You wouldn't believe the mischief I get up to inside this thing.
This wonderful 1973 promo image of U.S. actress Gloria Hendry demonstrates the adage “less is more,” as in less skin. We've shown you shots of her in a bikini, with her six-pack abs and muscled arms, but this voluminous kaftan does something special for her. It's like she's hiding a secret. We'll have more of Hendry later.
There are only three sure things: taxes, death, and trouble.
Above is a poster for the drama Trouble Man, a well known movie from the blaxploitation cycle, not least because Marvin Gaye wrote the excellent soundtrack. In fact, a line from his theme song provided our subhead about taxes, death, and trouble. Like his music, unusual talent went into the film. That goes for the direction by Ivan Dixon, the writing, and the acting. All of that is pretty well known. The movie usually makes it onto lists of best blaxploitation movies. But it can also hold its own with most detective movies from outside the genre made during the early seventies, and because blaxploitation had so many cheap, fly-by-night productions, the fact that you don't have to squint beyond many shortcomings to see it as a good movie is something to appreciate.
Robert Hooks plays a Los Angeles badass who everyone calls simply Mr. T. He makes his money as a fixer, taking care of people's troubles for payment. That's where the “T” comes from—T for trouble. Two underworld figures who run craps games come to him because their game nights are being robbed by masked men. For $10,000 T agrees to stop the thieves. Unfortunately, the robbery tale is a set-up. The two underworld guys plan to frame T for murder. The how of it is a bit complicated to explain in a short write-up, but the important detail is why—the planned mark is a top henchman of a rival gangster, and his death will make the rival's territory ripe for a takeover. The plan works, as does the frame, but T doesn't end up in jail or dead, which means he's on the loose to dig for answers.
Hooks had already been a working actor for years by the time he took on the role of Mr. T, and the experience shows. He's far better than the music stars and ex-athletes that often headlined blaxploitation productions (though a few of them were good too). An ace cast is needed because this is the type of film where the audience knows exactly what's going on from the beginning, while T and the cops are in the dark. Without a mystery, the tension is provided by filling the movie with numerous tough guys who don't give an inch. Hooks has more than enough presence to hold his own. Thanks to him and his capable co-stars, including the regal Paula Kelly as his girlfriend, Julius Harris as a top criminal figure, and Vince Howard as Harris's main strongman, Trouble Man delivers the goods. It premiered today in 1972.
If you think I look good this way wait until you see me with motion, sound, and character development.
Above: an excellent photo of U.S. actress Tanya Boyd, who rose to fame in ’70s blaxploitation movies, particularly 1976's Black Shampoo and Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, two of the wilder movies of the period. Most of her career afterward consisted of television appearances, including a 650-episode stint on the soap opera Days of Our Lives, but she's always been a favorite of ours for her film work. In terms of blaxploitation performers, she was never as famous as Pam Grier, but she was just as fearless.
The man with the ebony gun.
Above is an Italian poster for the 1972 blaxploitation movie Black Gunn, which starred the one and only Jim Brown, along with Brenda Sykes and Martin Landau. In Italy it was titled Pistola nera spara senza pietà, which translates to, “black gun shoots without pity,” a clumsy phrase, but one that fits the movie. There's no release date for Italy, but it probably played there during the summer of 1973. We talked about it last year and shared a Japanese poster built around a photo-illustration, to which the above hand-painted effort serves as interesting contrast. The artist is uncredited.
Machete Maidens Unleashed! is a mandatory look at grindhouse moviemaking during the untamed 1970s.
