Blaxploitation flick goes slapstick and the result is bold but bad.
This poster for the blaxploitation flick Darktown Strutters, aka Get Down and Boogie, is a high quality piece of art. The movie it promotes, conversely, is a low quality piece of art, one of those efforts any rational assessment concludes is an utter disaster, but which has advocates, among them Quentin Tarantino. The advocates are wrong. Tarantino—and it pains us to say this—is wrong. This musical-alleged-comedy about a female motorcycle gang in L.A. battling the owner of a fried chicken franchise is about as entertaining as watching a circus clown punch himself repeatedly in the nose. If you watch it with your Vaudevillian cortex activated you might get a few bemused laughs. And if you dig into it with a pickaxe and mining helmet you might find commentary upon cultural appropriation, feminism, capitalism, and law enforcement. But if you examine it from a technical point of view you'll simply cringe, even factoring in its highly limiting three-day shooting schedule. Since when does lofty intent stand in for basic execution? We missed that memo. But we do love the poster (by an artist we were not able to identify), and we like the promo images below. They show Edna Richardson, Bettye Sweet, Shirley Washington and, front and center, Trina Parks, who thankfully had other opportunities to show her actual talent. Darktown Strutters premiered in the U.S. today in 1975.
I'm supposed to be working plainclothed but what's a queen to do?
The blaxploitation film Cleopatra Jones premiered today in 1973, so we thought it was an appropriate moment to post this sleeve for the soundtrack, a pretty good record, like blaxploitation soundtracks tended to be. It's a re-issue, which is why it looks so pristine. The artists include Joe Simon & The Mainstreeters on the title tune, plus contributions from Millie Jackson, Carl Brandt, and J.J. Johnson. But our interest in this is the image of star Tamara Dobson, who plays the titular badass government agent cum fashion plate. We cropped and de-texted the cover and the result is the poster-like image you see below. Fun movie too.
When Jim Brown stands his ground an entire city is turned upside down.
This Japanese poster was made to promote the U.S. blaxploitation flick Black Gunn, which in Japan was called スーパー・ガン, or “Super Gun.” The U.S. promo for the movie is nice too, but we prefer this version. Black Gunn starred Jim Brown as a Los Angeles nightclub owner whose little brother rips off the mob and stashes the cash in Brown's office safe. Little brother has also stolen and stashed ledgers containing information that could bring down the entire organized crime apparatus. Naturally, the mob comes looking and they aren't subtle about their methods. A few beatings and threats elicit some useful information, and pretty soon they're knocking on the door of Gunn's Club, as Brown's joint is called. Think his little brother is going to survive all this? If he did, you wouldn't get to see vengeful Jim beat, kick, and blast various members of mafia west.
Brown is usually a passable actor, no worse than average for action movies of the period, but here he seems to be sleepwalking, along with every other cast member apart from head villain Martin Landau. Brenda Sykes in particular seems to be adrift about a hundred nautical miles offshore. We chalk these performances up to a rushed production, but the good news is the action is explosive, so the film isn't a total waste of time. Plus it has Bernie Casey, and we'll watch him in anything. He had a palpable cool that should have been bottled and sold. Black Gunn premiered in the U.S. today in 1972.
He scored big in 1971. In 1972 he returned for a double dip.
Once you go blaxploitation you never go back. At least for a day or two. Above is the U.S. promo poster for another movie from the genre, 1972's Shaft's Big Score, starring the legendary Richard Roundtree. Shaft is obviously a name meant to conjure sex, so it makes sense that the poster is so phallic, with Roundtree sticking that long black rod in the viewer's face. Shaft's Big Score was the sequel to 1971's Shaft, which was a landmark in American cinema that hammered home the growing realization in Hollywood that there was money to be made by showing audiences people like themselves. White audiences had lived that reality since the first moving pictures, but mostly never considered the privilege they were enjoying. Shaft helped demonstrate that all people liked it, and helped define the future for film studios. The focus was black, the cast was diverse, and the money rolled in. Which brought about Shaft's Big Score. We've seen better movies, but we've sure seen worse too. You can read what we thought about it here.
The temperature goes up but everything else goes down hard in low budget action flick.
