Who's the hardest dick in New York City? You know who.
We don't know about you, but we had no idea Shaft was a novel that predated the movie until we saw the above cover art. Written by Ernest Tidyman, this originally appeared in 1970 and was quickly snapped up by Hollywood. That edition was a hardback with a black and white cover by Mozelle Thompson and is rare. The edition you see at top was published in 2016 by Dynamite Entertainment and is widely available.
Plotwise, Shaft is hired to find a drug kingpin's kidnapped daughter with the help of Black Panther style revolutionaries. Tidyman's take on New York City and the social climate of the time is entertaining and the violence is swift and brutal. Because filmdom's Shaft was inclusive in his views, even to the extent of a jokingly flirtatious friendship with a gay bartender, we were surprised by the book's homophobia. Tidyman saw Shaft as ultra tough and therefore anti-gay, but the filmmakers saw right through such silliness and decided to turn that aspect of the book on its head. Another change is the treatment of the drug kingpin's daughter. In the movie she's merely kidnapped, but in the novel her captivity takes the form of narcotic and sexual slavery.
In terms of white authors inhabiting the personas of black Big Apple detectives, the trailblazing Ed Lacy did it better with 1958's Room To Swing, but Tidyman manages well enough, we think, even if his prose sometimes meanders. Though we read Shaft only because it was the wellspring of an excellent blaxploitation flick, turns out the book is worth a gander on its own merits. Tidyman also wrote like five sequels. We know nothing about those, but maybe we'll have a look.
Don't let my title fool you. I'm not here to play and I'm definitely not about to mate with you.
This rare shot shows Playboy Playmate of the Year and actress Claudia Jennings in danger mode, a facet of herself she showed quite often in her various gun toting roles in b-movies, including Deathsport, The Great Texas Dynamite Chase, and 'Gator Bait. This is from 1969.
Brothers can you spare a production budget?
It's fair to suggest that most blaxploitation movies weren't good in the traditional sense. But The Dynamite Brothers, aka Stud Brown, which premiered in the U.S. this month in 1974, is probably close to the worst movie of the genre. It's a low budget The Wild Ones with a chop socky revenge thriller tacked on, and it has “rush job” scribbled all over it. Everything is off, from the direction to the screenplay to the sound effects. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's films like this that helped kill blaxploitation.
Picture the first screening for the studio, Asam Film Company. Director Al Adamson managed to put up a brave front during the shooting schedule, but he's made his final cut and knows the movie is shit. He's cringing. He's slumped so low in his seat he looks like he's lost air pressure. He even considers scuttling for the exit during the second reel. If he stays low, like a crab, he might make it unseen. But he's still there when the lights come up, and various execs and investors are sitting around looking stunned. They're just white guys with money and don't know dick about this blaxploitation thing, so they have no idea what to think.
Finally someone ventures hopefully, “Was that good? Or...”
Someone else: “Al? Al? Where are you?”
Al: *sigh* “I'm down here.”
“What the hell are you doing on the floor?”
“Uh, my back. Laying flat helps with—”
“Were you hiding?”
“I was just—”
“Are we fucked?”
“Did you FUCK US?”
He fucked them. The Dynamite Brothers was an unremitting disaster. It turned out to be the only movie Asam Film Company ever made. Co-star Timothy Brown in particular had to be disappointed with the final product, considering his film debut was the all-time classic M*A*S*H, in which he played Corporal Judson. Top billed Alan Tang also had to be bummed. Back in Hong Kong when he was first approached about the project, someone told him mixing kung-fu into a blaxploitation flick was a no-brainer. Halfway through the screening he began to wonder if he'd misunderstood the meaning of that term.
Nevertheless, somehow both he and Brown survived The Dynamite Brothers and went on to have long careers, which is a tribute to their talent and persistence. Al Adamson kept working too, which is possibly a tribute to filmgoers' short memories. But like Bran the Broken in Game of Thrones, allow us to serve as the memory for all humanity here—steer clear of this one like the un-defused bomb it is. Get a tactical robot to delete it from your movie queue. It's baaaad. We don't mean cool-bad or funny-bad. It's just bad-bad.
New tabloid explodes onto the gossip scene.
