The mafia are no match for Jim Brown.
In the blaxploitation flick Slaughter Jim Brown plays Slaughter—no first name—a former Green Beret captain whose underworld connected father is killed by a car bomb. He vows revenge and guns down some of the responsible parties at an airport. That's when the government steps in and turns Slaughter into an operative in exchange for dropping murder charges. All he has to do is head to Mexico and capture the top mobster. South of the border he goes, where shootings, chases, and general mayhem follow as he pretty much turns the country upside down. There are occasional interesting visual flourishes during the violence, including hallucinatory ultra wide angle shots. Maybe director Jack Starrett heaped on the style a bit heavily, but it does set Slaughter apart, and in the end doesn't really harm the final product. Another thing heaped on is the racial insults, even more than in most blaxploitation, and if there's a lesson being imparted it's that eventually n-bombs go off in your face.
Blaxploitation is nothing without its femme fatales, and in those roles Slaughter casts Marlene Clark and Stella Stevens. Clark, though talented, is mere window dressing here; Stevens gets a substantial temptress role, and she's perfectly suited for it, a dozen years after her Playboy centerfold appearance at age twenty-two, and about twice as beautiful in her mid-thirties. According to Brown, Slaughter is one of the three favorite films he starred in. Maybe Stella had something to do with that. In an interview some years back she was asked about the love scenes and said, “I was told that in the movie he did with Raquel Welch, he had a towel put between them, because he didn’t want to touch her flesh in the love scene with her.* I can tell you, we didn’t have anything between us except good feelings and fun.” Well, it looks to us like they had a good time too, and why not? Stevens is hot as hell and Brown is unadulterated manhood on a level few males can hope to reach. We think this one is well worth a watch for fans of the genre. Slaughter premiered in the U.S. today in 1972.*Jim Brown is no fool, and we doubt he ever made such a request. Welch wore undergarments, which was probably always the plan, considering she has done no nude scenes during her career.
I think we should consider a separation. And I have just the body part in mind.
A gringo detective with an agency in Mexico City is hired to locate his crooked ex-partner, who has bailed with the agency's money, and now is causing trouble for the client. The PI takes the job, glad to be paid to track down his betrayer, and starts in the Mexican town of Rio Bravo where the partner immediately turns up dead. From there the hero delves into local corruption, crosses the border to Texas, uncovers a human trafficking ring, meets a cantina dancer named Arden Kennett, deals with a dangerous wife, watches murders pile up and the police begin to suspect him, and learns that knives can be thrown just as effectively as they can be brandished.
The book was published in the U.S. as an Ace Double in 1959 with Paul Rader art and bound with Charles Fritch's Negative of a Nude, but the rare edition above is from Aussie imprint Phantom Books and appeared in 1960. We can't identify the artist, which is an affliction we've been dealing with quite a bit of late. But don't blame us—as we've mentioned once or twice before, including just a few days ago, Phantom didn't credit art, possibly because much of it was copied from U.S. editions. Many of the covers do, however, look like the same hand, so hopefully someone will be able to ID the owner of that hand at some point in the future.
This is our most desperate hour. Help us Santo—you're our only hope.
We were dubious toward Santo when we learned of his movies, but after screening three features the guy has really grown on us. So last night we watched Santo contra los asesinos de otros mundos, which was known in English as Santo vs. The Killers from Other Worlds. You know the basics—Santo is a Mexican luchador who is also an ace international crimefighter. Which is convenient, because an evil mastermind named Malkosh is demanding a fortune in gold bars from the Mexican government or he'll unleash a monster on the populace. This terrifying blob, which in the script has been somehow derived from moon rocks, in reality is three guys huddled under a giant shammy. Doubtless bumping heads and asses while crabwalking under this thing, the poor guys move at about the same speed as traffic in central Mexico City. But no matter—the blob is a whiz at triangulation, and its victims are agility challenged. Whoever it chases inevitably finds himself or herself trapped and, after futilely heaving staplers and coffee cups, consumed down to a skeletal state.
