Feature: Movie Posters from France

I have done posts in the past comparing U.S. movie posters for American films to those advertisements that were produced internationally for the same flicks. Italy has proven to be a good source of interesting posters (see this post for examples), but France is no slacker when it comes to out doing the Americans on the artsy side. The following are some comparisons between the American posters and French. Which versions do you prefer? If you have your own favorite French posters, please share.

FRANCE VS. AMERICA

The American poster is not bad for Touch of Evil, but the French one is even more dramatic. While the U.S. made the poster suggestive via the embrace between Janet Leigh and Charlton Heston, the French more subtly suggested the bedroom action by framing the characters with a bed post. The foreign version might actually convey to audiences that Heston is responsible for the horrible bed-based action Leigh will suffer in two different settings, whereas the American version is a bit more romantic.

You can see the similarities between where the French and the Americans were going with the poster for Operation Petticoat. Both are provocative with the woman’s legs, but I must say the French had a bit more fun with the depiction of the men’s reaction. I’m laughing more at the French one than the American.

Another sexy movie with two different posters approaches is The Lady from Shanghai. All versions of the American poster featured that same pose by Rita Hayworth, but the French version certainly has a more interesting and artistic quality. This might be a matter of taste. What do you say?

Now for some comedy/war fun. Although the American version assures us there will be laughs to be had, the French poster draws a very serious picture. It is not bereft, however, of two men dancing together, so a close enough look sheds some light into the elements of Stalag 17. However misleading, I do appreciate the artistry of the French approach.

This difference might be my favorite. The Lost Weekend approaches both emphasize the seriousness of the film, but where the American take crowds in unnecessary elements, the French took a simplistic view. For those who have yet to see the picture, the bat surely will present some confusion, and it references only a minor, yet memorable, scene in the movie tracing an alcoholic’s helplessness under the influence of drink.

What it your analysis?

The Happy Thieves

Dullsville

The Happy Thieves (1961)

     When an actress can establish herself as a sex icon, this status combined with decent acting skill makes for an easily successful career, for a time. The trouble is, however, how that star maintains her box-office draw and studio prowess when her good looks start to age. Rita Hayworth is one such example. She played many sweet, pretty parts before making a smash as the title character in Gilda and spending a portion of her career playing similar roles. She was a fine performer, but studios did not care much as the woman got older. A busy career that started in the 1930s petered out in the ’60’s and she was certainly showing physical maturity in ’61’s The Happy Thieves.

     Hayworth nevertheless holds her own in the unfortunately dull story of a trio of art thieves who find themselves coerced into a more difficult theft. At the opening, Hayworth’s Eve waits outside a castle as skilled thief Jim (Rex Harrison) purloins a Velázquez painting from his host’s home and replaces it with a forgery, created by artist Jean Marie (Joseph Wiseman). Eve then smuggles the real painting into Paris but discovers it missing when she reunites with Jim. The stolen art was restolen by a Dr. Munoz (Grégoire Aslan) who also has a photo of Jim conducting the original theft. Munoz blackmails the group into stealing a Goya from a museum.

     Although the actual theft of the Goya during open museum hours is conducted in a low-tech Mission Impossible-type manner, the crime is unfortunately accomplished in connection with the murder of a bullfighter and does not quite go off without a hitch. The group’s blackmailer also turns up dead and the authorities soon discover the forgery.

     The Happy Thieves is appropriately titled as it certainly is a light-hearted crime plot. The story, however, is a bit of a snooze. None of the characters comes off as particularly sympathetic with the soft-spoken Eve standing out as the most innocent of the criminals. Hayworth’s character does not really fit the mold of a thief, but that is part of why she is effective in her smuggling role. Harrison, meanwhile, is a lacking love interest for Hayworth as the romance between the two is minimal despite the man’s plan to land a big enough score for the two to live on indefinitely together.

     Alida Valli also makes an appearance as a duchess who plans to marry the murdered bull fighter and gets her own revenge. Despite the decent cast, The Happy Thieves leaves me with nothing to take away as making the flick worth watching. It is not particularly unique in its plot and offers no stand-out performances.

The Lady in Question

Gasser

The Lady in Question (1940)

     The Lady in Question is certainly a unique story, although one that sings in large part because of its main character while all others play second fiddle. Brian Aherne –who with mustache and bushy eyebrows looks nothing like his visage in the poster for this movie– steals the show as the most purely kind, middle-aged man ever to put himself in the situation that encompasses the plot.

