Welcome to a new Flicks Film Posters gallery blog! Here we’ll explain a bit about the posters you see here and about the films that inspired designers, studios and artists to create them.
So starting from clockwise top left we have an unfolded, 1967 Japanese re-release B2 poster for Akira Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece Seven Samurai, originally released in 1954. Posters from the first release are exceedingly rare and therefore super expensive but this vibrant, colourful alternative, from the first re-release in Japan, features a dynamic composition that matches the excitement of watching one of the greatest action movies ever made. Toshiro Mifune dominates the poster, with the six other samurai depicted at the bottom of the poster behind the striking red title design.
All movie fans know that Seven Samurai was remade in 1960 as the classic John Sturges’ Western The Magnificent Seven, but good as that later film is, it pales in comparison to Kurosawa’s enduringly fascinating original.
Kurosawa’s film is also credited with pioneering a multi-camera technique for staging the peerless battle scenes between samurai and bandit hordes. The thrilling editing style was a huge influence on generations of filmmakers, not least Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, big fans of Kurosawa, who late in the Japanese master’s career facilitated the release of Kagemusha - The Shadow Warrior (1980).
Next up (top row second from left) we have a nicely rendered original Belgian poster from 1966 for Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Deuxieme Souffle (Second Breath). One of the series of distinctive, tough, complex crime film noir thrillers directed by Melville (other key films are Bob Le Flambeur (Bob The Gambler, 1955), Le Doulos (1955, aka The Finger Man), Le Samourai (1967), and Le Circle Rouge (The Red Circle, 1970). Second Breath is one of the very best. The poster composition perfectly reflects the trajectory of the drama, with Paul Meurisse’s dogged, determined cop in the top left, and the great Lino Ventura, gun in hand, as the escaped convict Gu, on a mission to find out who betrayed him within a complex set of underworld relationships, hinted at in the poster by the figures in the background. Melville’s terrific film noir thrillers are the essence of Gallic cool and understated detachment. A connoisseur of American crime films, Melville created a body of fine work that, although influenced by the classic era of American film noir (generally considered to be between 1941 and 1958), is uniquely French and itself became a key influence on later directors.
Adjacent to Le Deuxieme Souffle is another, very different film noir. This very rare original US half sheet is for Fritz Lang’s 1946 thriller Cloak and Dagger, starring Gary Cooper and Lilli Palmer. Cooper’s status as a major Hollywood star at the time means this is a relatively rare case of a star’s billing dwarfing the title itself! A close-up romantic clinch with Lilli Palmer, and a trench coated Cooper in dynamic action pose in the background, gives the indication that this exciting wartime noir mixes romance with thrilling action to great effect. There’s a particularly memorable sequence in Cloak and Dagger that one wonders whether Alfred Hitchcock saw and took note of: the extended, brutal struggle in a train car between Cooper and an assailant. Filmed in real time and wordless except for the sound of the train and the desperate fight, the scene may have been an influence on the similar, famous sequence in Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain (1966), where Paul Newman and a farmer’s wife take what seems an excruciating amount of time to kill an East German spy. Hitch wanted to show just how difficult it can be to kill a man but Lang had done something similarly powerful 20 years before.
Top right we have a country of origin French petit poster for Jacques Tati’s 1967 film Playtime, the great comic filmmaker’s last masterpiece featuring Monsieur Hulot. The poster is beautifully designed by Rene FerraccI. Although it’s a bit difficult to see in the photo here, the design cleverly incorporates tiny coloured figures wandering around the deftly rendered office buildings that feature throughout Monsieur Hulot’s odyssey through a barely recognisable modernist 1960s Paris. A very funny and superbly shot film!
Directly below Playtime is an Italian Locandina poster for Billy Wilder’s 1978 film Fedora. The excellent artwork by an unknown artist features Marthe Keller as the titular reclusive movie star and William Holden, in his best late performance, as the Hollywood producer sent to lure Fedora out of self-imposed semi retirement. Along with the wonderful Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) and Avanti! (1972), Fedora is the best of late Wilder; lyrical, beautifully shot and an interesting companion piece to Wilder’s earlier classic Sunset Boulevard (1950) which famously featured Gloria Swanson as a washed up silent film star, deluded into thinking she can make a come back to the big time by a gigolo-like screenwriter, again played by William Holden.
Next to Fedora is one of the jewels in our collection - an original 1950 French medium poster with art by Roger Soubie for one of our favourite film noirs - Jules Dassin's Night and the City. Shot on the streets and dark dives and nightclubs of a barely recognisable post-war London, it’s one of a small handful of films shot outside America that qualifies as a genuine film noir. Dassin had previous form as a master noir stylist, with the corrosively violent prison noir Brute Force (1947), The Naked City (1948), an influential semi-documentary, shot-on-location thriller, and the excellent, underrated trucking underworld drama Thieves Highway (1949). But for many, it’s Night and the City that most perfectly captures the essence of film noir: Richard Widmark’s doomed, charismatic Harry Fabian, a hustling sports promoter and gambler, memorably described by one critic as being “an artist without an art”, represents the archetypal noir loser, forever looking for one last big score that’s always just out of reach. Meanwhile, rightly at the centre of Boris Grinsson’s magnificent composition, Gene Tierney, in one of her finest roles, is the innocent catalyst for Fabian’s demise, the kind of unaffected, ‘good girl’ that may represent salvation if only Harry can escape the numerous debts, dangerously over-reaching failed schemes and the London underworld in close pursuit. The supporting cast of terrific British and American character actors - notably Googie Withers and Francis L. Sullivan as shady nightclub owners Helen and Phil Nosseros - add local colour and flavour, whilst Max Greene’s chiaroscuro photography and Dassin’s baroque direction make London’s streets and post-war derelict bombsites a menacing web Fabian ultimately can’t escape.
Adjacent to this poster is a US insert poster for a much less well known low budget film noir - Harold Daniels’s Roadblock (1951). This is a fine example of the superior poster art on many of RKO Radio Pictures posters from the era, with the thin format beautifully used to depict a pulpy kind of noir visual language. Notable as being one of the few films where the excellent Charles MacGraw was the male lead rather than just a menacing heavy, it also features classic femme fatale art of the largely unknown Joan Dixon and a great tag line!
Finally we have a lovely original 1970 Belgian poster for Ken Loach’s enduring British classic Kes. The artwork on this poster is far superior to the UK and US equivalents. Based on Barry Hines’ novel ’A Kestrel for a Knave’ the film is amongst the best loved of all British films, it’s unsentimental portrait of Northern working class life still an inspiration to subsequent generations of British filmmakers. David Bradley’s astonishingly natural performance as Billy Casper, whose only solace from a tough home life and no prospects is the fascination and joy he finds from training a young kestrel, is indelible and defined the actor’s entire career. A still tough and uncompromising, but so very humane and funny film, it’s arguably still Ken Loach’s best known and maybe finest film in a long and distinguished career.