Modern Pulp May 2 2024
MAD MAXIMUM
Harlem hath no fury like a righteous man scorned.

This Japanese poster for the 1990s period crime drama A Rage in Harlem happened to catch our eye, partly because the art by Joe Batchelor is great, but also because we knew the American promo featured not this painting but a rather banal group photo of the cast. We don't know why Japan got the better promo, but we can speculate. By this time global audiences were acclimated to photographic promo art, but in Japan the cast—Forest Whitaker, Robin Givens, and several established actors of the period—were unknown to local filmgoers, so the distributors marketed the movie as an art film, a sort of exotic trip to 1950s Harlem. The text on the poster's reverse seems to confirm that: 1956, Harlem. Jazz clubs, dancehall dresses, and people in suits, with a nightlife unfolding in a Harlem-style destination.

Chester Himes' novel For Love of Imabelle provided the source material, and it features everything the poster promises. The story deals with a naive and religious young Harlem undertaker played by Whitaker who's taken in by scam artists, tries to retrieve his money, but runs into an array of complications, some of them comical, most of them lethal. The movie follows the book pretty closely, which means it's bound to have good moments, but the direction by Bill Duke is a bit ponderous in the early stages, the script's many interjections of humor lack the zest of Himes' writing, the soundtrack is often a mismatch of mood, and the entire production suffers from budgetary constraints. It wasn't shot in New York City, but rather Cincinnati. While architecturally that made sense because Cincinnati has scores of brownstone houses in the style of old Harlem, there's really no substitute for the Big Apple.

On the plus side, the cast is interesting. Whitaker would later become a respected Hollywood figure, though here he's a little green, still feeling his way as an actor. Danny Glover, Bajda Djola, and Gregory Hines are entertaining in supporting roles. Givens fits the part of a femme fatale like a glove—which is to say, she's slinky as hell and startlingly beautiful. And turning back to the setting, while, as we said, Cincinnati is no Harlem, the many brownstone apartment houses did create a workable backdrop, and Duke uses the city in every advantageous manner he can manage. These are enough attractions, we think, to push the movie onto the plus side of the ledger. After its 1991 U.S. run A Rage in Harlem reached Japan in 1992. The rear of the poster gives a premiere date of May 2.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
June 16
1961—Rudolph Nureyev Defects from Soviet Union
Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev defects at Le Bourget airport in Paris. The western press reported that it was his love for Chilean heiress Clara Saint that triggered the event, but in reality Nuryev had been touring Europe with the Kirov Ballet and defected in order to avoid punishment for his continual refusal to abide by rules imposed upon the tour by Moscow.
June 15
1978—Hussein Marries Halaby
King Hussein of Jordan, who had claimed direct lineage from the Prophet Muhammad and the most ancient tribe in the Arab world, marries American Lisa Halaby, who renounces her American citizenship, converts to Islam, and takes the name Queen Noor. Noor soon becomes one of the most glamorous and recognized royals in the world.
June 14
1995—Roger Zelazny Dies
American fantasy and science fiction writer Roger Zelazny dies at age fifty-eight of kidney failure related to colo-rectal cancer. Zelazny won the Nebula award three times, and the Hugo award six times, for novels such as ...And Call Me Conrad and Lord of Light, but was best known for his fantasy serial The Chronicles of Amber.
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