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.
Jim Kelly takes on the mob in hit-and-miss karate adventure.
The blaxploitation/kung fu flick Black Belt Jones premiered in the U.S. today in 1974, but we're sharing the Italian poster for two reasons: this Ermanno Iaia effort is more interesting than the U.S. art; and it's another example of African American stars being erased from Italian promo art. We assume it happened because Italian distributors figured many Italians wouldn't knowingly choose to see a film with a black star. Well, this one featured one of the biggest black stars—martial arts sensation Jim Kelly. He's not widely known today, but during the height of the martial arts craze he was an icon because of his screen charisma and cred. And by cred we mean he won four martial arts championships in 1971 alone, including the world middleweight karate title.
There's no release date for Black Belt Jones in Italy, but probably it played there during the summer of ’74, retitled Johnny lo svelto, or “Johnny quick.” Plotwise the mafia have learned that city of L.A. plans to erect a new civic center, and have bought up all the land at the prospective building site except a karate dojo owned by a martial arts instructor named Papa Byrd—and Papa won't play. Meanwhile, somewhere across town, Kelly is asked by cops to investigate the L.A. mob, who are getting cozy with local politicians and building up so much power they might soon be untouchable. In the tight knit local martial arts community, Kelly and Byrd know each other, so when Byrd turns up dead Kelly is motivated to get to the bottom of the murder.
The movie is partially a burlesque, with bits of slapstick, some salty slang, and many of characters constructed as pure stereotypes—Italian gangsters crying, “Mamma mia!” and that sort of thing. Viewed in a certain frame of mind it's funny, and considering it features an ass-kicking Scatman Crothers (long before getting axed in the chest in The Shining), the red hot Gloria Hendry, and Love Boat bartender Ted Lange as a minor league crook, there's plenty worth seeing here. That includes Kelly's martial arts, which are fun to watch, once you get past a bizarre opening fight shown entirely in slow motion. Kelly's abs are also on regular display, which made the Pulp Intl. girlfriends happy. So Kelly knows martial arts and looks great, but can he act? Considering the constraints, he does okay. These low budget ’70s movies didn't give stars much chance to sharpen their performances, and they're nearly always poorly paced in terms of dialogue, but he has charisma and his acting matches that of Bruce Lee or any other of the action stars from the period. They weren't hired to do Hamlet, after all. With Kelly at its center Black Belt Jones is worth a watch. And as we said, viewed in a certain frame of mind, it's even sort of good. But by frame of mind, we mean one in which you don't take it too seriously—the filmmakers certainly didn't seem to. We mean that as a compliment.
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.
You probably can't pull this look off but there's no harm in dreaming.
Above you see a photo of U.S. actress Rosalind Cash modeling what we like to think of as the classic afro, an image we've posted today because recently we ran across a story on Simone Williams, official Guinness World Record holder for largest afro in existence. We don't know if hers is actually the largest, regardless of what Guinness says, but it's a majestic 'do, beyond doubt. It got us thinking about the hairstyle, which in our book is the coolest of all time.
There are different types of afros beside just the classic. We wanted to feature all styles, and we also bent the definition a little to include what might be categorized more accurately as large perms. We've labeled all the variations below, which will help when you start on the long, winding, and ultimately fruitless road toward your own blowout. We're aware, of course, that there were many male celebs who had afros, but we're sticking with women today. Your journey begins below.
The pure joy afro, as modeled by Gloria Hendry, who appeared in such films as Live and Let Die and Savage Sisters. The regal, by Diahann Carroll, crown not included The bohemian, by Esther Anderson, who appeared in flims like Genghis Khan and A Warm December. The aquatic, by Camella Donner, who's a true water sprit, as we've shown you before. The iconic, by Pam Grier, who did as much to popularize the afro as any film star in history. The tall and proud afro, worn by trans b-movie actress Ajita Wilson. The wild child, seen here atop Italian actress Iris Peynado. The supreme afro, seen here on Diana Ross. The lovely innocence afro, by Brenda Sykes. The you-could-be-bald-and-still-be-smokin'-hot, demonstrated by Get Christie Love star Teresa Graves. The afro-warrior by Cleopatra Jones star Tamara Dobson. Definitely more in the category of a large perm, but she pioneered the high fashion afro, so she's earned some latitude. The too-cool-for-you afro/perm by Vonetta McGee. The action afro, seen here on Jeannie Bell. This barely qualifies, but she had one of the largest afros in the history of cinema, so we can cut her some slack. Check her screen shot in this post to be amazed. The bright-eyed and bushy, by Carol Speed. The action afro again, this time by Trina Parks, who sported this look in Diamonds Are Forever. Is it technically an afro? Tell her it isn't and see what happens. And lastly, the too-big-to-be-real afro, worn by Azizi Johari, whose actual hair you can see here.
There are numerous other afro shots in our website, but we can't possibly remember where they all are, so you'll just have to find them yourself, maybe by clicking the blaxploitation link below. Besides those, we do recall one more afro you can check out. It's on Desirée West, and you'll need to gird yourself for probably the hottest shot in Pulp Intl. history. Ready? Look here.
A change has come and it won't be denied.
