Gemser travels to many distant cities, and meets the worst people in every one of them.
To say that Laura Gemser's Emanuelle films are hit and miss is an understatement of epic proportions. While early entries have the happy softcore feel needed for thought-free diversion and occasional boners, later offerings veer into dark territory. Emanuelle - Perché violenza alle donne? is in the latter category. An Italian production, the title translates as “Emanuelle - Why violence against women?” Erotic cinema and social commentary don't usually mix well—not because they're mutually exclusive, but because the filmmakers never have the skill to pull it off. In the U.S. the movie was retitled Emanuelle Around the World, which sounds fine, but its international English title was changed to The Degradation of Emanuelle. Uh oh.
Gemser's adventures begin in San Francisco when her New York based photo-journalist character enjoys a satisfying boning in the back of a truck. But soon she's off on her next assignment, a titillating expose of a Kama Sutra commune in Asia. Once there she meets creepy guru George Eastman and uses her superior sexual skills to make his holiness transcendentally ejaculate too fast. Up to this point Perché violenza alle donne? is somewhat fun. But next Gemser meets up with pal Karin Schubert in Rome and joins an assignment to expose a sexual slavery ring. Wait—didn't she do that in Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade? Yup, but slavers never quit. This collection of bad men are unusually horrible. One is is a burn victim who rapes his captives. Another has a penchant for bestiality.
Obviously, during the 1970s filmmakers didn't really understand the idea of unintentionally minimizing serious subject matter the same way they do today. It was the “what-the-fuck-let's-give-it-a-try” era, and taking such risks produced some of the greatest cinema ever. But in this case writer/director Joe D'Amato and co-writers Maria Pia Fusco and Gianfranco Clerici failed. Badly. A movie on the subject of slavery and rape would be unpleasant but important if it were a Claire Denis drama or a Laura Poitras documentary. Mixing it into a flyweight sex film doesn't add dramatic weight—it adds discordance, embarrassment, and insult. It was a total miscalculation. You could potentially watch the film until Gemser departs the Kama Sutra commune, then turn it off. If you don't, you have nobody to blame but yourself.
However, we try to see the good in every movie we screen, so we should note that there are some high points. We'll list them. The Emanuelle films were typically shot in exotic locales, and in this case not only does D'Amato set scenes in New York City and San Francisco, but in Kathmandu, Rome, Hong Kong, and—for real—Teheran. Gemser is a limited actress, but one who always does her best with preposterous scripting. Schubert is a stolid co-star. Underutilized Don Powell is always a welcome sight. And lastly, many of the production photos, some of which appear below, are interesting. That's about all the good we can find. We'll just slide Emanuelle - Perché violenza alle donne? into ye olde metaphorical trash bin and forget it ever happened. It premiered in Italy today in 1977.
Listen, baby, I steal, extort, and sell drugs. You had to expect me to have unconventional views on relationships.
This photo cover for David Williams' juvie delinquent novel Basement Gang is one we've admired for years. Enticed by its colors and out-of-focus foreground figure, and finally finding it at a good price, we snagged a copy. Originally published in 1953 by Complete Novel Magazine, with the above edition coming the same year from Intimate Novels, it's a cautionary tale told in detailed if clinical style following Bronx born Kathie Melton, who out of boredom dumps her solid boyfriend Hank, is lured through the forbidden doorway of the local underground club Comets, and is soon drunk, drugged, and de-virginized to the limits of her ripe young body.
Kathie is willing to repeatedly indulge in all these activities, but she hates that the hepcats with whom she's hooked up are criminals. Hey, sitting around being disaffected all day requires some sort of funding. Kathie rolls with the life of petty crime, however when a romantic rival sets her up to be beaten and (almost) raped by a dangerous thug, the square life starts to look good again. But leaving Comets and co. isn't simple. As juvenile delinquent fiction goes, Williams did a good job with this one, even if his prose doesn't invite deep emotional involvement. We think it was his only novel, but just in case we'll keep our eyes open for more.
It's not robbery if someone wants you to take it.
Above is another digest novel from Florence Stonebraker, this time writing as Tom Stone to produce Stolen Love. It was originally published in 1937 as Too Much Love, with this Griffin Books re-issue arriving in 1946 fronted by a cover painted by Glenn Cravath. The book deals with popular New York City radio personality Kay Brinkley—better known as the Voice of Romance—who hosts a lonely hearts call-in show, but is actually cynical about love and thinks her job is a high paying joke.
