Pam Grier was the undisputed ruler of the blaxploitation realm.
The arc of Pam Grier's blaxploitation career is interesting. To us it seems pretty clear that once her studio American International realized they had a true star on their hands the projects they cultivated for her moved toward the cinematic center and became tame and uninspiring. We noted this when we talked about 1975's Friday Foster a while back. Sheba Baby, which was made the same year and premiered in the U.S. today, suffers from the same problem. It's too cute and too palatable, too eager to please in its attempt to draw in mainstream audiences. Grier loses her grit. She plays Sheba Shayne, whose father is harassed by organized crime hoods and needs help to fight their plot to take over his business. Grier leaves her Chicago detective agency and heads down south to Louisville, Kentucky to kick ass and take names. The hoods are black men from around the way, but the real villain is a white guy on a yacht in the river. He's archetypal. He could just as well be a white guy in a mansion on a hill, or in a penthouse uptown. Whoever and wherever he is, he's going down hard and it's going to hurt.
The importance of blaxploitation is that it centered stories on the black experience—family, neighborhood, crime, racism, and the predations of America's two-tiered policing and court systems. This focus on core black issues existed even in films that represented alternate realities, such as horror and martial arts blaxploitation. The eventual sanitization of the genre was due to pressure from two directions at once: from the mainstream to avoid alienating white audiences, and from the black counterculture to avoid caricatured portrayals of blacks. Caught between these two forces, the center of blaxploitation shifted. Meanwhile, inside the subculture, initial euphoria at seeing black stories onscreen evolved into annoyance that the control and profits belonged almost exclusively to white men. It seemed like a plantation system on celluloid, and helped take the bloom off the rose. 1976 and 1977 would remain strong years for the genre, but by 1978 blaxploitation, as it was generally agreed to exist, would all but disappear. Sheba Baby is an important film in the pantheon, but in watching it you also see the genre losing its bite.
The best laid plans of singers and musicians often go awry.
This is an unusually nice promo poster we think. It was made for the Susan Hayward vehicle Smash-Up, sometimes referred to as Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman. It premiered this month in 1947 and involves nightclub chanteuse Hayward and her crooner husband, played by Lee Bowman. Hayward has talent but values love over career; her husband has less talent but endless ambition. When their careers go in different directions the strain begins to tear the marriage apart. Whose career goes which direction? We won't tell you that, though the audience learns in the first scene, a framing device featuring the downfallen character bandaged and delirious in a hospital bed. Even though the story's ending is sacrificed for an intro Smash-Up is a pretty good if melodramatic movie, with some strong film noir elements, Hayward in an Oscar nominated performance, and solid support from Eddie Albert as Bowman's composer partner. Worth a look—as long as you can deal with all the crooning.
Big trouble in little China.
After running across a poster this pretty we simply had to watch The Terror of the Tongs. Of course, the quality of an old Hollywood movie set in Asia is inversely proportional to the number of times you hear a gong. In The Terror of the Tongs you hear quite a few. You know the drill. Someone says the bad guys' headquarters is in the old part of town—GONG!—cut to the villains in their lair. Usually such movies feature white cast members Asianized with make-up and putty eyelids, and this is also an inverse indicator of quality.
But on that score Tongs defies the rule. Most major cast members are white, but the movie, though inherently racist, is not a bad piece of entertainment. A paradox? Indeed, young one. But we mean to say that once you get over the minstrel aspects—if you ever do, and we don't suggest that you should—what you get here is a fun little tale of a white ship captain in the mysterious Orient dealing with forces he can barely comprehend. When he accidentally comes into possession of a valuable item it results in the murder of his airhead daughter and sends him on a mission to make the responsible tong—i.e. Hong Kong mafia—pay.
Geoffrey Toone plays the noble and aggrieved captain, while veteran Brit actor Christopher Lee stars as the evil tong honcho Chung King. The film is beautifully made, with big sets and florid colors that dazzle the eye, and it's less predictable than you'd expect. It's clear the filmmakers were deadly serious, which makes it funny that the final product is considered pure cheese today. If you can look past the yellow makeup and prosthetic eyelids you'll find some entertainment here. And if not, at the very least you'll be thankful how far we've all come. The Terror of the Tongs premiered today in 1961.