Machete Maidens Unleashed! is a film we've watched a few times, and whenever a movie racks up multiple viewings we think it needs to be highlighted. It's a fast paced documentary about the wave of low budget exploitation flicks made in the Philippines from the late ’60s through the ’70s. We weren't old enough to see any of them during the actual grindhouse era, but caught them in later years, and one reason we came up with this website was for the opportunity to riff on these types of flicks. Over the last decade-plus we've had the pleasure of writing about entertaining dreck like Savage Sisters, The Big Doll House, Night of the Cobra Woman, and Cleopatra Wong. Built around interviews with stars such as Pam Grier, Sid Haig, Margaret Markov, Gloria Hendry, and directors/producers like Eddie Romero, Jack Hill, Joe Dante, and Roger Corman, Machete Maidens Unleashed! is an insider's look at a unique era in cinema history. It compellingly juxtaposes snippets of cinematic insanity against clips of the performers involved laughing over the craziness of it all. While the moviesdiscussed often fall into the category of sexploitation, at the time they were also considered an adjunct of the women's liberation movement—a point made by a couple of the actresses interviewed. Coming out of the sexually repressive decades of the fifties and early sixties, nudity was seen as a rebuke to patriarchal control. Covering productions ranging from 1964's The Walls of Hell to 1979's big budget war flick Apocalypse Now, this is a wide ranging documentary, and by far the most entertaining one on the subject matter we've seen. What with our website's Philippine provenance, and with PSGP having spent a couple of years in Guatemala, another country where life was cheap but fun was unparalleled, this also hit us directly in the nostalgia gland (PSGP feels like the only reason these films weren't made in Guatemala is because everyone actually would have been murdered, instead of just thinking they would).
All the interviewees seem to understand that they're from an extinct breed of very brave film performers, making entertainment for audiences ready to see absolutely anything happen. It sometimes seems that modern audiences have forgotten that the filmmaker is not the material, and the actor is not his or her character. The message comes through strongly here that movies are simply make believe. The creators maywant to outrage, or teach, or push censorship envelopes, or illuminate themes that leave audiences enriched in some way, but it's still just a job they perform before going home to their real lives. We wouldn't be surprised if some of the interviewees now feel they'd been traumatized, but during this movie, at least, they shrug off the difficulties of filming—ranging from extreme weather to graphic nudity to military revolt—as obstacles true professionals must navigate. The title cards of some of these films should be enough by themselves to intrigue you. We have a set below. We've also mixed in some screenshots. We'd love to have uploaded actual production photos, but the films are so low budget those are close to impossible to find. But why look at photos when you can watch the movies? Give it a shot. Quarts of booze are optional. Machete Maidens Unleashed! had its world premiere in Australia in the summer of 2010, and first hit U.S. shores today the same year at the Philadelphia International Film Festival. We've pointed you toward a few Philippine grindhouse flicks above, and you can read about more—there are so many, so please excuse the avalanche of links—here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
There's only one rule: walk away or be blown away.
Above: an alternate poster for the Jim Brown blaxploitation movie Slaughter, which first hit cinemas today in 1972. We've talked about it twice: here and here. Shorter version: All work and no play makes Jim a dull boy, which is why it's good Stella was totally down for some fun and games.
Sometimes you run out of superlatives.
Recently we mentioned, more or less in passing, that Vonetta McGee was very beautiful. We'd already featured her as a femme fatale years ago, but our recent name drop got us thinking about sharing another image or two. We expected photos to be hard to find. Interest acts as a filtering mechanism, and since there are not many people percentagewise who save African American actresses' old photos and slides, fewer who digitize them, and still fewer who place them on their websites, all these factors converge and the result is lowered representation. We see it every day. There are significant and talented black actresses with extensive filmographies, yet they have only a fraction the number of surviving promo photos of non-black actresses who made only a few movies. For that reason we were pretty happy when we not only found the above shot of McGee during her ingénue period, twenty-three years old, but a marvelous shot. A wonderful shot. It was made when she debuted in the 1968 Italian comedy Faustina, and this is what we meant when we said she was very beautiful. After a successful career appearing in films ranging from trendy blaxploitation such as Blacula to high budget features such as The Eiger Sanction, the magnificent McGee died today in 2010.
Anyone hoping for a relaxing weekend should probably choose a different place.
