You never forget the first time.
We recently saw the latest reboot of the classic blaxploitation film Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson, Jesse Usher, et al, and while the parties involved in that effort have their unique charms, this photo pretty much covers what made Richard Roundtree the best. He was, and remains, a bad mother— Shut your mouth! He was born today in 1942, and this photo dates from 1971.
If you're impressed by my backhand you should see my wing chun double punch.
We don't know if martial arts icon Jim Kelly played tennis, but we like this poster of the Enter the Dragon star working on his court moves. It was published in the African-American celeb magazine Right On! in 1979. Kelly was not a good actor, but who was in those low budget actioners from the 70s? You can count the true talents on ten fingers. But Kelly was the first black martial arts star, and a serious stud, which means his legacy is assured. He died today seven years ago.
Blacula hopes to get a hard restart.
Every blockbuster deserves—or at least spawns—a sequel, and so it was with 1972's blaxploitation hit Blacula, which American International Pictures followed up with Scream, Blacula, Scream. All it really needed was star William Marshall, who in the first movie showed true professionalism by playing his role of Mamuwalde the cursed vampire to the hilt. He does the same here, and with the addition of Pam Grier the filmmakers had their bases covered. Grier plays a Mamaloa priestess who Mamuwalde asks to use her voodoo judo to turn him into a man again. Presumably at that point he'll start his new life with a romp in bed with Grier. We would.
Grier tries to figure out how to transform Mamuwalde, but in the interim he still occasionally gets hungry, which presents the cops with a series of bizarre murders. You know the drill. Bodies are punctured about the neck and drained of blood, but everyone is skeptical about the vampire thing. In short order they change their minds, generally right before departing for the sweet hereafter. At least part of the fun for audiences would have been seeing cops beaten and maimed, and the climax surely offers plenty of that. Does Mamuwalde's scheme to rejoin humanity work? We'll give you a hint: When the man is on your trail bite more, talk less.
We have some nice promo images below. The two of Grier in a red crop top are usually considered to be from Foxy Brown, but she actually wears the outfit in this film. Maybe she wears it in Foxy Brown too. And why not—it's hot. You can read about Blacula at this link, and see plenty more of Miss Grier by clicking her keywords below. Scream, Blacula, Scream premiered in the U.S. today in 1973.
Don't change a thing for anybody.
You know we're Stella Stevens fans here. Though we prefer the thirty-plus version of her, she first turned heads as a model in her early twenties, posing for a Playboy centerfold published in 1960, sessions from which the above shot originates. Stevens had begun acting before then, appearing in three films released in 1959. The next year she won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year, and eventually appeared in dozens of films and television shows. She was always a good actress, but never scored prestige roles. She did, however, grace some low budget classics, foremost among them the blaxploitation flicks Slaughter and Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. Mixed in were cheeseball hits like The Poseidon Adventure and The Silencers, and an occasional good movie, such as The Ballad of Cable Hogue. All in all she's had an amazing career, on pause since 2010. But she'll never be on pause on this website. More Stella here and here. Edit: We recieved an e-mail from Herman, a man who knows a thing or two about mid-century celebs and has helped us with corrections, and he wanted to remind us:
I certainly appreciate that image of Stella. Although I have been a fan of PB since the mid 50s as a boy, I don't believe I have seen this particular photo. Of course, I have to say I believe you left some important points out of your commentary about her. I believe you said once you are not a particular fan of Elvis Presley (that may have been someone else) but without the 1962 Girls, Girl, Girls appearance I don't think she would have caught on so quick. Don't forget that the reason PB recognized her in the first place was because of her appearance in Li'l Abner in 1959. I know you didn't set out to do a biography on her, but these were points I think are important in her chronology.
Agreed, H, Stevens has a long and interesting story. We didn't set out to write a biography, as you said, but we may need to spend a little more time on her to give her proper due. She's not a subject we'll tire of easily.
Sheba Shayne takes aim at Egypt.
Above is an Egyptian promo poster made for Pam Grier's blaxploitation flick Sheba, Baby, in which she played the title character Sheba Shayne (surely one of the best names for a PI ever). We have no Egyptian premier date for the film, but it probably happened well after its 1975 U.S. opening, maybe even as late as ’77 or ’78. Does the figure on the poster look like Grier? Not as much as it could, but we think it's a fun piece of art anyway.
For perfect composition start with the basics.
