Shaft comes out swinging in the third entry in his revered blaxploitation franchise.
This poster of Richard Roundtree brandishing a massive shillelagh or whatever was made for the third film in his iconic Shaft trilogy, Shaft in Africa, which was released today in 1973. Film series often try to go bigger with each entry, so it's no surprise that this one went clear to Africa during the height of the blaxploitation wave. Looking at the poster, we wonder if the stick gimmick influenced the next year's Black Samson, in which Rockne Tarkington carried a shillelagh of his own. Cinema being generally referential, we're guessing yes. But the similarities between the movies ends there. Black Samson was exclusively concerned with urban Los Angeles, while Shaft in Africa spans three continents and touches on some unusual subject matter.
The story revolves around New York City private dick John Shaft being asked to bring down a modern slavery ring. We should note, for any who don't know, that this evil thrives in 2022. In modern slavery, people desperate for work are offered foreign jobs that turn out to be brutal and pay so little—or nothing—that its victims are trapped. They can neither escape nor go to the police, because they soon learn that their work papers are fraudulent, and are told by their enslavers that the police will imprison them for illegal immigration. Operations of this sort have been broken up in recent years in New York, Georgia, and Texas, where a sex slavery ring was uncovered in Dallas. Elsewhere, slavery rings have been busted in the British Midlands, Australia, and perhaps most notably in Dubai, where Amnesty International says forced labor was used to prepare Qatar for the upcoming World Cup.
Shaft is tasked with traveling to Ethiopia, where he will pose as a local and allow himself to be recruited by slavers so he can gather evidence for French authorities, who have learned that the victims end up in Paris. Unfortunately, Shaft quickly realizes his cover has been blown and that he can't trust anyone. In a classic American cinema example of vigilantism becoming the last best option, he decides that rather than gather evidence against the slavers it'd be better if he went human tornado on the whole stinking lot of them. He becomes, in essence, the classic cop out of control, leaving chaos in his wake as his erstwhile handlers survey the damage and occasionally go sacre bleu!
In an interesting subplot, Vonetta McGee plays Aleme, tasked with teaching Shaft local ways and a bit of language. Shaft is dismayed to learn that she's on the cusp of receiving her clitoridectomy, a coming-of-age ritual generally referred to these days as female genital mutilation. Shaft: “Listen, baby, how in the hell are you gonna know what you're missing unless you give it a little wear and tear before they take it away?” It's glib, but there's a serious undertone—probably not enough for anyone horrified by the practice, but you really can't expect more for the time period. It's actually amazing it was mentioned at all. Because this is a Shaft movie, Aleme has a hands-on experience with the hero's big brown stick and decides she better hang onto her clitoris after all.
What can you say about a movie that features Roundtree reprising his immensely popular and groundbreaking private eye, and that deals with two hot-button social issues decades before they were on the minds of the Western public? The budget is big, the pace is fast, and the international setting in and around Addis Ababa, with some scenes shot in Massawa, Eritrea, and a climax staged in Paris, offers plenty of appeal. In addition, there's McGee, a very beautiful actress who in this outing looks even better than usual, while Serbian actress Neda Arnerić plays a ridiculously horny femme fatale who'll do anything to get Shaft in the sack. Action, commentary, sex, and a bit of humor—those are excellent ingredients, but even with all that and the virtual kitchen sink thrown in we don't think Shaft in Africa is as good as the original. But that's no surprise. There's really nothing like the first time.
Jacopetti and Prosperi go on an African exploitation safari.
This colorful poster is innocuous, but the movie it promotes sure isn't. Africa Addio is known in english as Africa: Blood and Guts, which speaks volumes to the content of the film. Shockumentary filmmakers Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi capture everything from executions to animal cruelty in an in-your-face attack on an entire continent that paints it as a bloodthirsty free-for-all. Is their point that colonialism was good and Africa retreated into savagery without a steadying white hand? Lucky no cameras were around to film Europeans murdering millions in order to steal Africa's human, natural, and mineral wealth. That would have made a hell of a shockumentary. If one were familiar with the evils and terrors of colonialism, that person might see this film as an indictment of the same, but for any who don't know that history, Africa Addio fills a knowledge vacuum with raw content that isn't helpful. Jacopetti and Prosperi were probably opportunists, not ideologues, but in either case Africa Addio is rough stuff. It premiered today in 1966.
