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.
Nothing's harder to rewrite than a lie.
This simple but effective poster was made to promote the simple but effective film noir Night Editor, starring William Gargan, Janis Carter, and Jeff Donnell. A group of grizzled reporters arrayed around a poker game reminisce over past scoops, with one of the group eventually telling the story of Tony Cochrane, a cop who got himself in too deep with a dame. A dissolve to the past takes viewers to the cop's world, and the narrative is broken up by occasional returns to the smoky poker game, where the storyteller punctuates his tale with a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking.
The story is that Cochrane the cop, who was cheating on his wife with a beautiful society woman, was parked one night at a secluded beach when he and his lover witnessed a murder. But fearing exposure of their affair, he neither stops the killing, nor pursues the killer, and later actively tampers with evidence to hide his own presence at the murder scene. You know this is going nowhere good, but just how complicated the mess becomes is where the fun lies. Low budget, but reasonably entertaining, Night Editor premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.
He'll learn any tune you want him to.
The above poster, with its sinister art, was made for the Japanese run of a 1970 French movie titled L'aveu, aka The Confession. It was directed by Costa-Gavras, who often delves into political themes, and here Yves Montand stars as a Czech communist party official named Anton who is one day followed, arrested without warrant, and thrown in jail without charge or access to legal counsel. He thinks it's a mistake but soon realizes party officials suspect him of treason and plan to extract a confession through whatever means are required. He's subjected to isolation, sleep deprivation, and rough treatment, all presented here unequivocally as torture. And indeed when the movie was made there was no doubt what it was. But these days, in the U.S., tens of millions of people and many government officials say it isn't torture—or worse, say it is torture and should be used more. For that reason the film, in the fullness of time, now offers a double lesson—its intended one about a Soviet empire that collapsed, and an unintended one about an American empire making the same mistakes. In L'aveu the state tries to forcibly program Anton; in the U.S. millions have been programmed to accept torture simply because the state has told them to. For us, it was all pretty hard to watch, but it's a damned good movie. It premiered in Japan today in 1971.
Bogart counts down to zero hour.
This striking Roger Soubie promo poster for La maison des otages, aka The Desperate Hours, doesn't leave much doubt about what happens to Humphrey Bogart, but even without the poster there wouldn't be any doubt. Bogart stars, in his last villain role, as an ex-con who takes a family hostage in order to use their home as a hideout. During the Leave It To Beaver 1950s there was no way his character was going to go unpunished for pointing a gun at a kid. Even seeing it in the promo image below makes you cringe a little, doesn't it? But the inevitable consequences of Bogart's actions aren't the point—how he struggles to maintain the constantly evolving hostage scenario is what generates the drama, and the imprisoned family aren't his only problem. La maison des otages is a later noir, but a better one. It opened in France today in 1956.
Been through the desert on a horse with no name.
It isn't the horse that has no name in the spaghetti western Ciakmull—L'uomo della vendetta, but the man. Probably that's true in the song too, though we've never given it serious thought. In any case, above you see a beautiful Rodolfo Gasparri promotional poster for the movie, which premiered in Italy today in 1970. The title means “Ciakmull—Man of Revenge,” but it was changed to The Unholy Four for the movie's English language release.
And what's unholy about the four characters referenced by the title? They're all lunatics to one degree or another, freed from a mental asylum when it was burned down by robbers as a diversion during a gold heist. The four nutjobs band together and what follows is formless Cormac McCarthyesque wandering until Ciakmull, who's amnesiac hence nameless, collides with his former life.
He learns he's actually Chuck Mool, a real bad hombre, and he has some scores to settle. You're thinking, Mool? Like from the Reno Mools? The Abilene Mools? What the hell kind of last name is that? Well, it isn't his last name. But he has one of those, and when it's revealed everything finally becomes clear. Or at least it's clear only if he's been told the truth. But what if somebody has lied to him about his identity? Well then all bets are off.