This artful photo shows U.S. actress Paula Kelly, who appeared in such classic films as The Andromeda Strain, Soylent Green, and the blaxploitation comedy Uptown Saturday Night. She was also a dancer and choreographer, which probably helped her nail this pose and make the photographer look brilliant. She just died a couple of months ago at age seventy-seven, an event we totally missed, but we're glad we found this timeless image.
Who's the hardest dick in New York City? You know who.
We don't know about you, but we had no idea Shaft was a novel that predated the movie until we saw the above cover art. Written by Ernest Tidyman, this originally appeared in 1970 and was quickly snapped up by Hollywood. That edition was a hardback with a black and white cover by Mozelle Thompson and is rare. The edition you see at top was published in 2016 by Dynamite Entertainment and is widely available.
Plotwise, Shaft is hired to find a drug kingpin's kidnapped daughter with the help of Black Panther style revolutionaries. Tidyman's take on New York City and the social climate of the time is entertaining and the violence is swift and brutal. Because filmdom's Shaft was inclusive in his views, even to the extent of a jokingly flirtatious friendship with a gay bartender, we were surprised by the book's homophobia. Tidyman saw Shaft as ultra tough and therefore anti-gay, but the filmmakers saw right through such silliness and decided to turn that aspect of the book on its head. Another change is the treatment of the drug kingpin's daughter. In the movie she's merely kidnapped, but in the novel her captivity takes the form of narcotic and sexual slavery.
In terms of white authors inhabiting the personas of black Big Apple detectives, the trailblazing Ed Lacy did it better with 1958's Room To Swing, but Tidyman manages well enough, we think, even if his prose sometimes meanders. Though we read Shaft only because it was the wellspring of an excellent blaxploitation flick, turns out the book is worth a gander on its own merits. Tidyman also wrote like five sequels. We know nothing about those, but maybe we'll have a look.
Rudy Ray Moore explodes onto the film scene and people can't believe their eyes.
We said a while back after watching the blaxploitation flick The Human Tornado that we'd check out its progenitor Dolemite, and though it's taken years and a quarantine, we've finally arrived where we said we would. The premise of Dolemite is simply that the titular character is released from prison in order to prove his innocence of the charges that landed him inside for, so far, two years of a twenty year sentence. The motivation behind this for authorities is that crime has shot through the roof in Dolemite's Los Angeles neighborhood. If he can fix the problem he can earn a pardom. Sounds fine, he says, plus he plans to settle some old scores along the way.
Going into this you have to accept that man-boobed fat-ass Rudy Ray Moore is going to play an infinitely dangerous, athletically gifted, sexually irresistible urban crusader. In addition you have to accept that the low budget nature of the production means some of the acting will be face-palmingly atrocious. What you have left, then, after making concessions, is style, commentary, and comedy. Moore provides plenty of the first with his pimplike persona and occasional forays into rhyming slang, and commentary is built into the blaxploitation genre, but the comedy is dependent on how near to a sober state you are. We were far too near at first, less so later, and the film improved.
Some cinephiles will label you a cultural philistine if you dare to dislike Dolemite. They're wrong. Except for the musical numbers the movie is empirically terrible. Truly appreciating it may depend on how deeply you can immerse yourself into a contemporaneous mindframe where what you're seeing is unlike anything you've seen before (which is certainly how audiences of the era must have felt), and therefore impresses you with its freshness and grit. If you can do that, the microphones dangling in shots and bit players who struggle to remember their lines will fade, and instead Dolemite might impress you as a landmark entry in the blaxploitation canon, worth watching for that reason alone.
Then again it might not, because there are at least two-dozen better entries, and as a matter of respect for the genre that fact has to be admitted, no matter how many hipster reviewers with scraggly neckbeards tell you Dolemite is an overlooked gold nugget. It is what it is—a lower tier, lowest budget indie flick with a few legit laughs, such as when a cop sees that Dolemite has literally karate-clawed a guy's mid-section open, says, impressed, “God damn, Dolemite,” and administers a double-tap coup de grâce. But Moore would prove those flashes were luck, not skill, when he lensed the crushingly bad sequel a year later. Dolemite premiered in the U.S. today in 1975.
Player, hustler, dealer, pimp.
Here's a little something for the blaxploitation bin, an Italian locandina, or playbill, for the 1973 gangster classic The Mack, starring Max Julien, Richard Pryor, and Carol Speed. In Italy it was called Mack - Il marciapiede della violenza, aka, “Mack – sidewalk of violence,” and if anyone saw it based on this poster they must have been surprised by the African American cast. We don't have an Italian release date for the movie, but it opened in the U.S. today in 1973. From our non-professional perspective it's a pretty important flick. You can see what we wrote about it here.