Santo's crimefighting technique is often to be captured. It's never intentional—it just works out that way. And just as form dictates, Malkosh snares Santo, but rather than kill him outright forces him to fight Spartacus style against ever more deadly opponents, an entertainment that of course backfires when the third gladiator accidentally flamethrowers a guard, allowing Santo to grab a machine gun and get the drop on everyone. You have to wonder why these villains toy with him so. The man is well-known as the most lethal crimefighter in Mexico, if not all of the Americas, yet the crooks insist upon underestimating him. Maybe it's just hard to be awed by a guy in a gimp mask who's wearing the drapes from a Guadalajara whorehouse as a cape. Even so, Santo's record speaks for itself, which means you ignore the brief at your peril. Malkosh, foolish lad, dies ignominiously, screaming even, but not before Santo learns from him that the moon blob grows like federal overreach. And indeed, soon there are four guys knocking body parts under the shammy, then five, looks like.
The rest of the film tracks Santo's efforts to find Malkosh's partner Licur, who has imprisoned a Professor Bernstein, the only person on Earth who knows how to corral the lunar abomination busily scuttling across the landscape. Locating Licur involves a bit of Holmesian deduction, at which point Santo gains access to the top secret high security lair by scaling a low wall. In the subsequent fistfights, he's ferociously pounded about his face and semi-soft body, yet his gimp mask never slips and his whorehouse drapes never rip. Finally he squares off against Licur himself, who proves to be no match, and at that point all that's left is to defeat the beast, now about the size of a Winnebago. We'll leave the last bit as a surprise, but suffice to say Santo is always one step ahead. In the end, the film was another satisfying outing, with all the hallmarks of the series—terrible dialogue, poorly staged fights, truly atrocious acting, and a script conceived during a blinding mezcal bender. What's not to love? Queue it. Watch it. Santo contra los asesinos de otros mundos premiered in Mexico today in 1973.
You got anything to eat around here? I'm famished.
Seven hundred sixty-five thousand problems.
After a week of films with plots climaxing in robberies, 1973's Charley Varrick gets the heist out of the way on the heels of opening credits. Unfortunately, it goes violently, lethally wrong for Walter Matthau and his partners. Worse, though they clear $765,000, the stolen money belongs to a mafia clan that had been using the bank as a laundry and wants every dollar back. Add in a statewide dragnet, a brash and alcoholic partner, and cops out to avenge a dead colleague, and you have a tangled web indeed. The question of whether to keep the money never really comes up. The smart move is to return it. But Matthau may not get the chance to do it before he's ventilated by the mafia gunman on his trail.
The Noir City Film Festival's desire to push beyond the confines of noir has led to the inclusion of movies far outside the genre. This is another one festival organizers want seen in a new light. But it's missing something. While there's a heist and gunplay, Varrick is not a character we ever considered to be at serious risk of dying, which means a critical feature of film noir is missing—menace. Matthau is simply miscast. He's the guy from Hello Dolly! and Cactus Flower, after all. He isn't going to get shot. Oops. What was that we were saying about no more spoilers? Oh well. Now you know he lives. Sorry. You may still like Charley Varrick, even though it plays like an ambitious television movie. It's not noir, but it's not bad.
The best defense is a good offense.
Four robbers knock off a bank in Kansas City with plans to split the money after the heat has cooled. The mastermind behind the job has arranged it so the crooks don't meet before the job, and wear masks during it, thus can't possibly identify each other. But each man has an ace, torn in half to create a unique mate, to match with the second half and confirm his identity when the time comes. It all sounds clever and foolproof, except the mastermind has framed someone for the robbery to throw police off their trail, and when this man is arrested but turned loose from police custody due to lack of evidence, he decides to track down the men who set him up.
This character, played by John Payne, is our anti-hero and looming wrench in theives' works. He quickly picks up the trail of one of the robbers in Mexico, but the police have too. In trying to discover who framed him, Payne could look to these lurking cops as though he's a member of the gang—if they spot him, that is. When Payne sees an opportunity to adopt one of the robber's identities—no difficult task since they've never seen each other—he leaps at it, but this draws him in even deeper. He's now in danger from the men he's playing imposter to, while to the cops he looks like a participant in the robbery.
