Brothers can you spare a production budget?
It's fair to suggest that most blaxploitation movies weren't good in the traditional sense. But The Dynamite Brothers, aka Stud Brown, which premiered in the U.S. this month in 1974, is probably close to the worst movie of the genre. It's a low budget The Wild Ones with a chop socky revenge thriller tacked on, and it has “rush job” scribbled all over it. Everything is off, from the direction to the screenplay to the sound effects. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's films like this that helped kill blaxploitation.
Picture the first screening for the studio, Asam Film Company. Director Al Adamson managed to put up a brave front during the shooting schedule, but he's made his final cut and knows the movie is shit. He's cringing. He's slumped so low in his seat he looks like he's lost air pressure. He even considers scuttling for the exit during the second reel. If he stays low, like a crab, he might make it unseen. But he's still there when the lights come up, and various execs and investors are sitting around looking stunned. They're just white guys with money and don't know dick about this blaxploitation thing, so they have no idea what to think.
Finally someone ventures hopefully, “Was that good? Or...”
Someone else: “Al? Al? Where are you?”
Al: *sigh* “I'm down here.”
“What the hell are you doing on the floor?”
“Uh, my back. Laying flat helps with—”
“Were you hiding?”
“I was just—”
“Are we fucked?”
“Did you FUCK US?”
He fucked them. The Dynamite Brothers was an unremitting disaster. It turned out to be the only movie Asam Film Company ever made. Co-star Timothy Brown in particular had to be disappointed with the final product, considering his film debut was the all-time classic M*A*S*H, in which he played Corporal Judson. Top billed Alan Tang also had to be bummed. Back in Hong Kong when he was first approached about the project, someone told him mixing kung-fu into a blaxploitation flick was a no-brainer. Halfway through the screening he began to wonder if he'd misunderstood the meaning of that term.
Nevertheless, somehow both he and Brown survived The Dynamite Brothers and went on to have long careers, which is a tribute to their talent and persistence. Al Adamson kept working too, which is possibly a tribute to filmgoers' short memories. But like Bran the Broken in Game of Thrones, allow us to serve as the memory for all humanity here—steer clear of this one like the un-defused bomb it is. Get a tactical robot to delete it from your movie queue. It's baaaad. We don't mean cool-bad or funny-bad. It's just bad-bad.
Don't let the smile fool you—that's just acting. This is painful as hell.
This unusual balancing act on a pommel horse shows U.S. actress Margaret Lee, and we can't help but wonder how many times she toppled off this thing. Well, they say if you fall off just get right back on, and presumably she did. This is the first Margaret Lee, by the way. There have been other—presumably far less flexible—actresses with the same name. Her career consisted almost entirely of short features and uncredited roles, with her finale coming in 1946's Of Human Bondage. The shot is from Universal International Pictures and was photographed by famed lensman Ray Jones. Though it's undated we'll take a guess when it was made—call it 1930.
I didn't know that a girl like you could make me feel so sad...
A couple of weeks ago we shared a Mexican movie poster we weren't 100% sure was actually from Mexico. This time we're sure—this beautiful promo Antonio Caballero painted for the melodrama La red says right in the lower left corner “impreso en México.” In that previous write-up we also talked about how popular locally produced films were in Mexico before the industry was suffocated by U.S. business and political interests, and this effort is an example. It was made by Reforma Films S.A., based in Mexico City, and starred Libyan born Italian actress Rossana Podesta, Costa Rican actor Crox Alvarado, and U.S. born actor Armando Silvestre. Enticing a burgeoning international star like Podesta over from Europe indicates how established the Mexican film industry was in 1953, when La red was made.
Interestingly, when the movie played in the U.S. it was titled simply Rosanna, which makes sense, because it would be nothing without Podesta. It struck us that even though Toto didn't write their song of obsession “Rosanna” about Podesta, they might as well have. The film begins when a group of men botch a robbery, a shootout commences, and one of the bandits, Antonio, played by Alvarado, tries to help his wounded comrade. But the dying man gasps to Antonio, “Save yourself—for Rossana.” So we know she's a special woman even before seeing her. Antonio does save himself and goes to live on the seaside with Podesta, where the two harvest sea sponges. It's idyllic, but as a wanted thief he has to lay low, which means sending her alone to town to sell their catch. And the men in the town are... well... see below:
I am intrigued by this spicy redhead.
I too find myself somewhat taken with this mysterious chile pepper of a woman.
Perhaps I'll invite her to coffee and a cronut. That's a cross between a croissant and a donut, my friend, and living out there on the idyllic seashore as she does, I bet she's never had one.
I wonder if she's a fan of our great romantic poet Salvador Díaz Mirón?