Ex-footballer Fred Williamson finds hits in cinema a bit more elusive than hits on a gridiron.
Above is a poster for the blaxploitation movie Mr. Mean, which hit cinemas this month in 1977. First, the title. Mr. Mean. We don't like it. It doesn't project the dignity of Mr. Majestyk, the approachable earthiness of Mr. Ed, the dystopian oppressiveness of Mr. Robot, the humor of Mr. Bean, the cultural examination of Mr. Baseball, the weirdness of Mr. Meaty, the paternalism of Mr. Skeffington, the righteousness of They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!, and, most importantly, the melodic promise of the forgotten ’80s pop band Mr. Mister. In short, Mr. Mean just sounds like a movie about a guy nobody wants to know.
It was written, produced, and directed by ex-NFL bonecrusher Fred Williamson, and long story short, directing a film is just a little more complicated than spearing wide receivers as a defensive back. He should have done better, since this was his fifth go-round of nearly twenty in the director's chair. Possibly the studio messed up his final cut. Or, considerably more likely, it was a disaster from the snap. Problem one: there's an unbelievable number of scenes of Williamson going from point A to B, either by car on on foot. If all the transit scenes were cut the movie would be ten minutes shorter. Problem two: every actor in the film is made of wood.
But we made it through this interminable slog across a fireswamp of first year film student errors for two reasons—Williamson himself, who has charisma and actually does mostly okay in the lead role, and his co-star Crippy Yocard. Both are great looking and many viewers will probably dig him, her, or both. Yocard in particular was one of the more free-spirited Italian stars, which she proved by posing for numerous extremely nude photos, including this one. Back yet? Now just imagine what the others are like. Maybe there's even a third point of interest with the movie—it feels a bit arthouse, which makes it a curiosity within the blaxploitation genre.
Notice we haven't discussed the plot? Fred didn't even know what it was, so how can we? Basically, he plays a fixer living in Rome who takes jobs come what may, but is asked to cross the bright white ethical line and kill a guy. He doesn't want to do it, but he needs the money, the target is supposedly a real asshole, and so forth. Despite the hackneyed premise, a decent movie could have resulted, but it feels as if an investor backed out halfway through and Williamson and crew found themselves stuck up the Tiber River with neither paddles nor budget.
So what's the upshot here? Williamson gets to strut and whip ass, Yocard gets naked, and arrogant white villains get obliterated. All good things. An unexpected aspect is that the legendary funk band Ohio Players get the soundtrack duties and close the movie with “Good Luck Charm,” which is a song so good it almost erases the memory of them opening the movie with a laughably bad theme song called—guess?—“Mr. Mean.” What can be said? Even musical geniuses will fumble when pressured. As for Williamson—he just dropped the ball. Which is why he was a defensive back in the first place.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—Eugenics Becomes Official German Policy
Adolf Hitler signs the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and Germany begins sterilizing those they believe carry hereditary illnesses, and those they consider impure. By the end of WWII more than 400,000 are sterilized, including criminals, alcoholics, the mentally ill, Jews, and people of mixed German-African heritage.
1955—Ruth Ellis Executed
Former model Ruth Ellis is hanged at Holloway Prison in London for the murder of her lover, British race car driver David Blakely. She is the last woman executed in the United Kingdom.
1966—Richard Speck Rampage
breaks into a Chicago townhouse where he systematically rapes and kills eight student nurses. The only survivor hides under a bed the entire night.
1971—Corona Sent to Prison
Mexican-born serial killer Juan Vallejo Corona is convicted of the murders of 25 itinerant laborers. He had stabbed each of them, chopped a cross in the backs of their heads with a machete, and buried them in shallow graves in fruit orchards in Sutter County, California. At the time the crimes were the worst mass murders in U.S. history.
1960—To Kill a Mockingbird Appears
Harper Lee's racially charged novel To Kill a Mockingbird
is published by J.B. Lippincott & Co. The book is hailed as a classic, becomes an international
bestseller, and spawns a movie starring Gregory Peck, but is the only novel Lee would ever publish.
1962—Nuke Test on Xmas Island
As part of the nuclear tests codenamed Operation Dominic, the United States detonates a one megaton bomb on Australian controlled Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. The island was a location for a series of American and British nuclear tests, and years later lawsuits claiming radiation damage to military personnel were filed, but none were settled in favor in the soldiers.
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