Damn it feels good to be a gangsta.
Above you see a U.S. promo poster for the crime drama I, Mobster, starring Steve Cochran in a rags-to-riches, innocence-to-corruption tale of a neighborhood kid who becomes a top man in the mob. The film was based on a 1951 novel of the same name published anonymously, but later identified as coming from the typewriter of Joseph Hilton Smyth, who also wrote Angels in the Gutter. The early plot driver is the mob's attempt to extort cash payments out of a powerful trade union. The plan is to offer services as “outside labor relations experts.” Cochran, as an ambitious footsoldier, expands the mob's vision, its areas of interest, and its profits. Pretty soon he's riding high, high, high. But it can't last. Of course not.
The film has the usual elements from this sub-genre: the round-the-way girl who offers redemption, the wailing mom who implores her son to go straight, the unimpressed father who eventually disowns him, the mob boss who's worried about his brash number two, and the ticking bomb—i.e. the seeds of destruction planted earlier. Here it's a little boy who knows Cochran killed a man. He grows up and becomes enfolded in the mob too, which places him in perfect position to blackmail Cochran. But Cochran is a tough cookie. It may take more than an ambitious twenty-something to bring him down, and it may be that the true seeds of destruction were planted earlier and elsewhere.
While the plot elements may be typical, the cast isn't. Cochran is a good, intense, underrated screen presence. Robert Strauss is perfect as Cochran's right hand man and steadying influence. The radiant Lili St. Cyr spices up the proceedings midway through with a burlesque routine. And the stunning Lita Milan is excellent as the good girl-turned-mob moll. In addition, the film is solidly directed. You often see I, Mobster, described as an early Roger Corman movie. Does a director's twentieth movie count as early? Corman knows what he's doing here. His road forked into the dark woods of schlock, but helming this production, with a low budget, he managed to squeeze out a solid b-mobster flick. There's nothing fresh in it, but with this cast freshness isn't needed. I, Mobster premiered today in 1959.
Don't play coy, baby. Would you rather be with a gangsta like me or some accountant from fuckin' donkeyville?
That's what I thought.
Gladiatorial combat is all fun and games until the gladiators decide you're the one who needs killing.
We've featured master fantasy artist Frank Frazetta a few times, so it seems only fair that we feature the yang to his yin, Peruvian born legend Boris Vallejo. Here you see his art on a promo poster for Naked Warriors, which is better known as The Arena, released this month in 1974 starring another legend, Pam Grier, along with occasional co-star, the lovely Margaret Markov. We've talked about the movie twice, shared its Italian and U.S. promo art, and shared rare promo images of Grier once or twice, or maybe even three or four times, as well as a beautiful centerfold of Markov. All of that imagery is worth a look. Vallejo's art is a nice fit for a tale of enslaved gladiators pitted against each other eventually defying their sadistic masters to fight for freedom. He painted when Corcorde Pictures acquired the rights to the film from MGM/UA for a VHS release in 1988. Concorde/New World was formed and run by schlockmeister Roger Corman, and that explains the black wedges at the top and bottom of the promo. When you do thingson the cheap as a matter of course like Corman did, tilting the art in an inelegant way to make the two figures fit a door panel format seems logical. We can imagine him: “Just lean the fucker left. Who cares about the blank spots?” And indeed, who does, really?
In addition to a great piece of art, as a bonus we've also uploaded some Arena production photos we found scattered around the internet over the years. Most of them were shot by Italian lensman Angelo Frontoni, whose work we've admired often. As it is a lusty sort of movie, some of the shots are a bit lusty too. We had these sitting about and didn't have a real good excuse to share them until today, so from the good old days of ’70s sexploitation behold: Grier, Markov, Lucretia Love, Maria Pia Conte, Rosalba Neri, and others in barely-there gladiatorial gear—and sometimes less. We can't say the film is perfect, but it's definitely worth a watch.
They're meaner than the gators and deadlier than the snakes.
Above, a Japanese poster for Swamp Women, originally made in 1956, starring Mike Connors, Marie Windsor, Carole Matthews, and Beverly Garland. The Japanese title of this is 女囚大脱走, which means “female prisoner escape.” We consider that a bit of a plot spoiler, but the art is brilliant, and we suspect it enticed many a Japanese filmgoer. To their shock and horror, after they'd ponied up the yen they found out it was a Roger Corman b-movie and probably wanted to escape too.
This one is paved with bad intentions every inch of the way.
