Sometimes the end of the line can be a new beginning.
Check out this beautiful Mexican promo poster for the melodrama El tren expreso. It can be difficult sometimes to determine provenance for Spanish language items, but we know this piece is Mexican because it says Filmex, S.A. at upper left, telling us it was printed for Mexico's Cinematográfica Filmex. But the movie was originally shot in Europe with mainly Spanish participation, including from director León Klimovsky, who was Argentinian but after 1950 emigrated to and worked mostly in Spain.
We watched the movie and it deals with a burned out concert pianist who takes a sabbatical and while on a train journey stops an unhappy widow from leaping to her death. These two broken souls travel together and fall in love, but matters of the heart are never simple in cinema. If you want to see the movie you can watch it at this link, but keep in mind we described it as a melodrama advisedly. Also you'll need to understand Spanish.
Anyway we're mainly interested in the poster, which is amazing, but uncredited. We hit the internet for info and drew blanks for days. We eventually learned it's part of a collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, but it was listed as by an unknown artist there too. So that settles it, pretty much, if professional art curators have no information. The world may never know who painted this masterpiece. El tren expreso premiered in Spain today in 1955.
Gemser gets freaky on the island of brotherly love.
La spiaggia del desiderio is another Laura Gemser sexploitation epic, third in what would become a long series of Emanuelle movies, and the first to truly jump the shark. A bit of backstory: Author Emmanuelle Arsan wrote the original Emmanuelle character, based on herself, in 1967, and saw it become the erotic film Emmanuelle starring Sylvia Kristel. It premiered in France in June 1974 and was a worldwide smash by that autumn. But Italian production company Aquila Cinematografica had managed to film and rush release a knock-off entitled Amore libero that hit cinemas in Rome by August of 1974. The movie starred Gemser as a character named Emanuelle—with one 'm'. This film too was something of a success, in the sense that it made money while costing far less.
After the success of the French Emmanuelle its makers decided to cash in with a sequel. Trinacra Films and Orphée Productions kicked France to the curb and made Emmanuelle II with an eye toward the large U.S. market, where their sophomore entry eventually had its world premiere in December of 1975. While shooting this sequel they apparently figured the more Em(m)aunelles the better and cast Laura Gemser as a sexy masseuse in order to pair her up—naked—with Kristel. The spirit of cooperation is admirable, but certainly what this casting decision did was give Gemser's Emanuelle just as much legitimacy as Kristel's Emmanuelle.
At the time Gemser was enjoying this cameo appearance in Emmanuelle II she had already made or was about to make a sequel to her Amore libero. We use that uncertain terminology because the French Emmanuelle films were higher budget productions and took longer to film and post-produce, which means even though Gemser's sequel hit cinemas before Emmanuelle II, it's possible it was filmed after and rammed through post to get to audiences first. In any case, Gemser's sequel, already cynically thieving the original Emmanuelle concept, was titled to take advantage of the burgeoning blaxploitation wave. Emanuelle negra it was called—Black Emanuelle.
Gemser was off and running and would eventually make more than a dozen Emanuelle films, each more preposterous than the previous. Amore libero and Emanuelle negra featured Gemser playing an Emanuelle who, like the original character written by
Emmauelle Arsan, enjoyed sexual adventures in exotic tourist destinations. But La spiaggia del desiderio is a lost world flick that features her living on an isolated island with her father and brother in primitive bliss. We suspect the entire script was written to avoid high budget location work and unnecessary characters.
In any case, it's just Gemser, her dad, and her bro on this uncharted spit of tropical sand off the coast of Venezuela, until a shipwreck victim washes up and brings with him a host of problems. Because, you see, Gemser plays a game with her brother, a very pleasurable game that she—in her innocence—doesn't realize is known as incest in the civilized world. When she begins to play the game with the newcomer that's when things go terribly wrong. Think of it as The Blue Lagoon years before that movie appeared, but with brotherly love thrown in to provide an excuse to philosophize about cultural norms.
The main plot question becomes this: does the newcomer try to get Gemser to realize what she's doing is wrong, or is it really society that's wrong to judge true love? And secondarily, should he take her away to civilization, or would the real world destroy all that is innocent and wonderful about her? This is deep shit, folks. In our view, Gemser should leave the island—a few civilized cheeseburgers might actually do her good. She's 5' 7” and goes—maybe—115 soaking wet, so she really does look like she's been living on coconuts and crabs for years. But for her fans it's about her whole package, even if that package looks underfed.
We can't recommend La spiaggia del desiderio. There's just nothing much going on here. We suspect the film was toned down because of the (completely unneeded and distasteful) incest angle, a problem her production company might not have foreseen until it was too late. Like: “Uh, huddle up people—we just learned we can't show Laura boning her brother without being slapped with an injunction.” Thus with Gemser's nude frolicking reduced to a bare minimum, there's not much to sustain interest. If we were you we'd give this particular Emanuelle a pass. La spiaggia del desiderio premiered in Italy today in 1976.
Sorry about that. But since you caught me looking—in my opinion the black bustier and thong were much more flattering.
