Vintage Pulp Jul 2 2022
PASS THE BUCKTOWN
Anyone hoping for a relaxing weekend should probably choose a different place.


We've featured several blaxploitation posters by George Akimoto, so you could be forgiven for thinking the above effort was also painted by him, especially because it's in a similar photo-realistic style, but it's actually the art of Robert C. Kinyon, a new name to our website. He painted it for the Fred Williamson actioner Bucktown, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1975. We've uploaded close-ups below so you can see some of the nice elements Kinyon included, especially the urban street scene with its overlapping, multi-colored neon lights. We'll be keeping a watch for more art from him.

Obviously we watched this movie, and plotwise Williamson arrives in the eponymous Bucktown to bury his brother, who died of pneumonia. Included in his estate is the local nightspot Club Alabam. Williamson wants to sell it and get out of town, until he discovers his brother died of pneumonia alright—after being beaten and left in the freezing rain for refusing to pay off the local cops. Turns out Bucktown is crooked from the top of the police department all the way down to the bottom of the county clerk's office. Only the mayor is clean, but he's helpless.

The Bucktown cartel tries to shake down Williamson for money owed by his brother, as well as for future nightclub profits, but he isn't the type to be intimidated, so he calls in some out-of-town help. A trainload of northern hustlers arrive and soon it's open warfare as Williamson's backup crew starts shooting down crooked lawmen. It's pretty clear, though, that he's going to have trouble with his helpers. That trouble is worse than he imagined. Once the local law is eliminated his pals take over the town and Williamson is basically back at square one. Lesson: power corrupts.

Pam Grier is in this, which is only half the reason we watched it. The other is Williamson, who we've come to regard as a great screen presence. Grier co-stars as a justice-minded local girl who quickly falls into bed with him. Her early roles usually allowed her to play it tough, but here she's a worried girlfriend—a part that doesn't fit her well or use her talents properly. Even so, she's still the lovely Miss Grier and she gets plenty of screen time. Also aboard is the reliable Thalmus Rasulala as head of the out-of-town invaders, and Carl Weathers as of one of his gunmen.

In the end you wind up with a movie the resides somewhere in the middle ranks of blaxploitation in terms of quality and entertainment value. It's low budget, and only passably acted, but it offers up a vision of smalltown corruption right out of Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest. In both cases the hero might have been better off heading down the road, but in both cases they're required to stick around and beget some brutal violence. Bucktown barely survives the onslaught, but it's just another day in the realm of blaxploitation.
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Vintage Pulp Feb 7 2022
CAESAR'S REIGN
You can build a kingdom with bullets but you might not rule it for long.


This poster for Black Caesar was painted by George Akimoto, who probably needs a bit more recognition for his movie promos, particularly those from the blaxploitation cycle. We've featured his work before, on this poster and this paperback cover, and they're worth a look. The star of Black Caesar is ex-NFL cornerback Fred Williamson, who decides to take over the Italian rackets in New York City. The story arc is pure Scarface. What results is a bloody gang war—well, more of a massacre, since the mob is so taken by surprise by Williamson's bullet-riddled offensive that they can't effectively fight back at first. But as you might expect, la cosa nostra get their shit together and rebound hellbent on Williamson's destruction.

Black Caesar is ambitious, a shift in tone from most blaxploitation efforts, which tend to have large portions of humor. The entire feel here is darker and more dramatic, with brutal interpersonal interactions and ear-melting racial discord. Even Gloria Hendry, whose physicality and beauty made her a popular choice for action-adventure roles throughout the seventies, mines some ugly emotional depths here. She has the bellwether role as the woman whose mistreatment by Williamson marks the moment when we know he's a bad guy. Not bad-but-good in the style of an anti-hero, but bad within the film's moral universe.

Black Caesar, in addition to its foreboding tone, offers pointed commentary about generational violence, entrenched police corruption, and the role of religion within black culture. This latter is embodied by D'Urville Martin's holy roller minister, who, when asked for practical help in a life-threatening situtation, resorts to prayer—of no immediate use whatsoever when someone is gutshot. We don't know how the movie was received when released, but it certainly must have ruffled a few feathers. But then most blaxploitation movies did. Within the genre we think the uncompromising Black Caesar is a must-see. Plus it has a killer James Brown soundtrack. It premiered today in 1973.
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Vintage Pulp Dec 21 2021
HELL RIDE
The best defense is a good offense.


Above: the original promo art for Hell Up in Harlem, a blaxploitation classic starring former NFL defensive back Fred Williamson, along with Gloria Hendry and others. This masterpiece was painted by Robert Tannenbaum, a promo art icon whose website you can check out here. You can read about the movie here. Hell Up in Harlem opened in New York City today in 1973.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 4 2019
IN THE MEAN TIME
Ex-footballer Fred Williamson finds hits in cinema a bit more elusive than hits on a gridiron.


Above is a poster for the blaxploitation movie Mr. Mean, which hit cinemas this month in 1977. First, the title. Mr. Mean. We don't like it. It doesn't project the dignity of Mr. Majestyk, the approachable earthiness of Mr. Ed, the dystopian oppressiveness of Mr. Robot, the humor of Mr. Bean, the cultural examination of Mr. Baseball, the weirdness of Mr. Meaty, the paternalism of Mr. Skeffington, the righteousness of They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!, and, most importantly, the melodic promise of the forgotten ’80s pop band Mr. Mister. In short, Mr. Mean just sounds like a movie about a guy nobody wants to know.

