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.
A rag is a gown, 'til a man comes around.
Above is an Italian poster for Il vestito strappato, better known as The Tattered Dress, starring Jeff Chandler, Jack Carson, Jeanne Crain, Gail Russell, and the lovely Elaine Stewart. The art, depicting an evening gown reduced to a useless rag by a disembodied male hand, is actually accurate in terms of the film's visuals. We mean a dress is ripped and you don't get a good look at who's attached to the hand. We talked about it a while back. Shorter review: disorder in the court.
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.
No dream involving Elke Sommer can be bad.
This Japanese poster features the German perfection known by the earthly name Elke Sommer, and it was made to promote her Cold War adventure The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz. Generally, long foreign titles were shortened, so in Japan this was called simply “Her Immoral Dream.” It isn't a great film, but it may cause you to have immoral dreams about Sommer. We have some promo photos below showing her in all her incomparable beauty. There's no Japanese premiere date for the movie, but it opened worldwide in 1968.
Medical malpractice reaches epidemic proportions in wartime murder mystery.
This poster for the thriller Green for Danger, which was made in England and premiered there today in 1946, asks about its central syringe image, “Murder weapon or clue?” Psst! It's both. That's not a spoiler. We call attention to it because it's strange that the question even made it onto the poster. It's not as if one answer precludes the other. In any case, there's more than one murder weapon. But the weapon used in the central murder is not a word that rolls off the tongue, so we guess the filmmakers opted to focus on the syringe used in a later murder because it was simple. That isn't a spoiler either.
Green for Danger, which is based on a 1944 novel by Christianna Brand, is set in World War II era London, when the city is being besieged by German V-1 buzz bombs. These bombs, actually more akin to missiles, couldn't be aimed, so instead were designed to run out of fuel over a general area and fall wherever. The point was terror. In the film, when people hear the devices flying somewhere overhead they don't panic, but if the sound of the engine stops, everyone knows death is coming down and runs for cover.
When a victim of one of these bombings dies in surgery in a London hospital, a staff member comes to think it was murder. She voices her suspicions, foolishly as it turns out, and is the next to be dispatched. At that point in comes the shambling detective to solve the crime. He's played by Alistair Sim with considerable humor, which may seem inappropriate in a thriller, but this the movie is also a bit like a wartime soap opera, young doctors in love, that sort of thing, so Sim's wry personality sort of fits.
But it's still mainly a whodunnit, and such movies usually end either with the dick explaining to the assembled suspects who committed the crime, or with him concocting some baroque scheme to cause the killer to unmask himself. This one ends with Sim doing both, which leads to a preposterous set-up for the finale, but we won't spoil that either. In the end Green for Danger—equal parts thriller, melodrama, whodunnit send-up, and comedy—was good fun.
Hell hath no fury like the pious denied.
Above is a beautiful but uncredited 1964 Mayflower Dell cover for Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb, an author we knew only from horror fiction until we read this. We'd seen the movie a few times, and it's brilliant, as everyone knows. Well, so is the book. It's well written, and of course introduced to the world its iconic serial murderer Preacher, aka Harry Powell, who has l-o-v-e tattooed across the fingers of his right hand, h-a-t-e tattooed across the left, and puts those hands to use in his violent quest for hidden bank robbery loot that may be in the possession of two children. This was Grubb's first novel, coming in 1953 originally, and it's as assured a debut as you'll ever read. Every passage in the book is good, but for a typical example, here's a short one:
Her hand rose to her mouth then, the lips gasped suddenly, and presently the teeth settled, gently, grinning, in the glass of spring water, while Icey turned her back on them and fell into the healthy sleep of a fat, innocent child. Yet Walt lay awake. It was something he had learned to do in their marriage: hammering his thoughts into the shape she wanted. It was the price of peace, of sleep itself. Whatever unframed and as yet unshaped suspicions he had of Preacher were gone—stamped and trodden into the soil of domestic orthodoxy.
It's just a couple going to bed, with one of them beginning to have doubts about the preacher who's come to town and infiltrated several lives. But even in minor passages Grubb shines, showing that good writers work hard to describe even less significant moments well. That level of attention to detail helps Grubb build tension to the point where it's hard to bear—almost to the level of one of his horror tales—as Preacher psychologically dominates the children at the center of his obsession. His mental tortures are mere precursors to his physical violence.
Night of the Hunter became a great movie because the source material was as deep and rich as a seam of buried of gold. Filmmakers often make major changes to material and produce something amazing. Other times it's best to keep riding the same horse that took you to the rodeo. For those who have never seen the film, Grubb's novel will be a special—if terrifying—treat. But we think the book is worthwhile even for those who know what's going to happen. And we consider Preacher, whose twisted interpretation of scripture is designed to serve his lust for money and power, a relevant character in 2020.