Writing as woman wasn't uncommon for male sleaze authors, so it's no surprise 1951's Wild Is the Woman was written by a man inhabiting the pen name Laura Hale. The question is who was the man? Some sources say the author was Fredric Lorenz, but The Catalog of Copyright Entries—Third Series: 1951, which is old fashioned paper info scanned to an archive, says it was Lawrence Heller. They seem to be same person, with Lorenz serving as another pseudonym used by Heller. Now the question is who painted the cover? Unfortunately, nobody can say definitively, but we'd bet a lot of cash it's George Gross.
Laura Gemser bites off more than she can chew in z-grade zombie epic.
Finally! We've learned that the Italian poster artist who signed his work Aller was a man named Carlo Alessandrini, and we owe that information to a new book by Roberto Curti called Italian Gothic Horror Films 1970-1979. Above you see Alessandrini's work for the Laura Gemser sexploitation flick Le notti erotiche dei morti viventi, aka Sexy Nights of the Living Dead. Gemser started in erotica in 1974, and as the years wore on she basically traded on her name and did less and less actual performing, appearing in several films in little more than cameo roles. In this one she secures top billing for not showing up until the thirty-three minute mark, and not uttering a line of dialogue until probably forty minutes in.
Plotwise, a sailor takes a greedy gringo developer and his prostie companion to a deserted island where the American wants to build the finest resort in the Caribbean. The place is called Cat Island and whenever anyone mentions it to the locals who live on nearby islands they run out of the room. To normal people this would be a strong non-endorsement concerning travel to Cat Island, but such blatant hints are lost on lunkheads in horror movies. So a-boating they go. When the developer announces his plan to pave over the old island cemetery to build a heliport you just know he's sticking his dick somewhere he's likely to lose it—Gemser's mouth (see below). Her army of zombies are equally opposed to gentrification, and lodge their protests by chasing the living all over the place. But all is not lost. As the hero explains at one point: “The advantage we have is that they move at a snail's pace.”
So does the movie. One plus is that it was made primarily on beautiful beaches in the Dominican Republic, and several scenes were shot in Santo Domingo, which is interesting to see pre-tourist era. Another plus is that there's wall to wall sex featuring such beauties as Dirce Funari, who's the real star of the movie, and Lucia Ramirez. The unrated version goes all the way, and even treats viewers to a Tijuana donkey show-worthy routine involving a stripper and a Champagne bottle. None of the X action includes Gemser, who was strictly softcore her entire career, though her nudity is more explicit than usual here. Basically, it's all just as dumb as it sounds, but we'll admit it's accidentally funny in parts, which helps. Le notti erotiche dei morti viventi premiered in Italy today in 1980.
Gemser makes a movie out of spare parts.
In Porno Esotic Love Indonesian sexploitation superstar Laura Gemser finds herself in another exotic locale—this time Hong Kong—where she engages in another series of softcore romps with hirsute westerners. She made something like twenty-six movies along these lines, which is why the makers of this one couldn't resist taking shortcuts. They cobbled together a good chunk of the footage from Gemser's previous outings and shoehorned them into a new narrative about a woman seeking revenge for the heroin overdose of her sister. The cynical usage of previously shot footage makes this one of director Joe D'Amato's worst efforts, but also one of his most profitable, we suspect. We can't possibly recommend the movie, but in order to compensate for the aching sense of loss you probably feel, there's a promo shot of Gemser below kicking back on a large rock, or perhaps the world's smallest deserted island, depending on how you want to look at it. Porno Esotic Love premiered in Italy today in 1980.
Last anyone heard from him he had ventured deep into the bush.
The Japanese didn't mess around when it came to promo posters during the 1970s. This one for 1977's Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali, aka Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals gets the point of film across immediately. The promo stars Spanish actress Nieves Navarro, aka Susan Scott, and was taken from a production still—minus actor Percy Hogan, who's been disappeared from the original image. In the movie Hogan plays a bush guide named Salvadore, and now you know exactly what type of bush he guides himself into. It's curious he was excised from the poster, but we're kind of surprised Navarro is on there either, since all by herself she still makes for a shocker of an image. But you have to admit the overall effect is really striking. We'd even say beautiful. Looking at the minimal amount of poster text, it's pretty clear the title of the film changed. Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali was deemed a little too unwieldy it seems, so the distributors called it 猟奇変態地獄, which means “bizarre transformation hell.” You see the flipside of the sheet just above. If you haven't seen the movie, we'll tell you that bizarre is a pretty apt description. We did a short write-up of it back in 2013 and included more production photos, so if you're curious have a look here.
Sharky's Machine hums along nicely, but only up to a point.
This poster for the 1981 thriller Sharky's Machine was made for the movie's premiere in Bangkok. Every blue moon or so Hollywood decides to update a ’40s film noir. Sometimes these are excellent movies—Body Heat as a rework of Double Indemnity comes to mind. Sharky's Machine is based on William Diehl's novel of the same name, which is a restyling of 1944's Laura. If you haven't seen Laura, a detective falls in love with a murdered woman, focusing these feelings upon her portrait, which is hanging over the mantle in her apartment. In Sharky's Machine the hero, Atlanta vice detective Burt Reynolds, falls in love with Rachel Ward via his surveillance of her during a prostitution investigation, and is left to deal with his lingering feelings when she's killed.