     Aherne plays Andre Morestan, a sporting goods shop owner in France who is one of the few people in the country eager to serve out a jury duty sentence. This married man with two teenage children sits through a case of a woman who shot her lover to death. This Natalie Roguin (Rita Hayworth) says she was defending herself against a man who had threatened her life after some time of paying for her living. The prosecutor says the woman blackmailed her lover into stealing from his father to pay for her lifestyle.

     In a scene that could have taken the movie in a 12 Angry Men direction, most of the jury wants to convict Natalie, but Andre stands in abject disagreement. With one man sneezing his germs throughout the room and another with a new wife waiting for him, Andre succeeds in standing his ground and drawing all others to his side.

     Upon the acquittal, the man leaves his contact information with Natalie’s attorney, saying he wants to help her in any way she might need. The woman does eventually call him and is need of both a job and a place to stay. No one will hire her despite the court’s erasing a murderess label, so Andre takes her into his shop and home, renaming her Jean and calling her the daughter of an old college friend who is spending some time in Africa.

     Andre’s wife Michele (Irene Rich) is instantly suspicious and might worry her husband has brought this pretty young thing in as a mistress, but even more stunned is their son Pierre –played by a young Glenn Ford– who secretly attended the trial and recognizes Natalie. Nevertheless, young Pierre starts to fall for the woman, who is clearly kind at heart. Meanwhile, the young woman’s identity becomes a problem every time a fellow juror, Mr. Lurette (Curt Bois), stops by to talk about how he thinks they got the verdict wrong.

     Andre is comically cruel in his dismissal of the man, but when it appears his son is about to run off with Natalie and take the contents of the store cash box with him, he concludes that perhaps the woman is guilty.

     Aherne, the Brit who often played handsome charmers, is a hoot as the middle-aged father who is too innocent to see how unsavory it looks to take into his home the acquitted murderer whom he helped to free. The man proves he is too kind to others for his own good through a running joke involving a stout man who repeatedly enters the shop to exchange a tandem bike for a single –and vice versa– because his fiancées keep leaving him. Michele insists a used bike can only be exchanged for an upcharge, but Andre feels sorry and happy for the man as his romantic circumstances change and gives the bikes away without the fee.

     The other characters all add to the story, Bois especially as the timid accountant who is on and off “at liberty” (aka unemployed) and analyzes the case with a mathematical mind. Rich does well as the responsible but suspicious wife, Ford as the uptight son whose bravado is chipped away by Natalie’s kindness, and Evelyn Keyes as the love-struck daughter who wants to marry the neighboring dance instructor and literally skips around the house in her twitterpated haze. Hayworth in this role is nothing to write home about. She speaks softly and affects a sad look most of the time. She is lovely but no seductress (as the poster would suggest) as she would later be with Ford in Gilda.

Lone Wolf Spy Hunt

Dullsville

The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939)

      I can only hope that the movies Warren William made as “The Lone Wolf” improved with each subsequent release because the first movie he made as the reformed thief was no less than disappointing. Like several detective/crime novel series of the time, The Lone Wolf character inspired two dozen movies or so between 1917 and 1949. William made about six of those but failed in The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt to convince me I would not be better served watching the Gay Falcon or Saint movies.

     Also tragically cast here as the pining and obnoxious love interest is Ida Lupino, who goes blonde to show us just how dumb she can play. The star really made her mark in other darker roles and merely wastes her talent in poorly named The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt.

     The picture opens on a promising note as our hero Michael Lanyard (William) is cornered on the street by two thugs who whisk him away to the home of Spiro (Ralph Morgan), a criminal who asks the ex-thief to help him open a safe. Lanyard refuses, but Spiro has searched his possessions and holds onto two of the cigarettes that are specially made for the now-upstanding citizen. When a safe in the War Department is robbed of partial plans for an anti-aircraft gun and Lanyard’s cigarette is found on the scene, detectives naturally suspect the man.

     Lanyard offers an alibi and is not arrested, but he is soon lured by the luscious Rita Hayworth as Karen back into the clutches of this spy group. They take him to the lab of the scientist who developed the weapon plans and hope to force him to crack open the safe there and retrieve the remainder of the plans. Lanyard fools the goons, however, and when they go searching the building for him, he cracks the safe, takes the plans for himself and puts a dummy note in the envelope the men seek. When the criminals “find” Lanyard, they have him open the safe and give them the now-worthless envelope.

