First you scheme, then you lie, then you seduce.
Usually it was Japanese distributors that made amazing new versions of Western posters, but today it's happened in reverse. L'amaro giardino di Lesbo was originally made in Japan and called Utsukushisa to kanashimi to, which translates as “with beauty and sorrow.” It was based on a 1964 novel by Nobel-winning author Yasunari Kawabata, and stars Kaoru Yachigusa, So Yamamura, and the beautiful Mariko Kaga, whose likeness fronts the promo art. We watched it and the story is basically that two lovers lose their baby via miscarriage and split up because of it. The man, whose name is Toshio, gets over it and moves on with life, but his ex, Otoko, is deeply traumatized.
Years later the two meet again. Toshio is married and has a son. Otoko has a female partner named Keiko, and when Keiko meets the man who is intimately connected to her lover's tragedy, she decides to seduce him, have his baby, and give it to Otoko. Yeah. Pretty out there, but Japanese filmmakers specialize in these kinds of crazy ruminations. Does Keiko succeed in her plan? Well, male resistance is never high, but when a woman says things like, “Don't touch my right breast because that one's not for you,” even the horniest man will get weirded out. We won't tell you more, except that the movie is decently made and effective. It premiered in Japan in 1965 and reached Italy today in 1969.
The Florida heat cooks up trouble in Lawrence Kasdan's masterful neo-noir.
Kill your husband for you? Sure, I can make that happen, I guess. Spousal murder is a film noir and pulp fiction plot tentpole, and the motivation for trying something so risky generally revolves around sex. But during the time the film noir and pulp fiction genres were extant their makers could only imply it. The neo-noir thriller Body Heat, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1981, fixed that problem, as not-so-bright lawyer Ned Racine, played by William Hurt, is seduced into a murder plot by whip smart bombshell Matty Walker, played by Kathleen Turner in her cinematic debut.
Body Heat is an apt title. The setting is South Florida during a heat wave, with most of the action set in the mythical towns of Pinehaven and Miranda Beach. Every frame of the movie seems to vent steam. There's copious slippery sex and nudity, all of it important to the plot. When the pair have their electric first encounter Hurt pulls off Turner's panties with an expression of pure awe on his face and intones, “So wet.” For just that moment he wonders if it's really him turning on a woman that much. And he's right to wonder, because it isn't him. What's turning her on is money.
Directed and written by Lawrence Kasdan, the film is a reworking of Double Indemnity, but it improves on the original in the sense that we fully understand the visceral reasons why murder has occurred. That moisture between Turner's legs causes an electrical short in Hurt's brain. After subsequent sexual encounters, including an anal session that's implied but clear as day thanks to some clever visuals, he's hooked like a bluegill. For a guy just smart enough to get a law degree, but not bright enough to avoid being known as his town's worst lawyer, bedding Turner makes him feel godlike. Surely he can pull off murder and make it look like an accident.
Body Heat made Turner, Hurt, and Kasdan superstars, and did the same for a few of its below-the-line players. Turner went on to become one of the pre-eminent actresses of her generation; Hurt, who had starred in the brilliant but under appreciated Altered States, became one of Hollywood's top leading men; and Kasdan directed Silverado, The Big Chill, and other hits. Co-star Ted Danson also blew up, and Mickey Rourke parlayed a blazing supporting bit into a career as Hollywood's go-to rebel creep. You know any film that ignites five such careers is top notch, but as a post-noir entry Body Heat is also cinematically important. Not only did it finally lay bare the motivation behind all those noir murders and obsessions, but it did so with a reverent visual style and pitch perfect mood. We can't recommend it strongly enough.
Wu Tang Clan ain't nothin' to fuck with!
The Hong Kong actioner Shao Lin da peng da shi, aka Return to the 36th Chamber, is part of a trilogy of films that inspired the legendary U.S rappers Wu Tang Clan, and as such is as famous for its musical influence as its place in cinematic history. Wu Tang must be the only hip hop group—probably the only music group of any genre—whose entire schtick revolves around Hong Kong chopsocky. But forget the music. We're about cinema today, though to reiterate—Wu Tang Clan ain't nothin' to fuck with!
In Return to the 36th Chamber a group of fabric workers scam their evil bosses into backtracking on a pay cut by having a Shaolin monk with invincible kung fu take up their cause. Problem is the monk is just a regular Joe named Chao Jen-Cheh and he knows no martial arts. When the ruse is exposed, Chao is humiliated and roughed up. But at that point he goes to the shaolin temple where he learns real kung fu. Well, sort of. He learns how to build bamboo scaffolding, but in true zen form he realizes the skills are transferrable. He returns to the place of his humiliation armed with his bamboo-fu, and this time he aims to make the bad guys pay.
Basically, the movie follows the predictable Hong Kong martial arts formula of early defeat of the good guy, followed by rigorous training with a tough-but-inscrutable master, capped by redemptive kicking of evil guy asses. But even with its standard plot—not to mention bad make-up, silly wigs, rough prosthetics, and cookie cutter plot—the movie is still fun. The fight scenes are of course amazing and the comedic elements are lowbrow but effective. Too bad guys like Chao Jen-Cheh don't exist in real life. There are a lot of workers that could use an ass kicker like him these days. Shao Lin da peng da shi premiered in Hong Kong today in 1980.
Truth, justice, and the Nikkatsu way.
This is a pretty cheerful poster, isn't it? But it belies the true nature of Sûpâ gun redei Wani Bunsho, aka Super Gun Lady: Police Branch 82. Emi Yokoyama plays Mika, an unconventional cop who can't play by the rules and is always in trouble with her boss. After her latest screw-up she's assigned a partner in the person of Kaoru Janbo, and the two are soon up to their necks in an interconnected series of problems involving blackmail, heroin, and a degenerate band of bank robbers. As in many buddy movies, the partners dislike each other at first, but as women on the police force they soon find common ground. Which is good because when Mika is kidnapped only her partner can possibly save her.
So about that kidnapping. Up to that point Sûpâ gun plays like a standard cop drama, but this is a Nikkatsu Studios production, and as we've discussed before the company's plotlines were, during this time at least, mere wrappers for bondage and sadism. Thus the kidnapping doesn't go so well for Mika. Not that any kidnapping goes well for its victims, but this one goes worse. Nikkatsu actually had a pretty good police thriller on its hands here but we guess you can't expect the company to deny its own nature, nor the expectations of its audience. You've been duly warned. Sûpâ gun redei Wani Bunsho premiered in Japan today in 1979
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.
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.
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.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1959—Max Baer Dies
Former heavyweight boxing champ Max Baer dies of a heart attack in Hollywood, California. Baer had a turbulent career. He lost to Joe Louis in 1935, but two years earlier, in his prime, he defeated German champ and Nazi hero Max Schmeling while wearing a Star of David on his trunks. The victory was his legacy, making him a symbol to Jews, and also to all who hated Nazis.
1945—Nuremberg Trials Begin
In Nuremberg, Germany, in the Palace of Justice, the trials of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany begin. Among the men tried were Martin Bormann (in absentia), Hermann Göring, Rudolph Hess, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner.
1984—SETI Institute Founded
The SETI Institute, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, the discovery of extrasolar planets, and the habitability of the galaxy, is founded in California by Thomas Pierson and Dr. Jill Tarter.
1916—Goldwyn Pictures Formed
In the U.S.A., Samuel Goldfish and Edgar Selwyn establish Goldwyn Pictures, which becomes one of the most successful independent film studios in Hollywood. Goldfish also takes the opportunity to legally change his last name to Goldwyn.
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