Cars were her addiction—and her destruction.
Above is a rare photo of U.S. born model, actress, and thrill seeker Claudia Jennings, who started as a Playboy centerfold, moved on to cinema, and died aged twenty-nine before her talent could be realized. Even so, she left behind several entertaining b-movies, such as Moonshine Country Express, Deathsport, and the eternal shlock classic Gator Bait. Jennings loved to drive fast. She considered herself an expert. She once said she could do just about anything with a car, a motorcycle, or a truck, including an 18-wheeler, but crashing was certainly not part of the plan. She died on California's Pacific Coast Highway today in 1979 when her Volkswagen sports car rammed a truck head-on.
You can't keep a good moonshiner down.
Home brew and rednecks, fast cars and dusty roads, shotguns and lots of banjo music are what you get in Moonshine Country Express, all of which is probably abundantly clear from a glance at the U.S. promo poster. You also get star Susan Howard, b-movie stud John Saxon, and support from Playboy centerfold Claudia Jennings, which means all the ingredients for a good time are here. The protagonists are righteous, the villains wily, and there's never any doubt that the family oriented 'shiners are going to upend the unctuous local strongman in this nearly scriptless flick about a daughter trying to sell her murdered father's stash of a-grade whiskey. We could say there's a metaphor here for small business versus big conglomerates, or liberty loving sovereigns versus the corrupt and connected, but we'd be making that shit up. It's just a mindless chase movie. It's hard to believe it would take another two years before this highly profitable formula finally moved to television in the form of 1979's The Dukes of Hazzard. We like to think Moonshine County Express was the eureka moment when someone realized it would work. If you watch this one, expect no more and no less than a Dukes episode in long form, but without the confederate flag, mercifully.
Winning isn't everything—it's the only thing.
We already shared the West German poster for Deathsport back in September. We'd be remiss if we didn't share these two U.S. promos also. One thing we can't share, though, is the name of person who painted the art. We checked every resource we know of for this sort of thing, and the consensus is that the provenance of this piece is lost to the mists of time. It's a bit of a surprise because the posters are considered collectible, but there you go. The movie premiered in the U.S. today in 1977. If you haven't seen it and want to know what it's actually about, check our previous write-up here. And below, as a bonus, we have a couple of promo images of stars David Carradine and Claudia Jennings.
You have to be in it to win it.
When the dystopian sci-fi movie Deathsport premiered in West Germany today in 1978, the unusual poster above was used to promote it, the title having been changed to Giganten mit stählernen fäusten, which means “giants with steel fists.” That's obviously a terrible name, but whatever, that's what they went with. And what they got was David Carradine and Claudia Jennings in a tale of defiant freedom fighters known as range guides pitted against the minions of a state at eternal war.
The government needs to propagandize the population into joining the armed forces, so it stages televised gladiatorial spectacles in which statemen use fancy death machines to do battle. These contraptions are supposed to be so cool they bedazzle credulous viewers into joining the war effort. This is a really interesting point for an American movie to make, but this is b-cinema, which means the death machines are really just motorcycles the prop department welded extra aluminum to.
The budget may be low, but the framework of the movie is sound. Against its totalitarian/post-apocalyptic backdrop you get an ambitious stateman, played by all time b-movie villain Richard Lynch, pursuing a personal grudge against Carradine's legendary range guide. You may not know who Richard Lynch is by name, but if you've watched even a few terrible ’70s movies you know his face because of its distinctive scarring.
The movie also offers up cannibal mutants, desert mysticism, silver jumpsuits, crystal swords, and naked women—including Jennings in a couple of her nudest scenes. Ah, but don't fret, lovers of manmeat—Carradine wears a loincloth for most of the film. True, he's got one of those high fat content ’70s bodies, but on a typical Friday night, were the clock to strike closing time at the club, you'd take his hairy hunkiness home and be happy about it. In a way, that's true of the movie too.
Which part of “Keep yer goldanged hands to yer goldanged self!” don’t you understand?
