Femi Benussi has a swinging time in the jungle.
The Italian lost world adventure Tarzana sesso selvaggio, known in English as Tarzana the Wild Girl, has one thing going for it—Femi Benussi as the titular vine swinger. As an infant she was lost in the jungle in a plane crash, but somehow survived thanks to the kindly local primates. About twenty-two years later (judging by her bodily development) an expedition is launched to find her, and of course she's now queen of deepest, darkest Africa, jiggling gloriously about in nothing but a g-string loincloth. In fact the whole production is designed to display Benussi nearly naked, and there's also a topless dance routine performed by Jamaican actress Beryl Cunningham, as well as shower time exposure from Franca Polesello. Interestingly, the movie was rated X when it played in the U.S. But don't let that fool you. Around the time Tarzana was made, the X meant “persons under 16 not admitted.” Nothing pornographic happens here, except perhaps in the minds of U.S. movie censors.
Nudity was not unusual in 1969, so what's with the rating? While Benussi never manages to be clothed, we suspect the X had more to do with Cunningham—a black woman—gyrating half naked in front of the expedition. Her dance even inspires one of the onlookers to punch another in the dick. Must be some Italian thing. She's duly eaten by a leopard for daring to tempt the white man. MPAA censors must have been torn. On one hand they probably ached for America's children to see that nature itself was segregationist, but after consideration they ditched the idea of a G rating, slapped an X on the film, then scuttled home for self-hating wank sessions. All things considered we wish the movie were better. No such luck, but it's unintentionally uproarious, especially the ending, and Benussi is a vision, exploited to the max by Romana Film Co. and director Guido Malatesta. Tarzana, sesso selvaggio premiered in Italy today in 1969.
All it takes is one to ruin everything.
Successful blaxploitation movies often spawned sequels which benefitted from more resources than were put into the originals. Super Fly was a surprise hit in August 1972, so the Hollywood suits bent their efforts toward riding the gravy train and Super Fly T.N.T. premiered in the U.S. today in 1973, only ten months later. This was a big deal production. Paramount Pictures financed it, future Roots author Alex Haley wrote the script, the shooting took place in Rome and Senegal, and West African/Caribbean funk superstars Osibisa provided the soundtrack. But the movie needed star Ron O'Neal in the title role. And in order to get him Paramount had to let him direct. We can just imagine the high blood pressure meetings on the Paramount lot when the suits realized a blaxploitation star was actually blaxploitating them. So how did O'Neal do? We'll come to that.
In Super Fly the character of Priest wanted out of the drug business. In Super Fly T.N.T. he's living in Rome off the proceeds of his big score, and the ghetto is just a bad memory. And the U.S. as a whole is a place he understands will never change. There's too much invested in the status quo of racism. But in Rome he has friends from all walks of life. He eats in nice restaurants and nobody throws him attitude. He rides horses. And living there has given him some perspective. His novelist pal tells him, while the two are strolling in the city center, “These people are all walking around living right here in the middle of thousands of years of history. And I mean their own history. That's what makes them different.”
But Priest is directionless. He has no idea what to do with his life. Eventually he's asked to help the struggling African nation of Umbria stockpile guns for a revolution and decides this could be his higher cause. From that point forward Super Fly T.N.T. becomes an espionage drama. And not a good one either. While O'Neal's direction isn't scintillating, the main problem is that the script was written by someone who understood history, politics, and anthropology perfectly, but didn't have a firm grasp of cinematic pace and action. Yep, we're laying this failure at literary icon Alex Haley's feet. O'Neal may not have been the best director, but there wasn't much to direct. It's a shame, because Priest was one of the best characters to come out of the blaxploitation wave. Super Fly T.N.T. wastes his cultural capital.
On a Scala of 1 to 10 she's on the top step.
Above is a photo of Italian actress Gia Scala. We thought her name sounded unusual so we checked it and discovered Gia means “already” and Scala means “ladder.” That clued us in to the fact that maybe her name was a stage creation—duh—and indeed, though she was of Italian descent, she was born in England as Josephine Grace Johanna Scoglio. We definitely like Gia as a name better than Josephine. Scoglio, by the way, means “rock.” Scala is another early Hollywood fatality. She died in 1972 of a barbiturate overdose in her Hollywood Hills home at age thirty-eight, a death that was ruled accidental. This photo is from 1961.
Gemser gets freaky on the island of brotherly love.
La spiaggia del desiderio is another Laura Gemser sexploitation epic, third in what would become a long series of Emanuelle movies, and the first to truly jump the shark. A bit of backstory: Author Emmanuelle Arsan wrote the original Emmanuelle character, based on herself, in 1967, and saw it become the erotic film Emmanuelle starring Sylvia Kristel. It premiered in France in June 1974 and was a worldwide smash by that autumn. But Italian production company Aquila Cinematografica had managed to film and rush release a knock-off entitled Amore libero that hit cinemas in Rome by August of 1974. The movie starred Gemser as a character named Emanuelle—with one 'm'. This film too was something of a success, in the sense that it made money while costing far less.