Her boyfriend asks her to head out to San Francisco to close a business deal for him, and she develops a case of wandering eye before the train even reaches the Rocky Mountains. Once out west she's smitten with the man who's supposed to provide her with important papers, while a couple of other guys, in turn, are seriously smitten by her. Complications arise when her NYC boyfriend unexpectedly flies to San Fran, putting him in direct romantic competition with his business acquaintance.
Kay gets laid with a total of three men as required by most of these digests, and attacked by one, definitely not a requirement, before finally returning to her original boyfriend, a forbearing sort who doesn't begrudge Kay her carnal explorations. The story is a tangled web, written in the usual Stonebraker style, already well in evidence though this was one of her first books. It's no wonder she became such a popular author. She's no Jane Austen, but in the realm of sleazy romance she's about as good as it gets.
Even in the height of summer New York City can be a cold, cold place.
In this photo made today in 1930, a policeman stands over the body of Louis Riggiona, who had been shot twice in the heart by two gunmen as he and his brother Joe exited a restaurant in New York City's Bowery district. Joe fled and avoided injury, while the gunmen dropped their weapons (one pistol is visible in the foreground) and escaped. Louis Riggiona had become the latest casualty in what was known as the Castellammarese War, a Mafia power struggle whose opposing figureheads were Salvatore Maranzano and Joe Masseria. Maranzano was from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, thus the name of the conflict. He won the war, but got to be capo di tutti i capi for only five months before he too was murdered.
A song thought forgotten can always be remembered.
This photo shows Broadway actress Altonell Hines, who performed on the New York City stage during the 1930s in the shows Porgy and Bess and Four Saints in Three Acts. Unfortunately, like many early Broadway performers, after her career she faded into obscurity. However, she was somewhat rediscovered, partly thanks to a photographic portrait shot in 1934 by the famed Carl Van Vechten as part of an unfinished project titled, "Noble Black Women: The Harlem Renaissance and After.” The photo wasn't printed until 1983 when it went on exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute. Hines never saw it—she'd died in 1979.
Nevertheless, she's an interesting example of how obscurity never has to be permanent for stars of yesteryear. Archivists and biographers have always resurrected long dead public figures, but the creation of the internet has accelerated that process, and now hundreds of formerly forgotten personalities from history are restored into the cultural consciousness each year. It's the coolest thing about the internet, if you ask us. The above shot, which is not from the Noble Black Women collection, was made in 1935. You can see a few more images of Hines on the website of the New York Public Library, at this link.
Gangster life has great benefits but the retirement plan leaves a lot to be desired.
It seems like the same lesson is imparted by nearly every vintage Mafia photo we run across—ambition is a double-edged sword. Dominick Didato, aka Terry Burns, who you see above in a photo made by Arthur Fellig, aka Weegee, lies dead on a New York City street where he was gunned down today in 1936. He was killed for interfering with rackets run by Lucky Luciano. It was a low percentage play. Luciano was literally the most powerful mobster in the U.S. at the time, and as the saying goes, you come at the king, you best not miss.
She could tell them the secret but it would be a bad Korea move.
Holly Roth, who also wrote as P.J. Merrill and K.G. Ballard, originally published The Shocking Secret as The Content Assignment in 1954. This Dell edition came in 1955 with William Rose cover art. The story, set beginning in 1948, deals with John Terrant, a British reporter in Berlin whose American love Ellen Content is a CIA agent who disappears during a mission. Nearly two years later her name turns up in a newspaper story that says she's a dancer in New York City. So Terrant crosses the pond to track her down but ends up in the middle of the Cold War, with bad commies and the whole nine.
Roth infuses her tale with an Englishman in New York fish-out-of-water quality, which is occasionally amusing and adds interest, but in the end the entire enterprise comes across lightweight—which is to say it lacks menace and the proper amount of intellectual heft needed for a book about the political/ideological clash of the era. And another issue, though an admittedly nit-picky one, is that the surprise of the title, which we mostly gave away in our subhead, isn't all that shocking. Dell never should have renamed the book.
Moving on to Roth herself, she's one of those writers whose life had an eerie parallel with her fiction. Her 1962 novel Too Many Doctors is about a woman who falls off a ship and loses her memory. In 1964 Roth disappeared from her husband's yacht one stormy night off the coast of Morocco and was never seen again. Officially, her death was an accident. If we get ambitious maybe we'll read Too Many Doctors. While we can't recommend The Shocking Secret, we wouldn't be surprised if several of her other books are better. Her reputation would seem to suggest it.
