Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Poseidon Quickies: Sigh The "Contract!"

Not one of my most successful "punny" titles for a post, but finally I just gave up. Ha ha!  I was totally unfamiliar with the 1958 low-budget movie Murder by Contract when I stumbled upon it the other day. It was only the opportunity to see what its star, Vince Edwards, was up to at that time that convinced me to give it a whirl. Later, I found that the quickly-made (filmed in 7 days!), 81-minute movie was considered an achievement in tone, style and editing and was heralded by no less than Martin Scorcese as an influence. It's really unusual for its time... the way it is paced and the episodic structure paired with the true eccentricities (almost OCD-like) of the central character. If it should seem interesting to you after working through this post, a great copy of it can be seen on YT right here

My first exposure to actor Vince Edwards came courtesy of the horrendous (and yet delectable) stalker movie The Seduction (1982) in support of Miss Morgan Fairchild.  Otherwise, I've seen precious little of his film and television output, though I've seen many photos of his dark, hirsute physique.

In this trim, spare, yet at times compelling movie, he's physically irresistible. His Romanesque face, topped by an impossibly thick and wavy head of brown hair is shown to great advantage by the movie's cinematographer (none other than the acclaimed Lucien Ballard.)

Playing a routine-obsessed hit man who methodically plans each job (all in order to save up for a house!), Edwards is seen exercising in his motel room while he awaits "the call" that will inform him of his next target.

These sequences, as seen by teenage moviegoer Scorcese, reportedly inspired him while later directing Taxi Driver (1976) and depicting his title character's home life. 

At one point during another job (this time in a lovely hotel versus a motel), he nearly enjoys some female companionship in the form of blonde, curvy Kathie Browne, but it ultimately doesn't work out.

As a hired killer, Edwards sometimes assimilates into his victims' environments by adopting mild disguises. For example, here, he is impersonating a barber.

These (now virtually extinct) shoulder-button smocks were once the go-to for barbers. He looks good in his.

For another hit, he dons a doctor's uniform and a stethoscope in order to enter a hospital room and do in the target. This foreshadows Edwards' soon-to-be iconic role as surly-but-devoted TV doctor Ben Casey, which ran from 1961-1966 and made him a household name.

Broodingly handsome Dr. Ben Casey.

For his most recent assignment, he's picked up by Herschel Bernardi and Phillip Pine, who are assigned to prepare and inform him about the hit. Note the lack of a rear view mirror in the (studio) shot above... compared to the location long-shot wherein Edwards' dreamy features are blocked out by the mirror in the center of the windshield!

It's difficult to discuss Edwards without remarking about his hair.

As he's selecting various weaponry for the kill, we can only marvel at his tall, thick, mane of curls.

During demonstrations of said implements (in this case a bow and arrow!), his perfectly-coiffed pompadour 'do looks great against his strong Italian features. 

During a room service delivery, the tightly-wound Edwards discovers lipstick on his coffee cup from the previous diner and starts into a diatribe against the hapless waiter.

Here we can spy voluminous chest hair climbing out of his bathrobe.

This display of body hair is in start contrast to Edwards' earliest days before the movie camera.

In 1951's Mr. Universe, his movie debut, Edwards not only had his whole body waxed, but also had his locks bleached blond! This gave him an almost Buster Crabbe-y look. Not that there's anything wrong with resembling Buster, but fortunately, he soon resumed life as a hirsute brunette.

If you can tear your eyes away from his handsome face, check out the fur on his forearm in this sequence. This was no Troy Donahue, people. Ha ha!

But I deliberately skipped past the primo example of Mr. Edwards' exhibition of follicle-laden physique. It's when he's picked up by his henchmen pals who want to take him straight to his hotel room. He instead instructs them to take him to the Pacific Ocean.

He's next seen emerging from the surf, wearing trunks, a face mask and flippers!

As he nears the camera, he begins to peel off the flippers.

As a youth, Edwards was a baseball and track athlete, but was most memorably a swimmer. In college he was on the OSU team, which won the national championship six times in eight years between 1943-1950.

He reaches for a nearby towel on the sand.

Then he trots by the camera while sliding off that face mask. We get a brief, but inviting look at his hairy chest and treasure trail. (This may have been Edwards very own swimsuit as he wore it, among others, in Island Women, 1958, as well. Or perhaps he just reused the costume for both movies.)

