The greatest one sheet I’ve ever seen

I love film history so I’ll browse movie poster sales whenever I get the chance. The catalogue for Heritage Auctions’ upcoming Vintage Movie Posters Signature Auction in Dallas on March 25-26 is a treasure chest of cinematic gems. Amidst the many iterations of cat people and leopard men, there are a surprising number of Italian posters for classic Hollywood movies as well as classic Italian ones, lobby cards and one sheets for much of Alfred Hitchcock’s oeuvre, iconic horror films — Frankenstein, Dracula, King Kong — and all-time greats like Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain.

Some of the posters are more iconic than the movie. The famously scandalous poster for The Outlaw (United Artists, 1946) starring Jane Russell’s magnificent cleavage, was so controversial that the film, which was made in 1941, didn’t get wide release until 1946. Howard Hughes, the film’s director and producer and a connoisseur of the cleavage arts and sciences, had a new bra designed with cantilevered underwire construction to display Ms. Russell’s bosom to its best advantage. (It was terribly uncomfortable, apparently, so Jane just hiked up her straps, stuffed the cups and used her regular bra for filming and never told Hughes.) He intended to promote those breasts, Motion Picture Code be damned, hence the famous still of Jane Russell leaning back on the haystack, one of World War II’s most popular pinups, and this poster from an image originally designed by pinup illustrator and model Zoë Mozert. The pre-sale estimate for this poster is $1,500 – $3,000.

It’s not exceptional for its artistry, but the half sheet of Manhattan Melodrama (MGM, 1934) is still noteworthy for its stars — Myrna Loy and William Powell in their first of more than a dozen movies together, an up-and-coming Clark Gable — and for the crucial role the movie it advertises played in real-life historical events. Bank robber John Dillinger was shot to death by the FBI upon exiting an evening showing of Manhattan Melodrama at the Biograph Theater in Chicago on July 22nd, 1934. The pre-sale estimate of $2,000 – $4,000 rests primarily on the film’s connection to this iconic moment.

The Art Deco style of this double grande poster of The Passion of Joan of Arc (Gaumont, 1928) is not only striking, but fits perfectly with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s jaw-dropping expressionist cinematography. The massive 5’3″ x 7’11” poster was designed by Rene Peron, a leading French artist already in the 1920s who would go on to have a decades-long career illustrating more than 2,000 movie posters. This is one my favorite movies. It was so original, so groundbreaking that people are still trying (and failing) to capture the emotional impact Dreyer conveyed with bare sets, rudimentary costumes, camera angles, lighting and the sublime visage of Renée Falconetti who delivers what is in my opinion the greatest tour-de-force cinematic acting performance of all time. It’s such a stellar representation of a landmark film, that it’s no surprise the pre-sale estimate for the poster is $12,000 – $24,000.

But it’s the poster for a classic horror film that inspired the title of this post. My previous favorite was the gloriously lurid red one sheet for James Whale’s 1935 The Bride of Frankenstein, but this one sheet for The Invisible Man (Universal, 1933) has just supplanted it. Like the one sheet for the The Bride of Frankenstein, this one was a teaser poster, released by the studio in advance to generate buzz in theaters for an upcoming attraction. Studios didn’t usually bother with the expense of teaser posters for their horror pictures, but when they did invest in a little advance marketing, the posters that resulted were often spectacular, viz:

The Bride of Frankenstein red teaser was estimated to sell for $700,000 because of its graphic impact, the importance of the movie, and most relevantly, its extreme rarity. Apparently the reserve was not met because the poster failed to sell. The Invisible Man isn’t as rare nor the movie as culturally significant, so its pre-sale estimate is $80,000 – $160,000. I suspect that’s largely a tribute to the powerful impact of the imagery.

10 thoughts on “The greatest one sheet I’ve ever seen

  1. WOW ! These movies bring back so many memories. Thomas Mitchell and Sydney Greenstreet always seemed to be overshadowed by the superstars. Thanks for this post Excellent!!

    1. I wish. They stick to aliens and pawnshop reality shows these days.

      As for your sneering over film memorabilia, I don’t see any criteria by which a 90-year-old movie poster would be excluded from the “history” category which wouldn’t also exclude, say, 90-year-old movies. I’m a classic film buff and I’m fascinated by the history of movies. That obviously includes film-related ephemera.

  2. Articles about old poop can be worthy of a read and educational to boot, so what’s wrong with old advertisements? Especially if they’re as visually amazing as that Joan of Arc poster.

    And probably the best source of archaeological artifacts worldwide is former trash heaps- all these humble traces of the past give us clues about who we were.

  3. Excellent topic for discussion! Regarding that Jane Russell poster… I just watched a (YOUTUBE) 6 part presentation on ‘THE HISTORY OF RKO’ and it was fascinating! I already had been immersed in books on other studio lore. This show has a variety of details about the larger films; But, what made this better is the behind-the-scenes-people, like Hermes Pan telling about Fred & Ginger, cameramen talking of Orson Wells, etc…

    As the 6 video series moved thro the history of RKO ownership plus who the controlling bosses were, the interview subjects provided personal, unique information. They also showed archives on production, contracts, even fan-mail…

    Then, the studio was bought by Hughes (who NEVER set foot on the main lot during ownership) and the interaction of HH with his starlets was revealed by the women themselves. Jane Russell told marvelous stories; There was a revealing discussion by Zoë Mozert, the artist who created ‘THE OUTLAW’ illustrations and poster design. He even discussed a Hughes portrait he was commissioned to paint in 3 days.

    It is very informative and compliments what is in this grand writing here! If you are hungry for more, check out the YOUTUBE series. The HISTORY BLOG is just marvelous too!

  4. Film memorabilia do in fact matter: Particularly, there was this “Ustinov” guy, who -as we all know too well- burned down Rome and STILL was able to become Knight of the British Empire ! :confused:

    That Joan of Arc poster, by the way, is indeed pretty cool, and not only can films become ‘history’, they also can become the ‘future’, when you look for example at obscure electronic devices that appeared in Sci-Fi from the 50ies, or e.g. what might be referred to as ‘dystopic doom’ about to become todays reality.

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