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Pulp Cinema

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 06/04/04 08:38:29

"A tremendously enjoyable collection of classic noir film trailers."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

There are some great old noir films that we may never have a chance to see on the big screen. Perhaps thousands of great little black and white stories that never earned more than a handful of bucks in theaters for two-bit distributors have probably dissolved into dust before anyone had the good sense to restore them. But thankfully the trailers live on, and this DVD collection of them makes for some very enjoyable, and often very funny viewing.

"He makes crime a career -- and ladies a hobby! He's as fast on the draw as he is in the drawing room! Humphrey Bogart as the most ruthless lover you'll ever meet -- Mary Astor as the most exciting woman he's ever met -- It's Dashiel hammet's greatest novel... The Maltese Falcon!"

That's the kind of blurbage that used to be used to sell upcoming feature films. No words like 'uproarious', no fake quotes from fake critics, just melodrama, splashy titlecards, and broads, broads, broads.

Pulp Cinema is not a documentary per se. There's no running narrative, no narration, no voiceover (at least none that weren't in the original pieces of footage), and no point beyond the joy of being able to see all of these great old pieces of cinema advertising as they were seen by our grandparents back in the day.

Many of the trailers are far more than mere snippets of the film with a booming score and an excitable voiceover. In fact, many of them were purpose-made by the filmmakers, the cast, and even studio executives as short films in their own right, made up entirely of original footage. Take this one, in which Orson Welles can be heard while the audience sees an extreme close-up of the boom mike he's speaking into.

"How do you do, ladies and gentlemen? This is Orson Welles. I'm speaking for the Mercury Theater, and what follows is supposed to advertise our first motion picture. Citizen Kane is the title and we hope it can correctly be called a 'coming attraction'. It's certainly coming, to this theater, and I think our Mercury actors make it an attraction. Speaking of attractions [singing chorus girls appear on screen] these chorus girls are certainly an attraction, but frankly ladies and gentlemen we're just showing the chorus girls for purposes of... ballyhoo. That's pretty nice ballyhoo..."

What's most interesting are the nuances of the time which show how much moviegoing has changed over the years, as well as little bits of info that show things haven't really changed at all. For example, the trailer for Witness for the Prosecution gives away almost the entire film, but for the answer to the question - "guilty or not guilty?", just as so many trailers do today. However, that same trailer finishes with a titlecard that claims "Notice! To preserve the secret of the surprise ending, no patrons will be seated during the final 10 minutes of the Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich film Witness for the Prosecution," a reminder that, back in the old days, you bought a ticket to the theater, not a single session of a single movie, and you could come and go all day watching trailers and shorts and cartoons and newsreels and whatever film was coming next.

The trailer for Crossfire features a studio head of production talking about how a movie comes to be, from mimeographing pages of the screenplay to reading through the objection memos of various studio executives, to production itself, and then to the test screening, where audience members are seen dropping suggestion cards into a lockbox. The executive then reads several of the cards talking about how great Crossfire is. It's somewhat disheartening to realize that test screenings aren't such a modern day scourge as we like to think...

The Anatomy of a Murder trailer features a bailiff announcing to a courtroom, "Hear ye, hear ye. There's a new movie coming to this town. All those involved in the presentation of this film will now be sworn in." It then goes on to 'swear in' the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, George C. Scott and, oddly enough, Duke Ellington. After that, the camera turns around and swears in the entire production crew.

"How could I have known that murder would smell like honeysuckle?"

This collection is smartly constructed, completely compelling, and a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a film history buff. Including trailers for such film as A Woman's Face, Girl in 313, The Accused, The Big Sleep, The Brasher Doubloon, The Big Clock, Private Hell 36, the Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indeminty, Sunset Boulevard, Ministry of Fear, Key Largo, Lady in the Lake, and Ride the Pink Horse (excuse me?) to name but a few, this is a veritable time trip back to the days when marketing departments had no idea what 'viral campaigns' were.

Tough to find, but well worth tracking down, my only complaint would be that the company behind this collection, AllDay Entertainment, seem to have gone cheap on the disc itself and neither represented the trailers in widescreen, nor given much attention to the quality of the actual DVD disc itself. Menus are slow, presentation is basic, but the quality of the trailers make up for any of those complaints.

You little firecracker... don't pretend you don't like it."

The only issue that remains is that now I have a list of about 20 old movies that I have to track down so that I can sate my hunger after the trailers sold me on the films.

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