Ex-footballer Fred Williamson finds hits in cinema a bit more elusive than hits on a gridiron.
Above is a poster for the blaxploitation movie Mr. Mean, which hit cinemas this month in 1977. First, the title. Mr. Mean. We don't like it. It doesn't project the dignity of Mr. Majestyk, the approachable earthiness of Mr. Ed, the dystopian oppressiveness of Mr. Robot, the humor of Mr. Bean, the cultural examination of Mr. Baseball, the weirdness of Mr. Meaty, the paternalism of Mr. Skeffington, the righteousness of They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!, and, most importantly, the melodic promise of the forgotten ’80s pop band Mr. Mister. In short, Mr. Mean just sounds like a movie about a guy nobody wants to know.
It was written, produced, and directed by ex-NFL bonecrusher Fred Williamson, and long story short, directing a film is just a little more complicated than spearing wide receivers as a defensive back. He should have done better, since this was his fifth go-round of nearly twenty in the director's chair. Possibly the studio messed up his final cut. Or, considerably more likely, it was a disaster from the snap. Problem one: there's an unbelievable number of scenes of Williamson going from point A to B, either by car on on foot. If all the transit scenes were cut the movie would be ten minutes shorter. Problem two: every actor in the film is made of wood.
But we made it through this interminable slog across a fireswamp of first year film student errors for two reasons—Williamson himself, who has charisma and actually does mostly okay in the lead role, and his co-star Crippy Yocard. Both are great looking and many viewers will probably dig him, her, or both. Yocard in particular was one of the more free-spirited Italian stars, which she proved by posing for numerous extremely nude photos, including this one. Back yet? Now just imagine what the others are like. Maybe there's even a third point of interest with the movie—it feels a bit arthouse, which makes it a curiosity within the blaxploitation genre.
Notice we haven't discussed the plot? Fred didn't even know what it was, so how can we? Basically, he plays a fixer living in Rome who takes jobs come what may, but is asked to cross the bright white ethical line and kill a guy. He doesn't want to do it, but he needs the money, the target is supposedly a real asshole, and so forth. Despite the hackneyed premise, a decent movie could have resulted, but it feels as if an investor backed out halfway through and Williamson and crew found themselves stuck up the Tiber River with neither paddles nor budget.
So what's the upshot here? Williamson gets to strut and whip ass, Yocard gets naked, and arrogant white villains get obliterated. All good things. An unexpected aspect is that the legendary funk band Ohio Players get the soundtrack duties and close the movie with “Good Luck Charm,” which is a song so good it almost erases the memory of them opening the movie with a laughably bad theme song called—guess?—“Mr. Mean.” What can be said? Even musical geniuses will fumble when pressured. As for Williamson—he just dropped the ball. Which is why he was a defensive back in the first place.
Teach, nurture, encourage, love. That all comes later. Right now, they're mainly focused on killing.
Yes, there are two movies called The Muthers. We covered the one from 1968 yesterday. Today we turn our attention to the unrelated blaxploitation flick, which premiered this month in 1976. Yesterday's Muthers was a simple nudie romp, rather innocent. Here eight years later we have a full blown savage adventure epic about a clan of female pirates who get themselves deliberately thrown in a coffee plantation/prison camp called Sal Si Puedes—Get Out If You Can—as part of a rescue mission. So what you basically have here is a women-in-prison movie, replete with sweat, cruelty, and a desperate plan to make a break for freedom.
Two of the pirates are portrayed by Playboy centerfolds Jeannie Bell and Rosanne Katon, while model Jayne Kennedy is a sort of privileged prisoner. Without getting too pervy about it, these are three of the more beautiful women from ’70s b-cinema. Another pirate is played by Trina Parks, who while she isn't otherworldly like the goddesses previously mentioned, is certainly plenty hot by any normal measure. We bring up their physical characteristics because it's exactly why director/writer/producer Cirio Santiago cast them. He was an exploitation producer/director nonpareil, and his milieu was putting beautiful women—among them Pam Grier, Judith Brown, Roberta Collins, Margaret Markov, and Colleen Camp—in roles where they drove the action.
The Muthers takes place in what is supposed to be Central America, but it was really produced in the good old Philippines by Santiago and the same people who gave the world movies like She Devils in Chains and Savage! The women Santiago has assembled here karate kick, rabbit punch, and machine gun a series of anonymous bad guys, finally working their way up the prison camp's commandant, played by Tony Carreon. Who comes out on top? You never know in these jungle epics, but you can count on the end being pyrotechnic. Do we recommend this? Well... in terms of sheer quality maybe not, but in terms of watching Bell, Katon, and Kennedy? For sure. Those girls are poison!
Hayes hits Italy in high gear.
Above, two nice Italian posters for É tempo di uccidere detective Treck, better known as Truck Turner, starring music icon Isaac Hayes. Though the movie is pretty bad, honestly, it has high octane action and one of the funniest scenes from the genre. You can find out what that scene is at our previous write-up. You may be wondering why the Italian distributors changed the main character's name to Treck. We don't know. There's no exact Italian release date for this, but it premiered in most European countries during the summer of 1975. The artist is uncredited.
