Welch emits immeasurable degrees of heat in working class sports fable.
We've seen a number of Raquel Welch movies, and we appreciate her as a personality, but she wasn't a good actress. Not to speak ill of the dead and all that, but it's just true. She was unsubtle and inconsistent. She made some highly entertaining films, but an accomplished artiste she was not. Kansas City Bomber, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1972, is a drama that uses the milieu of roller derby but follows the blueprint of classic boxing flicks in which a fighter is eventually asked to take a dive in order to get ahead. Because of the gender flip involved in Welch playing this archetype, an extra layer of plot involves a usurious money man who's having his way with her in bed. But the theme of an athlete selling their soul remains familiar.
Welch was a tremendous sex symbol, generally considered the hottest thing going ever since 1966's One Million Years B.C., so Hollywood, in its infinite wisdom, sometimes had her hook up with transparently undeserving men in her flicks so her male fans could scream, “Noooooo!” In this case it's too-old and too-fat team owner Kevin McCarthy. The jealousy that her preferential treatment by management causes among her co-skaters generates much of the movie's conflict, but a secondary drama is that Welch's character K.C. Carr must face one of life's most sobering realizations—that no matter how good a person you may feel (or pretend) you are, it's everyone else who gets to decide whether you're actually just an asshole. You can claim to be misunderstood, but it makes no difference at all. In the film the other skaters think Welch is a sexual opportunist who'll do anything behind the scenes—and between the sheets—for advancement. Welch understands on some level that it's her face and body that get her to the top ranks of roller derby. She can go, “Gee! I guess he just really appreciates my talent!” all she wants, but nobody is buying it. We think that's a fine cinematic premise, but the problem with Kansas City Bomber is that it's silly and faddish. The drama is way over the top, and the introspection Welch should bring to the role doesn't resonate. Which is surprising. You'd think she'd really identify with this character—again, not to speak ill of the recently departed. We adore Welch. As a persona she was tops. As a portrayer of deep and affecting emotion... well...
Sometimes you can't win no matter what you do.
This poster was made for the crime drama Book of Numbers, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1973. The movie falls into the category of blaxploitation, but it's also an ambitious period piece, with a Depression era focus, a deep subtext, and a determination to portray a type of black American life rarely seen onscreen. During the lean years of 1930s a couple of waiters who harbor big dreams ditch food service and hatch a scheme to set up a numbers racket. They roll into El Dorado, Arkansas, get some local help, and soon are making cash faster than they know how to spend it. Their success inevitably attracts the attention of the law, organized crime, and the local Ku Klux Klan. Can the protagonists succeed against all these foes? And what does success look like for black men in the 1930s? No matter how much money they make, they are still not respected, safe, or free.
The movie stars future Miami Vice stud Philip Michael Thomas, along with Raymond St. Jacques, who produced and directed. Their two characters are decades apart in age, and vastly different in how they deal with constant racism. Thomas takes no guff from anyone, even when it costs him; St. Jacques will play any role expected of him by whites in order to survive. This doesn't sit well with the hot-headed Thomas, and leads to growing resentment. In our view, this is the most unique aspect of the film. It implies that because society forces black men to play roles, they can never be truly known by anyone outside their intimate circle. Robert Deane Pharr wrote the source material for this, and it must be an interesting novel, because it spawned a good movie. Book of Numbers is tough, adult, thought-provoking, and historically revealing. We recommend it for 1930s buffs, blaxploitation aficionados, and of course fans of Miami Vice.
They have appetites big enough for the entire room.
Above is an interesting production photo made during the filming of Gendai poruno-den: Sentensei inpu, aka Modern Porno Tale: Inherited Sex Mania, aka The Insatiable. It's a wider angle of a promo image we shared back in 2015, and if you were ever curious how many people are on set for a sex scene, in this case there are five visible, aside from the performers, plus at least one more shooting the photo. Probably there are even a few more. Here's some full disclosure for you: when PSGP worked at Playboy he was asked to help out on the set of a softcore movie titled Call Girl Wives. He saw shot two sex scenes shot, and there were at least ten people around for each. Later he was asked by a porn producer if he wanted to perform in an actual xxx film. Long story short: he declined. Just another interesting PSGP aside.
Downtime always means pooltime in Hollywood.
