They both like the beach, poetry, spicy food, and slaughtering cruel despots. They'll make a perfect couple.
The above posters for We Were Strangers, one of which seems celebratory and another that is more dramatic, could give the impression of a studio that wasn't sure what kind of film it was trying to market. Legendary director John Huston made a habit of confounding executive suites, and here produced a film that probably came close to sending studio bigwigs plummeting in despair off high ledges. The story is set in Cuba during the early 1930s rule of dictator Gerardo Machado y Morales, and deals with revolutionaries who devise a plot to tunnel from a house near a graveyard to the site of a funeral they know the president will attend, and blow him to kingdom come with dynamite.
The movie stars John Garfield and Jennifer Jones, and is beautifully shot, but the characters aren't well written, nor are the performances sufficiently involving. There's nice action, though, especially at the climax. Since the central personalities are revolutionaries in Cuba, many critics denounced the film as Marxist propaganda, which it really isn't. It's just historical drama with unavoidable economic context. You wouldn't think it would be terribly controversial to say that for Americans to live income-wise far above the global average, substantial portions of the world must remain stuck below it, but on the other hand maybe it's understandable that we want to avoid thinking about how earning a nice profit is usually dependent upon others providing raw goods and hard work dirt cheap.
It's a shame the film isn't good enough to sweeten its message with high level drama and thrills. Huston was a workmanlike director who, despite helming numerous classics, wasn't any sort of auteur. He tried to tell stories in ways he felt was best for the material, but he also loved travel, which led him to accept projects based on the potential for exotic location work. Sometimes, as in The African Queen, he struck gold. Other times, as here, he spent a lot of investment capital and made a lot of Hollywood suits cry. We Were Strangers will be of interest to Havanaphiles, but in what was a famously up and down career, this effort comes out on the lower end of the Huston scale. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1949.
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.
Laura Gemser makes an emancipation proclamation.
As you've deduced from the above Italian poster for La via della prostituzione, also known as Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade, we've performed a quick turnaround to Laura Gemser, last seen two days ago. In this flick she plays a journalist, a role she inhabited often, and heads to exotic Nairobi with sidekick Ely Galleani. In a Nairobi market Gemser sees a man hurrying a woman through the throng. She'd seen the same pair in the airport, except then the woman was in a wheelchair and the man was pushing it. Gemser asks her local tour guide, “Do you know that man?” His response: “That one? Only by sight. I only know that he's American, and that he comes on business, but I don't know what kind of business. Someone mentioned white slavery. But why do you ask?” Did you just cringe a little? We did too, but we get it—the white kind is far more important than the regular kind, init?
Anyway, while were still marvelling over the sad but somehow uproarious tone deafness of those dialogue exchanges, Gemser was busy jetting from Nairobi to New York City to find more info about this American slaver. After promising her editor the biggest scoop of her career, she manages to charm her way into a slave auction taking place—in an amazing stroke of luck—right there in the Big Apple. She watches as girls as young as seventeen are sold to hairy-knuckled jetsetters, including that mysterious Yank, played by hirsute Italian Gabriele Tinti. Now that she knows the basic shape of the wrongdoing taking place, she needs evidence. How does she gather it? That's right—by infiltrating the slave racket as product. She's accepted as a high priced prostitute, and from NYC she's off to San Diego to work in a private club, where she hopes to blow the racket wide open.
You may be asking yourself, Wait, how is this all voluntary for her if it's a slave ring? That question is never fully answered. Somehow, though, she's accepted in the game as a freelancer, while all the other girls seem to be wholly owned chattel. It doesn't matter. This is sexploitation cinema, and what matters are nudity and sex, which means that mixed into the confounding plotline are an amazing number of sex scenes, which consist of cast members slithering softcore style against each other like salamanders while soporific music drifts across the soundtrack. It's all very silly, but the entire point of these films is to create gauzy eye candy, not dazzle you with cinematic mastery or make social statements more than a micron deep. Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade fulfills all the requirements of the genre, not brilliantly, but certainly adequately. It premiered in Italy today in 1978.
James Bond heats up the Cold War in Istanbul.
