Every day and overtime on Sundays.
Above: an Australian promo poster for The Flesh Is Weak, the 1957 John Derek/Milly Vitale vehicle we discussed earlier this month. Shorter version: Derek tricks Vitale into hauling her flesh out to the street to work at the oldest profession. There's no Australian release date for it, but it probably didn't play Down Under until 1958. Read more and see the amazing French promo here.
If you use the sleeper car you might never wake up.
This Italian poster for was made to promote Le jene di Chicago, which opened in Italy today in 1952, but was made in the U.S. and is better known as The Narrow Margin. It's a movie we talked about back in April. The Italian title translates as “the hyenas of Chicago,” which makes sense—a potential federal witness is dogged by a pack of predators that want to kill her. It's a movie worth watching. You can read about it here.
Don't mess with the man upstairs.
Stranger on the Third Floor is sometimes cited as a proto film noir, coming a year before the first official noir, 1941's The Maltese Falcon. In this day and age, any vintage crime film is called a film noir on crowdsourced websites like IMDB, so depending on where you look film noir isn't as pure a cycle as it used to be. But in this case the debate is fair. The film is about newspaper journalist John McGuire, who serves as a witness at a sensational murder trial, while his fiancée Margaret Tallichet frets about the impact of recognition on their lives. The two of them are planning to move out of their boarding houses and find a place together, but McGuire's building has lately been haunted by a mysterious stranger played by Hungarian actor Peter Lorre. Who is he? Why is he hanging around? Is he somehow connected to the murder?
Gene D. Phillips, in his book Out of the Shadows: Expanding the Canon of Film Noir, cites Stranger on the Third Floor as a film that “codified the visual conventions of film noir.” It has flashbacks, a brilliant nightmare sequence, a sense of growing dread, a false accusation (or possibly two), a narration (though not of the hard-boiled variety), and a usage of angles and shadows that is extravagant. Where it differs from film noir is in its general lack of cynicism and world weariness. In fact, it's the opposite. McGuire ponders whether doing his civic duty by testifying will have consequences, but at no point does he feel like a sucker for doing so. He believes in society and its basic functions. The Maltese Falcon, by contrast, offers civic duty as an option, but Sam Spade acts as he does because of his personal code. Duty is secondary, and ultimately, so is love.
Despite these differences between Stranger on the Third Floor and canonical film noir, casting the net wide enough to include this movie makes sense. It definitely gets its influences from the same places as film noir, particularly in German Expressionist cinema of the early 1900s. Interestingly, Lorre would feature prominently in The Maltese Falcon, as would Elisha Cook, Jr., who plays the defendant at the trial. So the connection between Stranger on the Third Floor and film noir is concrete on that level at least. All that said, does our opinion matter? Watch Stranger on the Third Floor and debate whether it's a film noir yourself. You'll see a visual masterwork regardless of which cinematic bin you stick it in. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1940.
No calm in the eye of this storm.
First of all, we're going to send an e-mail to the World Meteorological Organization lobbying for a hurricane to be named Hitomi. It's gotta happen. But about this poster art, we discussed Hitomi Kozue's roman porno actioner Nikutai hanzai kaigan: Piranha no mure, aka Sex-Crime Coast: School of Piranha a few years ago. Basically, four delinquents who call themselves the Piranhas go on a spree of crime and mayhem around Sagami Bay. The above promo is similar to the regular poster, but because it's monochrome and has some different text elements we thought it worth sharing. Plus we're completist when it comes to Kozue—anything she's in or on, we're all about.
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.
Fulci goes full-on gruesome in Italian zombie epic.
We're still looking toward Italy today, specifically at vintage Italian horror cinema, and simply put, these didn't mess around. Regardless of quality they tended to be unusually foreboding and grim. And that's just the poster art. Above you see a promo for Paura nella città dei morti viventi, which was known in English as City of the Living Dead. Lucio Fulci, who directed and received a story credit for this one, was particularly enamored of zombies, churning out at least five films touching on the theme, including ...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldilà, aka The Beyond, and Quella villa accanto al cimitero, aka The House by the Cemetery. In all of them he used his trademark tricks—extreme close-ups, death-white make-up effects, and gore, gore, gore. Italian genre flicks usually had international casts performing in both English and Italian, with the babel smoothed out later with overdubs. City of the Living Dead follows that template. U.S. born Christopher George and Brit actress Catriona MacColl are in the leads, with support from Italians Carlo de Mejo, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Daniela Doria, the truly lovely Antonella Interlenghi, and Swedish star Janet Agren. The movie is set in New York City and Dunwich, a mythical town conceived by H.P. Lovecraft for his Cthulhu Mythos, where a priest's suicide has somehow opened the gates of hell and allowed the dead to walk the Earth. Obviously, the heroes want to close these gates, but that's pretty difficult when you have to fight through a storm of maggots. Yes, Fulci throws everything into this—the ancient Book of Enoch, the Salem witch trials, seances, drifting fog, people regurgitating their own intestines, and of course head-crushing zombies. The low tech nature of Fulci's obsessive gore-nography just makes it that much more disturbing. On the other claw, the low quality of some of the acting is a definite detriment. Even so, if you can get into a zombie frame of mind, the acting becomes less important than the mood, and in horror, mood is everything. Paura nella città dei morti viventi premiered in Italy today in 1980.
