Sometimes you have to write your own second act.
This shot shows the beautiful Denise Nicholas, who as an actress is known for Let's Do It Again, Blacula, A Piece of the Action, and the television series Room 222. After all those credits she became a novelist and wrote Freshwater Road, which was selected as one of the best books of 2005 by the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and several other papers. That's a feat—not just writing a novel but writing a widely acclaimed novel—we don't think very many other film performers have managed. At the moment Nicholas seems to be retired, but you never know when it comes to writers. The above image is from around 1975.
Grier tries to foil an assassination plot.
It's Christmas day, and what is the main thing everyone does today? They go overboard. So in that vein we have more posts for you than you could have rightly expected, though we'll admit we wrote them in advance and right now we're nowhere near a computer. We're starting the X-mas treats with this vintage poster for the Pam Grier blaxploitation flick Friday Foster, a film that opened in U.S. today in 1975. After successes with Coffy, Foxy Brown, et al, American International Pictures steered Pam a bit more mainstream with the PG rated Sheba, Baby and learned from that mistake. So they turned the heat back up, scheduled a Christmas release date, and gave Grier fans a movie with twice the action, twice the humor, and twice the tongue-in-cheek factor as usual, plus three steamy Grier nude scenes rather than the usual two.
Grier plays a photo-journalist who tries to get a sneaky paparazzi shot of a reclusive millionaire only to find herself photographing an assassination attempt-turned-bloodbath. While American International kicked things up a notch, the customary Grier grit is missing, as too many wisecracks and camp moments leave the film without any heft. It almost seems as if, with a full blown international star on its hands and costs rising, American International decided to cut corners in pre-production. Script-wise Friday Foster is too formulaic and self-conscious. Soundtrack-wise, instead of songs performed by a viable R&B artist, it has cheeseball wacka wacka interstitial music, with chick singers trilling, “Hey Friday, whatcha doin' girl, hey, whatcha doin' girl whatcha doin'.” Direction-wise, four-time Grier collaborator Jack Hill has been tossed in favor of Arthur Marks, who came up directing episodes of the television show Perry Mason.
Friday Foster was Grier's last go-round with American International, and a good thing, because somebody forgot she became popular playing a streetwise, ass-kicking, So-Cal soul sister. Her turn as a middle-class photo-journalist might have worked, but not with the support she needed chopped from under her. American International wanted to mainstream her, except it had no idea how to do it. But Grier's still Grier, and even stuck in what feels like a washed out version of her better films, she remains as watchable as any star of her era. After another couple of years the work would come in spurts, a small part here, a television show there, an occasional lead role, and bit by bit, appearance by appearance, Grier would stitch together a career spanning four decades and counting. Friday Foster is isn't the best entry on her résumé, but even midding Grier is worthwhile Grier.
The only rehabilitation going on here is by the poster artist.
Above you see a striking color poster for the Roger Corman produced women-in-prison flick Women in Cages, one of the many sexploitation epics filmed in the Philippines during the 1970s. For an entertaining ninety minutes on that subject, by the way, you should watch the documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed. It's the final word on the chaos of Philippine movie production and covers everything from Savage! to Apocalypse Now. Women in Cages is one of the earlier Philippine women-in-prison flicks, coming after The Big Doll House.
Despite the fact that the poster is signed R. Engel and dated '72, it's actually a piece of modern pulp made within the last several years. The person behind it is German artist Rainer Engel, who put it together borrowing the DVD box cover art from Subkultur-Entertainment's 2013 re-issue of the movie, which in Germany was called Frauen hinter Zuchthausmauern. We ran across the re-styled poster on the artist's website, decided his mock-up beats the hell out of the 1971 original art, and thought it was worth sharing.
When we wrote about the film a while ago we said we thought it was a bit much. Specifically, it's relentlessly grim. Of the trilogy that includes The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage this middle entry is the one that forgot the first rule of the 1970s women-in-prison genre—the movie should be absurd and fun. When it isn't—i.e. when it shades into depressing realism—you come away wondering if there's something wrong with you for having watched it in the first place. You can read our post on the film here, and you can visit the artist's website here.
So that flimsy excuse I said I had for inviting you over? I'm wearing it.
We featured a very nice shot of U.S. actress Marilyn Joi last year, but she deserves a rerun, so here she is again, chilled out, sporting an afro, and looking like she has something naughty on her mind. The shot was made in 1973 as a promo for the blaxploitation flick Coffy. The fact that the photo exists is a bit is unusual due to the fact her role in the film was so brief she never got screen credit. She was one of the prosties in the pimp King George's stable, competition for an infiltrating Pam Grier, who was on a revenge mission. Joi probably got fifteen seconds of screen time, which may be why this photo is often misattributed. It's Joi, though. As proof there she is below in a screen grab from the movie.
This woman is simply dynamite.
U.S. actress Annie Lee Morgan used a couple of pseudonyms in her career. When she broke into celebrityhood as a nude model for Playboy she was Jean Bell, and later as an actress she was often Jeannie Bell. By whatever name she was one of the most beautiful performers of the 1970s, which makes it a shame b-movies and television shows were the extent of her career. Her best known role? Probably the blaxploitation actioner T.N.T. Jackson—which you can read about here. The above shot is undated but probably from around 1973.
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.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1911—Team Reaches South Pole
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, along with his team Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting, becomes the first person to reach the South Pole. After a celebrated career, Amundsen eventually disappears in 1928 while returning from a search and rescue flight at the North Pole. His body is never found.
1944—Velez Commits Suicide
Mexican actress Lupe Velez, who was considered one of the great beauties
of her day, commits suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. In her note, Velez says she did it to avoid bringing shame on her unborn child by giving birth to him out of wedlock, but many Hollywood historians believe bipolar disorder was the actual cause. The event inspired a 1965 Andy Warhol film entitled Lupe
1958—Gordo the Monkey Lost After Space Flight
After a fifteen minute flight into space on a Jupiter AM-13 rocket, a monkey named Gordo splashes down in the South Pacific but is lost after his capsule sinks. The incident sparks angry protests from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but NASA says animals are needed for such tests.
1968—Tallulah Bankhead Dies
American actress, talk show host, and party girl
Tallulah Bankhead, who was fond of turning cartwheels in a dress without underwear and once made an entrance to a party without a stitch of clothing on, dies in St. Luke's Hospital in New York City of double pneumonia complicated by emphysema.
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