The view from the below is plenty thrilling in Gemser sex comedy.
We're sure you can take a gander at the above poster for Malizia erotica and instantly come to the conclusion: Ahhh yes, good ole European sex comedies. The movie was originally made in Spain but released as El periscopio in Italy today in 1979. It stars lanky erotic icon Laura Gemser in a story that would surely ruffle feathers—if not spark litigation—were it to be made today. In short, a teenaged schoolboy played by Ángel Herraiz lives with his parents in an apartment beneath that of supersexed nurses Gemser and Bárbara Rey, and like any rational kid would, he uses a periscope to spy on them.
There are other plot threads here, but forget those. This peeping teen angle leads to an amazing scene: Herraiz gets so heated up by his voyeurism that he develops pains in the groin area. His parents know the upstairs pair are medical professionals and ask Gemser to diagnose the kid's problem. She discerns immediately that Herraiz has a debilitating case of blue balls and gives the kid some manual relief—in front of his parents! Ahhh yes, good ole European sex comedies. Sure, her nursely fap session happens out of direct view under the kid's blanket, but still.
It just goes to show that little is out of bounds in this genre. The older woman introducing a boy to sex has been the subject of scores of films, but what was once thought of as a lucky manchild's rite of passage is now considered sexual predation. We don't disagree, however we know two guys this has happened to and neither of them regret it. Real life is full of contradictions that way. In any case, what would have been nice is if this particular coming-of-age story were better written, acted, and filmed. But ahhh yes, good ole European sex comedies—they're nearly always inept. El periscopio does not reverse the trend.
She helps her co-workers in whatever ways she can.
We've had this poster hanging around for a few years, but never uploaded it, hoping we'd eventually find the film and be able to talk about it, but no such luck. In fact, we couldn't even find a detailed plot summary online, so it has all the hallmarks of a lost film. Things like that happen. Anyway, here's a beautiful promo for OL nikki mitsuryô (asaru), which starred Hitomi Kozue and Junko Miyashita, and was known in English as Office Lady Diary: Poaching. It was part of the popular Office Lady series, which ran to six films in its original incarnation, before being reconstituted for a later set. Like we said a few days ago, no idea in cinema goes unrecycled for long. Especially successful ideas. We have a few more Office Lady posters here, here, and here, and another stunning promo image of Hitomi Kozue below. OL nikki mitsuryô (asaru) premiered in Japan today in 1973.
The list of sensory superlatives quickly runs short.
Here yet again is Marilyn Waltz, also known as Margaret Scott, an early Playboy centerfold and popular pin-up model we've featured a few times. This Technicolor lithograph, entitled “Visions of Beauty,” is from 1952, and as you can see below more than one image of her posing against this velvet backdrop was published. The litho below was entitled “Lovely as a Rose.” Like many women who posed nude back then, Waltz had Hollywood aspirations, but her entire cinematic output consisted of a single role in the 1954 b-flick Love Me Madly, aka Love My Way, aka The Wild Sex. The film is forgotten, if not lost, but it's notable—for us anyway—because her co-star was Georgine Darcy, perhaps better known as Miss Torso from Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. With Waltz and Darcy on the same set the filmmakers probably needed a fire brigade on standby in case the sound stage burst into flames. You can see everything we have on Waltz by clicking her keywords below.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1915—Claude Patents Neon Tube
French inventor Georges Claude patents the neon discharge tube, in which an inert gas is made to glow various colors through the introduction of an electrical current. His invention is immediately seized upon as a way to create eye catching advertising, and the neon sign
comes into existence to forever change the visual landscape of cities.
1937—Hughes Sets Air Record
Millionaire industrialist, film producer and aviator Howard Hughes sets a new air record by flying from Los Angeles, California to New York City in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds. During his life he set multiple world air-speed records, for which he won many awards, including America's Congressional Gold Medal.
1967—Boston Strangler Convicted
Albert DeSalvo, the serial killer who became known as the Boston Strangler, is convicted of murder and other crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He serves initially in Bridgewater State Hospital, but he escapes and is recaptured. Afterward he is transferred to federal prison where six years later he is killed by an inmate or inmates unknown.
1950—The Great Brinks Robbery Occurs
In the U.S., eleven thieves steal more than $2 million from an armored car company's offices in Boston, Massachusetts. The skillful execution of the crime, with only a bare minimum of clues left at the scene, results in the robbery being billed as "the crime of the century." Despite this, all the members of the gang are later arrested.
1977—Gary Gilmore Is Executed
Convicted murderer Gary Gilmore is executed by a firing squad in Utah, ending a ten-year moratorium on Capital punishment in the United States. Gilmore's story is later turned into a 1979 novel entitled The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, and the book wins the Pulitzer Prize for literature.
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