Is there anything more glorious than a low budget, Philippine made, revolution themed, female centered action movie? Not much. There were many of the type produced, thanks to the clever folks at American International Pictures. The poster above was made for the Italian run of the studio's 1974 epic Savage Sisters, with Cheri Chaffaro, Gloria Hendry, and Rosanna Ortiz. We talked about it and you can see the U.S. posters and read what we wrote here.
Larger than life and twice as revolutionary.
The schlock factory known as American International Pictures and director Eddie Romero team up for another low budget romp with Savage Sisters, one of numerous shot-in-the-Philippines action epics they put together for the grindhouse circuit. AIP regulars Sid Haig, John Ashley, and Vic Diaz make appearances, but the stars of this one are Cheri Caffaro, Gloria Hendry, and Rosanna Ortiz, playing women caught up in a third world revolution. Violence and dumb comedy combine into an entertaining mix, but entertaining isn't the same as good. Savage Sisters is strictly for movie parties with pals, something you glance at between beers and bong hits to catch the intermittent gun battles and soft titillation. Gil Scott-Heron said the revolution would not be televised. It won't be organized either, if these plotters are any indication. It's ironic that all these AIP movies about overthrowing repressive governments were shot during Ferdinand Marcos's exploitative Philippine regime, but we guess he was just happy to have film production in the country and didn't actually care about the finished product. As long as you don't care too much about the finished product either you can put Savage Sisters in the awful-but-fun bin and enjoy. It opened this month in 1974.
The way you say that word makes me so hot. Say it again. Say... “epaulettes.”
Sorry, dude, I can't reach that knife in your pocket. But I can hold your hand. It'll comfort us both as we die of exposure.
Damn, girl. I never noticed before, but when the light hits your face just right you look a lot like Peter Frampton.
I think we all knew that Iota Kappa Ass has the most difficult initiations of all the sororities but this is just crazy.
It's a revealing outfit for a military assault, I know, but after we shoot up this munitions depot we're headed to the disco.
I think I just realized something. I don't give a fuck about the revolution. I just want to ventilate some honkies.
I'm uniquely qualified to lead this revolution because of my grand vision and infallible foresight. Take my outfit, for instance. This will never go out of style.
She makes it look so Uzi.
This great photo stars U.S. actress Gloria Hendry and was made when she was filming the 1973 James Bond movie Live and Let Die. Of all the so-called Bond girls who appeared opposite the world's most famous spy through the decades, Hendry, with her toned arms and six-pack stomach, was one of the few who actually looked fit enough to survive the chaos. She didn't, though. Only one Bond girl generally got to survive each film and in this case it was Jane Seymour.
There are several variations of this photo floating around online, but the one above is our favorite. Hendry gives it her all, rocking her fantastic afro and looking every bit the lean, dangerous, counterculture CIA double agent she played in the film. But we also like the alternate version below, where she cracks a little smile, because machine gunning people can be fun too, at least in the movies. See another Hendry promo here.
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.
The good news is we have the technology to make travel quick, cheap and easy. The bad news is we’ll never use it.
This National Police Gazette from September 1974 treats us to several great stories, including an article claiming that Richard Nixon’s only crime was not knowing what the “boobs” around him were doing. Ah yes, the old rogue subordinates excuse. Works great for presidents and corporate heads, but for you, well, not so much. Elsewhere in the issue you get an article on how to score an exotic bride, and sharp-eyed readers may notice that the “Haitian” bride is actually American actress Gloria Hendry, who we featured a couple of weeks ago.
But what really caught our attention in this Gazette is the article by U.S. Senator Vance Hartke about cheap, superfast rail travel. It’s filled with promises and optimism, steeped in for-the-good-of-the-people rhetoric, and even includes a sample 1986 cross-country timetable. Imagine it. Within twelve years Americans would blaze overland at 300 mph, and this rail system, envy of the world, would be clean, pleasant, and cheap—a mere $75 coast-to-coast.
A funny thing happened on the way to this future—politics that used to frame tomorow in terms of the things that were possible changed so that it now frames tomorrow in terms of what it isn't possible. Although limited high-speed rail service has finally been built in the U.S., Americans who want to experience train travel at the velocities cited in Hartke's dreamy article have to visit other countries. As to whether a true super fast system will ever be built in the U.S., we wouldn’t venture a guess either way, but it certainly is thought provoking to read what some people thought the near future would bring.
A Gloria’s embodiment of summer.
Here’s a great shot of American actress Gloria Hendry, who appeared in the James Bond movie Live and Let Die, as well as the blaxploitation films Across 110th Street, Black Caesar, Hell Up in Harlem, and Black Belt Jones, seen here rocking one of history’s greatest afros, 1973. See another shot from the same session in this post.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1966—LSD Declared Illegal in U.S.
LSD, which was originally synthesized by a Swiss doctor and was later secretly used by the CIA on military personnel, prostitutes, the mentally ill, and members of the general public in a project code named MKULTRA, is designated a controlled substance in the United States.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
1957—Sputnik Circles Earth
The Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik I, which becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Earth. It orbits for two months and provides valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere. It also panics the United States into a space race that eventually culminates in the U.S. moon landing.
1970—Janis Joplin Overdoses
American blues singer Janis Joplin is found dead on the floor of her motel room in Los Angeles. The cause of death is determined to be an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
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