Big Blondes, Big Guns, and Big Bad Criminals: Fun with Film Noir Posters

posterdangerlivesI love movie posters from the Golden Age, because they were designed and executed by graphic artists and illustrators. They retained the expressive flavor of paintings and illustrations and followed the aesthetics of those artistic mediums. In contrast, today’s photography-based posters, no matter how artistic, are grounded in the realism inherent in that medium. Film noir posters are particularly appealing, because the genre is defined by specific visual characteristics, and the posters echo those in interesting ways.

Most of the posters in this article are from upcoming movies yet to air as part of TCM’s Summer of Darkness. The posters not only depict the noir style and suggest the genre’s themes, but I thought they might entice readers to catch a few of these films on Fridays during the month of July.

The covers of detective magazines and novels as well as posters for gangster films influenced the imagery found on noir posters—big blondes, big guns, and big bad criminals. The suit and fedora worn by the private eyes on the magazine covers became the conventional costume of the noir protagonist in the movies and posters. His hard-boiled nature was suggested visually through the serious, focused expression of the movie’s male lead. The posters also borrowed the color coding for femme fatales and bad girls, depicting them in low-cut red dresses to suggest passion, danger, and violence.


The Names Have Been Changed for Dramatic License

The movies have a long history of telling true stories by making them completely untrue.  I’m not talking about taking a movie about a famous person, like Night and Day‘s telling of Cole Porter’s life, and highly fictionalizing it to the extent that it’s almost completely created from scratch.  And I’m not talking about alternate history movies where famous events turn out a different way than they really did, like in Inglourious Basterds.  No, I’m talking about movies like tonight’s showing of The Great Dictator by, as it turns out, the great Charlie Chaplin, where it’s about a specific figure, in this case Adolf Hitler, but the name is changed to Adenoid Hynkel.  Is there an advantage to doing it that way instead of just lampooning the real person?  Absolutely, but there are drawbacks, too.  Let’s look at five famous examples where the stories are eerily familiar but the none of the names ring a bell.



July 4, 2015
David Kalat
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Remaking Godzilla

Greg Ferrara’s thoughtful pieces on remakes last week and yesterday got me thinking again about Godzilla—which was the subject of my own thoughtless post last week. Maybe too many things get me thinking about Godzilla. But since Godzilla movies have been “rebooted” so many times over the years (1954, 1984, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2014 to choose the most obvious ones) there’s almost no remake-related issue that hasn’t been touched on in Godzillaland at least once.


KEYWORDS: Gareth Edwards, Godzilla

Where the Remake Went Wrong (and Right): No Way Out

Last week I did a post on how the remake Against All Odds paled next to its original inspiration, Out of the Past.  I enjoyed writing it and reading the comments and discussion that followed, as always, and decided to keep doing it.  Now, making the argument that Against All Odds is a faint shadow of Out of the Past is, admittedly, easy pickings.  I mean, yes, there were some good things in Against All Odds, not least of which being James Woods fantastic supporting performance, but the fact is that Out of the Past is one of the best, maybe the best film noir ever made.  Tonight, on the other hand, there’s a solid thriller running and almost forty years later, there was a remake of it and the remake isn’t half bad, really.  I like the original better but the remake has much to recommend itself.  The original is The Big Clock, with Ray Milland and Charles Laughton, and the remake is No Way Out, with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman. Both have plenty to offer.



Underrated ’65


When asked what my favorite film decade is I always mention the sixties. So what is it about the swinging sixties that I find so damn appealing? There are a plethora of reasons including the influx of foreign films that had begun to influence and inspire American filmmakers while avant-garde as well as pop art sensibilities began to flourish around the world. Long-held prejudices were being addressed in American cinema and black, Hispanic and Asian actors were able to find significant starring roles that broke racial barriers. The Hollywood studio system may have been on the decline but many of the best films produced during the decade were directed by old masters such as Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, John Huston, John Ford, John Sturges and Orson Welles who seemed to embrace change and created some of their most challenging and important work during this period.

I mention all this because myself and Millie De Chirico (the lovely TCM Manager of Programming) were recently asked to participate in Brain Saur’s Underrated ’65 project currently ongoing at his blog, Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Brian is an ardent supporter of classic film and you can always find interesting recommendations there as well as regular updates about new and upcoming DVD releases. I was happy to take part because I love sixties cinema and there are plenty of undervalued films from 1965 that deserve more attention and thoughtful consideration. So many that I had a hard time narrowing my list down to a mere Top 10 but that’s what I did and I thought it was worth sharing here.


