Welcome to the school of hard knocks and sharp knives.
How does an interest in bad cinema start? For us it began with Switchblade Sisters. We'd seen scores of bad movies growing up and through college, but after those years we moved toward mainstream movies and well reviewed indie cinema. Sometime after we started our magazine we received a comp ticket to a late night showing of Switchblade Sisters. It was an old b-movie also known as The Jezebels being re-released by Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures, and we watched it in a landmark cinema packed with people primed to have a raucous time. It was a hell of a night*, and the afterparty was good too.
Plotwise, what you get with Switchblade Sisters is a juvenile delinquent flick about a high school gang called the Silver Daggers and its women's auxiliary the Dagger Debs. Robbie Lee plays the head Deb, while Joanne Nail plays a new girl brought into the gang. Everything is fun and games until jealousy rears its ugly head due to the fact that Lee thinks her man, who's the leader of the Silver Daggers, wants the new girl. Matters deteriorate when Nail sets off a war between the Silver Daggers and a rival gang. These are seriously murderous clans, fully intent on killing each other. Gunplay abounds, blood flows copiously, and the lesson is— Well, we aren't sure. Say no to gangs, we guess.
Switchblade Sisters is atrociously acted in parts, and mediocrely acted in all the other parts, but Robbie Lee deserves special mention for making a three course meal of her role, delivering every line as if she has a case of lockjaw. Someone must have told her tough people speak through clenched teeth. But so do constipated people. Someone should have told her that too. But some movies are more than the sum of their parts, and Switchblade Sisters falls into that category. It's terrible, but uproarious. Dumb, but immensely entertaining. We can't think of many better films to watch with friends. And that's worth a lot in this crazy world. Switchblade Sisters originally premiered today in 1975.
*The best part of that premiere night was actually showing up for the film. The promotional company had reserved a row of seats for local reviewers. PSGP was our magazine's movie critic. He showed up in this packed cinema and took a reserved seat. Some fratboy-looking chump in the row behind him leaned forward and told him, “These seats are reserved.” It's here we should mention that PSGP doesn't look like what most people would think of as a film critic, so he knew exactly what was happening—this moron, who was not anyone of any importance or authority, and had no connection whatsoever to the premiere except he probably won tickets from a radio giveaway, took a look at PSGP and decided to play citizen enforcer.
Fratboy chump got up and told the people running the premiere that someone had invaded the reserved seats. PSGP saw it happen. Fratboy flagged down someone, had a conversation while pointing directly at PSGP, and probably felt full of power for calling the cinema cops. PSGP savored the next moment, when the guy was told the evil seat inavder was in fact one of the invited critics and was sitting in exactly the right place. Fratboy moron, crestfallen, went back to his seat, and PSGP, without turning around, said, “That didn't work out the way you hoped, huh?” He got good mileage from the story at the afterparty. And the fratboy? He wasn't invited.
In the land of bad men the one eyed woman becomes queen
Above is a promo poster for the Swedish sexploitation flick Thriller - en grym film. When it was released in the U.S. it was retitled Thriller: A Cruel Picture, then edited and given the revised name They Call Her One Eye, and still later dubbed Hooker's Revenge, which we think gives a bit too much away. But what do we know? It's not like we have marketing degrees. Anyway, the poster above for the film's Thriller incarnation has an unusual shape sometimes referred to as subway size because such promos were usually displayed on mass transit vehicles. As far as we know, no standard vertically oriented poster was ever made with the title Thriller: A Cruel Picture. But if any do exist, you can be sure they're worth a fortune.
Sweden's best export Christina Lindberg stars here as a Frigga, a young woman gone mute due to a sexual assault in her youth. Terrible luck strikes again when, as an adult, she's abducted, addicted to heroin, and forced into prostitution. She resists, but after she harms a customer her pimp punishes her by cutting her eye out with a scalpel. After enduring further indignities she eventually musters the courage to try and escape. Heroin addiction is the leash her pimp counts on to keep her in line, but she's otherwise free to use her down time as she wishes. With the little money she has she secretly buys lessons in martial arts, shooting, and tactical driving, then when the moment is ripe she finally goes on a revenge spree.
