Vintage Pulp Jan 28 2023
GUARDER BELT
Justice is served—ice cold.


Above: poster art for the blaxploitation flick Black Belt Jones, starring Jim Kelly as the last man standing between honest folk and a mafia land grab. We talked about it last year, and you can read what we thought and see the Italian promo art by Ermano Iaia at this link. You can also see two nice Kelly promo shots here and here. The movie premiered in the U.S. today in 1974. 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 28 2022
A MAN OF ACTION
Jim Kelly takes on the mob in hit-and-miss karate adventure.


The blaxploitation/kung fu flick Black Belt Jones premiered in the U.S. today in 1974, but we're sharing the Italian poster for two reasons: this Ermanno Iaia effort is more interesting than the U.S. art; and it's another example of African American stars being erased from Italian promo art. We assume it happened because Italian distributors figured many Italians wouldn't knowingly choose to see a film with a black star. Well, this one featured one of the biggest black stars—martial arts sensation Jim Kelly. He's not widely known today, but during the height of the martial arts craze he was an icon because of his screen charisma and cred. And by cred we mean he won four martial arts championships in 1971 alone, including the world middleweight karate title.

There's no release date for Black Belt Jones in Italy, but probably it played there during the summer of ’74, retitled Johnny lo svelto, or “Johnny quick.” Plotwise the mafia have learned that city of L.A. plans to erect a new civic center, and have bought up all the land at the prospective building site except a karate dojo owned by a martial arts instructor named Papa Byrd—and Papa won't play. Meanwhile, somewhere across town, Kelly is asked by cops to investigate the L.A. mob, who are getting cozy with local politicians and building up so much power they might soon be untouchable. In the tight knit local martial arts community, Kelly and Byrd know each other, so when Byrd turns up dead Kelly is motivated to get to the bottom of the murder.

The movie is partially a burlesque, with bits of slapstick, some salty slang, and many of the characters constructed as pure stereotypes—Italian gangsters crying, “Mamma mia!” and that sort of thing. Viewed in a certain frame of mind it's funny, and considering it features an ass-kicking Scatman Crothers (long before getting axed in the chest in The Shining), the red hot Gloria Hendry, and Love Boat bartender Ted Lange as a minor league crook, there's plenty worth seeing here. That includes Kelly's martial arts, which are fun to watch, once you get past a bizarre opening fight shown entirely in slow motion. Kelly's abs are also on regular display, which made the Pulp Intl. girlfriends happy.

So Kelly knows martial arts and looks great, but can he act? Considering the constraints, he does okay. These low budget ’70s movies didn't give stars much chance to sharpen their performances, and they're nearly always poorly paced in terms of dialogue, but he has charisma and his acting matches that of Bruce Lee or any other of the action stars from the period. They weren't hired to do Hamlet, after all. With Kelly at its center Black Belt Jones is worth a watch. And as we said, viewed in a certain frame of mind, it's even sort of good. But by frame of mind, we mean one in which you don't take it too seriously—the filmmakers certainly didn't seem to. We mean that as a compliment.
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Hollywoodland Jun 29 2020
RIGHT ON! TARGET
If you're impressed by my backhand you should see my wing chun double punch.


We bet you didn't know martial arts icon Jim Kelly was also a proessional tennis player. In 1975 he joined the USTA Men's Senior Circuit and reached a number two ranking in men's doubles. Later in life he owned a tennis club in San Diego. Here you see the Enter the Dragon star working on his court moves in a shot published in the African-American celeb magazine Right On! in 1979. Kelly was not a great actor, but in those quickly made, low-budget actioners from the '70s, who was? You can count the top talents on ten fingers. But he was the first black martial arts star, and a serious stud, which means his legacy is assured. He died today seven years ago.

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Hollywoodland Jun 28 2013
LORD JIM
Mr. Han, I suddenly wish to leave your island.

We didn’t get a chance to acknowledge it last week due to our travels, but we could never fail to pay tribute to American actor and martial arts star Jim Kelly. Before the movies Kelly ran a karate dojo in Los Angeles, and he came to the widespread public attention in 1973’s smash actioner Enter the Dragon, in which he appeared with Bruce Lee. He didn’t last long in the film, but he made a strong impression with his 6’2” frame, physical prowess, and larger-than-life cool. He had some good lines, including the one we quoted above—“Mr. Han, I suddenly wish to leave your island.” A lot of blaxploitation stars used bits of martial arts in their fight scenes, but Kelly was legit. Before getting into acting he had won many competitive martial arts championships—including four in the year 1971. His movie career includes blaxploitation classics such as Three the Hard Way, Black Samurai, and Black Belt Jones. After a battle with cancer he left the island for good yesterday at age 67. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
June 14
1995—Roger Zelazny Dies
American fantasy and science fiction writer Roger Zelazny dies at age fifty-eight of kidney failure related to colo-rectal cancer. Zelazny won the Nebula award three times, and the Hugo award six times, for novels such as ...And Call Me Conrad and Lord of Light, but was best known for his fantasy serial The Chronicles of Amber.
June 13
1971—First of the Pentagon Papers Are Published
The New York Times begins publication of the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret U.S. Department of Defense history of the country's political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The papers reveal that the U.S. had deliberately expanded its war with carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, and Marine Corps attacks, and that four presidential administrations, from Truman to Johnson, had deliberately misled the public regarding their intentions toward Vietnam.
June 12
1978—Son of Sam Goes to Prison
David Berkowitz, the New York City serial killer known as Son of Sam, is sentenced to 365 years in prison for six killings. Berkowitz had acquired his nickname from letters addressed to the NYPD and columnist Jimmy Breslin. He is eventually caught when a chain of events beginning with a parking ticket leads to his car being searched and police discovering ammunition and maps of crime scenes.
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