When we saw these two Italian posters for 1966's I selvaggi our eyes deceived us and we thought—for a wonderful split second—that they were for a film starring Frank Sinatra and Jane Fonda. But then we realized it was Nancy Sinatra and Peter Fonda, who are pretty big downgrades, quality-wise. No offense intended toward them. Fonda is an icon of cool, but not because he can act. We aren't aware of Nancy Sinatra wowing people with her thespian chops either. But we watched the movie anyway.
It's better known as The Wild Angels, and it's Roger Corman directed schlock from American International Pictures about a group called the Hell's Angels ripping and bombing around Southern California, causing problems to law abiding folk and the police. While it's obviously a take on the infamous motorcycle gang, in real life the gang spells its name without an apostrophe. Why that makes a difference in terms of trademark infringement we have no idea, but we assume that's why it was put there. Or maybe it's just a correction of an assumed typo in the real gang's name. Or maybe nobody even noticed the difference.
Whatever the case, the Hells Angels couldn't really have claimed that the racist and violent Hell's Angels portrayed by Fonda, Sinatra, Bruce Dern, and company differed greatly from reality. The real Angels may not have clobbered preachers and taken over churches for all night bacchanals, but they did some terrible shit. Despite the incendiary verisimilitude of the movie, it's mostly a bore—but one that helped establish the outlaw biker genre and pave the way for 1969's Easy Rider. For that it deserves a little credit. Now we're going to try and find out if Jane Fonda and Frank Sinatra ever acted together, because that's a movie we'd like to see.
Hi there. Is this planet taken?
Above is an iconic poster for Roger Corman's sci-fi thriller Not of This Earth, about an alien in human form who is beamed to Earth through a matter transmitter and enacts a scheme to be transfused with human blood. If he derives the hoped for benefits from these transfusions, his entire dying race will come to Earth, in what you might call an interstellar migrant caravan, only rather than fleeing danger and finding good paying jobs their intent is to enslave humanity and steal its blood. This film is one of the all-time cheeseball classics, well worth a viewing, especially when accompanied by drinks and friends. And it's just about 70 minutes long, which is a nice bonus. The poster art, which is the entire point of this post, is by Albert Kallis, one of the great American movie artists. More from him later, or if you prefer, more of his unearthly talent now. Not of This Earth premiered in the U.S. today in 1957.
I'm getting some really high readings on this. We better try the rectal thermometer.
I don't have a rectum, baby. But I have a rection. That's the word in Earthtongue right?
Sure, he wanted to enslave humanity. But it felt good to be wanted.
They're barely legal but fully dangerous.
The promo poster for Teenage Doll is iconic, at least in our opinion. Has ever a lightbulb looked so sizzlingly ominous? The film, which has an amazing opening credit sequence, deals with a girl gang called the Black Widows who lose a member to a killer and vow to exact revenge on the perpetrator, a square named Barbara who had the misfortune to leave identifying evidence behind. The killing was actually an accident but the Widows don't know that and doubtless wouldn't care. They're going to hunt down Barbara—who's played by June Kenney—wherever she runs. She doesn't run far—just to her parents' house to steal a gun, even as the Widows lay their hands on a firearm of their own. There's gonna be a showdown.
IMDB.com calls Teenage Doll a film noir but it isn't. That website really needs to clean up its act—the internet was supposed to increase knowledge, not mangle it. This movie is a juvenile delinquent flick, directed by b-movie legend Roger Corman, and it's one of a truckload of girl gang pictures that came out during the late 1950s. All the action takes place at night, but to paraphrase what we wrote just a couple of weeks ago, night falls in all kinds of movies, including comedies and pornos, but that doesn't make them film noir. The best place online to find proper film categories is at the American Film Institute website, and there Teenage Doll is classified correctly—as a drama.
In fact, it even verges on melodrama, the way it drips with tragedy. But its primary characteristic is that it's amazingly earnest and in so being transforms via cinematic alchemy from cheap celluloid into pure comedy gold. This one has it all—longsuffering parents, hypergrim cops, obnoxious gang boys, psychopathic lackeys, and most importantly Fay Spain, who as the top gang girl Helen chews the scenery with thirty-six teeth and even claws it with ten fingernails. We know adults normally have thirty-two teeth, but Spain has extras to help her get through plywood and nails. Ultimately, we learn that the entire murder snafu is, at its root, a man's fault, which is the only part of the movie that's realistic. We recommend this one highly—or lowly. It premiered today in 1957.
Voltage schmoltage. I failed English. And science.
You know, Vandalettes has a sort of girl-group ring to it. Can anybody sing?