     Rather than give the stolen plans to the police, Lanyard stores them with a goofy senator friend (Brandon Tynan), whose daughter Val (Lupino) is infatuated with/sort of dating the Lone Wolf. The remainder of the plot focuses on the various extraneous parties that are now mixed up in Lanyard’s trouble and the back-and-forth of stolen plans among characters. Widower Lanyard’s daughter (Virginia Weidler) also becomes entangled.

     William lacks all the charm most ex-criminal/detective characters tend to offer. He has some residual criminal instincts to impress us but not enough to make the audience say, wow. The story is similar, as I mentioned to movies like the Gay Falcon and the Saint and also The Thin Man stories, all of which take a non-police person and have him act as detective all the while trying to clear his own name. The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt pales by comparison to these others in the appeal of the star, the complexity of the plot, and the desirableness of the women side-kicks.

     As I mentioned, Lupino essentially disgraces herself by playing the clingy and snooping girlfriend of Lanyard, who has no intention of truly dating the woman until the last quarter of the film when it seems they might actually get married. Weidler as the daughter, however, adds a lot of fun to the plot. This tom-boy loves playing mafiosa and handcuffs her father’s valet until he agrees to “die” three times the next day when she shoots him with her pretend gun that makes real noises. Weidler is not enough, however, to make The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt worth watching. Catch her in The Philadelphia Story instead.

Feature: Movie Posters from Italy

I have noticed through my searching for movie posters to accompany the 150+ movies I’ve blogged about so far that the Italians produced much more appealing posters than the American-created ones. I cannot be sure why this is. Are the Italians more artistic? More risqué?  Or is it just that the look of an Italian movie poster for a picture made in the U.S. is just different than to what we are accustomed? Below are a few examples I’ve stumbled across with the Italian images on the left. If you have spotted any other examples let me know, as I’m likely to come across others requiring a follow-up post down the road.

ITALY vs. AMERICA

Perhaps a semi-nude Rita Hayworth would have been too scandalous for American movie-goers, but this Italian poster for Salome is simply striking not only because of the actress’ gorgeous form, but the color scheme is simply beautiful.If you didn’t know what Dark Victory is about, you might just be confused by the foreign poster, but knowing that the woman faces blindness, that wispy shadow across her eyes is telling versus the expressionless Bette Davis in the American poster.I purchased this Italian version of Funny Face after I was frustrated to find no U.S. version featured the famous “funny face” photograph of Audrey Hepburn that inspires the title song. I was also always disappointed to find that no original poster for Citizen Kane featured the memorable image of Orson Welles standing in front of the picture of himself. Granted the Italian poster does not offer this either, and perhaps it is not your cup of tea, but it’s pretty cool.

Now, there is little difference between these two Chinatown posters but what strikes me the most –and what inspired me to recently purchase the Italian version– is that Faye Dunaway‘s eyes in the clouds are much more vibrant and obvious in the foreign poster.

Salome (1953)

Gasser

Salome (1953)

     I am not typically a fan of bible-era movies, so Salome had me nearly disinterested from the start, but thanks to a strong performance by Rita Hayworth and a decent romantic plot, I ultimately enjoyed this viewing. Although I thoroughly enjoyed Hayworth in The Lady from Shanghai and Gilda in which she plays a great conniving seductress, several musical or otherwise light-subjected movies had me sort of jaded about the beautiful star’s talent. Salome stood to be another opportunity for the redhead to gallivant across the screen as merely a beautiful face, but the now-matured star showed her mettle here instead.

     Hayworth was 35 when Salome was released and although her face shows nearly no signs of aging, her voice and her manner belie a world-wise woman. She no longer comes to the screen with the gay light of the young and free, but instead gives us an embittered young woman who hates her surroundings.

      Salome, the step daughter of King Herod of Galilee, has spent most of her life in Rome where Tiberius Caesar banishes the woman from his city. Caesar’s cousin wishes to marry her, but being a “savage” non-Roman, the union is forbidden and Salome cast out. Her voyage back to Galilee is on a vessel occupied by newly appointed Governor Pontius Pilate (Basil Sydney) and his right-hand man Commander Claudius, played by Stewart Granger. Claudius immediately puts the moves on the sexy lady despite her wishes to have no contact with Romans. Once home in Galilee, Salome is graciously greeted by her mother Queen Herodias, played by an aged Judith Anderson, and is immediately spotted by King Herod as (Charles Laughton) as a desirable conquest.

