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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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 15
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
August 14
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
August 13
1995—Mickey Mantle Dies
New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle dies of complications from cancer, after receiving a liver transplant. He was one of the greatest baseball players ever, but he was also an alcoholic and played drunk, hungover, and unprepared. He once said about himself, "Sometimes I think if I had the same body and the same natural ability and someone else's brain, who knows how good a player I might have been."
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