Everything in this jungle bites—including the script.
This poster for White Huntress, aka Golden Ivory, did its job—as soon as we saw it we had to watch the movie. We figured this must be fun. But looks can deceive. Despite the art of a woman in sexy rags fighting a python, what you actually get is a staid period piece set in 1890 in which two brothers venture into the Masai territory of what was then British East Africa in search of Kayanga, the legendary meeting place of the elephants. Their plan is to—wait for it—kill the animals and reap tons of ivory worth a fortune. Owing to its period setting the movie has the feel of a western, and in fact the subplot involves Brits venturing into the wild frontier in covered wagons like Sooners to take over native lands. So what you have here is a hybrid—part western, and part colonials-in-Africa movie. It's cheaply made, poorly written, and overall is a cringeworthy effort, filled with the self serving entitlement of invaders ascribing all sorts of moral and philosophical justifications to their thieving and slaughtering. But let's not get too deeply into it. Films are always of their era, moral flaws and all, and we're able to enjoy ones about colonial Africa as long as they're good, but White Huntress isn't. It premiered in Britain today in 1954.
Hepburn brings a special kind of style to Hollywood.
We don't smoke, but Katherine Hepburn sure makes smoking look good in this RKO promo photo shot by Ernest Bachrach in 1935. Though she had a long and storied career, this early shot is pretty much her iconic image. Prints of it are even sold on Wal-Mart's website. Hepburn is incomparable. Her must-watch films include Bringing Up Baby, Adam's Rib, The Philadelphia Story, The African Queen, Long Day's Journey into Night, The Lion in Winter, the groundbreaking Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (which inspired an excellent reggae song by Black Uhuru), and On Golden Pond.
You can sum up Hepburn's output by saying she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar twelve times and won a quartet, the most ever. The Oscar has failed to stay as relevant as it could have over recent decades, and the Academy has made some embarrassing Best Picture choices (Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction—really?), but it's always been a reliable measure of acting quality, so Hepburn's four wins are meaningful. The one thing she didn't do was make a lot of pulp style movies. One that looks as if it qualifies is the 1946 drama Undercurrent. We'll circle back to that and the divine Miss H. in a bit.
So far I've had malaria, dysentery, dengue, hookworm, and schistosomiasis, but baby, you make it all worth it.
Once again cover art works its intended magic, as we made the choice of reading Georges Simenon's African adventure Tropic Moon solely due to being lured by Charles Copeland's evocative brushwork. This edition came from Berkley Books in 1958, but the tale was originally published as Coup de lune in 1933. It's set in Gabon, then a territory of French Equatorial Africa, and poses the familiar question: does Africa ruins whites or were they bad beforehand? The main character here, Joseph Timar, is done in by heat and booze and easy sex, but he was surely a terrible person before he ever set foot in Gabon, and of course he's a stand-in for all white colonials. All we can say is we get the message. We got it way back when Conrad wrote it. What would be great is some sense of evolution in all these Conrad-derived works, for instance if occasionally the human cost of colonial greed were shown to be black lives and prosperity rather than white dignity and morality, but literary treatments of that sort had not yet come over the horizon during the pulp era. On its own merits, though, Tropic Moon is interesting, a harrowing front row seat for a downward spiral in the equatorial jungle.
I got your soft jazz right here.
Is Sophia Loren flipping off the camera? Sure looks like it, but we'll give her a pass—in Italy a raised middle finger doesn't mean what it does in the U.S. In fact, though Italians have dozens of hand gestures, we don't think a raised middle finger means anything. In any case we love this image of Loren on the cover of Jimmy Smith's LP Memories in Rhythm. We saw this at lpcoverlover.com recently and gave it a much needed clean-up. You can see the original image here. If you're thinking of the jazz Jimmy Smith who performed on the Hammond B-3 electric organ, it probably isn't him. There were many Jimmy Smiths in music and we have no way of knowing which this one is. We do know the record was pressed in South Africa, if that helps. Didn't help us. But there you go.
Singer elopes with girlfriend and everything falls apartheid.
