Vintage Pulp Jun 14 2022
MR. BIG STICK
Shaft comes out swinging in the third entry in his revered blaxploitation franchise.


This poster of Richard Roundtree brandishing a massive shillelagh or whatever was made for the third film in his iconic Shaft trilogy, Shaft in Africa, which was released today in 1973. Film series often try to go bigger with each entry, so it's no surprise that this one went clear to Africa during the height of the blaxploitation wave. Looking at the poster, we wonder if the stick gimmick influenced the next year's Black Samson, in which Rockne Tarkington carried a shillelagh of his own. Cinema being generally referential, we're guessing yes. But the similarities between the movies ends there. Black Samson was exclusively concerned with urban Los Angeles, while Shaft in Africa spans three continents and touches on some unusual subject matter.

The story revolves around New York City private dick John Shaft being asked to bring down a modern slavery ring. We should note, for any who don't know, that this evil thrives in 2022. In modern slavery, people desperate for work are offered foreign jobs that turn out to be brutal and pay so little—or nothing—that its victims are trapped. They can neither escape nor go to the police, because they soon learn that their work papers are fraudulent, and are told by their enslavers that the police will imprison them for illegal immigration. Operations of this sort have been broken up in recent years in New York, Georgia, and Texas, where a sex slavery ring was uncovered in Dallas. Elsewhere, slavery rings have been busted in the British Midlands, Australia, and perhaps most notably in Dubai, where Amnesty International says forced labor was used to prepare Qatar for the upcoming World Cup.

Shaft is tasked with traveling to Ethiopia, where he will pose as a local and allow himself to be recruited by slavers so he can gather evidence for French authorities, who have learned that the victims end up in Paris. Unfortunately, Shaft quickly realizes his cover has been blown and that he can't trust anyone. In a classic American cinema example of vigilantism becoming the last best option, he decides that rather than gather evidence against the slavers it'd be better if he went human tornado on the whole stinking lot of them. He becomes, in essence, the classic cop out of control, leaving chaos in his wake as his erstwhile handlers survey the damage and occasionally go sacre bleu!

In an interesting subplot, Vonetta McGee plays Aleme, tasked with teaching Shaft local ways and a bit of language. Shaft is dismayed to learn that she's on the cusp of receiving her clitoridectomy, a coming-of-age ritual generally referred to these days as female genital mutilation. Shaft: “Listen, baby, how in the hell are you gonna know what you're missing unless you give it a little wear and tear before they take it away?” It's glib, but there's a serious undertone—probably not enough for anyone horrified by the practice, but you really can't expect more for the time period. It's actually amazing it was mentioned at all. Because this is a Shaft movie, Aleme has a hands-on experience with the hero's big brown stick and decides she better hang onto her clitoris after all.

What can you say about a movie that features Roundtree reprising his immensely popular and groundbreaking private eye, and that deals with two hot-button social issues decades before they were on the minds of the Western public? The budget is big, the pace is fast, and the international setting in and around Addis Ababa, with some scenes shot in Massawa, Eritrea, and a climax staged in Paris, offers plenty of appeal. In addition, there's McGee, a very beautiful actress who in this outing looks even better than usual, while Serbian actress Neda Arnerić plays a ridiculously horny femme fatale who'll do anything to get Shaft in the sack. Action, commentary, sex, and a bit of humor—those are excellent ingredients, but even with all that and the virtual kitchen sink thrown in we don't think Shaft in Africa is as good as the original. But that's no surprise. There's really nothing like the first time.
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Intl. Notebook Feb 2 2016
BOATING WITH BENITO
Mussolini’s watergoing love nest pops up in criminal proceeding.


You’ve won a colonial war of choice by shattering a non-violent Ethiopia as world powers such as Britain and France stood by and watched. You’ve rammed through privatizations, laws favoring the wealthy, and made unions virtually illegal. And you’ve got an ultra-nationalist, militarized police force to help you crush social unrest. What does a satisfied dictator do to unwind? Clearly, he takes his yacht out for a spin on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Italian strongman Benito Mussolini used that yacht—the Fiamma Nera or “Black Fire”—for aquatic romps with his hot mistress Clara Petacci, but scuttled the boat in 1943 after Italy’s World War II fortunes turned for the worse. The boat was raised and had several owners over the decades, but is in the news today because it was part of 28 million worth of assets seized from alleged organized crime figure Salvatore Squillante. 

Squillante was thought to be just another high flying one-percenter until his dealings with a Rome-based mafia network run by neo-fascists emerged as part of a legal investigation. He already had been convicted of filing a fraudulent bankruptcy in 1993, and the new information suggests he may be tied to systematic corruption in Rome involving politicians and businessmen who teamed with mobsters to scrape profits off the top of public contracts. Squillante is also connected via property dealings to convicted murderer Salvatore Buzzi, who as part of the aforementioned investigation was caught on tape telling criminal associates that schemes taking advantage of desperate Middle Eastern and African migrants were more profitable than the drug trade. The implications of that statement are truly frightening considering the drug trade is so profitable that some of the biggest banks in the world are connected to it.
 
But as interesting as Squillante and Buzzi are (who, by the way, have a long way to go before they hold a candle to slippery Silvio Berlusconi, whose antics we detailed here, here, and here), it’s the bit about Mussolini’s love boat that’s most fascinating. We suspect it was totemic for its various owners, who all certainly knew Il Duce was a sex maniac who trysted with hundreds or thousands of women—at sea and land—during his time in power. Fiamma Nera is destined to increase even more in value now that people outside Italy are aware of its existence. Will we be subjected to the spectacle of some hedge fund manager buying it for a fortune? Some software princeling or fat oligarch? After all, it's been bought numerous times before. But by virtue of its seizure it's now owned by the state for perhaps the first time, which means there's an alternativeto selling it—make it a floating monument dedicated to the crimes and hubris of Il Duce and the evil of fascism. Or destroy the thing completely and eternally.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
December 02
1954—Joseph McCarthy Disciplined by Senate
In the United States, after standing idly by during years of communist witch hunts in Hollywood and beyond, the U.S. Senate votes 65 to 22 to condemn Joseph McCarthy for conduct bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. The vote ruined McCarthy's career.
December 01
1955—Rosa Parks Sparks Bus Boycott
In the U.S., in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city's African-American population were the bulk of the system's ridership.
November 30
1936—Crystal Palace Gutted by Fire
In London, the landmark structure Crystal Palace, a 900,000 square foot glass and steel exhibition hall erected in 1851, is destroyed by fire. The Palace had been moved once and fallen into disrepair, and at the time of the fire was not in use. Two water towers survived the blaze, but these were later demolished, leaving no remnants of the original structure.
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