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.
Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto give their all and then some in hard luck crime thriller.
Across 110th Street premiered today in 1972, which makes it one of the early arrivals in the blaxploitation wave that was sweeping American b-cinema. With its ample budget and its well established headliner in Anthony Quinn, you could make the case that it isn't fully part of the genre, but we think it fits, even if it's atypical. Outlier or not, you'll see several faces in this that would soon become well known in blaxploitation, and you'll also see Burt Young, later of Rocky and Chinatown.
Plotwise, the movie centers on odd couple cops—old school racist Quinn and college educated reformist Yaphet Kotto—thrown together à la In the Heat of the Night to solve an NYC murder/robbery. As familiar as this oil vs. water dynamic may be, the movie still comes together in exciting fashion thanks to the way it tracks the robbers' storylines. They're a trio of amateurs who ripped off the Mafia for $300,000 and now are being hunted by both crooks and cops. Quinn and Kotto must find these thieves before the Mafia turns Harlem into a war zone.
When the film was released it was criticized for its violence and bitter racial subtext, but upsetting the herd is one of the things it tries to achieve. And while it may not appeal to people's better angels, it's quite interesting, with the grit of Wally Ferris's otherwise radically altered source novel left intact, and the central metaphor embodied in the title—that of which lines will be crossed and what the consequences will be—deftly observed. Across 110th Street is rough stuff, but well worth a watch.
Got a problem you need handled? Isaac is your man.
This dramatic photo of ’70s icon Isaac Hayes was made as a promo for his blaxploitation flick Truck Turner. You haven't seen the image in quite this form before. We took the sleeve of the Truck Turner soundtrack, wiped off the text, and this was the end result. Not bad, right? We should do this more. Hayes' contributions to soul music via “The Theme from Shaft,” “Ike's Mood,” and other songs, plus his star turns in low budget cinema, make his legacy indisputable. Plus, we have a soft spot for him because he was a character on South Park, and one of us worked on the movie, but that's another true Hollywood story we may—but probably won't—share some day. Hayes was a little out there at the end, but once upon a time—as you see here—he was fully the man.
Speak softly but carry a big stick. And possibly a gun or two.
Above you see a poster for the blaxploitation flick Black Samson, which starred Rockne Tarkington, William Smith, and Carol Speed. Because we hadn't heard of this movie we were expecting something super low rent, but it's actually on par with the better blaxploitation productions, with plenty of location shooting, large scale action, and an actual lion. But while Black Samson is competently made, there are no standout set pieces or comedic interludes, little eroticism, and not much in the way of incisve commentary. Probably its most notable quality is that the bad guys are uniquely cruel, at one point throwing a completely harmless woman out of a moving car, and mutilating another woman's breasts with a knife just for kicks.
The basic plot involves a syndicate of white crooks who want to peddle drugs in the ghetto, and the staff-wielding, lion-owning hero Samson who stands in their way. Conflict escalates, and in the end matters devolve into a full scale race riot, followed by a mano-a-mano between Samson and the head honky in charge to settle the issue once and for all. If Samson exchanged that wooden staff he totes around for a legit boom stick he could have solved his issues sooner, but probably less entertainingly. In the end Black Samson manages to press all the right buttons, which means that for fans of the blaxploitation genre, it's definitely worth a watch. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1974.
You never forget the first time.
We recently saw the latest reboot of the classic blaxploitation film Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson, Jesse Usher, et al, and while the parties involved in that effort have their unique charms, this photo pretty much covers what made Richard Roundtree the best. He was, and remains, a bad mother— Shut your mouth! He was born today in 1942, and this photo dates from 1971.
If you're impressed by my backhand you should see my wing chun double punch.
We don't know if martial arts icon Jim Kelly played tennis, but we like this poster of the Enter the Dragon star working on his court moves. It was published in the African-American celeb magazine Right On! in 1979. Kelly was not a good actor, but who was in those low budget actioners from the 70s? You can count the true talents on ten fingers. But Kelly was the first black martial arts star, and a serious stud, which means his legacy is assured. He died today seven years ago.
Blacula hopes to get a hard restart.
Every blockbuster deserves—or at least spawns—a sequel, and so it was with 1972's blaxploitation hit Blacula, which American International Pictures followed up with Scream, Blacula, Scream. All it really needed was star William Marshall, who in the first movie showed true professionalism by playing his role of Mamuwalde the cursed vampire to the hilt. He does the same here, and with the addition of Pam Grier the filmmakers had their bases covered. Grier plays a Mamaloa priestess who Mamuwalde asks to use her voodoo judo to turn him into a man again. Presumably at that point he'll start his new life with a romp in bed with Grier. We would.
Grier tries to figure out how to transform Mamuwalde, but in the interim he still occasionally gets hungry, which presents the cops with a series of bizarre murders. You know the drill. Bodies are punctured about the neck and drained of blood, but everyone is skeptical about the vampire thing. In short order they change their minds, generally right before departing for the sweet hereafter. At least part of the fun for audiences would have been seeing cops beaten and maimed, and the climax surely offers plenty of that. Does Mamuwalde's scheme to rejoin humanity work? We'll give you a hint: When the man is on your trail bite more, talk less.