Because it’s been written about on pretty every much cinema blog in existence, there’s really no point in us adding our two cents about ’Gator Bait. But you know what? We’re going to do it anyway. How else are we supposed to use what is possibly the greatest promo image ever shot? (See below). We hadn’t seen ’Gator Bait since we rented it for a bad movie night during college, and we’d forgotten how tame it is for a sexploitation film. Not to say it’s chaste. It isn’t. But for this genre, it’s strictly middle-of-the-road—or rather, the swamp. The plot involves Jennings being framed for murder, and later battling a gaggle of slobbering crackers who want to kill her almost as much as they want to climb inside her Daisy Dukes. ’Gator Bait was panned upon release, but today it’s a cult classic, owing, of course, to the presence of Jennings. She has only a few lines of dialogue, but she performs most of her own stunts and generally plays her semi-feral character Desiree to the hilt as she kicks redneck caboose all over the bayou. The movie isn’t very good, truthfully, but she’s the best thing about it. In fact, it’s safe to say that if not for Jennings, ’Gator Bait would be totally forgotten by now. It premiered this month in 1974.
Nice girls don't explode.
There are quite a few internet cults out there, so when we watched Dynamite Women, aka The Great Texas Dynamite Chase, we were well aware that ex-Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings had a devoted online following. But we were skeptical. You see, Playboy scours the world for women who have a modicum of talent and are willing to strip for the magazine. That combination is rare, and when Playboy finds it their publicity juggernaut heaves into high gear. That’s why purely marginal talents like Anna Nicole Smith, Dorothy Stratten, and Jenny McCarthy were touted as the next big thing. In a sense, the magazine is continually chasing the ghost of Marilyn Monroe, their first centerfold, who went on to become a huge star and an unending source of free publicity. As the eternal search for another Monroe-like talent continues, the magazine gives its covers to declining semi-celebrities in an effort to generate both easy sales and maintain some measure of Hollywood credibility. Thus we’re treated to the sad sight of Lindsay Lohan, Heidi Montag and others posing for the magazine, and sometimes doing so without even removing their clothes—which more than anything else makes abundantly clear that Playboy is devoted more to publicity than to eroticism.
Thus watching Claudia Jennings in Dynamite Women is a surprise. Despite the hype about her beauty, you would never think—initially at least—that she could be a centerfold. With her long nose, sharp chin and expansive forehead, she looks more like the type you’d find serving burgers in a small town diner. But the more you observe, the more you’re drawn to her. The smile, the attitude, and the big, expressive eyes begin to weave a spell. While Dynamite Women’s tale of two female bank robbers isn’t Oscar material, the script does give Jennings a lot to work with—she’s allowed to express a wide range of emotions, is asked to getphysical, and does well with both. As in other counterculture films, Jennings’ character soon finds herself in way too deep as the police pick up her trail. She wants to stop robbing banks, but of course needs one more big score to get away clean. In the end she and her partner Ellie-Jo (played by Jocelyn Jones, who resembles Jennings so strongly they could be sisters) must somehow survive a final stand-off against the cops if they hope to escape to Mexico.
It’s reasonable to assume Claudia Jennings would never have gotten a break in Hollywood if not for her Playboy appearances, but in at least one case—trying out for a role on Charlie’s Angels—she was passed over because of her nude modeling. Jennings never got the chance to prove one way or the other whether it was her talent or Playboy’s backing that sustained her career because, sadly, she was killed in an automobile accident in October 1979, at the age of twenty-nine. She had appeared ineighteen movies, including cult favorites Gator Bait and Deathsport, but had never been given a chance to shine in a truly important role. Dynamite Women might be the closest. While not great, it is entertaining, and by the end, we understood why Jennings has an internet cult. Based on what we’ve seen, she deserves one. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1959—Max Baer Dies
Former heavyweight boxing champ Max Baer dies of a heart attack in Hollywood, California. Baer had a turbulent career. He lost to Joe Louis in 1935, but two years earlier, in his prime, he defeated German champ and Nazi hero Max Schmeling while wearing a Star of David on his trunks. The victory was his legacy, making him a symbol to Jews, and also to all who hated Nazis.
1945—Nuremberg Trials Begin
In Nuremberg, Germany, in the Palace of Justice, the trials of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany begin. Among the men tried were Martin Bormann (in absentia), Hermann Göring, Rudolph Hess, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner.
1984—SETI Institute Founded
The SETI Institute, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, the discovery of extrasolar planets, and the habitability of the galaxy, is founded in California by Thomas Pierson and Dr. Jill Tarter.
1916—Goldwyn Pictures Formed
In the U.S.A., Samuel Goldfish and Edgar Selwyn establish Goldwyn Pictures, which becomes one of the most successful independent film studios in Hollywood. Goldfish also takes the opportunity to legally change his last name to Goldwyn.
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