We take it on faith that everyone has seen all the old James Bond films, and that most people love them. But we haven't actually sat down and watched some of them in twenty years. So when we saw all these Japanese posters for 007ロシアより愛をこめて, also known as 007/危機一発, but much better known as From Russia with Love, we said why not take a fresh look at it like we'd never seen it before. Plus, you know, lockdown. Bond seemed like just the sort of reliable adventure we needed to spice up the idle hours. The film definitely proves that when it comes to action movies budget is almost everything, and a decent script helps. Call it Q=BS2. Budget and script squared equals quality. From Russia with Love scores well there.
We had forgotten how fun Pedro Armendáriz is as Ali Kerim Bey, Bond's counterpart in Istanbul, which is where much of the film is set. Interesting factoid about Armendáriz: he'd been diagnosed with cancer and was already fatally ill when he made the movie. After filming he shot himself to skip the suffering that was on tap and never got to see the finished product. Another bit of trivia is that Eunice Gayson, who was reprising her role as Sylvia Trench from the earlier Dr. No., was supposed to appear in six films, serving as Bond's recurring love interest and the central figure in a running gag. In short, every time Bond would try to get hot and heavy with her, headquarters would interrupt and call him away, leaving the loyal Gayson serially unfulfilled.
We love that idea, but studio heads changed their minds, possibly because they wanted to make Bond a little sluttier than originally written. Don't quote us on that, but it was the ’60s, after all. Make love not war. Of course, in the end, Bond makes both. In any case, if you have time to kill, From Russia with Love might just do the trick. It's exotic, reliable, and familiar, but since you probably haven't seen it for years it will also be fresh enough to keep you interested. Also, Robert Shaw as the secondary villain doesn't hurt, nor does Daniela Bianchi as the primary female character, and Lotte Lenya as a Russian assassin with a dagger that extends from the toe of her pump is a hoot. Talk about the cruel shoes. From Russia with Love premiered in England in 1963, and reached Japan today in 1964.
She gets into these situations so you don't have to.
This poster is an addendum to our earlier write-up on this film, Osoe!, a hit roman porno from Nikkatsu Studios starring Erina Miyai, who spent her entire career getting into pickles like this one. This is basically the original promo poster, reversed and with all the text removed except the title. It was unusual for title-only art like this to be produced, which is why when we found it we thought we'd better share. We also share some thoughts on the film. Just look here. Osoe! premiered in Japan today in 1978.
Like Einstein said, if you want to understand relativity, watch a bad roman porno film and time will slow to a crawl.
Ever get sexually aroused when having your teeth drilled? No? Us either. But Nikkatsu Studios' infamous roman porno films leave no fetish unexplored, so in the opening sequence of Hirusagari no onna: chohatsu! aka Woman of the Afternoon: Incite!, Yûko Asada gets turned on when a dentist drills her teeth. Weird, right? But we aren't disparaging the dental masochists among us. If inner ear vibrational resonance floats your boat, we say just do it.
Later Natusko Yashiro gets plain drilled in a dentist's chair. This dentist is her husband, and she doesn't want to bear children because it will ruin her body. After being pressured on this issue she flees in her car, and thus begins an odyssey of Grecian proportions. During her travels she has several bizarre mishaps and stumbles upon assorted weirdos who, for reasons ranging from persistent neurosis to sheer psychopathy, all bring her to harm. The harm escalates to degradation, most of which takes place at a rural restaurant several bad men take over and turn into a carnival of violence and rape.
You'd suspect the point of all this is something about social decay, but we're not qualified to venture a guess. We just know that by the end credits, which arrive a mere sixty-seven minutes after Nikkatsu's opening logo but feel fifty reels too late, we thought we'd had our teeth drilled—with zero sexual arousal involved. Roman porno films may be softcore, but they sure can be hard on the psyche. Hirusagari no onna: chohatsu! premiered in Japan today in 1979.
Look what the cat dragged in.
Cats get a bad rap in ’70s horror films. They're always shown lurking, staring, yowling, hissing, flying into frame from some elevated position off-camera, and standing sentinel over murdered bodies. Felines come to the fore once again in the Italian giallo-horror flick La morte negli occhi del gatto, aka Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye, as beautiful young Jane Birkin ventures into the Scottish countryside for a stay at creepy old Castle Dragonstone, which seems cursed or haunted by a feline or felines. Shortly after her arrival bodies start appearing. Who's doing the killing? Is there really a curse? Why does that darn cat keep turning up?