It was written, produced, and directed by ex-NFL bonecrusher Fred Williamson, and long story short, directing a film is just a little more complicated than spearing wide receivers as a defensive back. He should have done better, since this was his fifth go-round of nearly twenty in the director's chair. Possibly the studio messed up his final cut. Or, considerably more likely, it was a disaster from the snap. Problem one: there's an unbelievable number of scenes of Williamson going from point A to B, either by car on on foot. If all the transit scenes were cut the movie would be ten minutes shorter. Problem two: every actor in the film is made of wood.

But we made it through this interminable slog across a fireswamp of first year film student errors for two reasons—Williamson himself, who has charisma and actually does mostly okay in the lead role, and his co-star Crippy Yocard. Both are great looking and many viewers will probably dig him, her, or both. Yocard in particular was one of the more free-spirited Italian stars, which she proved by posing for numerous extremely nude photos, including this one. Back yet? Now just imagine what the others are like. Maybe there's even a third point of interest with the movie—it feels a bit arthouse, which makes it a curiosity within the blaxploitation genre.

Notice we haven't discussed the plot? Fred didn't even know what it was, so how can we? Basically, he plays a fixer living in Rome who takes jobs come what may, but is asked to cross the bright white ethical line and kill a guy. He doesn't want to do it, but he needs the money, the target is supposedly a real asshole, and so forth. Despite the hackneyed premise, a decent movie could have resulted, but it feels as if an investor backed out halfway through and Williamson and crew found themselves stuck up the Tiber River with neither paddles nor budget.

So what's the upshot here? Williamson gets to strut and whip ass, Yocard gets naked, and arrogant white villains get obliterated. All good things. An unexpected aspect is that the legendary funk band Ohio Players get the soundtrack duties and close the movie with “Good Luck Charm,” which is a song so good it almost erases the memory of them opening the movie with a laughably bad theme song called—guess?—“Mr. Mean.” What can be said? Even musical geniuses will fumble when pressured. As for Williamson—he just dropped the ball. Which is why he was a defensive back in the first place.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 30 2015
NO WAY IN HELL
Going nowhere fast in Harlem.


Hell Up in Harlem premiered in the U.S. today in 1973. It was the sequel to Black Caesar, which had been a surprise hit in cinemas a mere ten months earlier. The rush to make a follow-up shows. Hell Up in Harlem is eleven different kinds of inept, a tableau of repellent characters, bad scripting, and poorly staged action. It's not as if ambitions were low here. The movie tells the story of a Harlem crime kingpin who becomes pitted against his devious and ambitious father, imparting the lesson that family relationships come apart like tissue paper if the profit motive is strong enough. Yes, there was a good movie in here somewhere, but it never quite gelled. However Hell Up in Harlem does feature an excellent promo poster painted by George Akimoto, and some of the best production photos we've seen from the blaxploitation genre, a few of which we've shared just below. The time it will take you to look at them ismore than the amount of time the fight scene lasts—another flaw of Hell Up in Harlem. The shots show star Fred Williamson in mortal combat with Mindi Miller, who appeared in many films, including Westworld, Body Double, and Amazons. You can find these images around the internet, and she's misidentified on every single one of those websites—even Getty Images—as Gloria Hendry, who she clearly isn't. We also have, below, a great nude promo of Williamson. About time we featured a naked guy, right? Well, don't blame us for the lack. They just didn't make much in the way of nude male promos back then—especially ones like this. And speaking of unexpected, what's that dark shape between Williamson's thighs? We bet he didn't plan on showing that. But don't let it entice into you watching the movie. Unless you're a true blaxploitation fan you'll probably regret it.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
December 06
1989—Anti-Feminist Gunman Kills 14
In Montreal, Canada, at the École Polytechnique, a gunman shoots twenty-eight young women with a semi-automatic rifle, killing fourteen. The gunman claimed to be fighting feminism, which he believed had ruined his life. After the killings he turns the gun on himself and commits suicide.
December 05
1933—Prohibition Ends in United States
Utah becomes the 36th U.S. state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, thus establishing the required 75% of states needed to overturn the 18th Amendment which had made the sale of alcohol illegal. But the criminal gangs that had gained power during Prohibition are now firmly established, and maintain an influence that continues unabated for decades.
1945—Flight 19 Vanishes without a Trace
During an overwater navigation training flight from Fort Lauderdale, five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo-bombers lose radio contact with their base and vanish. The disappearance takes place in what is popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle.
December 04
1918—Wilson Goes to Europe
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sails to Europe for the World War I peace talks in Versailles, France, becoming the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office.
1921—Arbuckle Manslaughter Trial Ends
In the U.S., a manslaughter trial against actor/director Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle ends with the jury deadlocked as to whether he had killed aspiring actress Virginia Rappe during rape and sodomy. Arbuckle was finally cleared of all wrongdoing after two more trials, but the scandal ruined his career and personal life.
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