Mogambo features the cruelest beast in all of Africa—and its name is Clark Gable.
As famous as Mogambo is, we'd never seen it, had never read a review of it, and had no idea going in what it was about except that it was a safari movie and a remake of the 1932 adventure Red Dust, which we'd also never seen. There are few hit movies—especially with stars the stature of Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and Grace Kelly—that we don't know at least a little something about. So we cleared the slate, cooked up some popcorn in our special Lindy's hand-cranked popper, and settled in for a screening.
Shot in Kenya, Uganda, French Equatorial Africa (now Central African Republic), and the Tanganyika region of what is now Democratic Republic of Congo, the movie is about a hard-edged safari guide and hunter played by Gable (also the star of Red Dust, by the way) who tries to score with both Gardner and Kelly, and soon has them at each other's throats. These old movies often work on the presumption that the male star is irresistible—period. As a result, screenwriters were sometimes lazy. They'd fail to write the male lead with any charm at all.
That holds true here, as Gable is gruff, rude, twenty years older than Gardner, and almost thirty years older than Kelly. We're fine about the age difference, unlike the “age appropriate” crowd that thinks women are capable of making any decision except ones about whom they love, but because Grant is a complete sourdough some charm would have made Gardner's and Kelly's attraction to him more understandable. Handsome though he may be, here he's nothing more than moustache, hair tonic, and bossiness. But okay, Gardner and Kelly are both in states of need, and Gable is more than happy to introduce them to his bush snake, so what you get is a love triangle folded inside a Technicolor safari adventure. Fine.
The production is spiced up with majestic scenery, nice costumes, realistic animal footage, an overwhelming feel of the exotic, the tantalizing implication of intimacy with two of the most beautiful women in cinema, and a deft, assured performance from Gardner. In fact, while Gable is top billed, Ava gets nearly all the good lines. “Listen, buster,” she scolds Clark, “you and your quick-change acts aren't gonna hang orange blossoms all over me just because you feel the cold weather coming on!” That's a scathing way to call someone old and desperate. But Gable has his moments too. We liked when he blustered, “You know how it is on safari. It's in all the books. The woman always falls for the white hunter and we guys make the most of it.” That's meta, so we hear.
Obviously, tribespeople figure prominently, and you can discern marginal improvement in their portrayal since the days of Weissmuller's Tarzan. They're still just ornamentation in their own lands, but at least none lay down their lives to save a white man who's spent most of his screen time cracking a whip at them. Whew. Overall, we thought Mogambo was decent. Not great, mind you—because Gable deserved to play a more nuanced character and did not have that chance—but it was decent. It premiered today in 1953.
Everything in this jungle bites—including the script.
This poster for White Huntress, aka Golden Ivory, did its job—as soon as we saw it we had to watch the movie. We figured this must be fun. But looks can deceive. Despite the art of a woman in sexy rags fighting a python, what you actually get is a staid period piece set in 1890 in which two brothers venture into the Masai territory of what was then British East Africa in search of Kayanga, the legendary meeting place of the elephants. Their plan is to—wait for it—kill the animals and reap tons of ivory worth a fortune. Owing to its period setting the movie has the feel of a western, and in fact the subplot involves Brits venturing into the wild frontier in covered wagons like Sooners to take over native lands. So what you have here is a hybrid—part western, and part colonials-in-Africa movie. It's cheaply made, poorly written, and overall is a cringeworthy effort, filled with the self serving entitlement of invaders ascribing all sorts of moral and philosophical justifications to their thieving and slaughtering. But let's not get too deeply into it. Films are always of their era, moral flaws and all, and we're able to enjoy ones about colonial Africa as long as they're good, but White Huntress isn't. It premiered in Britain today in 1954.
She was one of the year's best point and shoot models.
You see the above person identified on scores of websites as Lisa Montell, but that's another IRE™ (internet replication error). The photo actually shows Kenya born British actress Maureen Connell. Her first movie was, fittingly, 1954's The White Huntress, about British settlers in Kenya. Connell went on to appear in The Abominable Snowman, Port Afrique, and more than twenty television shows. This shot was made when she was filming 1957's Kill Her Gently. Note the amazing shadows of the gun and Connell's body the photographer created. For us, this is one of the better armed femme fatale photos we've seen. We'll revisit Connell soon.
Laura Gemser makes an emancipation proclamation.
As you've deduced from the above Italian poster for La via della prostituzione, also known as Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade, we've performed a quick turnaround to Laura Gemser, last seen two days ago. In this flick she plays a journalist, a role she inhabited often, and heads to exotic Nairobi with sidekick Ely Galleani. In a Nairobi market Gemser sees a man hurrying a woman through the throng. She'd seen the same pair in the airport, except then the woman was in a wheelchair and the man was pushing it. Gemser asks her local tour guide, “Do you know that man?” His response: “That one? Only by sight. I only know that he's American, and that he comes on business, but I don't know what kind of business. Someone mentioned white slavery. But why do you ask?” Did you just cringe a little? We did too, but we get it—the white kind is far more important than the regular kind, init?