There's nothing here you won't find in other 1970s revenge sexploitation flicks except lots of slo-mo, but for Lindberg's fans—among them Quentin Tarantino, who borrowed the eyepatch look for Daryl Hannah when he made Kill Bill—this is probably a must-see. As a side note, you'll sometimes find Lindberg referenced as a porn actress because of this movie. BAV Film made two versions, one with x-rated inserts and one without. The explicit stuff was done by a stand-in. Or a lay-in. In an interview Lindberg once said the hardest part of her career was resisting the constant pressure to do porn. We suspect this was a film she had in mind when she said that. After premiering in France at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973 and later playing in Sweden, Thriller: A Cruel Picture first opened eyes in the U.S. today in 1974.
Another relationship goes sour for Yuki K.
Above is another promo poster with roman porno queen Yuki Kazamatsuri, this time for her film Chijoku no heya, aka Room of Shame. Yuki's cab driver hubby has an accident and becomes impotent, leading to infidelity spiced up with various kinky deviations. You can always count on Yuki to pick the wrong man. Audiences loved her serial predicaments. By the time this effort appeared she was a huge box office draw, as evidenced by the fact that during 1981 and 1982 she appeared on the screen in no fewer than twelve starring or co-starring roles. That's a lot of failed relationships. She later had small parts in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies, and this year appeared in a mini-series. All-in-all a very nice run in show business, still ongoing. Chijoku no heya premiered in Japan today in 1982
Hong Kong kidnappers have problems mastering possession, and so do the filmmakers.
If Tarantino likes it, it must be tops. At least that's the assumption some would make upon learning that 1976's Ebony, Ivory & Jade, aka She-Devils in Chains, has Tarantino's stamp of approval. Well, despite the endorsement and status as a minor classic of the blaxploitation genre, the film isn't great. It has some highlights, including confidently staged action sequences and camerawork that does seem to have influenced Tarantino. But its failings are legion—bad script, wooden acting, and heavy duty crushed black levels that make the actors almost impossible to see in the night sequences. We'll give a pass on that last problem, because it could have happened during the video or DVD transfer.
We'll admit though, this flick is damned funny in parts—unintentionally so, foremost the character Stacy's beatdown of a bad guy who morphs into a dummy at the moment she hoists him overhead and helicopter spins him through a room divider. The basic idea of the film is also appealing—Hong Kong bad guys kidnap five female track stars for ransom, unaware that two of them happen to be martial arts experts that will cause no end of trouble once they untie themselves. Playboy playmate Rosanne Katon in the lead role is also a plus. But as blaxploitation, even a discernibly elevated budget doesn't lift the film above other entries in the genre.
As a side note, the above promo poster should help put to rest any idea that apostrophe illiteracy has something to do with modern education or the internet or whatever. It has always been a problem, and we see it all the time in vintage material. This particular failure to master the possessive form is pretty egregious, though. Yes, it's attached to a movie shot in the Philippines, but the error made it all the way through a phalanx of American writers, designers, pre-press workers, printers, and producers working in the U.S. of A. at—or at least for—Lawrence Woolner's Dimension Pictures. Pretty bad. Though as we've noted in the past, sometimes apostrophe placement can be legitimately tricky.
American boxing great’s legacy includes seminal film about the antebellum South.
The death of boxing champ Ken Norton has produced some nice tributes, but we wanted to mention that he also made a couple of interesting movies. The one most worth watching is 1975’s Mandingo, a slavery tale that has gone unsurpassed for realism in depicting America’s antebellum South. A few movies are at the same level of historical accuracy (including the amazing Addio Zio Tom, which we’re going to feature here in a couple of weeks), but Mandingo remains notable for its sweaty, oppressive feel and rich cinematography. Norton wasn’t chosen for the pivotal role of Ganymede because he could act. He was chosen because of his physical build and good looks—the first was necessary for scenes in which his character takes part in brutal pit fights, and the second makes the movie’s subplot of forbidden sexual desire plausible. When we featured Mandingo a few years ago we didn’t recommend it fully, but any film which some prominent critics have hailed as a classic and was a clear influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, but which Robert Ebert originally rated a zero has to be worth watching, if only to see what the fuss is all about.
Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise is required reading for fans of pulp.
Above is one of our recent finds, a 1966 French edition from De Noël of British writer Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise, based on his iconic comic strip of the same name. If by chance you aren’t familiar with the character of Modesty Blaise, let’s just say she’s the archetype for every female ass-kicker from Lara Croft to Charlie’s Angels. Her background is too complex to get into in a short post, but the quick version is she began life as an orphan somewhere in the Middle East and rose at a young age to become the head of a vast crime syndicate called the Network. She eventually retired, but sometimes works as a sort of a freelance spy for the British government.