There are more twists, including a star-crossed romance with Coleen Gray, but we'll stop there. This is a nice, multi-layered film noir, with good performances all around. Considering the risk Payne has to take we aren't sure we fully buy his motivation, but once he's made the decision there's no easy way out, and it's fun to watch him threaten and beat his way up the chain to the top guy. Coleen Gray always adds a nice element to any movie she's in, and Lee Van Cleef is good in a tough guy role. The only serious blemish here may be the silly final minute, but you shouldn't let it ruin the film for you. We recommend giving this one a whirl.
Section of CIA trove of declassified material reveals research into psychic phenomena.
The Central Intelligence Agency has just published 800,000 formerly classified files online. The data dump, comprising some 13 million separate documents, isn't technically new. The files had been declassified years ago, but had only been available at the National Archives in Maryland, on only four computers tucked away at the back of the building which were accessible only during business hours. A freedom-of-information group called MuckRock sued the CIA and forced it to upload the collection, and the process took more than two years. Among the discoveries in the trove are documents related to the Stargate Project, which was tasked with examining psychic phenomena. A subset of those investigations involved celebrity paranormalist Uri Geller in 1973.
For those who don't know, Geller is a guy who used to show up on television programs like The Tonight Show and perform various paranormal tricks. His fame drew the roving gaze of the CIA, and they had him come in for a series of tests. No word on whether he had a choice in the matter. The testers ultimately reached the conclusion that Geller was legit, stating in the declassified dox that he had, “demonstrated his paranormal perceptual ability in a convincing and unambiguous manner.” How did they reach that conclusion? Through doubleblind experiments, one of which involved sealing Geller in a room, having a worker make a drawing, and asking Geller to recreate the drawing without having seen it. The images above and below show three of the original drawings, and Geller's eerily accurate renderings.
Geller made a nice career for himself finding hidden objects, bending spoons, and reproducing hidden sketches, but the really interesting part is he may have been a spy. In 2013, a BBC documentary titled The Secret Life of Uri Geller–Psychic Spy? claimed Geller worked for the CIA, was recruited by Mossad, and performed such missions as using only the power of his mind to erase floppy discs carried by KGB agents. Geller allegedly spent years in Mexico working as security for President José López Portillo, and the aforementioned documentary suggests he was also involved in some capacity in the famed Israeli hostage rescue in Entebbe, Uganda in 1976. It may take a few more CIA declassifications before we get to the bottom of all that.
Geller is still around at age seventy (looking about fifty, which might the most convincing evidence yet of his paranormal ability) and he still appears in news reports for antics such as purchasing Lamb Island, off the eastern coast of Scotland, which was the site of many witch trials, and for building a 12 foot-tall statue of a gorilla made from40,000 metal spoons. We aren't believers in psychic ability or any form of the paranormal. And we won't be unless we see evidence proving these realms exist. But the CIA said Geller was the real deal, so that's worth something. Of course, they also said Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, so maybe their opinion should be taken with a grain of salt.
Hah hah, I'm free! Drinks for everyone! My ex-husband's paying!
Why is this woman laughing? Because she's just been granted a divorce. She's actress Francesca de Scaffa and she was married to actor Bruce Cabot until today in 1951, when the photo memorialized her cheerful unfettering. Why is the man laughing? He's Hollywood super lawyer Jerry Giesler, and he's probably thinking about the fees he collected. Strangely, Wikipedia lists de Scaffa and Cabot as divorcing in 1957, but we found wire photos stating unambiguously that they split in 1951. However, we also found references to the 1957 divorce. We can only guess the two remarried at some point, a supposition that makes sense considering we also found a photo of the two dining in December 1951 captioned in part, “Last night, guess who took [de Scaffa] night-clubbing? Right! Bruce Cabot.” The point of the caption being that divorced couples are not often seen out having a night on the town together. It lends credence to the idea that they married twice, but don't quote us on it. We will find out, though, because we'll probably revisit de Scaffa a bit later—she's true pulp material. Among her many exploits were acting as an informant for Confidential magazine, a liaison with the Shah of Iran, marrying a Spanish bullfighter, running afoul of Mexican officials who tried to deport her, two suicide attempts, and more. As far as her marriage(s) with Cabot go(es), we'll put it(them) in the mystery file for now.
