After World War II, my step-grandfather (married to my maternal grandmother) worked in the movie poster industry for decades, on the printing side. Before I was born, he'd bring my mother extra posters that I wish so hard she had kept. There are some absolutely incredible vintage movie posters.
But "incredible" doesn't always have good connotations. Some of my favorite vintage movie posters are completely absurd.
I wish I knew the thought process that went into the posters I’ve rounded up below, but they’re a special kind of baffling. Sometimes it’s the ridiculous artwork, and even more often, it’s the mind-boggling copy; either way, the combination has left me delightfully confused. And when you consider that these posters were often the primary form of advertising for these films, it’s amazing how little sense they make with no other context.
Unwed Mother (1958)
“20,000 anguished girls wrote its blistering story!” And yet, two men are credited for the screenplay.
Man Bait (1952)
It’s pretty obvious that the lady in the bikini is the titular "man bait" (and that the leering guy in the purple coat is probably being baited), but… are those two green people aliens?
Cat People (1942)
I know it looks like the sexy lady is being stalked by the cat from the Le Chat Noir ad, but, according to the poster, “She was one of the dreaded ‘Cat People’ -- doomed to slink and prowl and court by night… feeling always that a lover’s kiss might change her into a snarling, clawing KILLER!” Bummer. I mean… super-sensational!
I Was a Shoplifter (1950)
Is it just me, or does this make shoplifting look AWESOME?
School for Sex (1969)
If you couldn’t tell by the various shades of orange women, the poster is pleased to inform you that this movie is “in color.” But more importantly, it features five Miss Univers [sic] winners. (Maybe that’s them in the poster?)
The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)
Never fear! That dude in the lower right corner is going to take a break from being in a Western to kill the death-breathing Godzilla knockoff with… a butter knife?
Attack of the Puppet People (1958)
Now that’s the right size knife to use to kill a “crushing giant beast.”
Girls Under 21 (1940)
“Sure we’re headed for reform school, but anything’s better than our dirty ‘dead end’ street.” But from what I can tell, they’re headed to a haunted jail where the male ghosts wear more blush than the women.
Pretty sure each person on the poster was asked to draw themselves -- and the giant squirrel did the best self-portrait out of all of them.
Two-Gun Lady (1955)
Don’t let the name of the movie fool you! “She had other weapons besides guns… and used them!”
Mom and Dad (1945)
Boy oh boy, can you imagine how excited teenagers were to see this movie when they saw this poster? Not only are the audiences gender-segregated (ladies get two showings!), but after two hours and two minutes of “blazing truths” about delinquency, there’s an in-person appearance by “hygiene’s famous commentator” (and probably total stud) Elliot Forbes. Swoon!
I Love a Mystery (1945)
Well, who doesn’t love a mystery that ends in a vaguely racist, “weird death sentence”? (What do you think constitutes a “weird death sentence”?)
Oh, so maybe the “weird death sentence” is a result of injectable-marihuana-fueled “weird orgies.”
Girl with an Itch (1958)
If she has such a strong itch, she might want to consider washing that negligee more often.
The Long Wait (1954)
I have a feeling it will be a long wait until I figure out what the hell “gun-butt fury” is.
The Giant Gila Monster (1959)
Even if you don’t go see this movie about a hell-bred lizard that apparently plucks people from their hot rods, the poster would like to remind you to listen to the associated rock-and-roll hits “My Baby, She Rocks,” “I Ain’t Made That Way,” and, of course, “The Gila Monster Crawl.”
School For Unclaimed Girls (1969)
As extra-special as both the photo and the illustrations on this poster are, I’m most taken with the phrase “A perfumed zoo for teenage she-cats!”
Child Bride (1942)
I’m not sure what’s more horrifying -- the subject matter or the artwork. Also, if your drama is throbbing, you should get that checked out immediately.
“Yearning… Burning… But… Afraid! Afraid! Afraid! Men have a word for girls like Jennifer.” Based on the evidence, I’m guessing that word is either yearning, burning or afraid.
Journey Into Fear (1943)
The Italian version of this movie’s poster is the only one in which Dolores Del Rio is wearing a sexy leopard costume that totally undermines the title, and for this, I love it.
Did I miss any doozies?