Gladiatorial combat is all fun and games until the gladiators decide you're the one who needs killing.
We've featured master fantasy artist Frank Frazetta a few times, so it seems only fair that we feature the yang to his yin, Peruvian born legend Boris Vallejo. Here you see his art on a promo poster for Naked Warriors, which is better known as The Arena, released this month in 1974 starring another legend, Pam Grier, along with occasional co-star, the lovely Margaret Markov. We've talked about the movie twice, shared its Italian and U.S. promo art, and shared rare promo images of Grier once or twice, or maybe even three or four times, as well as a beautiful centerfold of Markov. All of that imagery is worth a look. Vallejo's art is a nice fit for a tale of enslaved gladiators pitted against each other eventually defying their sadistic masters to fight for freedom. He painted when Corcorde Pictures acquired the rights to the film from MGM/UA for a VHS release in 1988. Concorde/New World was formed and run by schlockmeister Roger Corman, and that explains the black wedges at the top and bottom of the promo. When you do thingson the cheap as a matter of course like Corman did, tilting the art in an inelegant way to make the two figures fit a door panel format seems logical. We can imagine him: “Just lean the fucker left. Who cares about the blank spots?” And indeed, who does, really?
In addition to a great piece of art, as a bonus we've also uploaded some Arena production photos we found scattered around the internet over the years. Most of them were shot by Italian lensman Angelo Frontoni, whose work we've admired often. As it is a lusty sort of movie, some of the shots are a bit lusty too. We had these sitting about and didn't have a real good excuse to share them until today, so from the good old days of ’70s sexploitation behold: Grier, Markov, Lucretia Love, Maria Pia Conte, Rosalba Neri, and others in barely-there gladiatorial gear—and sometimes less. We can't say the film is perfect, but it's definitely worth a watch.
Okay, no peeking. And this time I mean all of you.
Above: Raymond Connoleer's set-in-Mexico 1965 crime novel Morte d'un idolo, which was published by Edizioni MA-GA's series Federal Bureau of Investigation Stories. Connoleer is a pseudonym but we couldn't dig up his real name. Lot of that going around lately. The unusual cover is uncredited, but it's Franco Picchioni for sure, yet another great illustration from a unique talent. See a few of his best here, here, and here.
Calcutta is heavy on looks but light on substance.
We'll tell you right out that Calcutta came very close to being an excellent movie, but doesn't quite get over the hump. It deals with a trio of pilots flying cargo between India and China on fictional China International Airways. The trio, Alan Ladd, William Bendix, and John Whitney, stumble upon a highly profitable international smuggling ring and quickly find that the villains play for keeps. Along with the fliers, the film has Gail Russell as Whitney's girlfriend, and June Duprez as a slinky nightclub singer. While the exotic setting marks the film as an adventure, it also fits the brief as a film noir, particularly in Ladd's cynical and icy protagonist.
As we said, the movie isn't as good as it should be, but there are some positives. Foremost among them is Edith King as a wealthy jewel merchant. She smokes a fat cigar, the masculine affectation an unspoken but clear hint of her possible lesbianism, and with a sort of jocular grandiosity simply nails her part. Another big plus is the fact that the miniature work (used in airport scenes), elaborate sets and props, and costumed extras all make for a convincing Indian illusion—definitely needed when a movie is filmed entirely in California and Arizona (Yuma City and Tucson sometimes served as stand-ins for exotic Asian cities, for example Damascus in Humphrey Bogart's Sirocco).
On the negative side, Calcutta has two narrative problems: the head villain is immediately guessable; and Russell is asked to take on more than she can handle as an actress, particularly as the movie nears its climax. Another problem for some viewers, but not all, is that the movie has the usual issues of white-centered stories set in Asia (or Africa). However, within the fictional milieu the characters themselves seem pretty much color and culture blind, which isn't always the case with old films. Even so, the phalanxes of loyal Indian servants, and the dismissiveness with which they're treated—though that treatment is historically accurate—probably won't sit well with a portion of viewers.
Here's what to focus on: Alan Ladd. He's a great screen presence, a solid actor in the tight-lipped way you often see in period crime films, and the filmmakers were even smart enough to keep him shirtless and oiled for one scene. We swear we heard eight-decade-old sighs on the wind, or maybe that was the Pulp Intl. girlfriends. They'd never seen Ladd before, but immediately became interested in his other films. We were forced to tell them he was a shrimpy 5' 6” and they were a bit bummed. But he had it—and that's what counted. His it makes all his films watchable, but doesn't quite make this one a high ranker. Calcutta had its official world premiere in London today in 1946.
It doesn't look like much on the outside but it has excellent bones.