Getting into the place isn't the problem.
In Nikkatsu roman porno the question, as always, is exactly how the script will place the female lead under the control of men determined to use her. In Dan Oniroku kurokami nawa fujin, aka Black Hair Velvet Soul, it's alcoholism and debt. A gambling and philandering husband owes a pile to a slimy financier, so he puts up as collateral the restaurant he owns with his wife. Izumi Shima plays the wife. Because the place was founded by her father and succeeded because of his sweat and struggle, as she notes in a monologue, she sees no other choice but to agree to work off the debt in an S&M club run by the financier. She goes through the usual range of indignities, but in what has to be considered a bit of a twist, she at no point likes it, nor has some inner freak unleashed, nor somehow dies by ironic means. She does her bit, the restaurant is saved, and she leaves her shitty husband. Why watch the movie? Well, because Shima is a shimmering goddess and she's always worth watching. Sixty-six minutes including credits and you're done. Dan Oniroku kurokami nawa fujin premiered today in 1982.
Imperial battleship—suddenly give me godlike powers to win this war!
Whenever the subject of the worst movie ever made comes up you can count on everyone to have an opinion. When that discussion happens Starcrash is the film we mention. Generally people are skeptical. Everyone has their beloved favorites. Sometimes we'd have to prove our point, we'd end up renting this puppy to show to friends, and by the third reel any doubters were staring agape at the colossal implosion this movie is. It was a Star Wars knock-off, obviously, filmed in Italy and Switzerland with Marjoe Gortner and Caroline Munro in the leads, and written and directed by Luigi Cozzi working under the pseudonym Lewis Coates.
Whenever we watch this with friends the question always arises: did they mean it to be a good film? Yes. They did. But no. It isn't. Not even remotely close. And that's what makes Starcrash such a treasure. Not merely that it's terrible, but that the filmmakers wrapped the production feeling good about what they'd done. They thought they'd made an exciting, visually stunning, somewhat humorous smash hit. It's the sincerity of ambition that makes Starcrash, in our opinion, the best bad movie of all time. Worse (better) than Roadhouse, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and all the usual contenders. While Cozzi does an okay job directing, his script and budget sabotage him at the outset.
We'll give you an example (yes, it's a spoiler, but in a movie like this it doesn't matter). Near the finale, with no previous indication that such a power existed, Christopher Plummer, the emperor of the galaxy, bellows this command: “Imperial battleship—halt the flow of time!” You can't just suddenly go deus ex machina like that. It would make as much sense if Plummer shouted: “Imperial battleship—make my enemies' dicks fall off!” He explains in a smirky aside, "You know, my son, I wouldn't be Emperor of the Galaxy if I didn't have some powers at my disposal." That's amazing. And don't even get us started about how Cozzi forgot that space is a vacuum.
Get some friends over, get some booze flowing, get Starcrash rolling, and see if watching Gortner and Munro ham it up across a Christmas lighted galaxy isn't one of the best movie nights you've ever had. One thing that isn't terrible about it, at least, is the U.S. promo art by John Solie you see above and below. The international posters are nice too, though we don't know if they were painted by Solie. We'll show you those later. In meantime you can see another beautiful Solie effort here. Since Starcrash was Italian made it premiered in Italy and West Germany before reaching the U.S. today in 1979.
This is not a light saber.
This is not like Princess Leia's hologram.
He in no way resembles Darth Vader.
But to be fair, motifs in sci-fi repeat. In a universe of ideas, writers for some reason tend to think of the same stuff. Below are aspects of Starcrash that—suspiciously?—recurred in 1980's The Empire Strikes Back.
Han Solo's deep freeze in carbonite in no way resembles this.
Princess Leia's slave costume is not similar to this at all.
The ice planet Hoth is near here, but is a totally different planet.