We're drawn by cool promo posters, but even though there's nothing special about the cheap-ass art for the 1976 blaxploitation flick Black Heat, we had to watch it anyway because we love low budget vintage cinema. It's like panning for gold. Usually you end up disappointed, but occasionally you find something shiny and nice. Black Heat stars Timothy Brown, who we last saw in an epic disaster called The Dynamite Brothers, aka Stud Brown, that probably should have ended his cinematic career. But here he is two years later still riding the blaxploitation wave. He plays Kicks Carter, an L.A. cop trying to get to the bottom of illegal activities at a fancy hotel, keep his partner's born loser girlfriend out of gambling trouble, and make time for romance on the side. Considering the bad luck Brown had with The Dynamite Brothers we'd love to tell you Black Heat is a major step up in his career. It isn't. It's terrible. The only spark is provided by co-star Tanya Boyd, who you may remember from her eye popping turn in Black Shampoo. Anything she's in, we'll gladly watch, because as far as heat is concerned her dial goes to eleven. But she about covers the positives here. Well, her and the fact that the movie features one of our favorite sights from ’70s cinema—the car that goes over a cliff with a dummy in the driver seat. It's a good metaphor for the film—basically driverless, destined to crash and burn. Black Heat premiered today in 1976.
Who do you think you're calling baby, buster?
Any reasonable excuse to feature Pam Grier is one we'll gladly take. We checked out her blaxploitation flick Sheba, Baby a few years ago. We've since found this alternate poster, which is different enough from the one-sheet that we thought it would be a good idea to share it, as well as the promo image, which is a subtle colorization of the black and white original. Sheba, Baby premiered today in 1975, and this is the last we expect to write about it. We'll have plenty more on Grier though.
You probably can't pull this look off but there's no harm in dreaming.
Above you see a photo of U.S. actress Rosalind Cash modeling what we like to think of as the classic afro, an image we've posted today because recently we ran across a story on Simone Williams, official Guinness World Record holder for largest afro in existence. We don't know if hers is actually the largest, regardless of what Guinness says, but it's a majestic 'do, beyond doubt. It got us thinking about the hairstyle, which in our book is the coolest of all time.
There are different types of afros beside just the classic. We wanted to feature all styles, and we also bent the definition a little to include what might be categorized more accurately as large perms. We've labeled all the variations below, which will help when you start on the long, winding, and ultimately fruitless road toward your own blowout. We're aware, of course, that there were many male celebs who had afros, but we're sticking with women today. Your journey begins below.
The pure joy afro, as modeled by Gloria Hendry, who appeared in such films as Live and Let Die and Savage Sisters. The regal, by Diahann Carroll, crown not included The bohemian, by Esther Anderson, who appeared in flims like Genghis Khan and A Warm December. The aquatic, by Camella Donner, who's a true water sprit, as we've shown you before. The iconic, by Pam Grier, who did as much to popularize the afro as any film star in history. The tall and proud afro, worn by trans b-movie actress Ajita Wilson. The wild child, seen here atop Italian actress Iris Peynado. The supreme afro, seen here on Diana Ross. The lovely innocence afro, by Brenda Sykes. The you-could-be-bald-and-still-be-smokin'-hot, demonstrated by Get Christie Love star Teresa Graves. The afro-warrior by Cleopatra Jones star Tamara Dobson. Definitely more in the category of a large perm, but she pioneered the high fashion afro, so she's earned some latitude. The too-cool-for-you afro/perm by Vonetta McGee. The action afro, seen here on Jeannie Bell. This barely qualifies, but she had one of the largest afros in the history of cinema, so we can cut her some slack. Check her screen shot in this post to be amazed. The bright-eyed and bushy, by Carol Speed. The action afro again, this time by Trina Parks, who sported this look in Diamonds Are Forever. Is it technically an afro? Tell her it isn't and see what happens. And lastly, the too-big-to-be-real afro, worn by Azizi Johari, whose actual hair you can see here.
There are numerous other afro shots in our website, but we can't possibly remember where they all are, so you'll just have to find them yourself, maybe by clicking the blaxploitation link below. Besides those, we do recall one more afro you can check out. It's on Desirée West, and you'll need to gird yourself for probably the hottest shot in Pulp Intl. history. Ready? Look here.