We like this shot of Coleen Gray, née Doris Bernice Jensen, with its casual day-off feel. Gray appeared in some very good movies, including Kiss of Death, The Killing, Kansas City Confidential, State Fair, and The Leech Woman (well, maybe that one's not so good, but it's really fun). All told, she amassed more than one hundred credits in cinema and on television. We obviously haven't seen them all, but our favorite role of hers is as Molly in Nightmare Alley. Interest in that one will pick up soon because it's being remade by Guillermo del Toro, with Willem Dafoe, Cate Blanchett, and Bradley Cooper in the leads. We can understand why a maestro of the weird like del Toro was attracted to that film, and we expect the remake to be very interesting. But do yourself a favor and watch the original sometime too.
This one has arms and she knows how to use them.
From meager expectations often great entertainment arises. Such is the case with Ralph Carter's 1945 melodrama Blonde Venus. It's the story of a Kansas farm girl who goes to New York City to become a writer and finds that people are more interested in her body than her brain. We were surprised by this one. It's better than we expected for three reasons.
First, its protagonist Wandalee Fernald is uniquely likeable for a female character playing out the male author's outdated Madonna/whore dichotomy. Often male writers fumble that theme, but Carter makes his take on it work.
Second, the narrative explores the change in attitudes toward sex that occurred during World War II, a time when the idea of female virginity before marriage was being temporarily tossed out the window due to the realization that life could be cut short.
And third, in a country that was rapidly urbanizing, the story makes good use of the tension between smalltown provincialism and big city cynicism, a struggle Wandalee internalizes as she tries to find out who she is.
Throughout the book we wondered whether she would end up with the backward hayseed hurt by her loss of purity or the jaded urbanite who accepts her as is but can't offer love in the romantic sense. Well, it turns out she chooses neither, and finds real love in New York City after all. That's a spoiler, but are you really going to seek out this flimsy old paperback? We don't think so. But if you happen to run across a copy, it's worth a read.
Two's company, three's a love triangle.
Above is a Japanese poster for the Greek sexploitation flick Anilikes amartoles, which played in English speaking countries as Sexual Eroticism. We can't find any record of the movie ever being called Sex Obsessed, but apparently it was, since it's right there on the poster. The Greek title translates to something like “juvenile sinners,” which seems straightforward enough, but we know nothing about the movie itself except that it opened in Greece sometime this month in 1971, and it starred Dora Sitzani in a story about a fisherman whose girlfriend piques the interest of a rich playboy. So we're fishing for answers. Greeks—step up and post some info on this one.
Welch rocks and rolls on the derby circuit.
Above is a Japanese poster for the U.S. drama Kansas City Bomber, which starred Raquel Welch, and featured Cornelia Sharpe and a very young Jodie Foster. The movie was inspired by the roller derby craze of the 1970s, which back then was simply cheeseball pro wrestling on wheels. We'll get into it a bit more later. After premiering in the U.S. in August 1972 Kansas City Bomber opened in Japan today the same year.
Eli Roth and AMC make History with a seven part look at horror cinema.
Those of you in the U.S. who appreciate horror cinema may want to carve out a little time Sunday night for the final episode of the retrospective Eli Roth's History of Horror. It's been airing weekly on the cable network American Movie Classics, aka AMC, since mid-October. Though the British network BBC broadcast a very good three part horror retrospective in 2010 (and it even had a similar title—A History of Horror), genre landscapes shift quickly. The Brit series was made before important films like Get Out, It, Let Me In, its remake Let the Right One In, et al hit cinemas. Eli Roth's History of Horror is a newer and deeper look at fright films. Each 60-minute episode focuses on a specific type of terror, such as vampires, monsters, demons, and slashers.
Overall the series is great. Roth discusses not just the movies, but horror's cultural impact, and weights those observations toward the last ten years. Because of the change that has occurred this decade those sections resonate nicely. Horror's ability to make social issues digestible as allegories is a key part of the form's worth. For instance, Get Out's idea of the sunken place, a metaphor for living (and dying) while black in America, would be rejected by many white filmgoers if it were in a standard narrative. But for us the social impact of horror movies is merely a bonus. We love them viscerally first, intellectually second. We lovethe tension that results from not knowing—usually, at least—which characters will survive. We love how the films' kinetic and often low budget natures lead to amazing little accidents, such as the bit in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when Leatherface grabs Teri McMinn on the porch of his house and both the girl's sandals fly off. That sort of detail isn't in a script. It happens during the shoot, and the director thanks the filmic gods for the extra iota of serendipitous realism.
