Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Scriptos in Times Square

Killer's Kiss (1955), written and directed by Stanley Kubrick, is a great film noir. Running only 67 minutes, it feels like a longer, fuller film, as it's told largely in images: fight posters, dance-hall posters, photographs tucked into the edges of a mirror, a doll tethered to a bed railing, a tile staircase. Boxer Davy Gordon and dance-hall girl Gloria Price (played by Jamie Smith and Irene Kane) meet, fall in love, and become the targets of jealous dance-hall owner Vincent Rapallo (played by Frank Silvera). There are great scenes of Times Square at night and a brutal fight in a mannequin warehouse.

Above, a still from a Times Square scene with Davy and Gloria. Imagine: an electric sign for Scripto mechanical pencils in Times Square. In 1955, people took their pencils seriously. But even better: the sign has moving parts and becomes, as Davy and Gloria talk, an advertisement for ballpoint pens: 29¢, same price as the pencils.

If you're wondering what the sign on the left is advertising, it's Himberama, "a sleight-of-hand musical revue" under the direction of orchestra leader and magician Richard Himber. Note the changing position of the rabbit: this sign too has moving parts. In another shot, the snappy slogans are readable: "A HARE RAISIN' SHOW," "THE 4D PRODUCTION."

I'm indebted to the New York Times obituary for Richard Himber (1966) and two articles from American Speech, John Lotz's "The Suffix '-Rama'" (1954) and the unattributed "Some Popular Components of Trade Names" (1958), in working out the mysteries of Himberama (save for that fourth dimension). The phrase "a sleight-of-hand musical revue" is from the Times.

Related post
Is there a pencil in The House ? (on pencils in The House on 92nd Street)

comments: 4

stephen said...

A nice discovery.

Thanks for sharing this.

JuliaR said...

I love mechanical pencils because they never need sharpening. I even use them for drawing. Mine appear to be made by Pilot and Sanford. But Scripto is a more evocative brand name.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the background information on Himberama, something I would never have known the first thing about it were it not for watching "Killer's Kiss", which I think is a criminally under-rated film. Even Kubrick was somewhat dismissive of it, calling it "a student film".
Of course the best thing about Killer's Kiss is all the great shots of a NYC transformed into something else again, one of the lost treasures recorded is Penn Station, the demolition of which was described as "one of the greatest acts of urban vandalism in history"....

Michael Leddy said...

I’m happy to meet a like-minded reader. Thanks, Unknown.