All of the answers and more are revealed, as is the reason behind the carnage, and guess what? It isn't the cat's doing at all. The problem is entirely human and has to do with coveting the castle. Seems everyone wants their own pile of rocks in windblown bumfuck Scotland. Yes, the plot is as blah as we made it sound, but at least the poster art is excellent. There's a another poster, an even better one, with Birkin on it. We digitally restored it to hi-rez perfection, then Photoshop corrupted the file right when we were putting the final touches on it. We aren't going to repeat all that work, so you'll never see what we did. Maybe there's a curse after all. La morte negli occhi del gatto premiered in Italy today in 1973.
Troublesome Nazis bring bad intentions to Mexico City.
The much beloved Santo movies may not be good, but you certainly can't complain about the promo posters. This winner was made for Santo en Anónimo mortal, aka Santo in Anonymous Death Threat, and it finds everyone's favorite luchador once again battling the forces of evil. This time he's called upon to help the latest in a line of men who've been sent anonymous notes informing them of the dates of their deaths. The previous recipients met nasty ends. The newest prospective victim doesn't trust the police to keep him alive, so he appeals to the only man that can truly do the job—Santo el enmascarado de plata. Santo rightly wonders what the connection is between all these men. But viewers don't have to wonder—it's right there on the poster.
Yes, Nazis have made their sneaky way to Mexico. And just to ram the point home fully, Santo coincidentally has a match against a wrestler named El Nazi, who mid-round is shot dead, becoming yet another victim. Santo soon learns that all the departed—even El Nazi, who must have adopted his moniker due to a keen sense of irony—were witnesses at the war crimes trial of a Third Reich death merchant named Paul Von Struber. This von Struber was sentenced to hang, but escaped to Mexico City, where he took an assumed identity. Now he wants revenge on everyone who testified against him because— Well, that's hard to figure out. He really should just lay low, having evaded the hangman. But he's a Nazi. They specialize in terrible ideas.
By the time this film appeared Santo had already battled vampires, zombies, and witches. The producers of these potboilers went big early. Overloaded with crazy concepts, they even had Santo go up against a carnivorous blob. Nazis, then, aren't that big a deal. Santo doesn't even have to cut his wrestling schedule short. When the evil von Struber captures him and locks him away in the secret Nazi lair, he quickly manages to break his ropes, beat the shit out of the flunkies guarding him, and bring down El Cuarto Reich before it even has a chance to stick its head out of its bunker. It's good that Santo's triumph is so perfunctory, because this was his forty-somethingth adventure and his knees had to be getting balky. Santo en Anónimo mortal premiered in Mexico today in 1975.Wow, you're a big'un, aren't you? Ever considered pro wrestling? If you wanna meet up later I can teach you some submission holds. Obergruppenführer! I have a question!
Bogart finds himself stuck on Key Largo when hurricane Edward blows into town.
Above is a West German poster for Hafen des Lasters, which translates as “port of vice,” but is better known as Key Largo. We love this piece of art. It's imitative of earlier posters, particularly a Belgian promo from 1949. But that one is by Wik. This one is signed by a different artist, but illegibly, so we can't tell you who painted it. We'll work on that. We've uploaded the signature in case you have an idea what this scrawl says. This is simply a great film, a crime drama set in a hurricane. Many books using the same idea were written later, such as Theodore Pratt's Tropical Disturbance and Russell Trainer's No Way Back. Whether they were inspired by Key Largo or earlier works like W. Somerset Maugham's Rain we can't say, but any writer will tell you never let a good gimmick go to waste. In any case, Key Largo premiered in the U.S. in 1948 and reached West Germany today in 1950.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1914—RMS Empress Sinks
Canadian Pacific Steamships' 570 foot ocean liner Empress of Ireland is struck amidships by a Norwegian coal freighter and sinks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the loss of 1,024 lives. Submerged in 130 feet of water, the ship is so easily accessible to treasure hunters who removed valuables and bodies from the wreck that the Canadian government finally passes a law in 1998 restricting access.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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