We've featured several blaxploitation posters by George Akimoto, so you could be forgiven for thinking the above effort was also painted by him, especially because it's in a similar photo-realistic style, but it's actually the art of Robert C. Kinyon, a new name to our website. He painted it for the Fred Williamson actioner Bucktown, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1975. We've uploaded close-ups below so you can see some of the nice elements Kinyon included, especially the urban street scene with its overlapping, multi-colored neon lights. We'll be keeping a watch for more art from him.
Obviously we watched this movie, and plotwise Williamson arrives in the eponymous Bucktown to bury his brother, who died of pneumonia. Included in his estate is the local nightspot Club Alabam. Williamson wants to sell it and get out of town, until he discovers his brother died of pneumonia alright—after being beaten and left in the freezing rain for refusing to pay off the local cops. Turns out Bucktown is crooked from the top of the police department all the way down to the bottom of the county clerk's office. Only the mayor is clean, but he's helpless.
The Bucktown cartel tries to shake down Williamson for money owed by his brother, as well as for future nightclub profits, but he isn't the type to be intimidated, so he calls in some out-of-town help. A trainload of northern hustlers arrive and soon it's open warfare as Williamson's backup crew starts shooting down crooked lawmen. It's pretty clear, though, that he's going to have trouble with his helpers. That trouble is worse than he imagined. Once the local law is eliminated his pals take over the town and Williamson is basically back at square one. Lesson: power corrupts.
Pam Grier is in this, which is only half the reason we watched it. The other is Williamson, who we've come to regard as a great screen presence. Grier co-stars as a justice-minded local girl who quickly falls into bed with him. Her early roles usually allowed her to play it tough, but here she's a worried girlfriend—a part that doesn't fit her well or use her talents properly. Even so, she's still the lovely Miss Grier and she gets plenty of screen time. Also aboard is the reliable Thalmus Rasulala as head of the out-of-town invaders, and Carl Weathers as of one of his gunmen.
In the end you wind up with a movie the resides somewhere in the middle ranks of blaxploitation in terms of quality and entertainment value. It's low budget, and only passably acted, but it offers up a vision of smalltown corruption right out of Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest. In both cases the hero might have been better off heading down the road, but in both cases they're required to stick around and beget some brutal violence. Bucktown barely survives the onslaught, but it's just another day in the realm of blaxploitation.
Shaft comes out swinging in the third entry in his revered blaxploitation franchise.
This poster of Richard Roundtree brandishing a massive shillelagh or whatever was made for the third film in his iconic Shaft trilogy, Shaft in Africa, which was released today in 1973. Film series often try to go bigger with each entry, so it's no surprise that this one went clear to Africa during the height of the blaxploitation wave. Looking at the poster, we wonder if the stick gimmick influenced the next year's Black Samson, in which Rockne Tarkington carried a shillelagh of his own. Cinema being generally referential, we're guessing yes. But the similarities between the movies ends there. Black Samson was exclusively concerned with urban Los Angeles, while Shaft in Africa spans three continents and touches on some unusual subject matter.
The story revolves around New York City private dick John Shaft being asked to bring down a modern slavery ring. We should note, for any who don't know, that this evil thrives in 2022. In modern slavery, people desperate for work are offered foreign jobs that turn out to be brutal and pay so little—or nothing—that its victims are trapped. They can neither escape nor go to the police, because they soon learn that their work papers are fraudulent, and are told by their enslavers that the police will imprison them for illegal immigration. Operations of this sort have been broken up in recent years in New York, Georgia, and Texas, where a sex slavery ring was uncovered in Dallas. Elsewhere, slavery rings have been busted in the British Midlands, Australia, and perhaps most notably in Dubai, where Amnesty International says forced labor was used to prepare Qatar for the upcoming World Cup.