This week on TCM Underground: Cleopatra Jones plus Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold


Nearly forty years after the advent of Blaxploitation, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish the parodies (CLEOPATRA SCHWARTZ, BLACK DYNAMITE) that followed from the genuine articles (CLEOPATRA JONES, BLACK SHAMPOO) that broke out of the Hollywood studio system in the 1970s to appeal an African-American movie-going demographic accustomed to searching high and wide for racial representation on the big screen. The unparalleled success enjoyed by United Artists with Ossie Davis’ COTTON COMES TO HARLEM (1970) and by MGM with Gordon Parks’ SHAFT (1971) led to a flood of films that made household names out of former character actors (Yaphet Kotto, William Marshall), stage players (Thalmus Rasulala, Paula Kelly), professional athletes (Jim Brown, Fred Williamson), fashion models (Richard Roundtree, Tamara Dobson), standup comedians (Richard Pryor, Rudy Rae Moore), and even the occasional receptionist (Pam Grier, Gloria Hendry). Yet even when fronted by predominantly all-black casts, Blaxploitation films (as they were later dubbed, not always flatteringly) were more often than not driven by white executives and overseen by white directors-for-hire. Such was the case for the Warner Bros. hit CLEOPATRA JONES (1973), a marriage of Blaxploitation elements with the outr tropes of the spy subgenre (particularized by the popular James Bond franchise, whose lead had changed from Sean Connery to Roger Moore for the Blaxploitation-flavored LIVE AND LET DIE), made by a creative team that was almost entirely Caucasian.  [...MORE]

Technicolor Daze: Scaramouche, Chad Hanna, and Apache Drums



When I have an empty afternoon to kill, I go to the movies.  This past Saturday my hours were filled to bursting with the “Glorious Technicolor: From George Eastman House and Beyond” series at MoMA, which runs through August 5th. The way the schedule fell, my matinees were made up of MGM’s frothy swashbuckler Scaramouche (1952) and the kindly circus folk of 20th Century Fox’s Chad Hanna (1940), with the prime evening slot held by the dark, violent Universal-International Western, Apache Drums (1952). This is a series after my own heart, a 60+ feature cavalcade of movies classic and obscure from 1922 – 1955, all exhibited on film (a rarer and rarer pleasure). My random sampling spanned two decades, three genres, and a variety of approaches to Technicolor. Scaramouche is all gleaming candy colors — you are almost invited to go up and lick the screen. Chad Hanna and Apache Drums are more subdued in their palettes, both making use of darkness and chiaroscuro to capture folds in upstate New York circus tents and candlelight in a Southwestern church under siege, respectively.


Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die

cornellopenerResearching, re-viewing, and re-visiting film noir this summer through TCM’s Summer of Darkness has led me beyond the trio of hard-boiled novelists/screenwriters generally discussed as the genre’s literary architects: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain. A few weeks ago, I wrote about Daniel Mainwaring, author of Build My Gallows High on which Out of the Past was based, and I was delighted to discover the extent of his contributions to postwar Hollywood. Several readers suggested I also look into Cornell Woolrich, best known for penning the story that served as the basis for Rear Window. While every movie lover can connect his name to Rear Window, few know much beyond that—including myself. Not only is he the least familiar contributor to mystery fiction and film noir, but, in a genre created by a number of self-destructive, anxiety-ridden, and depressed writers, Woolrich was arguably the most troubled.

When the reclusive, alcoholic, diabetic died in 1968, he left behind several unfinished stories, including one titled “First You Dream, Then You Die.” The title seems a suitable epitaph for his wretched life—so suitable, in fact, that writer Francis M. Nevins, Jr., used it for his definitive, 600-page biography of Woolrich.


The Passion of Carl Theodor Dreyer



The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) is Carl Theodor Dreyer’s first masterpiece. It was critically acclaimed but a disappointment at the box-office. Dryer followed it with a second masterpiece, Vampyr (1932), which also failed to impress its investors, but this time he was criminally overlooked by the critics, probably due to the stigma that hounds the horror genre. Day of Wrath (1943) fared better, but due to its allusions to the tyranny of Nazi Occupation Dryer fled to Sweden and did not return to Denmark until after the war. Dryer grew up in a Danish foster home and was adopted by a newspaper typographer, and this later dovetailed into a career in journalism. In 1912 he got work as a title writer for Nordisk Film and for the next six years wrote many scripts before breaking out as a director. Dryer was influenced by Sergei M. Eisenstein’s work, but his films are in a class all of their own and have left deep imprints on many filmmakers, including Lars von Trier – who sometimes seems to be as haunted by Dryer as were all the people who worked on The Passion of Joan of Arc[...MORE]

June 27, 2015
David Kalat
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Uh oh, Monster Zero

In the mid-sixties, United Productions of America’s Henry Saperstein went shopping for high quality monster movies for North American distribution. Toho Studios shared with Hammer Studios in England the reputation of producing a steady supply of monster movies with a consistent level of quality. Choosing to deal with Toho rather than Hammer, Saperstein eventually won the confidence of Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka.

Saperstein’s involvement began with Frankenstein Conquers the World, which was then already in preproduction, and continued for years—on to the likes of War of the Gargantuas, and later Godzilla’s Revenge and Terror of Mechagodzilla.

Monster Zero would be Saperstein’s first full-fledged co-production, and boy is it a doozy. (Check it out Sunday the 28th for yourself)


KEYWORDS: Godzilla, Henry Saperstein, Kumi Mizuno, Nick Adams
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