Altman and company get gangsta in the heartland.
Auteur and maverick Robert Altman directed several films centered around crime, but perhaps only his 1930s gangster flick Kansas City truly fits the bill as a pulp style effort. The plot tells the tale of Blondie O'Hara, whose petty crook husband Johnny is captured by gangster Seldom Seen and held at a nightclub, prompting Blondie to kidnap the wife of a local politician in an attempt to blackmail him into using his connections to free Johnny. Sounds straightforward, but Altman's approach to this is leisurely and episodic.
Kansas City is generally considered to be a lesser effort from the legendary director, but even if it's not in the class of Short Cuts or M*A*S*H*, it has some points of interest—a slithery jazz score, lots of smoky nightclub scenery, Steve Buscemi warming up for another gangster role in the brilliant Miller's Crossing, Harry Belafonte playing it cool, and Jennifer Jason Leigh giving her actorly all as the drawling, flapperesque Blondie.
Another plus is this killer promo poster. When we saw it we had to watch the movie. But what's the most important reason to watch it? Altman, of course. It's always fun to see what a director does with the 1930s. What's the main drawback? Aside from its narrative quirkiness, we suspect its racial content may be a bit much for those with millennial sensibilities. But don't fault art for holding a mirror to history. When we can't reflect the past in cinema we'll have fallen pretty far. Kansas City premiered in the U.S. today in 1996.
Ahoy there, miss! Do you mind if we pull abreast?
Above, a poster for the Hitomi Kozue roman porno flick Nikutai hanzai kaigan: Piranha no mure, aka Sex-Crime Coast: School of Piranha. In this one Kozue rises out of the sea like Aphrodite, which is how we always suspected she came to be. Well, okay, she isn't actually a deity. Instead she plays an all-too-mortal gangster girl who falls for a gangster boy in the seaside region of Shōnan, along Sagami Bay. But romance is never easy in these films, and a love triangle soon brings jealousy and violence to the idyllic sands of central Japan. It's Nikkatsu Studios, and it's roman porno, so you know exactly what you'll get here. It premiered in Japan today in 1973.
Enough! We'll tell you anything you want to hear! Just please make it stop!
Matchless premiered in Italy in 1967, but it was originally released under the title Sin rival. When and why it also played in Italy as Matchless—as indicated by this Italian and English promo poster—is a mystery. It later played in the U.S. as Matchless but with different poster art. Of all the promos, this one is the nicest, we think. The movie is a bizarre spy flick spoof about a journalist (Patrick O'Neal) who escapes a Chinese military prison with the help of a ring that makes him invisible. He's given this gadget by another prisoner for reasons that are unclear. After he reaches home turf in NYC the U.S. government takes advantage of his disappearing act by turning him into a spy. They send him to take down a criminal mastermind played by Donald Pleasance, who riffs on his own Blofeld character from You Only Live Twice. Chases, crashes, quips, and snafus soon follow.
Here's the thing. Serious films that turn out bad are often unintentionally enjoyable; comedies that turn out bad can be slow torture. Matchless isn't as bad as extraordinary rendition and enhanced interrogation in a CIA black site, but isn't much of a step up from there either. It's mostly tedious, witless, and punch drunk stupid, but it's redeemed slightly by Nicoletta Machiavelli and Ira von Fürstenberg, and we imagine it can be fun if you watch it with a gaggle of friends and gallons of intoxicants. But then again, almost anything is.
I love my new anti saber-toothed tiger cage. It's a must for the summer, plus it also works on cavemen.
Valeria Fabrizi, aka Valeria Fabrizzi, enjoys her safe space in this photo that appeared in the magazine Il Borghese. She probably fits the category of an obscure actress, yet she's worked steadily since 1955 and was last in 2017's Non c'è campo. Her films run the gamut from comedies to adventures, and even sexploitation, such as Women in Cellblock 7. She probably wants to forget that one. But we don't. The above image is from 1972.
I see dead people. Not next week's lottery numbers. Not future stock fluctuations. Just useless, creepy dead people.
Richard Matheson was a well known writer who published many novels and short stories, penned teleplays for The Twilight Zone, and wrote the novel Psycho—which later became Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller—but his 1962 supernatural novel A Stir of Echoes is a bit obscure. It's probably better known as a 1999 movie starring the ubiquitous Kevin Bacon. The story here deals with a man whose talent as a medium is accidentally unleashed when he's hypnotized at a party. The book isn't elegantly written. A typical sentence: He walked weavingly toward the door. But you don't have to be a master stylist to tell a good story and that's what Matheson did over the course of his long career, churning out great concept after great concept, here unspooling the tale of a man who can't control his unbidden psychic talent. With the power to see the future, the protagonist gains unwanted knowledge of kidnapping, adultery, a shooting, and other violent and nightmarish occurrences. It defies belief that all this happens in a week or two on a formerly quiet suburban street, but A Stir of Echoes is an entertaining story with a nice twist ending. We haven't seen the movie but we're curious now.
Gemser heats up the deserts of Egypt.