We'd never heard of African Story, aka The Manipulator, before seeing this Italian promo poster painted by Renato Casaro. We were hoping for another semi-comical romp in the vein of Black Emmanuelle or The African Deal (i.e. lily white visitors are magically driven to get freaky in the bush with locals), but this film goes in a different direction. A famous singer named Rex Maynard runs away to South Africa with a powerful music producer's daughter, prompting the producer to set up a fake kidnapping to scare the crooner and simultaneously generate publicity for his career. Somehow or other a group of actual kidnappers decide to put the bag on Rexie, and mayhem soon follows. Rex may be a soft jazz kind of singer, but he's hard rock with his fists. He even uses judo to whip ass on several of his assailants. Luckily one of them packs a gun or they'd all have ended up in intensive care. Rex is also slippery as an eel, with his escapability aided by the kidnappers' generally lax security.
We'd file this movie in the terrible-but-fun category, with Stephen Boyd, who played the rugged Messala in Bur Hur, here putting on his evil capitalist pants, beautiful Sylva Koscina playing the femme fatale, and Michael Kirner expending far more physical energy in the role of the pursued singer than you'd think possible for a guy with his body fat. African Story has virtually no Africans of the black variety in it, but then again this is the apartheid era we're talking about. Blacks need not apply—particularly for speaking roles (except for those two fisherman guys who you'll miss if you blink). In fact, you see very few blacks even in the backgrounds of shots. With sequences set in offices, hotels, nightclubs, pools, and at a *ahem* race track, their conspicuous absence reveals the reality of how all good things in South Africa were reserved for whites. And some bad things too, if you count the movie. African Story premiered today in 1971.
We Ghana get outta this place if it's the last thing we ever do.
We've had some entertaining hours watching various whites-go-to-the-jungle movies, so when we stumbled across this poster for Contratto Carnale, aka The African Deal, we took the plunge once more. This one stars American stud Calvin Lockhart, Swedish beauty Anita Strindberg, and Finnish sweetie Yanti Somer in a story involving an interracial affair in Ghana that takes place against the backdrop of international corporate intrigue. Generally, white women in these movies are given extraordinary motivations for crossing the line. Love? Not a chance. Just wanna have fun? Never. Usually voodoo has something to do with it, or some other free-will sapping outside influence. It's condescending of course, but you know that going in. In this case Somer goes black because she's basically a corporate prostitute, paid to screw guys for the advantage of her employers.
We were expecting a sexploitation movie, and Contratto Carnale indeed fits the brief, but it also has a serious side, with narrative forays into slave history and scenes shot in Accra's infamous slaver's fortification, the Swedish-built Cape Coast Castle, which today is a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The symbolism is useful, because the movie soon shows how corruption and greed make life difficult for thosein Accra who would operate by a better set of rules. But the central character played by Lockhart just may be pure enough not to be destroyed by the slimy corporate enemies arrayed against him. As for his relationship with Somer, if you're expecting consequence free interracial boning in a 1970s movie you're dreaming. You rarely get that even today. Something bad will happen—it's just a question of exactly what.
But even with the considerable story depth injected into Contratto Carnale, the main attraction is female skin, with Strindberg indulging in a totally nude nap and Somer getting her kit off at several junctures, including at the aforementioned slave castle. This is actually really shocking, all things considered, but you'll be too blinded by her hotness to contemplate that. It's a shame there are so few decent promo images of her, but that's how it was with low budget 1970s movies. Strindberg, at least, posed for a few magazines, and those photos, including the promos below from the film, show what a great beauty she is. There's other beauty in Contratto Carnale too, such as exteriors shot around the Ghanaian coast and in some outlying villages. Also nice is the soundtrack, which is interspersed with a couple of classic West African tunes. Add it all together and you have a decent-not-great flick. Contratto Carnale premiered in Italy today in 1973.
I have dysentery, I’m covered with mosquito bites, and there’s a leech on my balls. Next time let’s do the all-inclusive cruise.
Above, a thoroughly pulped out cover for C.S. Forester’s 1935 adventure tale The African Queen, published in this Bantam paperback edition in 1949. This is a great book with a letdown of an ending, in our opinion, but when John Huston made it into a film in 1951 he greatly improved the last act and the result was an all-time cinema classic. The beefcakey art here is by Ken Riley.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
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