Welcome back! With this post we’ve reached the halfway point in the countdown, which is particularly exciting considering that from here on out the images only get better!
I hope one and all are having a relaxing holiday — happy new year! Posters 60 – 51 are on the menu for today, and there are a few interesting similarities this week, particularly in how many white posters we have — six or seven of them! There are also two posters with Jack Palance and another pair with Dana Andrews, as well as one big slap in the face (or is it “on” the face? Where’s Carlin when you need him?)
Ride the Pink Horse held a place in my heart as the greatest film noir title of all time (along with Kiss the Blood Off My Hands), and I love the poster just as much. For my money this is the best image of Robert Montgomery on a film poster, and any image whatsoever of the divine Wanda Hendrix is welcome anytime. It’s a bizarre poster to say the least: a “Hotel Stack” collage illustration scheme, some highly incongruous and suspect typography, a bizarre cartoon-style scene at the bottom, and a shade of green that brings poison gas to mind. Yet for some reason (and probably a visceral one, at least as far as I’m concerned), it all works. The power of gestalt is happening here in some wonderful way and this becomes a poster that just grabs at me. Combine its super magical power with Montgomery’s intense gaze and the poster lands here in the countdown. This is one of those times where being offbeat goes a long way to the positive.
Johnny Apollo that really shouts at you, but there’s a lot to enjoy in the details. And I’ve placed it here in the countdown because it anticipates all of those of the fine Warner posters we’ve already seen. I love the palette: the warm sepia tones of the photography and the secondary type combined with black and the rich red of the title. The attention to detail in the text type is a plus as well — showing us that the designer really cared about the quality of the finished piece — a dedication to craftsmanship often absent from the mass-produced style of the later fifties. The combination of script typography for the first names, with big bold surnames in deco-style hand lettering is just beautiful — as is the cheesecake photo of Dorothy Lamour. Edward Arnold’s part in this film is huge, so his presence in the poster is necessary, but I’d like this a bit more if we could nix him while reflecting the photograph of Tyrone and Dotty in order to get their faces to line up with their names.
Double Indemnity, then an equally strong case for a supporting actress can be made for Thelma Ritter’s in this film. It’s Sam Fuller’s best movie, and maybe Richard Widmark’s as well. Tough, cynical, and subversive; this is everything a mature film noir ought to be. The poster is fine: nice title type holding up a traditional, if a bit too symmetrical composition. The star names are down at the bottom where they belong, and the inset images give us an idea of the film’s content and frame up the large artwork of Peters and Widmark nicely. The white background isn’t very indicative of the dark subject matter of the film, but it works on the poster and contributes to the all-American color palette, which must be intentionally ironic given the movie’s cynical jab at the government.
The Verdict, this one features title typography that functions conceptually, in order to drive the message of the film home to viewers. Let’s forget the junky illustrations of Dana Andrew and that makeshift broad somehow supposed to resemble Gene Tierney — all the good stuff here is happening in the box with the title typography. I’ll happily acknowledge that the poster as a whole should be darker, and much of what the artist has made blue should instead be black, but there is something powerfully indicative of the film noir milieu in the use of yellow here. We’ve seen yellow used so often before simply for its brightness and ability to contrast with black. Here, we have the yellow of a streetlight — and it shines down harshly on the drama playing out amongst the typography. What appears from a distance to be a man who has perhaps, fallen down on the street corner — drunken maybe, instead turns out to be two men locked in a struggle, or better yet — one man dragging the body of another. Whatever is happening there under the harsh glare of the lights is fascinating, and viewers are certain to have wanted to see more. Finally, the conceptual device of the type “ending” along with the sidewalk itself is conceptual and witty, not to mention “designerly” — the designer in me is happy to spend a few minutes simply enjoying the skill with which the artist was able to wrap the type along the curb, while maintaining readability of the letters. Any professional designer will look at this and tell you that things such as this, no matter how simple, effortless, or natural they appear to be, are notoriously difficult to get approved.