Naomi Tani discovers she's a rose that hasn't blossomed yet.
It's been a few years since we checked in on Japanese bondage queen Naomi Tani. Well, she returns on this poster for Kurobara shôten, aka Black Rose Ascension. The movie, which is a roman porno—i.e. a Nikkatsu Studios softcore sex flick—concerns a self-absorbed Osaka porn director played by Shin Kishida who loses his star when she refuses to work while pregnant. Simultaneously, over in the subplot, Naomi Tani has an unfilled life doing various things that aren't exactly ethical in the sexual sense, such as rimming an older man for money and having an affair with a married dentist. Kishida targets Tani, seduces her, and films it. She doesn't know she's on camera at first, but realizes it partway through when a gaffer and a camera guy jump out of a closet. If you know this genre you can guess where the movie goes from there. Hint: Hmm... maybe what I was doing before was kind of like porn anyway. Nikkatsu never fails to ponder whether a woman is really just a sex freak who hasn't blossomed yet. We can't say the movie is great, but we'll say this much for it—you'll really believe it's possible to fuck while roller skating. Kurobara shôten premiered in Japan today in 1975.
How do you show your man you love him? Show your love to other men.
Here's another amazing and framable movie poster, this time for Le trottoir, which was originally made in England as The Flesh Is Weak. The art is by René Brantonne, who typically illustrated book covers, such as here and here. This is stylish work, very different from what we've seen him do before. It's cartoonish, but captures the mood of the film, an urban drama starring John Derek. Yes, that John Derek, the one who— Or has he been forgotten already? We'll reacquaint you. Derek was an actor, photographer, screenwriter, and director, but he's best known as a sort of Svengali who directed his fourth wife Bo Derek in several erotic films in which male actors got to squeeze and lick her soft parts. In 1984's Bolero he shot Bo in three love scenes, one of which made viewers wonder if there was more than acting involved. That's unlikely, but even so, actual penetration was about the only thing missing, which makes John Derek a different kind of husband indeed.
His partnership with Bo in using her body to make money is even more interesting considering the subject matter of The Flesh Is Weak. He plays London agent who meets naive Milly Vitale and convinces her to attempt resolving his debt problems by selling her womanly favors. Of course, he has no debt problems, and he's no agent—he's a pimp, and chose Vitale to convert to prostitution. She ends up tricked into selling herself because she's in love, and though for some readers that surely seems impossible to comprehend, we read Iceberg Slim's autobiographical Pimp some years back and he confirmed from a firsthand perspective that love was what he often used as a lever. It's hard to imagine but true. And its pretty sad, even in the sanitized version presented in The Flesh Is Weak. Is it worth watching? There's no need to clear your schedule, but overall it's pretty good. There's no known French release date, but it had its world premiere in London today in 1957.
And now for their next trick they'll turn the tide of war.
First off, the cross you see at the bottom of this poster is not a swastika but a much older Japanese symbol. It's usually seen oriented as above, or, rarely, reversed like the Nazis used it, but in all cases has religious, historical, or pop culture meanings. We've talked about it. The poster was made for the period roman porno flick Kunoichi ninpo: Hyakka manji-garami, known as English as Female Ninja Magic: 100 Trampled Flowers. The movie is set in a time of warring clans during the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan beginning in 1603, and as the title suggests, a female ninja clan uses sexual magic to try and turn the tide of war between the powerful Tsunayoshi shoguns and the Akizuki clan. Working for the shogunate are the Iga and Kouga ninja clans, while aiding the Akizuki are the Fumi, the women of the title.
That's a more elaborate set-up than usual for a roman porno movie, and indeed, this one will require more than the usual level of attention to keep straight. It takes its historical trappings seriously, with a convincing pre-industrial look, elaborate period dress, and a focus on succession by birth. But don't fret, fans of the genre—the movie is weird as hell, as roman pornos must be, and you'll be pleased to know that a virtual who's-who of Nikkatsu Studios stars feature, including Junko Miyashita, Hitomi Kozue, Yuko Katagiri, Kyōko Kanō, Maya Hiromi, and Yuri Yamashina. What exactly is sexual magic? Let's just say there's plenty of vaginal fluid involved, of varying viscosities, used in numerous ways. There's other bizarreness too, including an umbilical cord that strikes like a cobra. We don't think the Tokugawa era actually unfolded this way, but to paraphrase the immortal Wooderson, it'd be a lot cooler if it did. Kunoichi ninpo: Hyakka manji-garami premiered in Japan today in 1974
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