You try staying calm when there's a killer on the loose.
After several years writing up movies being screened at San Francisco's annual Noir City Film Festival we decided not to do it this year. But we're going to make one exception. The 1946 French drama Panique, for which you see a beautiful promo poster above, is showing at the fest tonight, and since we were able to obtain a copy, we had a look. It isn't a film noir. It's a drama starring Viviane Romance, Max Dalban, and Michel Simon, and it deals with a woman named Alice, her lover Capoulade, and her neighbor Hire, who has a crush on her. The set-up suggests love triangle, but Hire has more than just a romantic interest in Alice. He also believes her boyfriend might be responsible for an unsolved murder. The issue he'll confront is just how strong Alice's loyalties to her boyfriend are.
Every year the Noir City Film Festival draws entries from outside the film noir realm. Panique was probably chosen because its subtext deals with bigotry, an evil that is on the upswing across the globe. The character Hire is Jewish, which leads to serious trouble for him as the film progresses. The powerful screenplay was derived from George Simenon's 1933 novel Les Fiançailles de M. Hire (also the source material for the 1989 film Monsieur Hire), and of course in 1933 in Europe, the flames of anti-semitism were being fanned by demagogic leaders into what would soon be the conflagration of genocide. We can't tell you more about the plot of Panique without giving everything away, but we recommend it. Foreign film buffs will certainly enjoy it.
Something else we recommend is our write-up on Viviane Romance from ten years ago. Many European film performers and artists whose careers spanned World War II either fled the continent, ran afoul of the Nazis, or worked out an accommodation that allowed them to continue in their professions. Romance falls into the third category. The French population was somewhat understanding about stars who decided to keep working even after the Nazis took over the French film industry. They were understanding up to a point, that is. If you're interested in learning more just click this link.
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.
Cold steel is fine but hot lead is a hell of a lot more efficient.
This poster was made for the classic Tomisaburô Wakayama gangster flick Kapone no shatei yamato damashi, known in English as A Boss with the Samurai Spirit. It's the third one we've found for the movie, and as you already know from our previous posts, these round promos are rare. They were made only by Toei Company, as far as we know, and only for a few years during the late 1960s and early ’70s. We have others we'll get to later. For now, see two more examples here and here, and a third in this group. Also, you can see the other two Kapone posters here and here.
I really like her, but if she lost eighty, maybe ninety pounds, she'd be perfect.
Above is another fun cover from French illustrator Jacques Leclerc, who also signed his art as Jihel, and here works his magic on Roland Patrick's The Lost Nights. We've featured this artist several times. See more here, here, and here.
Famed author Ian Fleming arrested after strangulation rampage at his publishing company.
We talked about how Ian Fleming feuded with his publisher Perma Books over name changes to his James Bond novels. This is another one of the offending paperbacks, 1957's Too Hot To Handle. Not only had this book already been successfully published as Moonraker by the British hardback imprint Jonathan Cape, but the Lou Marchetti cover art Perma used doesn't fit the Bond brand at all. Signet Books did infinitely better when it got the rights in 1960. As far as Fleming trying to strangle everyone at Perma, we can't confirm that as fact. But we bet he thought about it.
Anytime is the right time for great cover art.
Above, a cover for K. Beerman's Baarnse Moord (Murder in Baarn), painted by Dutch artist Martin Oortwijn. We said we'd get back to Oortwijn and here we are, three years later. He remains, in our eyes at least, a unique talent. We were reminded of him because he illustrated the cover of a Christine Keeler biography, and Keeler is back in the spotlight thanks to the new BBC series The Trial of Christine Keeler, which we've been watching. So far so good on that, and we'll try to dig up more from Oortwijn.
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.
Remember when politicians were motivated not by money and power, but by a desire to help people? Neither do we.
Below, a small collection of vintage paperbacks all featuring images of the U.S. Capitol. They're reminders that the building has always been a place of intrigue and treachery. Which is exactly why it's perfect for our website.
It was a different flavor of men's magazine.
Zest magazine, with its bold graphics and cover portraits, looks like a classic mid-century tabloid, but its banner tells you it's really a men's magazine. It lives up to its billing in this issue from January 1956—issue number one, actually—with short stories from Michael Avallone and H.P. Lovecraft, real life adventure tales, scare stories (“Is Your Daughter a Sex-Film Star?), glamour photography, and humor.
The Lovecraft tale, “Rats in the Walls,” is called “the greatest horror story ever written.” We wouldn't go that far, but it's freaktacular, like everything Lovecraft wrote. It had originally been published in Weird Tales in 1924, and we imagine that its bizarro mutant/cannibalism themes were pretty shocking back then. The Avallone story, “The Glass Eye,” is novella length. He had already published three novels and was building a reputation as a reliable author of thrillers, which makes his inclusion a nice coup for a new magazine.