The climate there was always changed from what the rest of America knew.
Legendary author Chester Himes originally published Hot Day Hot Night in 1969 as Blind Man with a Pistol, with this Dell photocover edition featuring a beautiful model coming in 1970. Those two years are about as far forward as we're willing to go when it comes to fiction for our website (we often read newer books, but don't write about them). Elmore Leonard and Stanley Ellin likewise have pushed the upper boundary of our vintage perimeter, so Himes, of course, has received an exception too.
Hot Day Hot Night features a typically digressive Himes narrative that derives from the murder of a charlatan and a missing suitcase of cash. The dead scam artist, who called himself Doctor Mubuta, had convinced a ninety-something preacher named Mister Sam that an arcane formula could restore youth and virility. It sounds a bit crazy that anyone would believe that, but Himes puts it succinctly: It wasn't any harder to believe in rejuvenation than to believe equality was coming. It's also easier to believe when you have no idea what the ingredients in the concoction are, as revealed in this amusing exchange:
“What's that milky stuff floating around in it?”
“That's albumin, same stuff as is the base for semen.”
Mubuta doesn't answer that—smartly, we think. Other elements of the miracle mixture include baboon balls, bits of rabbit, eagle, and shellfish, some rooster feathers, and a “concupiscent eye.” Of course, this is total baloney, though we never find out what's really in the stew. Ingredients readily available around Harlem exclude eagles. Anyway, when the deal goes awry and Mubuta ends up stabbed to death, Himes' franchise detective duo Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are drawn into the investigation in what is their final official appearance here in the eighth novel in Himes' Harlem Detective cycle (they also featured in 1993's posthumously published Plan B).
We've described Himes as a sort of literary walk on the wild side, and he's as uncompromising as ever all these entries into his Harlem series. It will be interesting to see how his work is regarded as the years pass. Himes is a mirror image of writers like Chandler and Spillane, working along identical literary lines, casting nearly every character in his books as criminals or victims. But the expectations on Himes were different, because—indisputably—rules change according to who's playing the game, and what color they are. We recommend this book, and everything by Himes.
This version is not for kids.
This unusual photo shows Italian star Gina Lollobrigida paired with an aquatic foreground painting, and was made for a 1963 cover of the New York City based arts magazine Show. We took the liberty of removing the magazine's logo so you could enjoy 100% pure Lollo, and we think you'll agree it was worth the effort. This is a very cool idea for a promo image. We especially like the baffled expressions on all the fish. We're baffled too when it comes to mermaids. How in hell do they..? Well, never mind.
Shaft hit America and changed the game.
We've discussed quite a few blaxploitation movies, but have neglected the 1971 thriller Shaft. What can you say about the granddaddy of them all, the movie that helped change Hollywood thinking about what viewpoints would sell? Many of the black oriented movies that came afterward were cash grabs, and for that reason most of them weren't good. No such problems exist with Shaft. It's fast, furious, and fun. Our viewing was a reminder that in addition to being a detective movie and a movie that centers black experiences, it's also a neo film noir in both execution and mood. Directed by acclaimed photographer and photo-journalist Gordon Parks, Shaft is gorgeous work, made mostly in actual locations around New York City, and sprinkled with symbology and visual metaphor right from the opening credits.
The character of Shaft is important in film history. Because the theme song is so widely heard most people know Shaft is a bad mother shut-your-mouth, but as the song also says, he's complicated. He lives in Greenwich Village in a bachelor pad decorated with modern art and filled with books. He's kind to children and helps people in need. He has feelings for his girlfriend but will not be tied down and is obliging toward other women who desire him. And he's a friend to any people who treat him with respect. This extends to his local bartender, who's gay and dispenses a familiar pat to Shaft's ass that we can assume isn't the first or last. A bad mother shut-your-mouth? For sure, but he's so much more. And likewise, Shaft is more than a detective movie. It's a cinematic achievement that entertains visually, intellectually, and viscerally. It's a must watch. It was first seen by the public at a special premiere in Detroit, Michigan today in 1971.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—Warren Commission Issues Report
The Warren Commission, which had been convened to examine the circumstances of John F. Kennedy's assassination, releases its final report, which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy. Today, up to 81% of Americans are troubled
by the official account of the assassination.
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.
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