Cinematic sleaze was often fueled, the same as was mainstream filmmaking, by star power, so it was natural to bring two popular erotic performers like Laura Gemser and Annie Belle together. It happened today in 1976 with the Italian premiere of Velluto nero. At some point after its theatrical release it was renamed for English speaking audiences Black Emmanuelle, White Emmanuelle. Gemser was actually Indonesian, born in Surabaya, East Java, however 1976 was the blaxploitation era and everybody wanted a piece of that pie, including, obviously, Gemser's production company Rekord Films. Gemser could have played anything from half black to Persian to southern Italian to Hawaiian to Latina, so it was a canny—if cynical—bit of cultural appropriation. But back then it was seemingly no harm no foul. Audiences wanted to see her naked, and she always delivered.
In Velluto nero Gemser plays a model who vacations in Egypt with her horrible husband and meets the free-spirited Belle, who awakens her to better possibilities in life—ones that don't include her criminally abusive spouse. It's generally agreed that this is one of Gemser's most tepid Emanuelle entries. We have to concur. But Gemser and Annie Belle in the same movie are worth something, at least, and the Egyptian scenery is compelling. We also like that Belle's multi-colored sweater makes another appearance. She must have lifted it from the costume department when she filmed Laure. Velluto nero isn't the last we'll see of her or Gemser, and we'll just have to hope the next encounter is an improvement over this one.
What does Rita Hayworth wear under her skirt? Advertising!
This unique Columbia Pictures promo image was made for Rita Hayworth's 1952 thriller Affair in Trinidad. It reunited Hayworth with co-star Glenn Ford in a attempt to recapture the magic of their 1946 blockbuster Gilda. It didn't quite work, but this promo is inspired.
You can't have him. He's the only reliable source of heat in this place.
Above is a poster for Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave, aka Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. The movie premiered in Italy today in 1970, but we're showing you the U.S. poster because its imagery of co-star Edwige Fenech and a devil cat is better, in our opinion, than the Italian one, which you see at bottom. The title is ridiculous, obviously, but how is the film? It's a typically labyrinthine giallo. Anita Strindberg, she of the glorious mouth and astonishing hair, is being tormented by her impotent writer husband Oliviero. When murders begin to occur in the crumbling mansion where they live he begs Strindberg to supply his alibi, claiming he had nothing to do with the crimes. Enter the husband's niece, Fenech. She arrives for a visit and forms an immediate sexual bond with Strindberg. They both think Oliviero is a killer and set out to prove it. The film is interesting, but it's always a problem when a mystery's solution has to be explained at the end because nobody in the film—nor in the audience—could figure it out. Still though, giallo completists will find something here to like. Below are some production photos, as well as a promo shot made for the film of Fenech in a tub. And you thought she'd never let go of that cat.
The money is there. All they have to do is steal it.
Nora-neko rokku: Wairudo janbo, aka Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo, stars Meiko Kaji and Bunjaku Han in a Nikkatsu Studios/Hori Production co-effort. The movie is based on a Satoshi Funachi novel and concerns five obnoxious delinquents who, with the help of an insider, decide to rob a religious group called the Seikyo Society of 30 million yen. There's a festival going on there, which means the organization's coffers will be fat with cash. As usual with these movies, it takes a while to get to the central plot, but the digressions are interesting. A good portion of the running time involves the group's road trip to the religious compound and the various scrapes they get into along the way, including a comical interlude at the beach. When they finally reach their destination does the robbery go as planned? Of course not. They rarely do. As a side note, viewers should know that while Akiko Wada gets top position on the poster she's barely in the movie. But the film is definitely one of the better Japanese juvie flicks and a worthy second entry in the five film Nora-neko rokku series. Nora-neko rokku: Wairudo janbo premiered in Japan today in 1970. Read about the others, here, here, here, and here.
Being diplomatic is one way to get what you want. And then there's Bardot's way.
This is one of the most classic of Brigitte Bardot's movie posters, with the smiling superstar holding an Eiffel Tower in her hands, implying that all France is her plaything. That much is undeniable. It was originally titled Une parisenne, but for its English language release it was given the slightly different title La Parisienne, and in it Bardot does what Bardot always does—stops traffic, generates previously undiscovered quantum states of chaos, and flips reality upside down. This time around she plays Brigitte Laurier, the prime minister's stubborn daughter, in love her father's assistant, who tries as hard as he can not to get involved with her. Why would he resist Bardot? Because she's too young, and he already has a (married) girlfriend. He finally marries Bardot through a set of crazy circumstances, but refuses to give up his mistress, which of course leads to a jealous Brigitte taking matters into her own hands. This is a classic French style sex comedy, with confusion, mistaken assumptions, and people sneaking into each other's beds, all in service of teaching the lesson that what's good for the goose is good for the gander.
Focusing on the poster for a moment, you can see it's a high quality piece of art, but it's attributed to nobody. We checked around and came up with zip. You'll notice it says La Parisienne was Bardot's first big picture. We doubt that—it was her eighteenth movie. We can find no evidence anywhere that this one was different budgetwise than her other headlining efforts. Possibly, “big” is a reference to the plot's focus on international politics and diplomacy. The film does seem to have a larger scope, and take place against a larger backdrop than usual. So maybe that's it. Or maybe the American distributors meant that it was the first of Bardot's films to receive a big promotional push in the U.S. We just don't know. But here's what we're sure about: after a successful run in Europe beginning in late 1957, La Parisienne premiered in New York City today in 1958.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1953—NA Launches Recovery Program
Narcotics Anonymous, a twelve-step program of drug addiction recovery modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, holds its first meeting in Los Angeles, California.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
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