On the whole Ciakmull—L'uomo della vendetta is a pretty good spaghetti western, but maybe not a good movie. That's okay, though. Spaghetti westerns aren't supposed to be good. If they were, they'd have called them strangozzi al tartufo nero westerns. The movie slots into the genre perfectly—which is to say it's filled with gunplay, dust, horses, hard sun, five o'clock shadows, and lots of steely eyed glares. Give it a watch with cheesiness foremost in your mind and you may like it.
Does anyone here know my name? I'm hoping it's something insanely cool, like Beardy McMustache.
Ciakmull? That's horrendous. My hair is way too good for me to have a name like that.
I ain't fuckin' around here, buddy. Stop calling me that.
Wait. What? You're my sister? Holy shitballs, girl—you fine!
I know you haven't touched a woman in years, so I'm just gonna rub up on you a little. There. Isn't that nice?
This amnesia thing has its advantages, because I feel totally fine about what's happening in my Wranglers right now.
Did you see that? That was not a brother-sister type greeting. You saw that, right?
Yeah, we all saw it. Hey, Ciakmull? Buddy? Those chaps ain't doing a good job hiding that pup tent you got going.
Operating at a whole new delinquency.
Above are two posters for Zubeko banchô: hamagure kazoe uta, aka Delinquent Girl Boss: Ballad of Yokohama Hoods, third in the Delinquent Girl Boss series, with Reiko Oshida reprising her role as the ass kicking Rika Kageyama. We managed to track down a copy of this and took a gander. It's similar to other entries, with Oshida going from the frying pan to the fire—or more literally, from reform school to the mean streets, as shortly after arriving in Yokohama she gets tangled up in girl biker and organized crime weirdness. She proves her mettle to the girls, then sets about causing trouble for the boys. All this is wrapped around a subplot involving a deserter from the U.S. army.
One distinguishing aspect of Yokohama Hoods is that sex and nudity are de-emphasized throughout the proceedings, and we think this actually helps the movie. We're still grappling with the often challenging role of sexual violence in pinku films, trying but not always managing to understand it in its cultural context, so Yokohama Hoods was refreshing for its lack. Other aspects are exactly as you'd anticipate—i.e. a climactic confrontation between the tough good girls and the superbad boys. Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi goes all out, staging a waterfront fracas featuring speeding motorcycles, blazing machine guns, flashing swords, and more. If everyone actually aimed their guns rather than thrusting them wildly at their targets the fight might have ended sooner, but in any case Yokohama will never be the same. Zubeko banchô: hamagure kazoe uta premiered in Japan today in 1971.
Nothing is harder to wipe off than otherness.
If you're in the mood for a movie built around a martyr complex Tarnished is just the ticket. In this one a man from a shunned smalltown family returns to his home after seven years to find everyone has heard he's been in prison. He's mistreated by nearly every resident in this backwater burg, but the thing is, he was never in prison. He was actually in the marines, was wounded on Tarawa, and spent a long period in a military hospital. But he won't tell anyone this. Even though all sorts of trouble results, not only for him, but for anyone who dares to treat him kindly, he still maintains silence about his past. Was this character wounded in the brain? No—he's just infected by a 1950s morality that existed mainly in the movies.
American morals changed due to the human slaughterhouse of World One I, the degradation of the Great Depression, and a return to the slaughterhouse during World War II. These shocks weakened previous social strictures. For example, by 1950 most women were having sex before marriage, though less so in small towns. That's why Tarnished is such an interesting film. People watching in New York City or Chicago in 1950 were probably almost as annoyed by these Podunkville values as viewers are today. And that's really the point. The movie creates a retrograde, antagonistic community, adds to this a protagonist stained by otherness but who has true integrity, and pits town against hero to show how self-destructive small-mindedness can be.