The cover art here is a screen of Italian actress Monica Vitti, who played the lead in a 1966 film adaptation that failed to capture the essence of the character or the scope of her adventures. A 1982 television adaptation didn’t do much better, and a cheapie 2004 effort that was made so the rights wouldn’t revert from the then-owners was monumentally bad. One of those owners was Quentin Tarantino, but he hasn't said if he’ll helm a fresh adaptation. If you haven’t read any Modesty Blaise, we recommend you remedy that immediately. It’s light, but O’Donnell still manages to deliver some thrills along with a healthy dose of eroticism and humor. And in the meantime us Modesty fans will just keep waiting for a film that does the character justice.
Beat Takeshi’s Sonatine remains one of the best crime films to come out of Japan.
We saw Sonatine a few years ago and were simply stunned by it. It’s a gangster drama that derives inspiration from the same Hong Kong crime films that inspired Quentin Tarantino. We’re talking about classics like Ringo Lam’s City on Fire and John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow. But the difference is Sonatine is doggedly introspective. There’s plenty of violence, but the overall pace is measured, and the film features a long interlude during which hired gun Aniki Murakawa—played by Takeshi “Beat” Kitano—enjoys some idyllic rest and recreation at the beach with his criminal cohorts. This interlude, wedged between the bookends of the film’s main story, was our favorite part by far, because it humanizes Murakawa, shows him to be a man capable of laughter, even dreams. But it also highlights his insatiable appetite for self-destruction, and the utter emptiness of his soul. In the hands of a lesser director these sequences could have been nonsensical, but Kitano, handling the chores himself, constructs the pieces perfectly and you come away with real feeling for his anti-hero Murakawa. When the problems Murakawa avoided finally come to roost, we can’t help but cheer for him to win. But nothing is as simple as it seems in Sonatine, and nothing about it is predictable. Maybe that’s why, after its spring premiere in Japan, it went on to create a sensation at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival and make Kitano an international icon. Watch this one and you’ll see why.
What a town without pity can do.
Below we have top-notch promo posters from South Korea for Seung-wan Ryoo’s actioner Jjackpae, aka City of Violence. The film is exactly what you’d expect from looking at the art—two men driven by vengeance fight their way through swarms of baddies until finally reaching the evil kingpin who caused all their troubles. But even if it’s the type of tale we’ve seen made by every director from Woo to Tarantino, it’s done with style and delivers a mighty nice kick. Jjackpae premiered in South Korea today in 2006.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1974—Police Raid SLA Headquarters
In the U.S., Los Angeles police raid the headquarters of the revolutionary group the Symbionese Liberation Army, resulting in the deaths of six members. The SLA had gained international notoriety by kidnapping nineteen-year old media heiress Patty Hearst
from her Berkeley, California apartment, an act which precipitated her participation in an armed bank robbery.
1978—Charlie Chaplin's Missing Body Is Found
Eleven weeks after it was disinterred and stolen from a grave in Corsier near Lausanne, Switzerland, Charlie Chaplin's corpse is found by police. Two men—Roman Wardas, a 24-year-old Pole, and Gantscho Ganev, a 38-year-old Bulgarian—are convicted in December of stealing the coffin and trying to extort £400,000 from the Chaplin family.
1918—U.S. Congress Passes the Sedition Act
In the U.S., Congress passes a set of amendments to the Espionage Act called the Sedition Act, which makes "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces, as well as language that causes foreigners to view the American government or its institutions with contempt, an imprisonable offense. The Act specifically applies only during times of war, but later is pushed by politicians as a possible peacetime law, specifically to prevent political uprisings in African-American communities. But the Act is never extended and is repealed entirely in 1920.
1905—Las Vegas Is Founded
Las Vegas, Nevada is founded when 110 acres of barren desert land in what had once been part of Mexico are auctioned off to various buyers. The area sold is located in what later would become the downtown section of the city. From these humble beginnings Vegas becomes the most populous city in Nevada, an internationally renowned resort for gambling, shopping, fine dining and sporting events, as well as a symbol of American excess. Today Las Vegas remains one of the fastest growing municipalities in the United States.
1928—Mickey Mouse Premieres
The animated character Mickey Mouse, along with the female mouse Minnie, premiere in the cartoon Plane Crazy, a short co-directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. This first cartoon was poorly received, however Mickey would eventually go on to become a smash success, as well as the most recognized symbol of the Disney empire.
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