And below are more production photos from the film. If these don't make you want to watch it, well, you probably don't have a pulse. Or possibly you just have good taste and think life's too short to watch terrible films. Either way.
________ murdered me, that shithead. Apprehend and imprison. Hopefully for life. And I prefer cremation over burial.
Above is a blood splattered poster for Dario Argento's giallo thriller Profondo rosso, aka Deep Red, which is the story of a British musician in Italy who sees the murder of his neighbor, thus catching a glimpse of the killer. David Hemmings of Blow Up fame stars, and the maniac comes for him next when police for some reason announce to the world that they have a witness. In order to avoid becoming a crime statistic Hemmings needs to unmask the killer. Daria Nicolodi plays the cute-but-not-hot Girl Friday reporter who helps out between trying to get the disinterested Hemmings in bed.
Argento directs Profondo rosso with great style and deliberation, drawing viewers into various set-ups with a roving, nervous camera. This came two years before his tour de force Suspiria, but he's already in full mastery of the extensive giallo toolbox. As usual in the genre, realism is of minor importance, such as when a dying woman wants to write her killer's identity using her finger on bathroom tile and starts with the words, “It was...” Here's a lifehack for you. When mortally wounded write the crucial info like Yoda would: “________, it was.” Afterward, if you have time, you can add any other material you consider important.
Despite the movie's quirks Argento manages to make a winner, at one point even recreating Edward Hopper's famous Nighthawks painting just for the sheer visual fun of it. Hemmings is a big plus too, sleuthing and channeling his inner jazz hepcat. Often in giallo overly convoluted clues make the identity of the killer impossible to guess. In this case the villain is revealed almost immediately—but only for those with sharp eyes. Others will have to wait for the usual climactic unveiling. Then rewind and watch the first murder again. Argento is a sneaky devil. Profondo rosso premiered in Italy today in 1975. See a truly brilliant poster for the film here.
When you gamble with her you're gambling with your life.
Hibotan bakuto: oryû sanjô, which in English was called Red Peony Gambler: Oryu's Return, is the sixth of eight films in the Red Peony Gambler series. Uploading its special round promo poster in one piece makes it kind of small, so we've also broken it into two pieces so you can pull them off the page and paste them together if you're inclined. It's an incredibly rare piece, so credit would be appreciated. The movie premiered today in 1970, and stars Junko Fuji, a prolific actress who made more than ninety films during a busy run between 1963 and 1972, and another dozen or so after that.
The plot here involves a greedy yakuza cartel and the downtrodden farmers who oppose the imposition of a new tax. The farmers are basically planning to strike in protest, which angers the yakuza because they stand to loose profits with the yearly village festival approaching. Drastic measures seem to be the only solution, but Junko stands in the way with guile, guts, gambling skill, and gunplay. And as a fallback position she's good with fists and sword. Hibotan bakuto: oryû sanjô isn't quite top tier pinky violence, but it's beautifully shot, the blood flies high and far, and ultimately the film is a winner.
Seven ways to die in Rome.
We mentioned a while back we were taking a closer look at vintage giallo flicks, and today you see a Renato Casaro poster for Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso, aka Seven Blood-Stained Orchids. During a train trip a serial killer who's been dispatching women in various diabolical ways tries to make a victim of Uschi Glas. Uschi's man Antonio Sabato is the police's number one suspect, and the only way he can disprove their suspicions is by finding the killer. Uschi plays sidekick for him, which is good, because he looks terribly confused most of the time. This falsely-accused-must-find-real-killer gimmick had already reached perennial status when Antonio arrived on the scene, so you'd hope for a fresh take on it—and be disappointed. This isn't a bad movie, but it's undistinguished, a giallo without the high style of the best entries in the genre. Umberto Lenzi, who had directed numerous films but was making his first giallo here, would do a bit better later. Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso premiered in Italy today in 1972.
It's a self portrait. I don't know why I painted myself bloody and mutilated. Just a weird inspiration.
These are my new strangling gloves. 100% lambskin. Nice, right?