The Verdict must be.
The Fearmakers you’ll know how much. Nevertheless, Andrews’ range wasn’t one of his strong suits. The poster here is quite nice, with the puzzle pieces doing exactly the same thing as the question mark in the poster for House of Numbers and the title typography in the poster for The Verdict — it looms over the main characters and casts some sort of ominous pall over their lives and their fates. It’s the burden they must suffer under. Here the pieces seem to be closing in on the couple, like some angry mob, shortly to overwhelm them — or at least, one of them…
House of Numbers may slip past you at first glance — it did me. Yet each time I looked at the thing it resonated with me more and more — so much so that I finally tracked down a copy for my collection. It’s an iconic image of Palance, not that that says much — Palance has one of the great faces in film history, but not so much because it was adorable. It’s the gigantic question mark that makes this poster tick, and the way in which the little icon-style images (OK, they look like clip-art.) invite the viewer to try to solve the puzzle presented by the film. After all, House of Numbers is a prison-break picture — and a pretty good one, even if a little far fetched. Beyond the clever use of the question mark, note how large the thing is, and how it is used (along with the red shaded area) to suggest some extraordinarily heavy burden thrust upon Palance’s shoulders. I also dig the prison-issue typography here, and how the designer managed to use Palance’s clothing as a framing device, without creating a sense of too much clutter. You guys are liable to think I’m screwy on this last point, but I love these little instances of visual surprise and non-conformity: check out how the red shaded area leeches down into the white frame of the poster for absolutely no good reason. Why does it do that?! Jack’s body stops at the edge of the frame to allow for the fine print, why not the red? Who knows, maybe it’s a mistake — but an intriguing one.
High Sierra (be on the lookout for that poster in a few weeks!) starring Jack Palance and Shelley Winters in the Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino roles from the earlier film. Palance lacked Bogie’s pathos, and Winters was missing Lupino’s vulnerability, so the remake falls short of the original, but the poster is still a gem. It’s also worth noting (and this might help explain the some of the design choices here), that unlike High Sierra, I Died a Thousand Times was shot in color. The poster is simply marvelous. I don’t feel compelled to explain this one away, I’m sure you are all on the same page with me on this one. It’s just a stunning design with a wonderfully stilted composition and vivid use of color. The large image is sexy as hell, and all of the panels combine to form a fantastic broken stained glass effect. And can you beat a film with Gonzalez Gonzalez in the cast? Somebody get me one of these!
Wicked Woman and The Big Heat), but such violence and imagery are inescapable aspects of the film noir underworld, and I make no apologies for considering such posters. Besides, it’s worth noting that at least in this film the girl has it coming — if ever Liz Scott played a femme fatale, it’s in this picture; she practically devours anyone who gets in her way, especially Dan Duryea. And if I were a betting man, I’d place my bills on the lady: Scott would kick the crap out of Duryea. I mean, look at the hand on that guy — even the poster artist couldn’t toughen him up. My one qualm is with the illustration of Scott, who looks a whole lot more like Cybill Shepherd than she does herself. Otherwise this poster is a home run: extreme scale in the illustration of Duryea and Scott, with competing diagonals running all over the place, including the excellent placement of the tagline. Notice also that the tagline appears to be coming from Duryea’s mouth almost as if it were a comic book word balloon, which puts the violence into an almost cartoonish context and makes it that much more palatable. My favorite thing about the illo is also the most subtle, and that’s the slick foreshortening of Scott’s left arm. It’s almost Kirby-esque in how it creates a sense of depth and movement, and ties together the illustration with the yellow box and the narrative scene in blue at the bottom of the composition. For those of you who may not have seen this film, that scene at the bottom is incredibly relevant to the movie, and sets up all of the drama of the film. If you do track this down though, try to score a good print: this has been in the public domain for a long time, and there are hardly any prints out there that are actually worth watching.