Pam Grier is as refreshing as an ocean breeze.
We have to bring Pam Grier back every once in a while. This breezy shot currently making its way around the internet certainly ranks among the best promo images ever made of a classic figure. Whoever took this photo captured Grier in a seaside mode we've never seen before, and whoever originally uploaded it deserves thanks, but only partially—Grier deserves most of the credit just for being her.
Tall, dark, and dangerous.
We don't share many photo covers, but this novelization caught our eye because it's one of the better images we've seen of Cleopatra Jones star Tamara Dobson. As we've mentioned before, promo images for blaxploitation performers, with a few exceptions, tend to be rare. Dobson was one of the first we ever featured, way back in 2009, and we're sharing this image because Cleopatra Jones opened in the U.S. today in 1973. The screenplay for the film, by the way, was co-written by Max Julien, who was the star of the blaxploitation classic The Mack. The guy was multi-talented. So was Dobson—the 6' 2” former model could look both lethal and deadly.
Whatever the language, the meaning is clear.
Despite her exotic name, Azizi Johari is American, born in New York City and raised in Seattle. Her movie career consisted of bit parts, with her most noted appearances coming in the 1976 John Cassavetes film The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and the 1981 blaxploitation b-movie Body and Soul, which was a remake of the 1947 film noir classic. She originally gained recognition in 1975 as a Playboy model, appearing as the magazine's Playmate of the Month in June 1975, but the above photo was used on the front of Players magazine in 1978. Oh, and on the subject of her name, “Azizi” is Arabic and means “precious,” while Johari is a Kiswahili word that means "jewel.” She's well named.
Life on the edge of a razor.
Above is a Japanese poster for the 1972 blaxploitation film Come Back Charleston Blue, starring Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques as the Harlem detectives Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. It was the sequel to the highly successful Cotton Comes to Harlem. The plot deals with the return of a legendary vigilante named Charleston Blue, who killed with a blue steel straight razor and is believed by some to be responsible for a series of recent slayings aimed at the local drug trade. He's supposed to be dead, but his casket is empty and his collection of razors has gone missing. Is he really back from beyond? You'll have to watch the movie to find out. Reviews were mixed, but there are some thrills and laughs, there's good location filming around Harlem and environs pre-gentrification, and the soundtrack by Quincy Jones and Donny Hathaway is a nice bonus. All-in-all, a middling effort, but certainly not a waste of time. Come Back Charleston Blue first played in Japan today in 1973.
It's hard out there for a pimp.
The Mack is about pimping. Let's just get that out there. Those with twenty-first century sensibilities will probably hate the film on principle. But is there anything more to it than sexual exploitation? Well, it's an offering in the blaxploitation genre that deals with an ex-con's plan to rise to the top of the macking game in the city of Oakland. The main character, named Goldie, has a brother who intends to rid the streets of crime. Goldie's main antagonists are a pair of corrupt cops who see no difference between him and his brother. The subtext is interesting. Goldie and his brother represent opposite forms of direct engagement—one works to improve his environment while opposed by authorities who see political activism as a threat; the other works illegally to get ahead and get out while opposed by authorities charged with fighting crime.
The movie chooses as its backdrop one of the most activist cities in the U.S., with one of the most corrupt police forces. Both of these facts were true when The Mack was made and remain true today. For example, while Oakland police are tasked with preventing crime, they repeatedly and brazenly break the law, and have paid out more in civil damages than almost any police force in the nation. This dichotomy callsinto question whether the police actually exist for the good of the community at all, or for a more complex purpose—say to protect the interests of elites by both containing crime and hemming in the possibility of political empowerment. Actually, the question is rhetorical. We've been to many countries, and in all of them police suppress political activity among the underclass. So yeah, there's more to The Mack than just pimping.
The movie was actually inspired by the real life struggle between the Ward Brothers, who were leaders of Oakland's black underworld, and the Black Panthers. Both groups wanted to bring Oakland under their respective control for opposite reasons. Film critic Elvis Mitchell described The Mack succinctly in 2013, saying: “Do you become this horrible kind of mutation of free enterprise, or do you take the nationalist route and help your people?” But the Oakland police ultimately considered power achieved through crime and power achieved through politics to be equally unacceptable. And that may be the entire disturbing point of the film. The Mack premiered in the U.S. today in 1973, and the awesome poster was painted by Fred Pfeiffer.
The heat isn't coming from the fireplace.
Above, a photo of U.S. actress Vonetta McGee, who appeared in such films as The Eiger Sanction and Repo Man, seen here looking exceptionally lovely sometime in the early 1970s. She also appeared in several blaxploitation flicks, and since we've been screening those lately we'll doubtless be running into her later.
Don't hate the dealer. Hate the game.
Did you know the main character in Super Fly is named Priest? Over time he's become known as Superfly, but in the film the term comes up only once—when someone says to Priest, “You always got some super fly shit!” He's referring to cocaine. Priest is a drug dealer, but he wants out and will do whatever it takes to make that happen. This is one of the better blaxploitation flicks. Ron O'Neal's Priest is tough but three-dimensional, showing vulnerability, confusion, even desperation. Dynamic if uneven direction from Gordon Parks, Jr. and a propulsive soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield help put the whole concept over. In fact, after you watch the movie, you should listen to the album, particularly the sparkling, “Give Me Your Love,” which we think is one of the most immaculately constructed soul tunes ever written. Super Fly premiered in the U.S. in the summer of 1972 and opened in Japan today in 1973.