If there's a serious flaw in Tarnished, it's is that the internal logic falters somewhat when the protagonist actually does, in fact, admit that he was in the marines to one of his antagonists by way of explaining why he's about to commit a heroic act. If he'd left the man with no explanation for the subsequent heroism, the movie's point would have been even sharper. The screenplay was adapted from a novel by a twenty-five year old author named Eleanor Mayo, and we have a suspicion she had more interesting things to say in her narrative. Maybe we'll try to track it down. Tarnished, with Arthur Franz as the strong but silent hero and Dorothy Patrick as his love interest, premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.
When they say love hurts they aren't kidding.
This wintry poster for Hakkinbon bijin ranbu yori: semeru!, aka Beauty's Exotic Dance: Torture! shows star Junko Miyashita looking miserable and cold. Which actually happens in the movie. It tells the story of an artist who engages a prostitute to satiate his need for sadistic sex, which he uses to fuel his art. The prostitute, Miyashita, is a consensual partner in all this, wanting to please the artist and out-do his dearly departed wife. You gets lots of drawn out sadism involving rope bondage, asphyxiation, ice baths, scaldings with candle wax, and more. And if that isn't dark and weird enough already, matters take a really nasty turn when Miyashita turns out to have inherited something unusual from her mother. If you watch the movie, don't say we didn't warn you. Hakkinbon bijin ranbu yori: semeru! premiered in Japan today in 1977.
Your high school was never like this.
Let's double up on the sexploitation today. The Schulmädchen-Report, or Schoolgirl Report series tries to pass itself off as an educational exploration of different aspects of youthful sexuality, but really it's about as informative as an abstinence class, except much more likely to turn you celibate. The third entry, Schulmädchen-Report 3. Teil—Was Eltern nicht mal ahnen, aka Schoolgirls Growing Up, aka Schoolgirl Report Part 3: What Parents Find Unthinkable, is racy stuff, far beyond the pale for casual filmgoers, some of it undoubtedly illegal to film today. To get an idea, consider that the U.S. version of this is twenty minutes shorter than the uncut international version. And yet, it isn't a porno film. There's no actual sex—just relentless stretching of the deviancy envelope, for example a chapter dealing with incest, and another dealing with the sexual urges of two underage kids. So really, the cut version is better because it doesn't make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Trimmed, you get a film that's harmless, if occasionally tasteless, but fun in parts. We can't go so far as to recommend it, but doubtless some will like it—the series had twelve iterations, after all, which tells you that it did have redeeming qualities. We, however, shall take a pass on the rest of these. Schulmädchen-Report 3. Teil premiered in West Germany today in 1972.
The riddle is this: why didn't Lesley-Anne Down wear that outfit?
We'll admit we watched Lesley-Anne Down's 1981 thriller Sphinx just to see if she ever got into the gauzy number she's wearing in the promo photo above. We thought it unlikely, and we were right. She mostly wore what you see below—no spike heels with asp straps, sorry. But it wasn't the worst expenditure of time, finding this out. Sphinx feels like a television movie by today's standards, but the location shooting is excellent, and some interesting performers pop up—among them Sir John Gielgud and John Rhys-Davies, the latter of whom you may remember as Sallah from another Egyptian themed movie—Raiders of the Lost Ark, which hit cinemas four months after Sphinx. Like Raiders, in Sphinx you get an antiquarian on the trail of a lost tomb while baffled by arcane clues and beset by duplicitous locals. We don't think a single Egyptian had a noteworthy role here, but at least a few of the cultural details are accurate (though perhaps not the most flattering ones). Are we recommending this one? Not without Down wearing that outfit we aren't, but the movie isn't as bad as many would have you believe. It premiered today in 1981, and the awesome poster was painted by Bob Peak.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1914—RMS Empress Sinks
Canadian Pacific Steamships' 570 foot ocean liner Empress of Ireland is struck amidships by a Norwegian coal freighter and sinks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the loss of 1,024 lives. Submerged in 130 feet of water, the ship is so easily accessible to treasure hunters who removed valuables and bodies from the wreck that the Canadian government finally passes a law in 1998 restricting access.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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