The only rehabilitation going on here is by the poster artist.
Above you see a striking color poster for the Roger Corman produced women-in-prison flick Women in Cages, one of the many sexploitation epics filmed in the Philippines during the 1970s. For an entertaining ninety minutes on that subject, by the way, you should watch the documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed. It's the final word on the chaos of Philippine movie production and covers everything from Savage! to Apocalypse Now. Women in Cages is one of the earlier Philippine women-in-prison flicks, coming after The Big Doll House.
Despite the fact that the poster is signed R. Engel and dated '72, it's actually a piece of modern pulp made within the last several years. The person behind it is German artist Rainer Engel, who put it together borrowing the DVD box cover art from Subkultur-Entertainment's 2013 re-issue of the movie, which in Germany was called Frauen hinter Zuchthausmauern. We ran across the re-styled poster on the artist's website, decided his mock-up beats the hell out of the 1971 original art, and thought it was worth sharing.
When we wrote about the film a while ago we said we thought it was a bit much. Specifically, it's relentlessly grim. Of the trilogy that includes The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage this middle entry is the one that forgot the first rule of the 1970s women-in-prison genre—the movie should be absurd and fun. When it isn't—i.e. when it shades into depressing realism—you come away wondering if there's something wrong with you for having watched it in the first place. You can read our post on the film here, and you can visit the artist's website here.
Woman in critical condition after accidentally swallowing ice pick.
Eunice Sudak was a prolific author, but one whose bibliography is padded by numerous film novelizations, including X—The Man with the X-Ray Eyes and The Raven, after Roger Corman's tongue-in-cheek version of the Poe tale. One of her original pieces of fiction was 1966's The Ice Pick in Ollie Birk, a comedic romp about a widow forced to become a prostitute to survive. That concept is just ripe for humor, right? Almost writes itself. Anyway, the widow discovers the eponymous Ollie Birk dead on her living room sofa with her ice pick in his ear, and of course must extricate herself from this sticky situation. Who did it? Perhaps the rowdy Russians down the hall. The novel is notable for its beat slang, if not its technical merit, and the Lancer Books paperback is notable for its unusual cover art of the lead character Leona Trafalgar dancing with an ice pick in her mouth. We love this image, but it's uncredited, sadly.
Her touch turned a fish into a pile of money.
Above is a poster for a Japanese film called Caress with Poison. It starred Hisako Tsukuba, who made nearly fifty films beginning in 1957 and recorded some music before becoming Chako van Leeuwen and shifting into movie production in the U.S. She’s put together eight movies as a producer, but her prized property is the Piranha franchise. You know the ones—Piranha, Piranha Part Two: The Spawning, Piranha 3D, Piranha 3DD. Our kind of producer, especially since she apprenticed under none other than Roger Corman. Her first Piranha movie was made in 1978 for $800,000 and grossed $30 million worldwide. Hah hah—who’s smirking now? Piranha launched the careers of Joe Dante and John Sayles, and the sequel was James Cameron’s first turn behind the camera. Clearly, van Leeuwen knows how to make low budget films. True, she’s no Jeffrey Bloom, but she possesses a similar genius. Caress with Poison premiered in Japan this month in 1963.
Screen legend receives overdue honor.
Screen icon Lauren Bacall, circa 1952. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave her an honorary Academy Award yesterday during a private ceremony at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Other deserving honorees included B-movie legend Roger Corman, and cinematographer Gordon Willis.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1924—Leopold and Loeb Murder Bobby Franks
Two wealthy University of Chicago students named Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr. murder 14-year-old Bobby Franks, motivated by no other reason than to prove their intellectual superiority by committing a perfect crime. But the duo are caught and sentenced to life in prison. Their crime becomes known as a "thrill killing", and their story later inspires various works of art, including the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, and Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film of the same name.
1916—Rockwell's First Post Cover Appears
The Saturday Evening Post publishes Norman Rockwell's painting "Boy with Baby Carriage", marking the first time his work appears on the cover of that magazine. Rockwell would go to paint many covers for the Post, becoming indelibly linked with the publication. During his long career Rockwell would eventually paint more than four thousand pieces, the vast majority of which are not on public display due to private ownership and destruction by fire.
1962—Marilyn Monroe Sings to John F. Kennedy
A birthday salute to U.S. President John F. Kennedy takes place at Madison Square Garden, in New York City. The highlight is Marilyn Monroe's breathy rendition of "Happy Birthday," which does more to fuel speculation that the two were sexually involved than any actual evidence.
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