Anyway, while were still marvelling over the sad but somehow uproarious tone deafness of those dialogue exchanges, Gemser was busy jetting from Nairobi to New York City to find more info about this American slaver. After promising her editor the biggest scoop of her career, she manages to charm her way into a slave auction taking place—in an amazing stroke of luck—right there in the Big Apple. She watches as girls as young as seventeen are sold to hairy-knuckled jetsetters, including that mysterious Yank, played by hirsute Italian Gabriele Tinti. Now that she knows the basic shape of the wrongdoing taking place, she needs evidence. How does she gather it? That's right—by infiltrating the slave racket as product. She's accepted as a high priced prostitute, and from NYC she's off to San Diego to work in a private club, where she hopes to blow the racket wide open.
You may be asking yourself, Wait, how is this all voluntary for her if it's a slave ring? That question is never fully answered. Somehow, though, she's accepted in the game as a freelancer, while all the other girls seem to be wholly owned chattel. It doesn't matter. This is sexploitation cinema, and what matters are nudity and sex, which means that mixed into the confounding plotline are an amazing number of sex scenes, which consist of cast members slithering softcore style against each other like salamanders while soporific music drifts across the soundtrack. It's all very silly, but the entire point of these films is to create gauzy eye candy, not dazzle you with cinematic mastery or make social statements more than a micron deep. Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade fulfills all the requirements of the genre, not brilliantly, but certainly adequately. It premiered in Italy today in 1978.
With special guests the Slaymates of the year.
Today we have some beautiful rarities, a set of door panel posters made for the 1968 Dean Martin spy movie spoof The Wrecking Crew. Martin played the wise-cracking and woman-loving Matt Helm, a character created by novelist Donald Hamilton. There have been a lot of loveable drunks in cinema, but Martin certainly was one of the most popular. Boozy Matt Helm was a perfect role for him, and the first film became the launching point for a series that stretched to four entries.The Wrecking Crew was the last film, coming after 1966's The Silencers and Murderer's Row, and 1967's The Ambushers. The movies were populated by a group of women known as Slaygirls, and the actresses on the posters below are posing as members of that deadly cadre. They are, top to bottom, Sharon Tate, Elke Sommer, Nancy Kwan, Tina Louise, and a fifth woman no other website seems able to identify, but who we're pretty sure is Kenya Coburn.These posters are 51 x 152 centimeters in size, or 20 x 60 for you folks who measure in inches, and they caught our eye mainly because of Tate. There's been renewed interest in her, including portrayals in two 2019 films—The Haunting of Sharon Tate and Quentin Tarantino's new effort Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Her poster is definitely one of the nicest pieces of Tate memorabilia we've seen.
We glanced at The Silencers a while back and found it just a little too dumb to consider slogging through the series, but maybe we'll have another go at it. We're sort of newly interested in Tate too, and since The Wrecking Crew was her next-to-last screen role, we want to have a look. Allegedly, Dean Martin quit this highly successful franchise because it felt wrong to go on with it after the Tate–LaBianca murders in August 1969. From what we've read about the era, Martin was far from the only person who felt as if that event changed everything. These days Tate's death makes anything she's in seem ironic and portentous, even, we suspect, a piece of fluff like The Wrecking Crew.
Phantom actress puts men in their place.
We're back to National Spotlite with a cover published today in 1968. The photo is of actress Carolyn Haynes, and a headline goes to actress Caroline Lee, who says she makes men crawl for her sexual favors. The money quote: “If women use their bodies the right way they can be the most powerful people on Earth.” A quote like that sounds suspiciously like it was fabricated by a man, and in fact while several Caroline Lees appear on IMDB, none fit the profile required to have done this interview—i.e. born sometime in the 1940s or possibly in 1950. National Spotlite is busted again. The editors simply could never have imagined a globally accessible actor database. We also did a search on Haynes and likewise learned she never existed
But some of the celebs are real. In Spotlite's “Dateline: The World” feature readers are treated to a photo of Chris Noel. It's been a long time since we've seen her—eight years to be exact. Spotlite tells us she smashed a vase over the head of a nightclub employee when he tried to force his way into her dressing room in Sydney one night. “The man attempted to romance her but she spurned every overture he made. When he tried to use violence to get his way she spilt open his skull.” We found no mention of the incident in any other source, but we like the story for how it turns out. If her assailant had known anything at all about Chris Noel he'd have rememberd her publicity tours of Vietnam and realized she was one tough celeb.
“Dateline: The World” next regales readers with a tale out of Africa. "Cary Grant arrived in Nairobi to join a hunting safari and has been escorting two six-foot dark-skinned native girls to whatever cafes in town they can get into, and has caused quite a bit of controversy by doing so. Grant traded punches with a man in one spot when the gent took offense at Cary's dates. Cary flattened the man, but the stranger rose to his feet flashing a knife and only the quick efforts of the bartender and cafe owner averted further trouble for the star. Cary and the girls fled while the others were subduing the knife wielder."