My last victim didn't like gloves so this time I'm going bareback!
Not cutting him down.
Wait, what? That's not fair. I didn't even see him until just now.
This mystery is probably far less complicated than we think.
Annie Belle streaks across Hong Kong and stardom follows.
Above you seen an Aller, aka Carlo Alessandrini, poster for La fine dell'innocenza, which premiered in Italy today in 1976 and was titled in English Annie, after the lead character Annie Belle. The star of the film had acted under her real name Annie Brilland up to this point, but adopted Annie Belle as her stage name for this film and the rest of her career. Yes, technically she acted as Annie Belle in an earlier movie—Laure, which came out about a week before Annie, but we strongly suspect that made-in-Manila sex romp was shot later and simply went through post production more quickly. Another small movie from 1975 is credited to Belle, but we're sure that was done much later. Annie is the film that made her Belle.
It's a coming of age story in which Belle proves to be too independent for all those—male and female—who wish to possess her. She begins the film under the wing of her incest-minded father, travels with him to Hong Kong, where he's arrested for money laundering, forcing her to fend for herself. From there she makes the inevitable sexual splash in upper crust expat circles around the island. And who can fault them for their interest? In real life Belle is a tiny, tomboyish figure, certainly no more than 5' 2”, but onscreen she comes across as even lusher than the Hong Kong hills. There's no disputing it: the camera loves her. She's one of the most striking stars of any era of cinema.
La fine dell'innocenza is remembered for its extended sequence depicting Belle's escape from a brothel. She pulls it off—no body double—by sprinting starkers through the Hong Kong streets, leaping onto the back of a motorcycle driven by an associate, careening through traffic as she wantonly flouts local helmet laws, leaping off the bike and running again, now chased by cops, to a public fountain, where she's finally apprehended. The scene is worth rewinding just to see all the locals gawking from the backgrounds of the shots. They must have thought, watching this platinum blonde boy-woman with the jet back muff running through their city—what the hell do these foreigners smoke?
They say the truth sets you free, but a Jaguar roadster helps quite a bit too.
A great title cannot go unborrowed forever. The Fast and the Furious would be a good name for a film noir, a war movie, or even a romantic melodrama (young and restless, anyone?). So it was a good fit for the action franchise starring Vin Diesel. But it was first used for a little crime drama released today in 1955 starring John Ireland and Dorothy Malone. In the film, Ireland, who's been framed for murder, breaks out of jail, takes Malone hostage in her convertible Jaguar XK 120 roadster, and enters a cross-border road race hoping to get into Mexico. That's a killer concept for an action movie, but this is American International Pictures, which means it's done low budget, with lots of projection efx and stock footage in the action scenes, and minimal work on the script. But while the movie isn't great, it's certainly suitable as a Saturday night popcorn muncher. Invite witty friends, enjoy the cars, laugh at the repartee, and marvel over Dorothy Malone.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1930—Amy Johnson Flies from England to Australia
English aviatrix Amy Johnson lands in Darwin, Northern Territory, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia. She had departed from Croydon on May 5 and flown 11,000 miles to complete the feat. Her storied career ends in January 1941 when, while flying a secret mission for Britain, she either bails out into the Thames estuary and drowns, or is mistakenly shot down by British fighter planes. The facts of her death remain clouded today.
1934—Bonnie and Clyde Are Shot To Death
Outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who traveled the central United States during the Great Depression robbing banks, stores and gas stations, are ambushed and shot to death in Louisiana by a posse of six law officers. Officially, the autopsy report lists seventeen separate entrance wounds on Barrow and twenty-six on Parker, including several head shots on each. So numerous are the bullet holes that an undertaker claims to have difficulty embalming the bodies because they won't hold the embalming fluid.
1942—Ted Williams Enlists
Baseball player Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox enlists in the United States Marine Corps, where he undergoes flight training and eventually serves as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida. The years he lost to World War II (and later another year to the Korean War) considerably diminished his career baseball statistics, but even so, he is indisputably one of greatest players in the history of the sport.
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