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Movie Poster of the Week: “Crash Donovan”

A terrific 1946 French affiche for a 1936 California Highway Patrol stunt-fest.

This week’s movie poster I present for no better reason than that I came across it this week and fell in love with it. Not that I have any great love for motorbikes or CHiPS-style shenanigans, and I’d never heard of the film before, nor its director William Nigh. But I love its blazing color, its windswept momentum, its faultless typography, and of course its romantic French title, Agent Cyclone (though its German title, Achtung - Überfallkommando!, is even better). The only thing I don't like is the over-large Universal Film title in its blackletter font, something that works much better on French horror movie posters than it does here.

Made in 1936, Crash Donovan runs just over an hour and weaves a series of chases and stunts around a love triangle consisting of carnival stuntman Michael “Crash” Donovan, California Highway Patrolman Johnnie Allen and Doris Tennyson, daughter of the chief of the Patrol. Crash Donovan is played by former Columbia Pictures leading man Jack Holt (Capra’s Dirigible), described by TCM as a “former gold prospector, cow puncher and peripatetic jack-of-several-trades who entered film in 1914. Rangy, rough hewn and laconic, Holt shed his early heavy roles and emerged as a rugged hero of actioners and a polished romantic lead of swank melodramas.” By 1936, however, Holt was 47 and past his prime, eclipsed by a new generation of tough-guy stars like James Cagney. (His son Tim was only six years away from getting his comeuppance as George Amberson Minafer in The Magnificent Ambersons.) Holt continued to be a reliable character actor through the 1940s; he and his son would act together in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in 1948, three years before his death. 

This beautiful poster (a 23.5" x 31.5" affiche) was designed by Rene Lefebvre for the first French postwar release of the film in 1946. (I’m not sure what “Frappier” refers to next to the date beneath Lefebvre’s signature). It is currently for sale in Heritage Auctions’ March 23-24 Vintage Movie Poster Signature Auction, where it is one of the cheaper items, estimated at between $400 and $800. (A six-sheet Casablanca in the auction is estimated at upwards of $120,000.) It looks even better in detail.




Here is the US half-sheet for the film:


If you were a hot-shot (literally) copper would you really want to be known as “Crash”?

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