I'm certain she has no idea how quickly European skin can burn in this tropical climate.
I'm admittedly less high minded than other men, and mainly wonder what she looks like naked, and whether the carpet is red too.
What the hell are all these guys staring— Oh. I think it's me.
Clearly, these trips into town are menacing affairs for Podesta. If you were to screen the sequences at an anti-sexual harassment seminar, every guy in the joint would bow his head in shame. Important to note, though, that within the narrative these aggressively pervy guys are depicted in a negative light, with even the soundtrack music growing ominous. When one of Antonio's robbery compatriots shows up in town, he gets into a shootout that leaves two men dead, and therein are sown the seeds of future troubles. We won't say more, save that the film is stagy, stylized, operatic, almost devoid of dialogue, and largely remembered because of Podesta's role. It all worked well enough to earn the Prix International du film le mieux raconté par l'image, aka the Award for Visual Narration, at the Cannes Film Festival.
Moving on to the poster, have a look at a previous Mexican promo we shared last year. It's here. We'll wait. Back? You'd think it was the same person who painted both, but the reason we wanted you to glance at the other one is because it exemplifies the strange phenomenon of artists within the same film industry biting each other's styles. It happened in Italy and Sweden too. Either through direct influence from the studios, or through osmosis due to mutual association, several Mexican artists delved into this art deco tinged style. Check out Leopoldo Mendoza Andrade here. Interesting, right? You'll see what we mean even more clearly when we share posters from other Mexican artists, for example Juan Antonio Vargas. That'll be soon. La Red premiered in Mexico today in 1953.
I want to rob the Egyptian Museum as bad as anyone, but I don't think a mummy disguise is the answer!
Above, an alternate cover for Donald Hamilton's Night Walker, from Dell Publications. We already showed you a 1964 edition from Fawcett Publications. This is the 1954 first edition paperback, with a cover painted by Carl Bobertz. The male character, by the way, is in disguise, but not as a mummy. Just want to make sure you don't go stampeding to get the book expecting anthropological intrigue. You can read what we wrote about it here.
Water levels and more rise in Belle/Grier sexploitation romp.
We've had a lot of Pam Grier on this site, and here she is yet again, co-starring with Annie Belle and Anthony Steel in La notte dell'alta marea, aka Twilight of Love, aka Night of the High Tide, an Italo-Canadian sexploitation flick, and probably her most obscure role. An advertising exec played by Steel is looking for the perfect ass for a blue jeans campaign, spots Annie Belle in a sauna, and decides she fits the bill. The funny part of this is he sees her from behind initially and thinks she's male, which tells you quite a bit about Belle's elfish body type. But male or female, her ass will do just fine, and for more than only the ad campaign. She's amenable to Steel's advances, but she has a boyfriend who isn't quite as sharing.
In the midst of this man-against-man for woman's affections melodrama there's still an advertisment to finish, so Steel takes Belle, her boyfriend, a photographer, and a second model played by Grier to Martinique for a photo shoot. This is a pretty sweet spot for location work, and Grier sports a killer afro that looks mighty good with the Caribbean wind blowing through it. Belle, never to be upstaged, has virtually no hair for the wind to play with but wears what must be one of the earliest thong bikinis to appear in cinema, and soon doffs the shoestrings for even less. Strangely, the jeans this entire excursion are supposed to be about never make an appearance.
From Martinique the group ventures to a smaller, uncharted island and promptly get stuck there. With no hope of rescue and tensions rising—like the tide—problems soon occur. Boy problems. Possessiveness problems. Aggression problems. Don't fear though—rescue comes beforeanyone gets seriously hurt, and Belle gets the customary sexploitation send-off, jetting away backed by synth music and a torch singer as a man stares wistfully into the middle distance, wishing he could hold onto her but knowing in his heart he can't. Because she's a free spirit, you see. And free spirits must soar.
Cheesy? Certainly. But this is sexploitation, so we knew the script would be bad. We accepted that, but we wish the beach sequences hadn't been shot through a layer of gauze—though on the whole the film looks great. We also wish Grier's distinctive voice hadn't been dubbed, but as she speaks no Italian, this was unavoidable. Preferences aside, if you like romantic island erotica this one will please you, though we can't go so far as to call it a good film. But with Belle and Grier sharing the same screen and the same beach it's hard to fail completely. La notte dell'alta marea premiered in Italy today in 1977.
When you girls invited me here I think I heard a word other than “sax.”