Just call him the noble formerly known as Dracula.
We don't have to tell you what Blacula is. It's clear from the poster alone that it's a retelling of the Dracula legend. It's also an early high point for blaxploitation cinema. It isn't perfectly made, but as an allegory it's on the nose: centuries ago an African prince named Mamuwalde was transformed into a vampire out of sheer racist spite, cursed to eternal hunger, taken as cargo to a strange foreign land, and now fights to survive there, far from his home. William Marshall in the lead role is doubtless the sweatiest vampire in movie history, but he's good in what is by definition a patently absurd role. In supporting parts are Thalmus Rasulala, Denise Nicholas, and the ravishing Vonetta McGee, who Mamuwalde thinks is his long lost wife Luva and treats to some sweet vampire love. As pure horror Blacula is middling, and it's homophobic in parts, but audiences liked the film and made it one of the top grossers of the year. Despite its flaws the undead Prince Mamuwalde embodied a fresh approach to black themed cinema, and it's certainly fun to watch. It opened in the U.S. today in 1972.
Ray Milland and Rosie Grier put their heads together.
Is it fair to describe The Thing with Two Heads as a legendary movie? We think so. It's The Wild Ones taken to its shark jumping extreme thanks to the blaxploitation maestros at American International Pictures. Instead of a white convict and a black convict handcuffed together after a prison escape, this flick features a racist white doctor whose head is grafted onto a black patient's body. These two really hate each other, which is a serious problem considering they spend 24/7 at kissing distance, but they're stuck.
Ray Milland, who once won a Best Actor Oscar, is trying to prolong his own life. Grier is a convict on death row who donates his body to science. He has no idea what the science he's donated himself to entails, just that he'll avoid execution for thirty more days and buy time for his relatives and lawyer to prove his innocence. Sounds fun, right? Once Grier wakes up after surgery and realizes what's happened he flees with Milland's noggin riding helplessly along and decides to prove his innocence himself. But Milland is slowly gaining control of their body. You get the feeling this isn't going to end well.
The Thing with Two Heads is low budget, cheeseball, light on genuine humor, and perfunctory in its ending. And yet... how can one resist? Is it an ingenious parable about the historical theft of black bodies by white men? Or is it just a chunk of opportunistic schlock? Only the screenwriters know. We'll say this, though—considering how low this movie could have sunk (picture Milland looking down at Grier's dick and exclaiming, "Whoa! That's bigger than my Oscar!") it's actually pretty restrained. Put it in the better-with-alcohol category and don't watch it alone. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1972.
We suspect Le Corbusier would have wanted a model to enhance his furniture, not eclipse it altogether.
This image of Pam Grier, which came from a high-end auction site, is an eight-panel centerfold from an issue of Players magazine originally published in 1974. She's posed on a Le Corbusier lounge. Did you care at all? We have a feeling you didn't. Le Corbusier died in 1965, and if he hadn't, this surely would have made his heart stop. It's one of Grier's most provocative shots, and we can't not have it on the site, a type of imperative we've discussed before. We've also done something special with it, just for you. While it's only 433 pixels wide visually, the file is more than ten times that size digitally. Pull it off the page and you'll have your own 5,000 pixel image of one of U.S. cinema's most iconic stars. Or alternatively, you can just look at the chair.
Note: It turns out Le Corbusier didn't design this lounge after all. He was so famous by 1974 that he employed apprentice designers, tasked them with creating what he deemed minor items, but placed his studio's name on the final results. Though every website we checked gave Corbusier credit, this iconic piece of furniture was actually the work of Charlotte Perriand, who is, all these years later, also considered a grand master of modern design.
Brothers can you spare a production budget?
It's fair to suggest that most blaxploitation movies weren't good in the traditional sense. But The Dynamite Brothers, aka Stud Brown, which premiered in the U.S. this month in 1974, is probably close to the worst movie of the genre. It's a low budget The Wild Ones with a chop socky revenge thriller tacked on, and it has “rush job” scribbled all over it. Everything is off, from the direction to the screenplay to the sound effects. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's films like this that helped kill blaxploitation.
Picture the first screening for the studio, Asam Film Company. Director Al Adamson managed to put up a brave front during the shooting schedule, but he's made his final cut and knows the movie is shit. He's cringing. He's slumped so low in his seat he looks like he's lost air pressure. He even considers scuttling for the exit during the second reel. If he stays low, like a crab, he might make it unseen. But he's still there when the lights come up, and various execs and investors are sitting around looking stunned. They're just white guys with money and don't know dick about this blaxploitation thing, so they have no idea what to think.
Finally someone ventures hopefully, “Was that good? Or...”
Someone else: “Al? Al? Where are you?”
Al: *sigh* “I'm down here.”
“What the hell are you doing on the floor?”