     In the midst of this story is another plot involving John the Baptist, whom the king thinks is the messiah, who preaches about a new religion and speaks against the throne because the queen is an adulteress having left her husband to marry his brother, the king. Herod will do nothing to silence the man despite his wife’s wishes because a prophecy declares any member of the Herod family who kills the messiah is doomed to die an agonizing death. Salome dislikes the Baptist because he denounces her mother, but Claudius is good friends with the prophet.

     Salome and Claudius draw nearer to each other as the plot unfolds and the woman begins to realize the evil of her mother. When John the Baptist is arrested, Claudius uses the palace guards to fight him free while Salome dances for the king in the hopes of convincing him to release the prisoner. This dance, which will make Salome the king’s possession, is something to be seen. Hayworth, dressed in layers of colorful, gauzy garment, spins and postures as she removes each successive layer of dress until she is down to a nude-colored, nearly sheer ensemble embellished with beads. This striptease is performed in front of a crowd and is brutally interrupted when a certain character’s head arrives on a platter.

     I’ve already noted how strong I found Hayworth’s performance to be. It seems at this point in her career she finally found her footing among strong, sexy roles, much as Lana Turner moved from light-hearted flicks to more compelling ones. Salome came out around the same time as the other two I mentioned liking, so it seems we can track down a good point after which her films become palatable.

     The Technicolor extravaganza of Salome was not the best backdrop for Anderson, however, whose age is apparent outside the black-and-white era in which she flourished. That is not to say she did not give her typically evil/strong performance. Laughton of course was splendid in yet another villanous role. He is entirely creepy as he makes eyes at Salome while she dances for him. With Granger I found myself going through the same motions I usually do with him. On first appearance I find myself disappointed that he is the male romantic lead, but as the picture progresses, he wins me over. He does a fine job with such performances and I cannot help but find my heart thawing a bit toward him by the close of each of his similarly romantic films.

Cinematic Shorts: Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Wowza!

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

     I’m not sure how I stumbled upon watching Here Comes Mr. Jordan the first time, but it was a fortuitous incident. This flick is probably my favorite Robert Montgomery movie, which competes with Mr. and Mrs. Smith for that top spot (and you can understand my dilemma because the other has Carole Lombard in it). I would say no other film shows off Montgomery’s comedy capabilities in the way this feature does. He plays a character totally unlike the military and society dreamboat roles in which he was typically cast.

     As Joe Pendelton, a successful boxer, Montgomery plays a dimwitted man more concerned with keeping his body “in the pink” and defeating a boxing rival than anything else around him. Towards the film’s start, Joe crashes his self-piloted plane, and heavenly beings take him away. The trouble is, the heavenly worker assigned to his case, Messenger 7031 (Edward Everett Horton) takes him before the plane hits the ground, and as it turns out, Joe was destined to survive the crash. The damage is done, however, and Joe is delivered to Mr. Jordan, played by Claude Rains, who must find a suitable body for the man to live out the remainder of his scheduled life.

     Joe is given a temporary spot occupying the body of a man who is about to be murdered by his wife and her lover. He’s an older, wealthy bloke who also has some unkind dealings that involve a beautiful young woman, with whom Joe will fall in love. All sorts of absurdities happen as Joe, looking like the old man, tries to convince his boxing agent (James Gleason) of his real identity and get the old body “in the pink” to defeat his rival in the ring.

     If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it was based on a play called “Heaven Can Wait” that was later done into another movie by that name starring Warren Beatty. This original also inspired a sequel, but Rains was not interested and Montgomery was serving in the military, so the Mr. Jordan part was recast and Rita Hayworth was used as the mythical muse of the performing arts to interfere with goings on of a theatrical production. It was quite a let down.

     Going back to Here Comes Mr. Jordan, I can not say enough about Montgomery’s performance. His low-brow accent accompanies humorous dialogue to give the impression of a man who has been knocked out a few too many times. That is not to say his ignorance is not endearing. Montgomery’s facial expressions also add to this character’s hilarious persona as he stumbles through a whole host of accidental circumstances. I highly recommend this flick for anyone who enjoys comedies.

The messenger explains why Joe and his lucky sax aren't on earth where they should be.

Source: Robert Osborne

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