When we describe Dynamite as a new tabloid, it's only partly true. It was a new imprint. But its publisher, the Modern Living Council of Connecticut, Inc., was headquartered at the Charlton Building in Derby, Connecticut, which is where Top Secret and Hush-Hush based operations. When you see that Dynamite carried the same cover font as Top Secret and Hush-Hush, and that those two magazines advertised in Dynamite, it seems clear that all three had the same provenance. But unlike Top Secret and Hush-Hush, it doesn't seem as if Dynamite lasted long. The issue above, which appeared this month in 1956, is the second. We are unable to confirm whether there was a third. But if Dynamite was short-lived it wasn't because of any deficiencies in the publication. It's identical in style to other tabloids, and its stories are equally interesting.
One of those deals with Henry von Thyssen, the Dutch born, German descended heir to an industrial fortune, and his wife, Nina Dyer, heiress to a tea plantation in Sri Lanka, back then called Ceylon. The von Thyssen family manufactured steel in Germany, including for Hitler's Third Reich, and came out of World War II unscathed, as big companies that profit from war always do. Dyer was a dilettante famed for making bikinis popular on the French Riveria. According to Dynamite, von Thyssen was so desperate to marry Dyer that he allowed her to keep her boyfriend, the French actor Christian Marquand. Society gossips whispered,but both spouses were fine with the set-up until von Thyssen accidentally ran into Dyer and Marquand in Carrol's nightclub in Paris and was forced to save face by starting a fight. The couple soon divorced, but not because of infidelity, as many accounts claim. What finally broke the couple up was that Dyer dropped Marquand. Dynamite tells readers: “[von Thyssen] has ditched his sloe-eyed Baroness because now she's decided she loves him.”
Interesting, but there are many similar stories about open high society marriages. What interested us, really, was the portrayal of Dyer. Apparently she had at some point been strongly influenced by Asian women. Her husband described her as “soft and feminine and oriental looking.” Dynamite painted this word picture: “She walks as though she has a water pot balanced on her head, her dark, slanting eyes are inscrutable, and her movements are so languorous and cat-like that von Thyssen gave her a baby panther as a companion.” Dyer eventually had two panthers, and was often seen walking them on the Croisette in Cannes. After her marriage to von Thyssen ended she quickly married Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, but that marriage ended in divorce. Over the years she had been given many gifts. Besides the panthers there were cars, jewels, and a Caribbean island. But the one thing money never bought for her was happiness. She committed suicide at age thirty-five.
There's a lot more to learn about Nina Dyer—her modeling career, her adventures in the south of France, her free-spirited ways in the Caribbean, her 1962 E-Type Jaguar Roadster that was found in Jamaica in 2015 and restored for a November 2016 auction, and more. So we'll be getting back to her a little later. We still have about fifty tabloids from the mid-1950s and we're betting she appears in more than a few. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Dynamite is a story tracking Marilyn Monroe's movements around Fire Island during a summer 1955 vacation, a report about Frank Sinatra being barred from the Milroy Club in London, an exposé on prostitution in Rome, a breakdown of the breakdown of Gene Tierney's engagement to Aly Khan (Sadruddin Aga Khan's brother), and a couple of beautiful photos of Diana Dors. We have about thirty scans below for your enjoyment. Odds are we'll never find another issue of Dynamite, but we're happy to own even one. It's great reading.
McBroom pokes a toe in the Hollywood waters.
Marcia McBroom’s film résumé is sparse—seven roles total, including in Willie Dynamite and the underrated The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. She’ll likely never be forgotten, though, because she portrayed Petronella Danforth, one third of the beautiful girl group The Kelly Affair, later called The Carrie Nations, in the eternal camp classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. When we first saw the movie in college it helped make the distinction between bad and “bad” crystal clear. Today it remains a Friday night dorm room favorite and an indispensable gateway into the realm of bad-as-in-hilarious cinema. This photo dates from around 1970.
Every angle produces the same great result.
Above are two rare shots of an actress long overdue for some exposure here—Mari Tanaka, who appeared in numerous Nikkatsu movies, including Kanno kyoshitsu: ai no technique, aka Excitement Class: Love Techniques, and the wonderfully titled Joshidaisei: Sexy Dynamite. The photos come from a coffee table book published by Heibon Punch magazine in 1970 celebrating the muses of roman porno. The entire book is dedicated to Tanaka. We have more images of her and we also have a rare movie poster, which means we’ll be coming back to her soon.
A lesson before dying.