Let's revisit Karoly Grosz today, shall we? Above you see his brilliant dust jacket for J.B. Priestley's The Old Dark House, Grosset & Dunlap's 1932 photoplay edition, which is to say it contains production shots from the horror movie it inspired. The book originally came out in 1928 with very different art. Grosz's cover is almost identical to the film poster, but with the colors changed to predominantly lavender instead of black. Both efforts are top notch. If you want to see more from one of the illustration masters of his era, take a look here.
Coffy gets scalding hot in explicit novelization.
A novelization of the blaxploitation classic Coffy? We had to buy it. Paul Fairman was tapped to bring the iconic character of Coffy to literary life, and we were surprised to discover that the result is x-rated. We assume Fairman's marching orders came from Lancer Books or/and American International Pictures, and in a way it's a clever gambit—readers had no choice but to imagine Pam Grier dispensing the blowjobs and sizzling bed sessions described. Unfortunately, the other edge of that sword is Fairman has Coffy raped, which didn't happen in the movie (though she was seriously threatened with such). Except for the kicked up explicitness, the tale hews close to the motion picture, with Coffy seeking bloody revenge against the degenerates who addicted her eleven-year-old sister to heroin.
Fairman writes with as much soul as he can muster, but it's quickly discernible that he doesn't exactly have his finger on the pulse of the black community. Some of his attempts at African American vernacular are cringeworthy, especially the constant interjections of, “Sheeee-it!” We really don't think many black authors would have made that choice, and Fairman, who's not black and is no Toni Morrison, should have rethought it. The book has this and numerous other flaws, and isn't well written overall. We're particularly let down that Fairman never solved the mystery of Coffy's real name. Her last name is Coffin, but we don't learn a first name in the movie, and we don't here either. Her sister calls her Flower Child, but we feel like that's understood to be a nickname.
We managed to get Fairman's Coffy for seven dollars plus shipping. We've seen sellers ask for a lot more, even as much as eighty dollars, but we'd caution against extravagant expenditure. You get less than you expect. The book has extra large type to help pad it into a normal sized paperback. With regular type, leading, and kerning we think it would run maybe 140 pages. Instead of typographic tricks, a more detailed portrayal of No-First-Name Coffin would have been better, but no such luck. Even so, we're glad we bought Fairman's novelizationsploitation. If we hadn't, we would have wondered about its contents forever. The cover art on this is uncredited, but it comes directly from the film poster. That art, in turn, is rarely attributed, but it's by George Akimoto. Excellent work.
Hepburn brings a special kind of style to Hollywood.
We don't smoke, but Katherine Hepburn sure makes smoking look good in this RKO promo photo shot by Ernest Bachrach in 1935. Though she had a long and storied career, this early shot is pretty much her iconic image. Prints of it are even sold on Wal-Mart's website. Hepburn is incomparable. Her must-watch films include Bringing Up Baby, Adam's Rib, The Philadelphia Story, The African Queen, Long Day's Journey into Night, The Lion in Winter, the groundbreaking Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (which inspired an excellent reggae song by Black Uhuru), and On Golden Pond.
You can sum up Hepburn's output by saying she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar twelve times and won a quartet, the most ever. The Oscar has failed to stay as relevant as it could have over recent decades, and the Academy has made some embarrassing Best Picture choices (Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction—really?), but it's always been a reliable measure of acting quality, so Hepburn's four wins are meaningful. The one thing she didn't do was make a lot of pulp style movies. One that looks as if it qualifies is the 1946 drama Undercurrent. We'll circle back to that and the divine Miss H. in a bit.
The artist is almost as mysterious as his posters.
You can see immediately that this Universal Pictures teaser poster for 1933's The Invisible Man is special. You'll find out how special in a minute. It was painted by Hungarian born artist Karoly Grosz, whose work is highly sought after. With this dark portrait he captured the essence of the film's insane central character Dr. Jack Griffin, who accidentally discovers invisibility and decides, what the hell, he'll use it to take over the world. An original of this poster went up for auction a few years back and pulled in $275,000. That's about as special as vintage art gets.
Halloween is today, so we thought we'd share more horror posters. Since Grosz specialized in that genre, we were able to focus solely on him and his work for Universal. Though he's a collectible legend, his bio is a bit sketchy. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1901 as a child, was naturalized as a citizen, and grew up to live and work in New York City. His output came mainly between 1920 and 1938, and he died young sometime after that (nobody is sure when, but most sources say he was in his early forties). At least he left behind these beautiful gifts to cinematic art. You can see another piece from him in this post from a while back, the one with the green-eyed cat.
Casablanca drifts 2,500 miles east and loses a little something along the way.