The photography in Zest is just as impressive as the fiction. Readers get to see rare shots of major celebs such as Sophia Loren, Sabrina, and Delores del Rio. All in all Zest was a high budget effort, but it lasted only two issues. Why did it fold? No idea on that. Competition in the market was plenty stiff at the time. On the other hand, maybe two issues are all that were planned. We're thrilled to show you one of them, comprising thirty-plus scans below for your Thursday enjoyment.
Nations to betray, people to murder. *yawn* Let me nap for about twelve hours before I spring into action.
We move from yesterday's canines to today's felines. Pure pinup style art by Willard Downes adorns this Gold Medal paperback of John Flagg's, aka John Gearon's, novel The Persian Cat. Looking at this, we were pretty sure Downes painted it long before Gold Medal came knocking at his studio door, simply because this piece, while wonderful, is also generic enough to front probably a quarter of mid-century thrillers. A read through the tale seems to confirm our suspicion. The main character is ex-OSS agent Gil Denby, who money lures back into the spy game for a high stakes mission in Teheran, where he's supposed to bring to justice a femme fatale who was a Vichy traitor during World War II. The femme does plenty, but she never quite gets around to lounging abed in her undies.
This was published in 1950, a crucial period in Iranian history. Though the narrative doesn't reveal an exact time frame, it's a given that the tale and publication date are closely aligned. That means the story takes place when Iran was ruled by Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, aka the Shah, with some power also apportioned to a series of prime ministers. In fact, there were seventeen prime ministers from 1940 to 1950, which hints at the political volatility of the country. Iranians would eventually elect the reformist Mohammed Mossadegh as PM in 1951, and the U.S. and Britain would promptly overthrow him in 1953, leading to the Shah gaining unchallenged power.
You will learn none of this reading The Persian Cat. It isn't even there as deep background. Also missing is any affinity for language, culture, geography, architecture, or life in the streets. Nor does Flagg mention that the predominant language in Iran is Farsi, not Arabic, and he only hints that the predominant ethnic group is Persian, not Arab. In short, the book lacks a sense of place. When reading about the exotic and distant city of Teheran, this is a letdown. Flagg traveled the Middle East but could have written this novel without ever leaving the U.S. We can't say why the Iranian flavor is so weak, but lack of interest and/or lack of willingness to have learned usable details of the country are leading possibilities. See: David Dodge for how to write exotic locales successfully.
That said, The Persian Cat is a reasonably fun, well-written adventure. Yes, we know that assessment seems contradictory. We'd have liked a more atmospheric and informative tale, but Flagg has talent. His hero Denby deals with betrayal, murder, hairsbreadth escapes, and serious doubts about whether he wants to send that languorously stretching femme fatale to her death. The book's biggest flaw—besides the usual behavior toward women that might easily earn Denby a restraining order or prison time today—is a climax built on revelatory dialogue, pages of it, that will leave you screaming in your head, “Enough talk! Just shoot the fucker!” Still, Flagg overcomes these issues to craft nine tenths of a good book. We'll probably try him again down the line.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1924—St. Petersburg is renamed Leningrad
St. Peterburg, the Russian city founded by Peter the Great in 1703, and which was capital of the Russian Empire for more than 200 years, is renamed Leningrad three days after the death of Vladimir Lenin. The city had already been renamed Petrograd in 1914. It was finally given back its original name St. Petersburg in 1991.
1966—Beaumont Children Disappear
In Australia, siblings Jane Nartare Beaumont, Arnna Kathleen Beaumont, and Grant Ellis Beaumont, aged 9, 7, and 4, disappear from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide, and are never seen again. Witnesses claim to have spotted them in the company of a tall, blonde man, but over the years, after interviewing many potential suspects, police are unable generate enough solid leads to result in an arrest. The disappearances remain Australia's most infamous cold case.
1949—First Emmy Awards Are Presented
At the Hollywood Athletic Club in Los Angeles, California, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presents the first Emmy Awards. The name Emmy was chosen as a feminization of "immy", a nickname used for the image orthicon tubes that were common in early television cameras.
1971—Manson Family Found Guilty
Charles Manson and three female members of his "family" are found guilty of the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, which Manson orchestrated in hopes of bringing about Helter Skelter, an apocalyptic war he believed would arise between blacks and whites.
1961—Plane Carrying Nuclear Bombs Crashes
A B-52 Stratofortress carrying two H-bombs experiences trouble during a refueling operation, and in the midst of an emergency descent breaks up in mid-air over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Five of the six arming devices on one of the bombs somehow activate before it lands via parachute in a wooded region where it is later recovered. The other bomb does not deploy its chute and crashes into muddy ground at 700 mph, disintegrating while driving its radioactive core fifty feet into the earth, where it remains to this day.
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