Today we have a Japanese poster for French director Jean Bastia’s erotic drama …et mourir de désir, starring Alain Tissier, Karen Olsen, and Maria Mancini as people caught in a nasty love triangle that leads to betrayal, blackmail and murder. The film never had a release outside Europe and Japan, which means it’s way too obscure to track down a copy, but we thought the poster was worth sharing anyway. Bastia, who directed the fairly well known western Dynamite Jack in 1961, was born in 1919, which means …et mourir de désir, which premiered in Paris today in 1974, came quite late in his career. In fact it was his last movie.
Nice girls don't explode.
There are quite a few internet cults out there, so when we watched Dynamite Women, aka The Great Texas Dynamite Chase, we were well aware that ex-Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings had a devoted online following. But we were skeptical. You see, Playboy scours the world for women who have a modicum of talent and are willing to strip for the magazine. That combination is rare, and when Playboy finds it their publicity juggernaut heaves into high gear. That’s why purely marginal talents like Anna Nicole Smith, Dorothy Stratten, and Jenny McCarthy were touted as the next big thing. In a sense, the magazine is continually chasing the ghost of Marilyn Monroe, their first centerfold, who went on to become a huge star and an unending source of free publicity. As the eternal search for another Monroe-like talent continues, the magazine gives its covers to declining semi-celebrities in an effort to generate both easy sales and maintain some measure of Hollywood credibility. Thus we’re treated to the sad sight of Lindsay Lohan, Heidi Montag and others posing for the magazine, and sometimes doing so without even removing their clothes—which more than anything else makes abundantly clear that Playboy is devoted more to publicity than to eroticism.
Thus watching Claudia Jennings in Dynamite Women is a surprise. Despite the hype about her beauty, you would never think—initially at least—that she could be a centerfold. With her long nose, sharp chin and expansive forehead, she looks more like the type you’d find serving burgers in a small town diner. But the more you observe, the more you’re drawn to her. The smile, the attitude, and the big, expressive eyes begin to weave a spell. While Dynamite Women’s tale of two female bank robbers isn’t Oscar material, the script does give Jennings a lot to work with—she’s allowed to portray a wide range of emotions, is asked to getphysical, and does well with both. As in other counterculture films, Jennings’ character soon finds herself in way too deep as the police pick up her trail. She wants to stop robbing banks, but of course needs one more big score to get away clean. In the end she and her partner Ellie-Jo (played by Jocelyn Jones, who resembles Jennings so strongly they could be sisters) must somehow survive a final stand-off against the cops if they hope to escape to Mexico.
It’s reasonable to assume Claudia Jennings would never have gotten a break in Hollywood if not for her Playboy appearances, but in at least one case—trying out for a role on Charlie’s Angels—she was passed over because of her nude modeling. Jennings never got the chance to prove one way or the other whether it was her talent or Playboy’s backing that sustained her career because, sadly, she was killed in an automobile accident in October 1979, at the age of twenty-nine. She had appeared ineighteen movies, including cult favorites Gator Bait and Deathsport, but had never been given a chance to shine in a truly important role. Dynamite Women might be the closest. While not great, it is entertaining, and by the end, we understood why Jennings has an internet cult. Based on what we’ve seen, she deserves one.
There came a crooked man.
Photo of the aftermath of a gangland hit on Edwin Harmening, who was a crooked Chicago cop, and “Dynamite” Joe Brooks, who was a member of the Ralph Sheldon Gang, which was a main liquor supplier to Al Capone. You’ll notice the killers shot their victims in the face. Standard practice for mob assassins. Harmening and Brooks were rubbed out today in 1925.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1937—The Hobbit is Published
J. R. R. Tolkien publishes his seminal fantasy novel The Hobbit, aka The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Marketed as a children's book, it is a hit with adults as well, and sells millions of copies, is translated into multiple languages, and spawns the sequel trilogy The Lord of Rings.
1946—Cannes Launches Film Festival
The first Cannes Film Festival is held in 1946, in the old Casino of Cannes, financed by the French Foreign Affairs Ministry and the City of Cannes.
1934—Arrest Made in Lindbergh Baby Case
Bruno Hauptmann is arrested for the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr., son of the famous American aviator. The infant child had been abducted from the Lindbergh home in March 1932, and found decomposed two months later in the woods nearby. He had suffered a fatal skull fracture. Hauptmann was tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and finally executed by electric chair in April 1936. He proclaimed his innocence to the end
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