Shaft is tasked with traveling to Ethiopia, where he will pose as a local and allow himself to be recruited by slavers so he can gather evidence for French authorities, who have learned that the victims end up in Paris. Unfortunately, Shaft quickly realizes his cover has been blown and that he can't trust anyone. In a classic American cinema example of vigilantism becoming the last best option, he decides that rather than gather evidence against the slavers it'd be better if he went human tornado on the whole stinking lot of them. He becomes, in essence, the classic cop out of control, leaving chaos in his wake as his erstwhile handlers survey the damage and occasionally go sacre bleu!
In an interesting subplot, Vonetta McGee plays Aleme, tasked with teaching Shaft local ways and a bit of language. Shaft is dismayed to learn that she's on the cusp of receiving her clitoridectomy, a coming-of-age ritual generally referred to these days as female genital mutilation. Shaft: “Listen, baby, how in the hell are you gonna know what you're missing unless you give it a little wear and tear before they take it away?” It's glib, but there's a serious undertone—probably not enough for anyone horrified by the practice, but you really can't expect more for the time period. It's actually amazing it was mentioned at all. Because this is a Shaft movie, Aleme has a hands-on experience with the hero's big brown stick and decides she better hang onto her clitoris after all.
What can you say about a movie that features Roundtree reprising his immensely popular and groundbreaking private eye, and that deals with two hot-button social issues decades before they were on the minds of the Western public? The budget is big, the pace is fast, and the international setting in and around Addis Ababa, with some scenes shot in Massawa, Eritrea, and a climax staged in Paris, offers plenty of appeal. In addition, there's McGee, a very beautiful actress who in this outing looks even better than usual, while Serbian actress Neda Arnerić plays a ridiculously horny femme fatale who'll do anything to get Shaft in the sack. Action, commentary, sex, and a bit of humor—those are excellent ingredients, but even with all that and the virtual kitchen sink thrown in we don't think Shaft in Africa is as good as the original. But that's no surprise. There's really nothing like the first time.
Hand over all your disco albums right now or you're dead meat.
We don't know if this low-cut kaftan or whatever U.S. actress Rosalind Cash is wearing is suitable garb for a machine gunning, but who's going point that out to her? She's probably going to Studio 54 later. The image was made for 1971's The Omega Man, which starred Charlton Heston and was based on Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, a book we discussed a while back. Talk about getting your career off to a good start. Cash's first role was a small part in the classic drama Klute, with The Omega Man coming out months later and featuring her third billed in what was at the time considered a big budget sci-fi epic. From that point Cash worked steadily for twenty-five years, finishing her movie career with 1995's Tales from the Hood. We've also seen her in Uptown Saturday Night and Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde, two blaxploitation movies we may talk about later. Cash is good at looking tough. For confirmation, check out this shot.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1989—Anti-Feminist Gunman Kills 14
In Montreal, Canada, at the École Polytechnique, a gunman shoots twenty-eight young women with a semi-automatic rifle, killing fourteen. The gunman claimed to be fighting feminism, which he believed had ruined his life. After the killings he turns the gun on himself and commits suicide.
1933—Prohibition Ends in United States
Utah becomes the 36th U.S. state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, thus establishing the required 75% of states needed to overturn the 18th Amendment which had made the sale of alcohol illegal. But the criminal gangs that had gained power during Prohibition are now firmly established, and maintain an influence that continues unabated for decades.
1945—Flight 19 Vanishes without a Trace
During an overwater navigation training flight from Fort Lauderdale, five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo-bombers lose radio contact with their base and vanish. The disappearance takes place in what is popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle.
1918—Wilson Goes to Europe
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sails to Europe for the World War I peace talks in Versailles, France, becoming the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office.
1921—Arbuckle Manslaughter Trial Ends
In the U.S., a manslaughter trial against actor/director Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle ends with the jury deadlocked as to whether he had killed aspiring actress Virginia Rappe during rape and sodomy. Arbuckle was finally cleared of all wrongdoing after two more trials, but the scandal ruined his career and personal life.
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