When Ward observed years back that she had been too prudish in her artistic choices, we imagine this was one movie she had in mind. We agree. Reynolds' 24/7 surveillance of a high priced hooker is not near frank enough. This is where vice, voyeurism, and sleaze as subtext should have come together overtly, as it does in Diehl's unflinchingly detailed novel, rather than as stylized montages, which is what Reynolds opts for.
Sex and nudity aren't always gratuitous. The plot driver in old film noirs is often sex, but it couldn't be shown. Remaking a noir affords the opportunity to explore the sexual aspect further, as in Body Heat, where it's literally the lure of sex with no boundaries—exemplified in that famous (but implied) anal scene—that snares the hero in an insane murder plot. In Sharky's Machine it's sexual objectification that is the initial driver. Reynolds' loves Ward's body first and her personality later, but the surveillance that is the key to this is barely explored.
It's a missed opportunity to not only make a better thriller, but to examine this lust-to-love transition as an aspect of all romantic relationships. Reynolds doubled as both star and director of the film, and while his relative newbie status in the latter realm may be a reason he didn't push the envelope, he still manages in his third outing helming a motion picture to put together a final product that is stylish, dark, and neon-streaked—everything a neo-noir should be. Upon release many critics had problems with tone—violence and humor seemed to clash. Reynolds' was a semi-comedic cinematic figure and his previous two directorial efforts had been comedies, which may have led to jokes leaking into unusual moments of the film. But these days the mix of violence and comedy is common, so we doubt you'll be terribly annoyed by these few incongruities.
The main flaw with the movie, besides its chasteness, is not its tone, but that it feels compressed in the latter third, especially as relates to the love subplot. True, the film is already a shade over two hours long, but it's time that flies by, populated as it is by so many interesting roles and great actors (Bernie Casey, Brian Keith, Vittorio Gassman, Charles Durning). Another seven minutes would not have hurt. Still, we recommend this one. It should have been as bold a noir rework as Body Heat, but there's plenty to entertain in other areas, and Hollywood may make this film perfect yet—a new version of Sharky's Machine is in development with Mark Wahlberg in the lead. Hah hah—who are we kidding? They'll screw it up completely. You already know that.
Once you go Black Emanuelle you never go back.
Javanese beauty Laura Gemser isn't black in the ethnic sense, but you know that going into Black Emanuelle, first of the Italian-made sexploitation series that borrowed the French Emmanuelle concept and took it to places its originators could never have imagined. Gemser could actually be half black or mostly black, going by skin tone alone, but in a way her being South Asian in real life becomes the whole point, as it makes all her love scenes titillatingly interracial, whether she's getting it on with Africans or white foreigners. This is the tamest of the series—before poor Emanuelle was beset by voodoo priests, cannibals, and worse. In addition to the honeyed Gemser in the starring role you get a scoop of vanilla Schubert on top—German actress Karin Schubert. We aren’t going to bother to tell you about the plot of this one—it follows the form of other movies about westerners who get freaky in the African bush and eventually leave with profound insights and fond memories (cue shot of dreamy eyed actress gazing out airplane window as dark, mysterious Africa recedes below). In addition to the Japanese poster above we were able to locate quite a few promo images, including two of Gemser and Schubert doing field tests of Newton’s laws of physical motion. See below. Black Emanuelle opened in Japan today in 1976.
Reiko Ike makes her presence felt in Rome.
Reiko Ike appears here in a bold photo published in the French magazine Euro Cinéma in November 1972. The text reads: A beautiful oriental pearl came to Rome for the turn Toei’s “A modern biography.” What does that mean? Unfortunately, our translating widget cannot clear that up. Seems as though the magazine is telling us Ike was sent to Rome earlier that year to promote either one of her own films, films by her studio Toei Company, or both. We found no references to anything made by Toei called A Modern Biography, and nothing that would translate to such. Our guess is the name refers to a Japanese film festival in Rome they put together or participated in. Anyone out there want to clear this up? You know the drill—firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyway, what’s extra cool about this magazine is that it also has Christina Lindberg on the cover and inside, plus Florinda Bolkan and Laura Antonelli. Euro Cinéma is good cinema.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1940—Smedley Butler Dies
American general Smedley Butler dies. Butler had served in the Philippines, China, Central America, the Caribbean and France, and earned sixteen medals, five of which were for heroism. In 1934 he was approached by a group of wealthy industrialists wanting his help with a coup against President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and in 1935 he wrote the book War Is a Racket, explaining that, based upon his many firsthand observations, warfare is always wholly about greed and profit, and all other ascribed motives are simply fiction designed to deceive the public.
1967—Muhammad Ali Sentenced for Draft Evasion
Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who was known as Cassius Clay before his conversion to Islam, is sentenced to five years in prison for refusing to serve in the military during the Vietnam War. In elucidating his opposition to serving, he uttered the now-famous phrase, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.”
1953—The Rosenbergs Are Executed
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted for conspiracy to commit espionage related to passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet spies, are executed at Sing Sing prison, in New York.
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