Which is louder—his shotgun or his wardrobe?
Above you see two posters for the blaxploitation flick Hit Man, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1972 and stars NFL player-turned-actor Bernie Casey as a man from Oakland who blows into L.A. to investigate his brother's murder. His brother ran a used car lot, but had gotten on the bad side of some local criminals. How he did that, who these bad people are, and what they're up to are the questions at the crux of the narrative, and when Casey finally learns the truth he's horrified and infuriated in equal measure, which turns him into a leisure-suited revenant with murder in his eyes and a gun in his hands.
What is neither horrifying nor infuriating is that Pam Grier is in this, which makes it a must watch in our book, and she holds nothing back, sporting a quantum leap forward in afro science, and proving once again that she was a fearless performer. Nevertheless, she and Casey can't make Hit Man good despite their best efforts. But on the other hand, it isn't awful either, and in the middle isn't a bad place to be in b-cinema, considering how deeply terrible the films can get.
Hit Man has a couple of miscellaneous notes of interest. A bit of filming takes place at Watts Towers, Simon Rodia's italo folk art monument that was designated a historic site in 1990. We've seen the place in person and we loved it because its mosaics reminded us of the type you see on modernist architecture in Barcelona. The production photo of Grier in a long black dress, below, was shot at the site. It's one of the most famous images of her, and one of the most badass too.
Hit Man also makes use of a location called Africa America, an open air animal preserve of the type made famous by Tiger King. We can't find any trace online that it ever existed, so there's no way to know for sure whether it was a real zoo, an MGM set, or something in between, such as a private ranch dressed up for filming. But it plays an important role in the plot, as do its hungry lions. If they'd eaten a few of the worst script pages, and a couple of bad supporting actors, and maybe Casey's purple leisure suit, Hit Man might be better than just okay. But lions are finicky like all cats, and most amateur film critics.
Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto give their all and then some in hard luck crime thriller.
Across 110th Street premiered today in 1972, which makes it one of the early arrivals in the blaxploitation wave that was sweeping American b-cinema. With its ample budget and its well established headliner in Anthony Quinn, you could make the case that it isn't fully part of the genre, but we think it fits, even if it's atypical. Outlier or not, you'll see several faces in this that would soon become well known in blaxploitation, and you'll also see Burt Young, later of Rocky and Chinatown.
Plotwise, the movie centers on odd couple cops—old school racist Quinn and college educated reformist Yaphet Kotto—thrown together à la In the Heat of the Night to solve an NYC murder/robbery. As familiar as this oil vs. water dynamic may be, the movie still comes together in exciting fashion thanks to the way it tracks the robbers' storylines. They're a trio of amateurs who ripped off the Mafia for $300,000 and now are being hunted by both crooks and cops. Quinn and Kotto must find these thieves before the Mafia turns Harlem into a war zone.
When the film was released it was criticized for its violence and bitter racial subtext, but upsetting the herd is one of the things it tries to achieve. And while it may not appeal to people's better angels, it's quite interesting, with the grit of Wally Ferris's otherwise radically altered source novel left intact, and the central metaphor embodied in the title—that of which lines will be crossed and what the consequences will be—deftly observed. Across 110th Street is rough stuff, but well worth a watch.
Got a problem you need handled? Isaac is your man.
This dramatic photo of ’70s icon Isaac Hayes was made as a promo for his blaxploitation flick Truck Turner. You haven't seen the image in quite this form before. We took the sleeve of the Truck Turner soundtrack, wiped off the text, and this was the end result. Not bad, right? We should do this more. Hayes' contributions to soul music via “The Theme from Shaft,” “Ike's Mood,” and other songs, plus his star turns in low budget cinema, make his legacy indisputable. Plus, we have a soft spot for him because he was a character on South Park, and one of us worked on the movie, but that's another true Hollywood story we may—but probably won't—share some day. Hayes was a little out there at the end, but once upon a time—as you see here—he was fully the man.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1941—Williams Bats .406
Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox finishes the Major League Baseball season with a batting average of .406. He is the last player to bat .400 or better in a season.
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.
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