He heads back to the car (now inside a studio, with rear-screen projection) to rejoin his partners.

Check out those glass-cutter nipples of his. (Okay, the one, then.)

We're never shown or told where it was that he stripped out of his suit and tie and into these trunks. Or if Bernardi and Pine observed it...

Things do take an interesting turn, though, when Edwards enters the front seat of the car...

...and tosses his towel in Bernardi's face.

Next he instructs (orders!) Bernardi to dry off his back! He seems to be enjoying it.

For all the hair to be found elsewhere, Edwards' back has been cleared off. (I do this myself, in truth.)

For contrast, see these pics taken a little later.

Edwards, as I say, truly made his mark on the hit medical series. (It ran the same years as Richard Chamberlain's Dr. Kildare, leading to a bit of a rivalry between the two shows.)

Obviously, the two shows shared several common aspects. But while Chamberlain was often - though not always - depicted as smiling sunnily...

...Edwards was more likely to be found looking more surly. I regret to say that I have never seen an episode of Ben Casey! It was never rerun in my geographic area during my formative TV years. (Kildare, either, for that matter.)

Just look at that face...! Handsome man. Edwards worked on various TV and movie projects until 1995 when he fell ill from pancreatic cancer. He died in 1996 at age 67.

Which brings us to...

The End!


Dan said...

I’ve seen this a few times, and it really is an entertaining, tight little thriller. Edwards is appropriately icy throughout, very like Edward Fox in “Day of the Jackal”. It is one of those small movies that deserves to be better known.

hsc said...

Thanks for digging up and covering this pre-BEN CASEY Vince Edwards movie, Poseidon! Since your mention of MISTER UNIVERSE in your Janis Paige obituary post caused me to dig up and watch and research his first film, I'd been hoping you'd maybe find and post something else on Vince soon!

Vince Edwards had apparently been involved in NYC-area bodybuilding to some extent prior to getting cast as MISTER UNIVERSE. There are photos of him out there where he's at peak muscle and fully shaved down (though, as standard for the time, his armpits are still untouched), wearing competition "posing briefs" and striking standard bodybulding poses; in these, he still has his head of natural dark hair.

(And in addition to these "legit bodybuilding" shots, Vince posed full-frontally nude in "art studies" for Alonzo Hanagan, who as "Lon of New York" was providing more revealing photos to a specialized clandestine male audience. "Physique" mags and mainstream customers got "covered" shots or censored versions of the full-frontals with inked-in "posing straps," while the uncensored versions were only available to a select trusted few.

Even with these precautions, Lon *still* got arrested a couple of times and had some of his work destroyed-- though at least two of his full-frontals of Vince Edwards are still out there and can be found with a Google search.)

Edwards was also still fully-shaved in HIAWATHA (1952), shot in January 1951, but as I recall, he was back to full-on chest fur in the Martin-Lewis vehicle SAILOR BEWARE (1952), shot in September-October 1951. (I'm pretty sure there's a Navy induction scene where he's standing in line in full, furry torso display, and they're writing ID numbers with a marker on the recruits' chests, and I wondered how *that* was going to go when it was his turn in line. LOL!)

Vince always seemed to be solidly associated with hairiness, particularly the way his forearms were always on display in BEN CASEY (I never watched the show, either, so no idea if he ever took his shirt off). There was a newspaper comic strip spin-off during the run of the series, in which artist Neal Adams captured those arms in detail. Adams soon moved into comic books and became one of the top names in the field, and was noted for having depicted more realisitic male bodies adorned with hairy chests-- particularly his version of BATMAN. (Adams himself was a hairy, handsome guy in the Vince Edwards mode.)

Even though I prefer Edwards (and most men) in unshaven natural condition, I have to confess being drawn to him in his smooth-skinned form-- largely because it puts those "glass-cutter nipples" (heh!) on full, vulnerable display. It seems that a good number of men who have heavily hairy pecs also have notably well-developed, erectile and highly sensitive nipples poking out underneath the coverage, like they're clamoring to be found and given stimulation.