Above you see a nice French poster for the Humphrey Bogart adventure Sirocco, which we touched upon briefly several months back. As we noted then, Columbia Pictures promoted the film as being, “beyond Casablanca...” but Sirocco comes up short in that department. How could it not? It's like saying, “beyond chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream,” or “beyond a raspberry gin Ricky,” or “beyond the 2003 Hurricanes-Buckeyes NCAA Championship Game.” These things are not possible. But Sirocco is actually pretty good anyway, owing largely to its setting in 1925 Damascus, Syria (the film was actually shot in Yuma, Arizona, but the illusion worked adequately). Plotwise, local independence fighters are trying to drive out French occupiers via any means deemed necessary, including what we call today terrorist bombings. Bogart plays Rick from Casablanca, except he's named Harry Smith. But he's the same cynical, opportunistic, womanizing lone wolf he was before, who instead of running a bar, runs guns. He has no ideology in his profession, except love of money, and will work for whoever can hire him, Syrian or French. As the situation in Damascus grows increasingly fraught he finds himself unwillingly stuck between the locals and the occupiers. He also finds himself in a love triangle with slinky Märta Torén and a French military officer played by Lee J. Cobb.
The movie quickly coalesces around what we like to think of as the big three Bogart plot devices: romantic feelings threaten to upset his hard-won cynicism, he must make a choice between desire and conscience, and he must beat the clock if he hopes to get out of Dodge with his skin intact. Beyond Casablanca? Columbia pretty much strip mined Casablanca, is what happened. Even so, Bogart had few serious misses in his career, and Sirocco isn't one of them. Fans will get to see him doing exactly what made him an icon, and for that reason alone we think it's worth a watch. After premiering in the U.S. in mid-1951, it opened in France today the same year.
Texas legislature finally stops with the half measures and passes law that stamps out all rights for women.
Above: a Paramount Pictures promo image of Janice Logan about to be smashed by a boot much larger than her. It was made for her 1940 sci-fi flick Dr. Cyclops, which deals not with a big man as you might expect, but with a normal sized man who makes those around him tiny. Science fiction movies from the period tend to be a bit silly and this one is no exception, but an efx team probably spent weeks making those boots, so you gotta respect the effort.
I have to dig around in this dank cavern under Twentieth Century Fox to find good scripts, but I always manage.
The golden age film studios didn't take kindly to actresses who wanted input into their own careers. U.S. star Jean Peters, who you see above in 1954, had pretty firm opinions about the types of roles she wanted to play. These led to her withdrawing from her planned debut in I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now, being suspended by Twentieth Century Fox for refusing to appear in Sand, and later Yellow Sky, being replaced in Mr. Belvedere Goes to College, being suspended again for refusing The View from Pompey's Head, and refusing to play sexy roles of any type after her turn as a vixen in the film noir Pickup on South Street.
Yes, Peters was particular, but her hits were notable. Pickup on South Street was spectacular, Forever Amber was a star making turn, and Three Coins in the Fountain was a major success. In 1957 she married Howard Hughes and didn't act again until after divorcing him in the early 1970s. Correlation is not causation, or something like that, but it's too bad she lost those years because she chose to wed a kook. She had a good career by any measure, though. She may have hated playing sexpots but we think she was at her best as the smoldering Candy from Pickup on South Street. Watch it and see if you don't agree. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—Soviets Shoot Down U.S. Plane
A U.S. Air Force training jet is shot down by Soviet fighters after straying into East German airspace. All 3 crew men are killed. U.S forces then clandestinely enter East Germany in an attempt to reach the crash but are thwarted by Soviet forces. In the end, the U.S. approaches the Soviets through diplomatic channels and on January 31 the wreckage of the aircraft is loaded onto trucks with the assistance of Soviet troops, and returned to West Germany.
1967—Apollo Fire Kills Three Astronauts
Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee are killed in a fire during a test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Although the ignition source of the fire is never conclusively identified, the astronauts' deaths are attributed to a wide range of design hazards in the early Apollo command module, including the use of a high-pressure 100 percent-oxygen atmosphere for the test, wiring and plumbing flaws, flammable materials in the cockpit, an inward-opening hatch, and the flight suits worn by the astronauts.
1924—St. Petersburg is renamed Leningrad
St. Peterburg, the Russian city founded by Peter the Great in 1703, and which was capital of the Russian Empire for more than 200 years, is renamed Leningrad three days after the death of Vladimir Lenin. The city had already been renamed Petrograd in 1914. It was finally given back its original name St. Petersburg in 1991.
1966—Beaumont Children Disappear
In Australia, siblings Jane Nartare Beaumont, Arnna Kathleen Beaumont, and Grant Ellis Beaumont, aged 9, 7, and 4, disappear from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide, and are never seen again. Witnesses claim to have spotted them in the company of a tall, blonde man, but over the years, after interviewing many potential suspects, police are unable generate enough solid leads to result in an arrest. The disappearances remain Australia's most infamous cold case.
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