It's nobody's business but their own.
Manhandlers, right? It's a good title for a sexploitation movie, and John Solie painted a nice promo poster, but the actual product is a limp drama with dopy comedic episodes about a woman played by Cara Burgess who inherits her mobbed up uncle's L.A. massage parlor and finds that it's a front for a brothel. Her uncle was killed for being uncooperative with the mafia, and now they come after her, trying to intimidate her into signing away half of the place's profits. One the one hand, she'd supposedly net a nice income just for looking the other way and doing nothing. On the other, she'd be giving in to organized crime. The answer? Fill both hands with scented oil, massage the mob into a sense of false security, then make her move. None of it is as interesting as it sounds, at no point are machine guns wielded, and for sexploitation the extracurriculars aren't very erotic, even with Judy Brown and Rosalind Miles in support. You can give this one a pass. The Manhandlers premiered—and went limp at the box office—today in 1974.
Hopefully there's a direct correlation between runway experience and runaway capability.
Master illustrator John Solie made this promo poster for the low budget exploitation flick Cover Girl Models, and it's another example of his incomparable work. The movie, on the other hand, is very comparable—it's similar to 1973's Fly Me, but with models instead of flight attendants. Cirio Santiago, a legend in the exploitation field, directed both movies, and the plots develop in identical fashion, as a trio of carefree women travel to Asia for work and accidentally become embroiled in a criminal plot. In the case of Cover Girl Models, spies want to secretly transport microfilm, so they arrange to have it sewn into one of the model's dresses. But when the seam rips and the microfilm disappears, bad men come after her. The three models are played by Pat Anderson, Lindsay Bloom, and Tara Strohmeier, with John Kramer as their photographer and Mary Woronov as their agent. You'll also see a few familiar faces from other made-in-Asia grindhouse productions, such as Vic Diaz and Tony Ferrer. None of this group are extremely talented, however the point is for the lead actresses to look beautiful, and they do that well, especially Anderson. We can't call the movie good. Nobody could and be serious. But like many exploitation efforts it's funny in parts. Unintentionally, we mean. Therefore, you know the drill here—watch it with friends and booze, and it might turn out to be one of the more enjoyable nights you've had in a while. Cover Girl Models premiered today in 1975.
Blaxploitation flick goes slapstick and the result is bold but bad.
This poster for the blaxploitation flick Darktown Strutters, aka Get Down and Boogie, was painted by top talent John Solie and is a high quality piece of art. The movie it promotes, conversely, is a low quality piece of art, one of those efforts any rational assessment concludes is an utter disaster, but which has advocates, among them Quentin Tarantino. The advocates are wrong. Tarantino—and it pains us to say this—is wrong.
This musical-alleged-comedy about a female motorcycle gang in L.A. battling the owner of a fried chicken franchise is about as entertaining as watching a circus clown punch himself repeatedly in the nose. If you watch it with your Vaudevillian cortex activated you might get a few bemused laughs. And if you dig into it with a pickaxe and mining helmet you might find commentary upon cultural appropriation, feminism, capitalism, and law enforcement.
But if you examine it from a technical point of view you'll simply cringe, even factoring in its highly limiting three-day shooting schedule. Since when does lofty intent stand in for basic execution? We missed that memo. But we do love the poster, and we like the promo image below. It shows Edna Richardson, Bettye Sweet, Shirley Washington and, front and center, Trina Parks, who thankfully had other opportunities to show her actual talent. Darktown Strutters premiered in the U.S. today in 1975.
He scored big in 1971. In 1972 he returned for a double dip.
Once you go blaxploitation you never go back. At least for a day or two. Above is the U.S. promo poster for another movie from the genre, 1972's Shaft's Big Score, starring the legendary Richard Roundtree. Shaft is obviously a name meant to conjure sex, so it makes sense that the poster is so phallic, with Roundtree sticking that long black rod in the viewer's face. Shaft's Big Score was the sequel to 1971's Shaft, which was a landmark in American cinema that hammered home the growing realization in Hollywood that there was money to be made by showing audiences people like themselves. White audiences had lived that reality since the first moving pictures, but mostly never considered the privilege they were enjoying. Shaft helped demonstrate that all people liked it, and helped define the future for film studios. The focus was black, the cast was diverse, and the money rolled in. Which brought about Shaft's Big Score. We've seen better movies, but we've sure seen worse too. You can read what we thought about it here.
Welcome to the school of hard knocks and sharp knives.
How does an interest in bad cinema start? For us it began with Switchblade Sisters. We'd seen scores of bad movies growing up and through college, but after those years we moved toward mainstream movies and well reviewed indie cinema. Sometime after we started our magazine we received a comp ticket to a late night showing of Switchblade Sisters. It was an old b-movie also known as The Jezebels being re-released by Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures, and we watched it in a landmark cinema packed with people primed to have a raucous time. It was a hell of a night*, and the afterparty was good too.