Jeanne Bell karate chops her way across Hong Kong.
T.N.T. Jackson, for which you see the U.S. promo poster above, is a mid-budget blaxploitation flick built around clumsy martial arts, a flimsy plot, and shoddy acting. But it has Jeanne Bell. Playboy magazine had made Bell a centerfold in 1969. From there she launched a movie career, with T.N.T. Jackson coming ninth in her filmography. She plays Diana “T.N.T.” Jackson, who learns that her brother was killed by Hong Kong drug dealers and seeks payback. While the plot is nothing special, Bell certainly is. She was twenty-five and wore a bouffant hair-do when she first appeared in Playboy; in T.N.T. she was thirty and had blossomed into an unforgettable beauty with a frosted afro, kicking and chopping her way across the movie screen. All the fight scenes are hilarious, with their cut-rate choreography and claw-handed posing, but they're fun to watch, especially the one in which she kicks the shit out of a bunch of guys while wearing only panties. That bit seems to us a clear homage to Reiko Ike's totally nude fight in 1973's Sex & Fury, another movie that surpasses its limitations by piling on style and attitude. Is T.N.T. Jackson actually good? No—but we bet it'll make you smile. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1974.
It's strong and bold and might be just the wake-up you need.
Coffy is not a movie we planned to write about, due to the fact that it's been covered by so many websites. But then we came across this French poster made for its release in Paris today in 1973—where it was called Coffy: la panthère noire de Harlem—and we changed our minds. The movie possibly falls into the category of those everyone has heard about but few have seen, so we gave it a run for the first time in some years. The story is straightforward—a teen girl is in the hospital suffering from the effects of an overdose, and her sister, played by Pam Grier, goes looking for revenge. She kills the dealer who sold heroin to her sister, but soon learns there's another dealer behind that one, and so forth. In a world that's corrupt to the core, revenge is a maze where the center is impossibly difficult to find.
Coffy isn't well acted, but those who go in expecting Oscar worthy performances are setting up false standards. Blaxploitation was about telling stories from a new point of view, one lacking in American cinema. Trying to round out a black cast, as well as find compelling black leads, meant taking chances and bringing novice performers into the fold. The message is what mattered in these movies, and the message was that something was seriously wrong in America. Those who paid attention learned one of the most basic lessons anyone can learn—your reality is just one of many. Other people live entirely different lives governed by different, equally valid truths. Mainstream Americans who understood this concept learned plenty from blaxploitation. Those who denied this most simple of life's facts learned nothing—and are the same people who today look at what happens in America's inner cities with bafflement or scathing contempt.
Coffy was really an envelope pushing film. We'll just highlight one scene to make that point. Pam Grier's title character has sex with her boyfriend then heads toward the bathroom. On the way there, but off-camera, we hear her say, “Oops! Oh, you shouldn't have made me laugh.” What do you supposed happened? Here's a hint—it involves spillage, and not from a glass. It may well have been the first movie ever to hint at post-coital drainage. Later it does another off-camera bit with oral sex when Grier pours wine in her boyfriend's lap and proceeds to clean it up. Coffy may not have been well acted, but it had moments of earthy realism that were almost microscopic in focus. You also get plenty of action and a fierce, single-minded heroine you can root for. Coffy opened in France today in 1973. Check out a rare U.S. promo poster for it here.
You know that whole forbidden fruit concept? I've never agreed with it.
Above, a nice shot of blaxploitation star Marilyn Joi, aka Tracy King, who appeared in notable efforts such as Black Samurai and the unforgettable Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, but is probably best known as Cleopatra Schwartz from the mainstream comedy Kentucky Fried Movie. This photo appeared on the cover of Players magazine in 1980.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1945—Plane Hits Empire State Building
A B-25 bomber crashes into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 79th and 80th floors. One engine plows entirely through the structure, lands on a nearby apartment building, and sparks a fire that destroys a penthouse. The other engine falls down an elevator shaft. Fourteen people are killed in the incident.
1965—Vietnam War Heats Up
U.S. president Lyndon Johnson commits a further 50,000 US troops to the conflict in Vietnam, increasing the military presence there to 125,000. Johnson says about the increase, "I do not find it easy to send the flower of our youth... into battle."
Film legend Bob Hope dies of pneumonia two months after celebrating his 100th birthday.
1945—Churchill Given the Sack
In spite of admiring Winston Churchill as a great wartime leader, Britons elect
Clement Attlee the nation's new prime minister in a sweeping victory for the Labour Party over the Conservatives.
1952—Evita Peron Dies
Eva Duarte de Peron, aka Evita, wife of the president of the Argentine Republic, dies from cancer at age 33. Evita had brought the working classes into a position of political power never witnessed before, but was hated by the nation's powerful military class. She is lain to rest in Milan, Italy in a secret grave under a nun's name, but is eventually returned to Argentina for reburial beside her husband in 1974.
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