Paris: "Juliette Prowse was detained the other night after she threw a make-up case through the window of a drug store. She had purchased some cosmetics at the American Drug on the Champs-Élysées, but brought the order back the same night. She claimed that she'd made a mistake and didn't need the cosmetics. The salesman explained that he would exchange the merchandise or give Prowse credit, but no cash refund. Juliette roared out of the place. Outside she hurled her make-up case through the store's front window. Two policemen saw her smash the window and nabbed her on the spot."
Beirut: "David Niven and wife Hjordis ran into an embarrassing situation in a night spot while making the cafe rounds in this Lebanese city. A belly dancer took such a fancy to David that she did her act for him alone. She even sat on his lap. The patrons objected to her performing for just one man and began to throw things at her and at Niven. David and Hjordis ran for the exits after he pushed the girl off his lap."
Capri: "Noel Coward is nursing bruises on his face. He says he was attacked by two young men while he was out strolling one night. The muggers made off with a pair of cuff links given to him by Raquel Welch and a watch from Greta Garbo. Coward was found half-conscious and bleeding."
You get the gist—celebs in trouble. Back during the heyday of tabloids Confidential had bellhops, bartenders, chauffeurs, maîtres d'hôtel, and cops by the hundreds phoning in hot tips, but Spotlite was never more than a second tier rag and could not have had the resources to uncover the above stories. Therefore the editors either made them up or lifted them from other tabloids. We suspect the latter—with the stories ginned up for entertainment value. Cary Grant in Nairobi with two Kenyan escorts? We'll buy it. Grant risking his million dollar mug in a fistfight? Improbable. But the stories sure are fun. See more from National Spotlite by clicking here.
I'm sorry for bringing you here, baby. The travel guides didn't make the Day of Blood sound nearly so violent and terrifying.
William Vance's Day of Blood looks like a western at first glance, but it's actually set in Kenya against the backdrop of a looming uprising by the Mau Mau, whose “maniacal leader had vowed to kill all the whites in Kenya on sight.” What nerve, right? Some people just refuse to take invasion, land theft, and mass subjugation lying down. This one has all the hallmarks of mid-century fiction set in Africa—rugged and world weary hero, sexually desperate women ranging from rapacious to virginal, and, of course, wrongheaded tribal locals trying to ruin the colonial party. Not our thing, but for readers willing to look past the obvious shortcomings, these types of books often offer solid entertainment. 1961 copyright on this one, with nice art from Harry Schaare.
Once you go Black Emanuelle you never go back.
Javanese beauty Laura Gemser isn't black in the ethnic sense, but you know that going into Black Emanuelle, first of the Italian-made sexploitation series that borrowed the French Emmanuelle concept and took it to places its originators could never have imagined. Gemser could actually be half black or mostly black, going by skin tone alone, but in a way her being South Asian in real life becomes the whole point, as it makes all her love scenes titillatingly interracial, whether she's getting it on with Africans or white foreigners. This is the tamest of the series—before poor Emanuelle was beset by voodoo priests, cannibals, and worse. In addition to the honeyed Gemser in the starring role you get a scoop of vanilla Schubert on top—German actress Karin Schubert. We aren’t going to bother to tell you about the plot of this one—it follows the form of other movies about westerners who get freaky in the African bush and eventually leave with profound insights and fond memories (cue shot of dreamy eyed actress gazing out airplane window as dark, mysterious Africa recedes below). In addition to the Japanese poster above we were able to locate quite a few promo images, including two of Gemser and Schubert doing field tests of Newton’s laws of physical motion. See below. Black Emanuelle opened in Japan today in 1976. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1934—Queen Mary Launched
The RMS Queen Mary, three-and-a-half years in the making, launches from Clydebank, Scotland. The steamship enters passenger service in May 1936 and sails the North Atlantic Ocean until 1967. Today she is a museum and tourist attraction anchored in Long Beach, U.S.A.
1983—Nuclear Holocaust Averted
Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov, whose job involves detection of enemy missiles, is warned by Soviet computers that the United States has launched a nuclear missile at Russia. Petrov deviates from procedure, and, instead of informing superiors, decides the detection is a glitch. When the computer warns of four more inbound missiles he decides, under much greater pressure this time, that the detections are also false. Soviet doctrine at the time dictates an immediate and full retaliatory strike, so Petrov's decision to leave his superiors out of the loop very possibly prevents humanity's obliteration. Petrov's actions remain a secret until 1988, but ultimately he is honored at the United Nations.
2002—Mystery Space Object Crashes in Russia
In an occurrence known as the Vitim Event, an object crashes to the Earth in Siberia and explodes with a force estimated at 4 to 5 kilotons by Russian scientists. An expedition to the site finds the landscape leveled and the soil contaminated by high levels of radioactivity. It is thought that the object was a comet nucleus with a diameter of 50 to 100 meters.
1992—Sci Fi Channel Launches
In the U.S., the cable network USA debuts the Sci Fi Channel, specializing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal programming. After a slow start, it built its audience and is now a top ten ranked network for male viewers aged 18–54, and women aged 25–54.
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