Film posters: The images that draw the audience in

A new book celebrates the art of film posters. Sadly, they don't make them like they used to, the author tells Charlotte Cripps

You've probably seen the movie but have you seen the original movie poster? Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961), King Kong (1933), Rosemary's Baby (1969), Vertigo (1958) – even the B-movie Attack of the 50ft Woman (1958) showing a giant woman straddling a motorway, are just a few of the classic posters that have been selected by vintage movie poster expert, Tony Nourmand for his new book. 100 Movie Posters: The Essential Collection includes the German poster for Metropolis (1927), regarded as “the holy grail of posters”, which was the most expensive one ever sold when it fetched $690,000 in a sale brokered by Nourmand in 2005.

“The posters I have chosen are personal – I just thought, ”Which one of these posters would I actually hang on my wall?“ says Nourmand – who was Christie's London consultant for posters for 12 years. ”It wasn't based on value or rarity, or the importance of the film, but about which ones work as a standalone art work.“

The brightly coloured large format French poster for From Here To Eternity (1953) is one of the few posters in the film's worldwide campaign to feature the scene of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kissing on the beach.

“It is actually very rare for a movie poster to feature the key scene from a film,” says Nourmand. While the British poster for David Lean's Brief Encounter (1945) was printed on the back of a “Re-elect Winston Churchill” campaign poster due to paper shortages during the Second World War – “only a few of them have survived”.

The British poster for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), which is the only poster Hitchcock made a cameo appearance on, shows the director looking sternly at his watch next to the words, “No one...BUT NO ONE...will be admitted to the theatre after the start of each performance...” He didn't want audiences walking in late and seeing the heroine killed off in the shower scene.

Most movie poster designers are not well-known, but the most collectable poster designer is Saul Bass whose simple graphic poster campaigns included Vertigo (1958), Anatomy of a Murderer (1959) and The Man With The Golden Arm (1955) featuring the iconic jagged arm. “This was groundbreaking for movie posters because the artwork is just made up of symbols,” says Nourmand. “But after the film's New York premiere, studio heads at United Artists insisted that Bass insert photographs of Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak and Eleanor Parker on it, which just destroys it.”

The US poster for Teen Age (1944), about juvenile delinquency, is “one of the most beautiful examples of exploitation poster art” with red lips smoking a cigarette and a strapline, “What is wrong with modern youth?” “It predates the word 'teenage' going into the Encyclopedia Britannica as a new word in 1947,” says Nourmand.

Posters can have a long-lasting effect on a film's cult status – indeed the US teaser poster for A Fistful of Dollars (1964), the first of the Sergio Leone trilogy, which did not give away the film's title, presented Clint Eastwood's character as “the man with no name”. “But in the film Clint Eastwood had a name – he is called Joe,” says Nourmand. “It is the poster that started this whole thing off.”

One of the weirdest posters is the Italian poster for the silent sci-fi movie, Le Avventure Straordinarissime Di Saturnino Farandola (1913) – only one copy of this poster is known to exist, which shows underwater warfare.

The American teaser poster for Unforgiven (1992), “the last great studio released movie poster”, according to Nourmand, shows Eastwood with his back to the viewer holding a gun. It is just one of many movie posters by Bill Gold, now 93, whose first poster was for Casablanca in 1942.

“Both Eastwood and Gold wanted this poster for Unforgiven to be the general release poster but Warner Brothers said the cast who they had spent a fortune on, including Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman must be pictured on it.”

The American poster for the musical comedy Cabin In The Sky (1943), featuring two dancing caricatures, is “one of the most stylish posters from this period” by one the most famous illustrators ever, Al Hirschfeld.

The original US poster for Rosemary's Baby (1968) of a pram on a mountain with Mia Farrow's face superimposed across the green sky is by the original Madison Avenue “Mad Man” Steve Frankfurt.

“Movie posters are very immediate –you either like them or you don't,” says Nourmand. “But the focus of the design is not there anymore – it's all about ego. It is very rare that you see a movie poster that actually pops out at you and you say, 'Wow, that's a nice design.'”

'100 Movie Posters: The Essential Collection' by Tony Nourmand is published by Reel Art Press on 31 July, £29.95 (realartpress.com)

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