This amazing cover was painted by Warren King. We'd give just about anything for a lithograph of this. Hot Lips is about an “all-girl" orchestra called the Musical Queens and the things they do when boys aren't around. Which we can understand. Just look at the male figure here, whose name is Pete. What exactly does he bring to this party? A sense of brooding entitlement? A vague homophobic hostility? The latter, for sure, since he lost his wife to another woman and is dismayed to find himself in sexual competition with the band's man-hating sax player. Why does saxy Mona hate men? Because her husband turned out to be a drag queen. But all Pete has to do is wait a bit, because while the wholesome, virginal object of desire in this, Althea, may be tempted by wild musical lesbians, such assignations are never permanent in mid-century genre fiction. It's heteronormativity or death—literally, sometimes. Put Hot Lips in the lesbians-are-bad bin with a pile of other novels from the period. We'll keep an eye out for more cover work from Warren King, because this is just great. It's copyright 1952.
Looks like she forgot to wear something green.
This Champion Line Technicolor lithograph entitled “Sultry Charm” features U.S. model Shirley Kilpatrick getting cuddly with a fur wrap. Kilpatrick was featured in pretty much every men's magazine of her era, in a decade-plus appearing sexily clothed or nude in Caper, Gent, Scamp, Bold, Frolic, Stare, Gala, Tempo... Really, just make up a name and at some point it was probably a magazine and she got naked in it. Or semi-naked. Her heyday was during the pubic-hair-is-obscenity era. In recent years, though, sets of full nudes have been unearthed, and guess what? She doesn't show pubic hair in those either. Ahem. But while the photos are nice, we appreciate Kilpatrick most for playing the she-monster in The Astounding She-Monster, a cheeseball sci-fi b-picture from 1957 that gave us a considerable amount of enjoyment. It's a terrible movie, make no mistake—but in that good terrible way. Kilpatrick, on the other hand, is just good good.
The doctor is out—of his freaking mind.
Above, a poster for Arzt und Dämon, aka Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which premiered in West Germany today in 1949. The art here is by Heinz Schulz-Neudamm, whose most famous piece is the poster he designed for the expressionist sci-fi movie Metropolis. It once sold for $1.2 million, which made it the most valuable movie promo in existence at the time, but this Hyde effort shows Schulz-Neudamm's skills in a totally different light. We think it's top shelf work for a top shelf flick.
Okay God, I've done the hard part of sculpting my perfect woman. Your part is easy. Just bring her to life.
Here's another interesting entry for our collection of books with "wanton" in the title—Wanton Venus by French author Maurice Leblanc, who you may remember invented the character Arsène Lupin, aka the French Sherlock Holmes. The story here doesn't involve Lupin. It's about a man who comes across a breathtaking nude statue and searches out who posed for it. He travels all over France and ends up narrowing his suspects down to four beautiful sisters living in a Mediterranean chateau. This is another one of those novels that was spruced up with new art. The original was published in 1935, and the fact that it was pretty daring for the time made it a natural for a Stateside reprinting. This Novel Library edition from Diversey Publishing appeared in 1948 and the fun cover painting is by the great Ann Cantor. You can see more from her here and here.
Bisset holds all the cards.
English actress Jacqueline Bisset peeks out from behind the suits of a card deck in this striking promo image made sometime during the late 1960s. A different photo from the session was used for the cover of Italian publisher Garzanti's 1970 release of 007 Casinò royal, which you see here as well. Bisset was born as Winifred (ouch!) Bisset in 1944 and made a name for herself in such impactful films as Bullitt, Murder on the Orient Express, The Deep, and Casino Royale. You could include efforts like Under the Volcano, The Man from Acapulco, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and Two for the Road in the aforementioned list. All told, Bisset seems a bit under-appreciated considering her filmography, but not by us. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1924—Leopold and Loeb Murder Bobby Franks
Two wealthy University of Chicago students named Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr. murder 14-year-old Bobby Franks, motivated by no other reason than to prove their intellectual superiority by committing a perfect crime. But the duo are caught and sentenced to life in prison. Their crime becomes known as a "thrill killing", and their story later inspires various works of art, including the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, and Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film of the same name.
1916—Rockwell's First Post Cover Appears
The Saturday Evening Post publishes Norman Rockwell's painting "Boy with Baby Carriage", marking the first time his work appears on the cover of that magazine. Rockwell would go to paint many covers for the Post, becoming indelibly linked with the publication. During his long career Rockwell would eventually paint more than four thousand pieces, the vast majority of which are not on public display due to private ownership and destruction by fire.
1962—Marilyn Monroe Sings to John F. Kennedy
A birthday salute to U.S. President John F. Kennedy takes place at Madison Square Garden, in New York City. The highlight is Marilyn Monroe's breathy rendition of "Happy Birthday," which does more to fuel speculation that the two were sexually involved than any actual evidence.
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