We have some nice promo images below. The two of Grier in a red crop top are usually considered to be from Foxy Brown, but she actually wears the outfit in this film. Maybe she wears it in Foxy Brown too. And why not—it's hot. You can read about Blacula at this link, and see plenty more of Miss Grier by clicking her keywords below. Scream, Blacula, Scream premiered in the U.S. today in 1973.
Don't change a thing for anybody.
You know we're Stella Stevens fans here. Though we prefer the thirty-plus version of her, she first turned heads as a model in her early twenties, posing for a Playboy centerfold published in 1960, sessions from which the above shot originates. Stevens had begun acting before then, appearing in three films released in 1959. The next year she won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year, and eventually appeared in dozens of films and television shows. She was always a good actress, but never scored prestige roles. She did, however, grace some low budget classics, foremost among them the blaxploitation flicks Slaughter and Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. Mixed in were cheeseball hits like The Poseidon Adventure and The Silencers, and an occasional good movie, such as The Ballad of Cable Hogue. All in all she's had an amazing career, on pause since 2010. But she'll never be on pause on this website. More Stella here and here. Edit: We recieved an e-mail from Herman, a man who knows a thing or two about mid-century celebs and has helped us with corrections, and he wanted to remind us:
I certainly appreciate that image of Stella. Although I have been a fan of PB since the mid 50s as a boy, I don't believe I have seen this particular photo. Of course, I have to say I believe you left some important points out of your commentary about her. I believe you said once you are not a particular fan of Elvis Presley (that may have been someone else) but without the 1962 Girls, Girl, Girls appearance I don't think she would have caught on so quick. Don't forget that the reason PB recognized her in the first place was because of her appearance in Li'l Abner in 1959. I know you didn't set out to do a biography on her, but these were points I think are important in her chronology.
Agreed, H, Stevens has a long and interesting story. We didn't set out to write a biography, as you said, but we may need to spend a little more time on her to give her proper due. She's not a subject we'll tire of easily.
Sheba Shayne takes aim at Egypt.
Above is an Egyptian promo poster made for Pam Grier's blaxploitation flick Sheba, Baby, in which she played the title character Sheba Shayne (surely one of the best names for a PI ever). We have no Egyptian premier date for the film, but it probably happened well after its 1975 U.S. opening, maybe even as late as ’77 or ’78. Does the figure on the poster look like Grier? Not as much as it could, but we think it's a fun piece of art anyway.
For perfect composition start with the basics.
This artful photo shows U.S. actress Paula Kelly, who appeared in such classic films as The Andromeda Strain, Soylent Green, and the blaxploitation comedy Uptown Saturday Night. She was also a dancer and choreographer, which probably helped her nail this pose and make the photographer look brilliant. She just died a couple of months ago at age seventy-seven, an event we totally missed, but we're glad we found this timeless image. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1959—Lou Costello Dies
American comedian Lou Costello, of the famous comedy team Abbott & Costello, dies of a heart attack at Doctors' Hospital in Beverly Hills, three days before his 53rd birthday. His career spanned radio and film, silent movies and talkies, vaudeville and cinema, and in his heyday he was, along with partner Abbott, one of the most beloved personalities in Hollywood.
1933—King Kong Opens
The first version of King Kong
, starring Bruce Cabot, Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray, and with the giant ape Kong brought to life with stop-action photography, opens at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The film goes on to play worldwide to good reviews and huge crowds, and spawns numerous sequels and reworkings over the next eighty years.
1949—James Gallagher Completes Round-the-World Flight
Captain James Gallagher and a crew of fourteen land their B-50 Superfortress named Lucky Lady II in Fort Worth, Texas, thus completing the first non-stop around-the-world airplane flight. The entire trip from takeoff to touchdown took ninety-four hours and one minute.
1953—Oscars Are Shown on Television
The 26th Academy Awards are broadcast on television by NBC, the first time the awards have been shown on television. Audiences watch live as From Here to Eternity wins for Best Picture, and William Holden and Audrey Hepburn earn statues in the best acting categories for Stalag 17 and Roman Holiday.
1912—First Parachute Jump Takes Place
Albert Berry jumps from a biplane traveling at 1,500 feet and lands by parachute at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. The 36 foot diameter chute was contained in a metal canister attached to the underside of the plane, and when Berry dropped from the plane his weight pulled the canopy from the canister. Rather than being secured into the chute by a harness, Berry was seated on a trapeze bar. It's possible he was only the second man to accomplish a parachute landing, as there are some accounts of someone accomplishing the feat in California several months earlier.
1932—Lindbergh Baby Is Kidnapped
The twenty-month-old son of aviator Charles Lindbergh, Charles Augustus Lindbergh III, is kidnapped from the family home in East Amwell, New Jersey. Over two months later the toddler's body is discovered in woods a short distance from the home. A medical examination determines that he had died of a massive skull fracture. A German carpenter named Bruno Hauptmann is arrested, tried, and convicted for the crime. He is sentenced to death and executed in April 1936.
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