Plotwise, what you get with Switchblade Sisters is a juvenile delinquent flick about a high school gang called the Silver Daggers and its women's auxiliary the Dagger Debs. Robbie Lee plays the head Deb, while Joanne Nail plays a new girl brought into the gang. Everything is fun and games until jealousy rears its ugly head due to the fact that Lee thinks her man, who's the leader of the Silver Daggers, wants the new girl. Matters deteriorate when Nail sets off a war between the Silver Daggers and a rival gang. These are seriously murderous clans, fully intent on killing each other. Gunplay abounds, blood flows copiously, and the lesson is— Well, we aren't sure. Say no to gangs, we guess.
Switchblade Sisters is atrociously acted in parts, and mediocrely acted in all the other parts, but Robbie Lee deserves special mention for making a three course meal of her role, delivering every line as if she has a case of lockjaw. Someone must have told her tough people speak through clenched teeth. But so do constipated people. Someone should have told her that too. But some movies are more than the sum of their parts, and Switchblade Sisters falls into that category. It's terrible, but uproarious. Dumb, but immensely entertaining. We can't think of many better films to watch with friends. And that's worth a lot in this crazy world. Switchblade Sisters originally premiered today in 1975.
*The best part of that premiere night was actually showing up for the film. The promotional company had reserved a row of seats for local reviewers. PSGP was our magazine's movie critic. He showed up in this packed cinema and took a reserved seat. Some fratboy-looking chump in the row behind him leaned forward and told him, “These seats are reserved.” It's here we should mention that PSGP doesn't look like what most people would think of as a film critic, so he knew exactly what was happening—this moron, who was not anyone of any importance or authority, and had no connection whatsoever to the premiere except he probably won tickets from a radio giveaway, took a look at PSGP and decided to play citizen enforcer.
Fratboy chump got up and told the people running the premiere that someone had invaded the reserved seats. PSGP saw it happen. Fratboy flagged down someone, had a conversation while pointing directly at PSGP, and probably felt full of power for calling the cinema cops. PSGP savored the next moment, when the guy was told the evil seat inavder was in fact one of the invited critics and was sitting in exactly the right place. Fratboy moron, crestfallen, went back to his seat, and PSGP, without turning around, said, “That didn't work out the way you hoped, huh?” He got good mileage from the story at the afterparty. And the fratboy? He wasn't invited.
Which is louder—his shotgun or his wardrobe?
Above you see two posters for the blaxploitation flick Hit Man, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1972 and stars NFL player-turned-actor Bernie Casey as a man from Oakland who blows into L.A. to investigate his brother's murder. His brother ran a used car lot, but had gotten on the bad side of some local criminals. How he did that, who these bad people are, and what they're up to are the questions at the crux of the narrative, and when Casey finally learns the truth he's horrified and infuriated in equal measure, which turns him into a leisure-suited revenant with murder in his eyes and a gun in his hands.
What is neither horrifying nor infuriating is that Pam Grier is in this, which makes it a must watch in our book, and she holds nothing back, sporting a quantum leap forward in afro science, and proving once again that she was a fearless performer. Nevertheless, she and Casey can't make Hit Man good despite their best efforts. But on the other hand, it isn't awful either, and in the middle isn't a bad place to be in b-cinema, considering how deeply terrible the films can get.
Hit Man has a couple of miscellaneous notes of interest. A bit of filming takes place at Watts Towers, Simon Rodia's italo folk art monument that was designated a historic site in 1990. We've seen the place in person and we loved it because its mosaics reminded us of the type you see on modernist architecture in Barcelona. The production photo of Grier in a long black dress, below, was shot at the site. It's one of the most famous images of her, and one of the most badass too.
Hit Man also makes use of a location called Africa America, an open air animal preserve of the type made famous by Tiger King. We can't find any trace online that it ever existed, so there's no way to know for sure whether it was a real zoo, an MGM set, or something in between, such as a private ranch dressed up for filming. But it plays an important role in the plot, as do its hungry lions. If they'd eaten a few of the worst script pages, and a couple of bad supporting actors, and maybe Casey's purple leisure suit, Hit Man might be better than just okay. But lions are finicky like all cats, and most amateur film critics.
Imperial battleship—suddenly give me godlike powers to win this war!
Whenever the subject of the worst movie ever made comes up you can count on everyone to have an opinion. When that discussion happens Starcrash is the film we mention. Generally people are skeptical. Everyone has their beloved favorites. Sometimes we'd have to prove our point, we'd end up renting this puppy to show to friends, and by the third reel any doubters were staring agape at the colossal implosion this movie is. It was a Star Wars knock-off, obviously, filmed in Italy and Switzerland with Marjoe Gortner and Caroline Munro in the leads, and written and directed by Luigi Cozzi working under the pseudonym Lewis Coates.
Whenever we watch this with friends the question always arises: did they mean it to be a good film? Yes. They did. But no. It isn't. Not even remotely close. And that's what makes Starcrash such a treasure. Not merely that it's terrible, but that the filmmakers wrapped the production feeling good about what they'd done. They thought they'd made an exciting, visually stunning, somewhat humorous smash hit. It's the sincerity of ambition that makes Starcrash, in our opinion, the best bad movie of all time. Worse (better) than Roadhouse, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and all the usual contenders. While Cozzi does an okay job directing, his script and budget sabotage him at the outset.