After the success of the French Emmanuelle its makers decided to cash in with a sequel. Trinacra Films and Orphée Productions kicked France to the curb and made Emmanuelle II with an eye toward the large U.S. market, where their sophomore entry eventually had its world premiere in December of 1975. While shooting this sequel they apparently figured the more Em(m)aunelles the better and cast Laura Gemser as a sexy masseuse in order to pair her up—naked—with Kristel. The spirit of cooperation is admirable, but certainly what this casting decision did was give Gemser's Emanuelle just as much legitimacy as Kristel's Emmanuelle.
At the time Gemser was enjoying this cameo appearance in Emmanuelle II she had already made or was about to make a sequel to her Amore libero. We use that uncertain terminology because the French Emmanuelle films were higher budget productions and took longer to film and post-produce, which means even though Gemser's sequel hit cinemas before Emmanuelle II, it's possible it was filmed after and rammed through post to get to audiences first. In any case, Gemser's sequel, already cynically thieving the original Emmanuelle concept, was titled to take advantage of the burgeoning blaxploitation wave. Emanuelle negra it was called—Black Emanuelle.
Gemser was off and running and would eventually make more than a dozen Emanuelle films, each more preposterous than the previous. Amore libero and Emanuelle negra featured Gemser playing an Emanuelle who, like the original character written by
Emmauelle Arsan, enjoyed sexual adventures in exotic tourist destinations. But La spiaggia del desiderio is a lost world flick that features her living on an isolated island with her father and brother in primitive bliss. We suspect the entire script was written to avoid high budget location work and unnecessary characters.
In any case, it's just Gemser, her dad, and her bro on this uncharted spit of tropical sand off the coast of Venezuela, until a shipwreck victim washes up and brings with him a host of problems. Because, you see, Gemser plays a game with her brother, a very pleasurable game that she—in her innocence—doesn't realize is known as incest in the civilized world. When she begins to play the game with the newcomer that's when things go terribly wrong. Think of it as The Blue Lagoon years before that movie appeared, but with brotherly love thrown in to provide an excuse to philosophize about cultural norms.
The main plot question becomes this: does the newcomer try to get Gemser to realize what she's doing is wrong, or is it really society that's wrong to judge true love? And secondarily, should he take her away to civilization, or would the real world destroy all that is innocent and wonderful about her? This is deep shit, folks. In our view, Gemser should leave the island—a few civilized cheeseburgers might actually do her good. She's 5' 7” and goes—maybe—115 soaking wet, so she really does look like she's been living on coconuts and crabs for years. But for her fans it's about her whole package, even if that package looks underfed.
We can't recommend La spiaggia del desiderio. There's just nothing much going on here. We suspect the film was toned down because of the (completely unneeded and distasteful) incest angle, a problem her production company might not have foreseen until it was too late. Like: “Uh, huddle up people—we just learned we can't show Laura boning her brother without being slapped with an injunction.” Thus with Gemser's nude frolicking reduced to a bare minimum, there's not much to sustain interest. If we were you we'd give this particular Emanuelle a pass. La spiaggia del desiderio premiered in Italy today in 1976.
Rocky isn't exactly a heavyweight in this early sexploitation effort.
This Italian poster was made for the softcore flick Porno proibito, aka The Italian Stallion, which was Sylvester Stallone's youthful—and probably financially desperate—foray into erotic cinema. It's a plotless mess that actually got an X rating when released because of its explicit nudity, including Sly's twig and berries, and various women's honeypots. But there's no real sex—just a lot of rubbing, squirming, and boob sucking. The film had no Italian premiere date, but this poster shows that it played in Italy's cinemas sometime during the 1970s. The movie was too obscure and terrible to earn a foreign release when it was made in 1970, so our guess is it rose from obscurity after Stallone had made his mark with 1974's The Lords of Flatbush and 1975's Death Race 2000. It could even be post-Rocky. In fact, that seems likely. Stallone performed under his own name in the film, but on the promo is referred to as Italian Stallion—indicating a high level of fame. So let's say 1976 or 1977 for its Italian debut until someone pops up with better information. Sly probably wishes all the prints of the film had been incinerated, but don't feel sorry for him. The embarrassment of displaying his welterweight dick to all the world was surely mitigated by the money, mansions, and moviegoers' adoration he later earned. We hope.
A queen wearies of hoop skirts and powered wigs, but the royal fencing épée should come in handy.
Benedetto Caroselli once again shows his skill as an illustrator with this cover of a fencing foil wielding femme fatale for Mario de Adda's La regina di spade (Cristina di Svezia), aka, The Queen of Swords (Christina of Sweden), 1965, for Italian publishers Edizioni Periodici Italiani. The book is part of the series Ritratti storici: Le grandi peccatrici, or Historical Portraits: The Great Sinners. Was Queen Christina of Sweden a great sinner? Well, she didn't obey the rules as expected of women in the 17th century—even those of royal blood. Abdication was the result, followed by numerous other intrigues and difficulties. But telling her story is beyond our scope. We're just into Caroselli's art, which is brilliant, as always.