Fact challenged tabloid may have predicted presidential assassination plot.
Midnight claims in this issue published today in 1968 that a conspiracy was afoot to assassinate Richard Nixon during his presidential campaign, but with mid-century tabloids the question is always: Is this true? We found no mention of the plot anywhere, though Midnight is pretty authoritative in its assertions, claiming three men were involved, two of whom were in FBI custody, with the third having been picked up by Mexican police in Tijuana. But authoritative or not, the paper got this one wrong.
Weirdly, though, there may have been a plot to kill Nixon in 1968, but a week after the above Midnight hit newsstands. Though the episode is little remembered today, a man of Yemeni origin named Ahmed Rageh Namer was arrested along with his two sons Hussein and Abdo on November 12—a full eight days after Midnight made its arrest claims—and charged with conspiracy to assassinate Nixon, who had won the presidential election the previous Tuesday. You can see Namer under arrest in the photo just below.
The evidence against him and his sons was scant—an informant claimed the father possessed two rifles, had asked him join him in the killing, and had offered him money to do so. This was back before the word of a shady informant could get a person thrown in a black pit in Guantanamo for ten years, so the Namers actually got a trial and their defense lawyer of course shredded the case. All three men were acquitted in July of 1969.
But how weird is it that Midnight would fabricate an assassination story a week before the FBI uncovered what they thought was an actual assassination plot? Maybe Namer read Midnight and got the idea. Nah... he was probably just innocent in the first place. But still, how odd. Sometimes history is stranger than fiction. Elsewhere in the issue you get a bit of Hollywood gossip and a pretty cool photo of Maureen Arthur and another of Carmen Dene, below. See more Midnight at our tabloid index.
You can't hide from the FBI.
Talk about a shitty day. The artful above photo shows Eleanor Kindig, who was arrested for giving false information to the FBI. The Compton, California native disappeared, and after being found in New Mexico, spun a fanciful tale about being abducted. She had run away to avoid legal troubles back in California. Thanks to her fib, her troubles were just starting. That was today in 1952, and the photo is from the Los Angeles Examiner collection held at the University of Southern California.
What are the odds of a Mayan comet showing up at exactly the worst moment? Pretty good in cheeseball sci-fi.
Caltiki—The Immortal Monster was an Italian production originally titled Caltiki il mostro immortale, but made in English starring Canadian actor John Merivale in a tale revolving around Guatemala's Tikal ruins. We used to live in Guatemala and visited the Mayan ruins at Tikal, so we simply had to watch this movie. But the actual ruins shown are an amalgam of pyramids and what look like buttes and rock spires from the southwest U.S. There's a volcano thrown in there too, though Tikal is flat rain forest and low lying swamps. Creative license, we suppose. It all looks kind of otherworldly, which we guess was the goal, so nice work by the efx department.
The basics of this story are that there's a legendary Mayan monster or goddess in a lake, and when a group of scientists is attacked, one of them returns to Mexico City with a piece attached to his arm. Doctors manage to carve off a sample and learn that radiation makes it grow. They of course keep the piece safely stowed away, but unfortunately a highly radioactive comet spoken of in Mayan lore choses that week to pass close to Earth. It only comes once every 1,352 years, so this is really unfortunate timing on the comet's part, but that's just Maya luck. Celestial bodies are nothing if not implacable and aloof. The lake specimen is irradiated, grows to monstrous size, and oozes terrifyingly across the city.
But the solution to this problem isn't so difficult. Fire kills Caltiki, so it's really just a matter of directing some flames onto the beast. Cue flamethrowers, army guys, and soundtrack tympani. Caltiki turns into a Caltiki torch then goes down like an undercooked soufflé. This is b-sci-fi at its goofiest, but we'll admit the blob effects are actually pretty cool, aided as they are by the fact that all of them take place at night. Mario Bava, who is uncredited but actually did most of directing here, does a decent job and the acting is passable. Recommended? We wouldn't go that far. Caltiki—The Immortal Monster premiered in Italy in 1959 and reached the U.S. today in 1960.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
1911—Mona Lisa Disappears
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, is stolen from the Louvre. After many wild theories and false leads, it turns out the painting was snatched by museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia.
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