Movie poster art by Jack Davis
Self portrait copyright © by Jack Davis
In the 1960s, Jack Davis was the first movie poster artist I knew by name, thanks to his contributions to Mad magazine. His style embodied the wacky spirit of that decade and its bipolar craziness which ranged from suburban Camelot and materialistic gluttony to civil rights, drug use and Vietnam. You can read more about Davis at Wikipedia and at Crazy Campsongs. He also illustrated a ton of record album covers, which are on display at The Endless Groove. The following movie posters, some of them icons of their era, click to enlarge:
Essential viewing for anyone old enough to remember single screen movie theatres (with curtains!) before the dawn of homogenized multiplexes and the antiseptic environs of home video, The Smallest Show on Earth (1957) afforded Davis this equally small assignment that sidesteps the picture’s subject matter in favor of kartoon kleavage and a ‘come hither’ stare. In the film, young couple Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna inherit a dilapidated old Bijou, complete with its antiquated staff (including Margaret Rutherford and Peter Sellers) who introduce them to the magic of cinema. Travers and McKenna were married in real life. She became popular in Britain for playing WWII heroine Violette Szabo in Lewis Gilbert’s Carve Her Name with Pride (1958), a performance relayed almost entirely through her quivering lower lip, one of the strangest acting tics I’ve ever seen. She and Travers later shot to international fame in Born Free (1966).
One of the most popular movies of its time, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) was originally promoted with poster art by Saul Bass, which was fitting since he also designed the film’s opening credits. As the film continued to play theatrically well into the next year, United Artists launched a new ad campaign with Jack Davis art — which he’d lampoon in his cover for the Mad paperback, It’s a World, World, World, World Mad. When the picture was re-released in the early ‘70s, Davis modified the design, as seen here.
When I was a kid, I kept hearing about how funny Bob Hope was. I’d see him on TV and draw a blank (was I too young to appreciate the droll irony?); I’d go to his movies and think, hey, this guy is in a lot of garbage (these were the days of Call Me Bwana and I’ll Take Sweden… not that his earlier pictures were all that funnier). But the poster for 8 on the Lam (1967), a movie I last saw in first run, was one of the highlights of my personal collection. I had this masterpiece tacked on my bedroom wall for years. Yeah, yeah, I know: that explains a lot now, doesn’t it?
Davis captured the chaotic tone of Blake Edwards during the filmmaker’s prolific run in the ‘60s. Although not directed by Edwards, Waterhole #3 (1967) bears his influence, that sense of fatalism peppered with sarcasm that’s prominent in Edwards’s The Days of Wine and Roses, The Pink Panther, Darling Lili and The Party. The line in this poster about “the good girls lose” refers to a scene in which rape is waved off as “assault with a friendly weapon.” Only in the ‘60s…
I’m slightly disappointed in Davis’s murky art for Edwards’s The Party (1968). It seems that the design was going for the crisper look of Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder’s Little Annie Fanny strip from Playboy, a series that fit hand in glove with Edwards’s wild parties in films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Great Race and S.O.B. The Party, of course, is a 99-minute extension of that, a catalog of hit-and-miss gags, pratfalls, double entendres, birdie num num, all of it culminating in a huge bubble bath and Henry Mancini’s hip, rockin’ theme.
To be continued…