While very good, the series isn't perfect. In the episode on zombies, Roth discusses slow moving zombies for a while, then erroneously credits the arrival of speedy zombies to Danny Boyle 2002 hit 28 Days Later. But it was 1985's Return of the Living Dead that featured the first sprinting zombies in an American movie, and this was preceded by the 1980 Italian zombie epic Incubo sulla città contaminata, aka Nightmare City. We also were surprised Near Dark was ignored in the vampire episode. Timehas shown it to be better and more influential than The Lost Boys, which was discussed at length. If you doubt that, note that Near Dark's critic score on Rotten Tomatoes is 88%, while Lost Boys' is 27%. Critics are often wrong, especially when it comes to horror, but that level of variance is no fluke. And just to settle the argument, the audience rater on that website also prefers Near Dark. We suspect either box office receipts or Roth's personal preference played a role there, when quality should have been the deciding factor.
But we were gratified to see that many of our cherished beliefs were echoed by Roth and his co-hosts Rob Zombie and The Walking Dead producer Greg Nicotero. Yes, the towering werewolf from The Howling is the scariest ever put on screen. Beyond a doubt, John Carpenter's The Thing, which was close to universally panned upon release, is a top tier thriller. We're anticipating the segment on ghosts, the focus of Sunday night's series finale. We imagine these were saved for last because viewers are most interested in the subject, a curiosity that derives from the fact that many people actually believe ghosts exist. We expect the episode to discuss such old and new classics as The Haunting, The Shining, The Ring, and The Woman in Black. We'll see. But no spoilers, please. If you're in the States you can watch it before we do, whereas we'll have to (totally legally, we swear) download it the next day. But whenever you watch it, the show has been a nice treat for horror aficionados.
Altman and company get gangsta in the heartland.
Auteur and maverick Robert Altman directed several films centered around crime, but perhaps only his 1930s gangster flick Kansas City truly fits the bill as a pulp style effort. The plot tells the tale of Blondie O'Hara, whose petty crook husband Johnny is captured by gangster Seldom Seen and held at a nightclub, prompting Blondie to kidnap the wife of a local politician in an attempt to blackmail him into using his connections to free Johnny. Sounds straightforward, but Altman's approach to this is leisurely and episodic.
Kansas City is generally considered to be a lesser effort from the legendary director, but even if it's not in the class of Short Cuts or M*A*S*H*, it has some points of interest—a slithery jazz score, lots of smoky nightclub scenery, Steve Buscemi warming up for another gangster role in the brilliant Miller's Crossing, Harry Belafonte playing it cool, and Jennifer Jason Leigh giving her actorly all as the drawling, flapperesque Blondie.
Another plus is this killer promo poster. When we saw it we had to watch the movie. But what's the most important reason to watch it? Altman, of course. It's always fun to see what a director does with the 1930s. What's the main drawback? Aside from its narrative quirkiness, we suspect its racial content may be a bit much for those with millennial sensibilities. But don't fault art for holding a mirror to history. When we can't reflect the past in cinema we'll have fallen pretty far. Kansas City premiered in the U.S. today in 1996.
You oughta be in pictures.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's famed lion mascot, who roared at the beginning of every MGM picture, was known as Leo. But like an actor playing a role, the lions used in those famed openings had real names. The first lion was used by MGM's predecessor Goldwyn Pictures. He was named Slats, and you see him above in this profile shot made at Gay's Lion Farm in El Monte, California. Slats played Leo for Goldwyn and MGM from 1916 to 1928, to be followed by such luminaries as Jackie, Teller, Tanner, George, etc. Slats was the only lion that didn't roar, because he got the gig before sound was introduced into film. While he's immortal as a logo, he died in 1936. For his faithful service he was skinned and his hide was put on display. It's still around, at the moment residing at the McPherson Museum in McPherson, Kansas.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1987—Andy Warhol Dies
American pop artist Andy Warhol, whose creations have sold for as much as 100 million dollars, dies of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery in New York City. Warhol, who already suffered lingering physical problems from a 1968 shooting, requested in his will for all but a tiny fraction of his considerable estate to go toward the creation of a foundation dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts.
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.
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