We'll give you an example (yes, it's a spoiler, but in a movie like this it doesn't matter). Near the finale, with no previous indication that such a power existed, Christopher Plummer, the emperor of the galaxy, bellows this command: “Imperial battleship—halt the flow of time!” You can't just suddenly go deus ex machina like that. It would make as much sense if Plummer shouted: “Imperial battleship—make my enemies' dicks fall off!” He explains in a smirky aside, "You know, my son, I wouldn't be Emperor of the Galaxy if I didn't have some powers at my disposal." That's amazing. And don't even get us started about how Cozzi forgot that space is a vacuum.
Get some friends over, get some booze flowing, get Starcrash rolling, and see if watching Gortner and Munro ham it up across a Christmas lighted galaxy isn't one of the best movie nights you've ever had. One thing that isn't terrible about it, at least, is the U.S. promo art by John Solie you see above and below. The international posters are nice too, though we don't know if they were painted by Solie. We'll show you those later. In the meantime you can see another beautiful Solie effort here. Since Starcrash was Italian made it premiered in Italy and West Germany before reaching the U.S. today in 1979.
This is not a light saber.
This is not like Princess Leia's hologram.
He in no way resembles Darth Vader.
But to be fair, motifs in sci-fi repeat. In a universe of ideas, writers for some reason tend to think of the same stuff. Below are aspects of Starcrash that—suspiciously?—recurred in 1980's The Empire Strikes Back.
Han Solo's deep freeze in carbonite in no way resembles this.
Princess Leia's slave costume is not similar to this at all.
The ice planet Hoth is near here, but is a totally different planet.
And below are more production photos from the film. If these don't make you want to watch it, well, you probably don't have a pulse. Or possibly you just have good taste and think life's too short to watch terrible films. Either way.
You can't keep a good moonshiner down.
Home brew and rednecks, fast cars and dusty roads, shotguns and lots of banjo music are what you get in Moonshine Country Express, all of which is probably abundantly clear from a glance at the U.S. promo poster painted by John Solie. You also get star Susan Howard, b-movie stud John Saxon, and support from Playboy centerfold Claudia Jennings, which means all the ingredients for a good time are here. The protagonists are righteous, the villains wily, and there's never any doubt that the family oriented 'shiners are going to upend the unctuous local strongman in this nearly scriptless flick about a daughter trying to sell her murdered father's stash of a-grade whiskey. We could say there's a metaphor here for small business versus big conglomerates, or liberty loving sovereigns versus the corrupt and connected, but we'd be making that shit up. It's just a mindless chase movie. It's hard to believe it would take another two years before this highly profitable formula finally moved to television in the form of 1979's The Dukes of Hazzard. We like to think Moonshine County Express was the eureka moment when someone realized it would work. If you watch this one, expect no more and no less than a Dukes episode in long form, but without the confederate flag, mercifully.
Jeanne Bell karate chops her way across Hong Kong.
TNT Jackson, for which you see the U.S. promo poster painted by John Solie above, is a mid-budget blaxploitation flick shot in the Philippines and Hong Kong, built around clumsy martial arts, a flimsy plot, and shoddy acting. But it has Jeanne Bell. Playboy magazine had made Bell a centerfold in 1969. From there she launched a movie career, with TNT Jackson coming ninth in her filmography.
She plays Diana “TNT” Jackson, who learns that her brother was killed by Hong Kong drug dealers and seeks payback. While the plot is nothing special, Bell certainly is. She was twenty-five and wore a bouffant hair-do when she first appeared in Playboy; in TNT she was thirty and had blossomed into an unforgettable beauty with a frosted afro, kicking and chopping her way across the movie screen.
All the fight scenes are hilarious, with their cut-rate choreography and claw-handed posing, but they're fun to watch, especially the one in which she kicks the shit out of a bunch of guys while wearing only panties. That bit seems to us a clear homage to Reiko Ike's totally nude fight in 1973's Sex & Fury, another movie that surpasses its limitations by piling on style and attitude. Is TNT Jackson actually good? No—but we bet it'll make you smile. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1974.
Grier reappears in her rightful place.
Remember the two excellent Italian posters for the 1974 swords-and-sandals/blaxploitation epic The Arena? Usually the American posters for films from this era compare unfavorably to the foreign versions, but in this case the U.S. promo painted by John Solie is also very good. And as a bonus Grier actually gets to star on this one. On the Italian versions she was entirely whitewashed from one, and relegated to secondary status on the other. Not only that—on the text of both posters Italian actress Lucretia Love is given top billing, though she’s actually a supporting character in the film. We can only assume the distributors thought Italian audiences wouldn’t flock to cinemas to see a movie headlined by Grier, and dissed her twice over. Well, above we see her where she belongs.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
1976—Gerald Ford Rescinds Executive Order 9066
U.S. President Gerald R. Ford signs Proclamation 4417, which belatedly rescinds Executive Order 9066. That Order, signed in 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, established "War Relocation Camps" for Japanese-American citizens living in the U.S. Eventually, 120,000 are locked up without evidence, due process, or the possibility of appeal, for the duration of World War II.
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