Two bunglers cook up a kidnapping scheme that goes disastrously awry.
It's been a couple of years, so today we're getting back to one of Italy's greatest poster artists—the prolific and eclectic Sandro Symeoni. He painted movie posters, book covers, album sleeves, and ads, and was excellent at all of them. He painted the above poster for the comedy Noi gangster, which was originally made and released in France as Le grand chef, but based on the U.S. writer O. Henry's short story “The Ransom of Red Chief.” We took a look at the film and it's a screwball comedy starring Fernandel and Gino Servi as two bumbling gas station workers who concoct a kidnapping plot in hopes of escaping their poverty. Kidnapping schemes never work. Too many variables. They aren't clued in to this fact but quickly learn when they snatch a millionaire's young son and are dismayed to find that the little terror is too much for them to handle. He climbs onto a high rooftop, goes renegade on a hospital trolley, and generally drives them insane with his unpredictable behavior. Think Martin and Lewis in French with one of the Little Rascals on the side and you'll know what to expect.
This was Fernandel's and Cervi's second team-up after 1955's Don Camillo e l'on. Peppone, and this go-round is inferior to the previous film in every way, but even the dumbest screwball comedies have good moments. An extended gag involving a slippery block of ice works—or maybe we liked it because we too live in a building with a spiral staircase and no elevator, and the scene reminded us of the time we dropped a bottle of wine and it bobsledded all the way to the ground floor. The neighbors don't take kindly to that at 1 a.m., but that's the problem with wooden stairs—most anything you drop survives the entire downward journey. Consider Noi gangster a spiral stair—it sort of goes monotonously in a circle but once it ends you'll have a nice sense of accomplishment. It premiered in Italy today in 1959. Incidentally, are you wondering why there's a smiling woman on the poster? We suppose because Symeoni wanted her there. She sure isn't in the movie. You can see plenty more art from him by clicking here.
I can see how excited I've made you. Pour this bowl of cold water on it and see if that helps.
In the promo photo above Femi Benussi appears in costume—in amazing costume—as Lola in the film Il domestico. Benussi was born in Rovigno, Italy, which is now Rovnij, Croatia, and debuted in 1965's Il boia scarlatto, aka Bloody Pit of Horror. She went on to appear more than eighty films, including the giallo Nude per l'assassino, aka Strip Nude for Your Killer and the actioner Storia di sangue, aka Blood Story. The above image is from 1974, and just to make Benussi's outfit complete it also came with a hat, shoes, and a bruise courtesy of the makeup department, below. As we continue to work our way through various 1970s schlock classics you can be sure that Benussi will show up here again
She's mad as hell and she isn't going to take it anymore.
We've been documenting various brilliant Italian artists for years now, and today we wanted to get back to Ermano Iaia, who painted the Italian promo for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho we showed you a while back. The above effort is for Diario di una casalinga inquieta, which you may know better as Diary of Mad Housewife. It was a controversial film adaptation of Sue Kaufman's novel, starring Carrie Snodgress as a woman stuck in a bad marriage whose attempts to inject some thrills into her life lead her to more bad men. Iaia's poster is a masterpiece, perfectly capturing the dark and sexual aspects of the film. Diary of Mad Housewife premiered in the U.S. in 1970 and reached Italy today in 1971. We'll have more work from Iaia a bit later.
Monroe goes for a spin in Italy.
Marilyn Monroe fronts this RCA soundtrack album sold in Italy featuring songs from the film Follie dell'anno, which originally appeared in the U.S. as There's No Business Like Show Business. There are four numbers written by Irving Berlin here and Monroe handles the vocals. If you want this platter it'll cost you probably a hundred dollars or more, so good luck with that. We're content to enjoy the sleeve. The shot of Monroe turned backward in her director's chair is one we've never seen before.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1910—Duke of York's Cinema Opens
The Duke of York's Cinema opens in Brighton, England, on the site of an old brewery. It is still operating today, mainly as a venue for art films, and is the oldest continually operating cinema in Britain.
1975—Gerald Ford Assassination Attempt
Sara Jane Moore, an FBI informant who had been evaluated and deemed harmless by the U.S. Secret Service, tries to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford. Moore fires one shot at Ford that misses, then is wrestled to the ground by a bystander named Oliver Sipple.
1937—The Hobbit is Published
J. R. R. Tolkien publishes his seminal fantasy novel The Hobbit, aka The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Marketed as a children's book, it is a hit with adults as well, and sells millions of copies, is translated into multiple languages, and spawns the sequel trilogy The Lord of Rings.
1946—Cannes Launches Film Festival
The first Cannes Film Festival is held in 1946, in the old Casino of Cannes, financed by the French Foreign Affairs Ministry and the City of Cannes.
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