting promo image of U.S. actress Susan Harrison, known for her role as Susie Hunsecker in the iconic film noir Sweet Smell of Success, seen here putting her sacroiliac through its paces with a serpentine “S” posture we suspect is harder to strike than it looks. But that's what talent is for—making hard stuff look easy. The photo was made when Harrison was filming 1960's Key Witness. We haven't seen Sweet Smell of Success, but we have a copy, and its premiere date is this month, so we'll see if we can fit it into the queue and report back. Meanwhile Harrison proves below that she can make other symbols with her body—“Я” for example, which looks like a meaningless backwards “R” but which in actuality is, “I am” in Cyrillic. We have it on good authority that she finished the thought with the Cyrillic for “flexible”—Гибкий. We'll try to track down that shot for you.
Glenn Ford gets the picture and it isn't pretty.
This poster for the film noir Framed, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1947, is a bit different in style from what you'd normally see during the 1940s. It was a low budget movie, so we imagine this was the low budget solution to promo art. It's reasonably effective, enough so that we decided to watch the movie, and the premise is that pretty boy Glenn Ford is a down-on-his-luck job seeker who's been unwittingly selected by a couple of shady characters to take the fall for a bank embezzlement. We didn't give anything away there. Viewers know pretty much right away Ford is being set up, who's doing it, and why. It's the complications that make the movie, and those accumulate rather quickly. If being framed is defined as to be on the hook for a crime you didn't commit, then there's more than one framee in this film, which is where clever scripting comes in to rescue a bottom drawer budget. In the end you get a nice b-noir with a title that takes on more significance than you'd at first assume. We recommend it highly.
Rita Hayworth does tall, dark, and treacherous.
We've done a lot on Gilda, but it's one of our favorite movies of the 1940s, and we'd be remiss if we didn't show you this beautiful promo image, basically the best of the lot from this flick. Gilda had everything—an exotic Argentine location (shot on a backlot), a story of danger (done many times before), and a tough, cynical leading man (nothing new for the time period). So then, what made Gilda great, if it was so derivative? Two things—Hayworth, playing a jaded and suspicious femme fatale; and a good script that skirted that bounds of what was allowable in terms of expressing feminine sexual liberation. Co-star Glenn Ford had perfect chemistry with Hayworth, too, which counts for something, but any man would have that. No, it's Rita's show. And though she didn't live forever, Gilda will. Or at least, it'll live as long as humans watch anything that can be classified as cinema.
High quality poster art for a high quality film noir.
As far as posters go for the seminal Gene Tierney film noir Laura, this, we think, is the best of the lot. It's the West German promo, a real work of art, signed, but illegibly. We scoured the internet for hours for clues to the creator of this, but with no luck, so put it in the unknown file. Laura premiered in the U.S. in 1944, and reached West Germany today in 1947.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can stay her from the swift completion of her appointed seduction.
Above is a trolley card for the classic Lana Turner/John Garfield film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice, which according to the text, opened at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles today in 1946. What's a trolley card? Pretty much self-explanatory, that. But you don't see many surviving examples, so this is a real treasure. The opening date represents new info. All the websites we checked said the movie opened in L.A. May 9. Maybe the managers of the Egyptian had connections at MGM. Awesome connections, we guess, to have helped them beat the rest of town by two full days. With that kind of juice, it's safe to assume they only had to ring once at the studio gates. We worked in the L.A. film industry. Relationships are everything. Or maybe the movie actually opened today, and the internet is wrong. Wouldn't be the first time. Not that we're trying to sound superior. We've made errors more than once. Interestingly, we were able to locate a vintage photo of the Egyptian with its marquee advertising Postman. It's a great movie. Nobody needs us to tell them that, but we did anyway, at this link.
If you were framed for murder you'd be pissed too.
These posters for They Made Me a Killer are about as nice as you'll find from the mid-century period. They're both framable classics, so it may come as a surprise to know the film is a bottom budget b-noir, only sixty-four minutes long, and streamlined in plot. Basically, Robert Lowery, who soups up cars for a living, gets suckered by a femme fatale into driving getaway for a bank robbery. He's literally hijacked. Bank guards die, and a witness is shot. When Lowery is eventually left behind, the cops pick him up and he tries to explain that he's a patsy, but they don't believe him. This leads to an astonishing sequence. Lowery convinces the cops to take him to the hospital, where the fact that he had nothing to do with the robbery can be confirmed by a critically wounded witness. But the witness is barely hanging on and is unable to speak at all. Lowery decides to escape and upends the hospital bed onto the cops‚ critically injured occupant and all. He hadn't killed the bank guards, but the guy in the hospital bed surely couldn't have survived being dumped on the floor. It's weird and kind of funny, but the scene does let us know the hero's motivations for finding the robbers may not be as simple as merely clearing his name. You have time to kill? This lightweight thriller is fine. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1941—DiMaggio Hit Streak Reaches 56
New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio gets a hit in his fifty-sixth consecutive game. The streak would end the next game, against the Cleveland Indians, but the mark DiMaggio set still stands, and in fact has never been seriously threatened. It is generally thought to be one of the few truly unbreakable baseball records.
1939—Adams Completes Around-the-World Air Journey
American Clara Adams becomes the first woman passenger to complete an around-the-world air journey. Her voyage began and ended in New York City, with stops in Lisbon, Marseilles, Leipzig, Athens, Basra, Jodhpur, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Wake Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
1955—Nobel Prize Winners Unite Against Nukes
Eighteen Nobel laureates sign the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons, which reads in part: We think it is a delusion if governments believe that they can avoid war for a long time through the fear of [nuclear] weapons. Fear and tension have often engendered wars. Similarly it seems to us a delusion to believe that small conflicts could in the future always be decided by traditional weapons. In extreme danger no nation will deny itself the use of any weapon that scientific technology can produce.
1997—Versace Murdered in Miami
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace is shot dead on the steps of his Miami mansion as he returns from breakfast at a cafe. His killer is Andrew Cunanan, a man who had already murdered four other people across the country and was the focus of an FBI manhunt. The FBI never caught Cunanan—instead he committed suicide on the houseboat where he was living.
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.
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