Anyway, even beyond Vince's virile, manly appeal, MURDER BY CONTRACT looks like an enjoyably gritty "little" film, and you've given it a great summary. (I particularly liked your catch of the disappearing rear view mirror!) Thanks for finding iyet another little nugget and calling it to our attention!

Keep up the great work, Poseidon, and thanks again for all you do! Love to all and be safe and well, everyone!

Gingerguy said...

I have seen this, the beginning is very memorable. I am not surprised Scorcese saw it as inspiration. He is a cute guy and I'd love to run my fingers through that hair. I have a hard time watching some old black and white shows, like Ben Casey but he'd make it worthwhile. Noir Alley ran this I think on TCM

Poseidon3 said...

Dan, I agree and I hope some people might give it a whirl after seeing some moments from it here. Thanks!

hsc, it's been too long, but there was once a website many moons ago which had nude Vince as its sort of mascot. You'd click on his willy to enter the site and look at other celebrity nude pics. Can't recall the name of it now. "Hiawatha" looks promising, even with him shaved as his strong face suits the look of the headdress, from the pics I've seen. "Sailor Beware" is the movie that led me to stumble upon real pics of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis showering together naked! (They're out there) One of the most eye-popping and fascinating discoveries in a long time. Neal Adams is pants down, er, I mean hands down, my all-time favorite comic book illustrator. I loved, loved, loved his renditions of superheroes and heroines back in the day. I felt he was in a class by himself.

Gingerguy, Noir Alley has led me to a number of interesting movies. In fact, one that a fellow reader mentioned not long ago - "No Questions Asked" - had young William Reynolds as a jewel robber performing his crime in FULL DRAG! That was a hoot. (And he pulled it off pretty well! Didn't look much unlike costar Jean Hagen!) I run hot and cold on old b&w shows, but handsome stars always help! Thanks.

Forever1267 said...

I must do more research on Mr. Edwards here. Just gorgeous!

hsc said...

Poseidon: " 'Sailor Beware' is the movie that led me to stumble upon real pics of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis showering together naked! (They're out there) One of the most eye-popping and fascinating discoveries in a long time."

And your previous post-- and followup comment-- about nudes of Keith Andes led me to check out his as well as other "Lloyd's of Hollywood" Etsy listings of nude celeb photos, which you helpfully explained can be seen in uncensored form by clicking the lower thumbnail to the left of the image.

"Lloyd's" has a listing for this uncensored frontal of Dean, though Jerry grabs his goods and blocks the view:

And Googling a bit more on "Dean Martin Jerry Lewis shower" just now brought up this celeb nudes blog which has two posts with more info on the origin of these photos-- including the astonishing sale price tan original print of the above photo went for at Sotheby's:

as well as some more examples of other photos in this amazing set (alas, one particularly good one is annoyingly censored):


Poseidon: "Neal Adams is pants down, er, I mean hands down, my all-time favorite comic book illustrator. I loved, loved, loved his renditions of superheroes and heroines back in the day. I felt he was in a class by himself."

Yep, Adams (and Jim Steranko) transformed comics in the late '60s and took them to a higher level of creativity, and influenced generations of comics artists to come.

And to be honest, Adams also influenced a certain percentage of comics *readers* to *cum* by the way he drew male bodies-- particularly the iconic cover of BATMAN 244, with an exposed Batman writhing in the foreground, while a shirtless male foe stands over him-- *holding most of his costume*. For some of us, this was prime J/O fuel.

And while trying to find a website to link an image of that cover, I found this 2016 blog entry:

which discusses a special project where Adams revisited classic covers-- including a variant of BATMAN 244 with a shirtless Batman standing over a shirtless Superman in the same poses.

Even more intriguing, Neal Adams is interviewed and says that his original cover was intended to reveal even more of Batman, but the censored version created a much-discussed "blooper" where Batman has two sets of pants.

BTW, I actually encountered Neal Adams in person in May 1978 at a NYC comic book convention. I was caught by surprise and literally couldn't say anything more than giving him friendly directions to the auditorium he was looking for. (OTOH, it probably wouldn't have gone well to have said to him, "Thanks to you and Sean Connery and Robert Conrad, I realized I'm into guys. Would you let me express my gratitude by getting *you* off until you're totally drained, like you've done for me so many times?")

Keep up the great work, Poseidon! Love to all and be safe and well, everyone!