“Uh, my back. Laying flat helps with—”
“Were you hiding?”
“I was just—”
“Are we fucked?”
“Did you FUCK US?”
He fucked them. The Dynamite Brothers was an unremitting disaster. It turned out to be the only movie Asam Film Company ever made. Co-star Timothy Brown in particular had to be disappointed with the final product, considering his film debut was the all-time classic M*A*S*H, in which he played Corporal Judson. Top billed Alan Tang also had to be bummed. Back in Hong Kong when he was first approached about the project, someone told him mixing kung-fu into a blaxploitation flick was a no-brainer. Halfway through the screening he began to wonder if he'd misunderstood the meaning of that term.
Nevertheless, somehow both he and Brown survived The Dynamite Brothers and went on to have long careers, which is a tribute to their talent and persistence. Al Adamson kept working too, which is possibly a tribute to filmgoers' short memories. But like Bran the Broken in Game of Thrones, allow us to serve as the memory for all humanity here—steer clear of this one like the un-defused bomb it is. Get a tactical robot to delete it from your movie queue. It's baaaad. We don't mean cool-bad or funny-bad. It's just bad-bad.
Dobson welcomes a guest to her poster but there's still only one queen.
Above are two gorgeous Italian posters for the blaxploitation classics Cleopatra Jones: licenza di uccidere and Operazione casinò d'oro, better known as Cleopatra Jones and Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. The first poster is obviously a photo-illustration, but the second was painted by Robert Tanenbaum. It's an iteration of his original U.S. poster, which you see here as well, just below.
On the U.S. version star Tamara Dobson stands alone, but for the Italian promo a second figure appears to her right, representing we know not whom. You'll notice the Italy Dobson figure has lighter skin than on the U.S. poster, and lighter skin than her new sidekick. Was this a deliberate switcheroo? Were Italian moviegoers supposed to think the figure on the left, who was Dobson in the U.S., now represented co-star Stella Stevens? They probably did, even though Stella's face is present on both posters at about thigh level to the main figures. But we don't think Tannenbaum had any of that in mind. We think the second figure represents nobody and came out of his fertile imagination.
Something else interesting about these—Tannenbaum had no trouble reproducing Stella's face, but you'll notice none of the figures look like Tamara Dobson. Not unless you squint. Hmm. Well, even if he had trouble with Dobson's likeness, he did an amazing job on these pieces, which is no surprise considering he's a major contributor to cinematic art who painted promos for The Sting, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and other big budget releases. There are no known Italian release dates on these Cleopatra movies, but ballpark, figure summer 1974 and winter 1975. Read about them here and here.
She makes it look so Uzi.
This great photo stars U.S. actress Gloria Hendry and was made when she was filming the 1973 James Bond movie Live and Let Die. Of all the so-called Bond girls who appeared opposite the world's most famous spy through the decades, Hendry, with her toned arms and six-pack stomach, was one of the few who actually looked fit enough to survive the chaos. She didn't, though. Only one Bond girl generally got to survive each film and in this case it was Jane Seymour.
There are several variations of this photo floating around online, but the one above is our favorite. Hendry gives it her all, rocking her fantastic afro and looking every bit the lean, dangerous, counterculture CIA double agent she played in the film. But we also like the alternate version below, where she cracks a little smile, because machine gunning people can be fun too, at least in the movies. See another Hendry promo here.
If you've got the balls she's got the time.
Which movie star has the most posts ever on Pulp Intl.? Christina Lindberg? Humphrey Bogart? Reiko Ike? Marilyn Monroe? We haven't gone back over the decade of material we've shared and done a count, but blaxploitation star Pam Grier may be leading the pack. This photo of her in a cool tennis outfit is from 1976.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1930—Selassie Becomes Emperor
Haile Selassie I, whose birth name Tafari Makonnen and title "Ras" give the Rastafarian religion its name, is proclaimed emperor of Ethiopia. Selassie would become one of the most important leaders in African history, and earn global recognition through his resistance to Italy's illegal invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Selassie died in August 1975 under disputed circumstances.
1984—Marvin Gaye Dies from Gunshot Wound
American singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye, who was famous for a three-octave vocal range which he used on hits such as "Sexual Healing" and "What's Going On," is fatally shot in the chest by his father after an argument over misplaced business documents. Gaye scored forty-one top 40 hit singles on Billboard's pop singles chart between 1963 and 2001, sixty top 40 R&B hits from 1962 to 2001, and thirty-eight top 10 singles on the R&B chart, making him not only one of the most critically acclaimed artists of his day, but one of the most successful.
1930—Movie Censorship Enacted
In the U.S., the Motion Pictures Production Code is instituted, imposing strict censorship guidelines on the depiction of sex, crime, religion, violence and racial mixing in film. The censorship holds sway over Hollywood for the next thirty-eight years, and becomes known as the Hays Code, after its creator, Will H. Hays.
1970—Japan Airlines Flight 351 Hijacked
In Japan, nine samurai sword wielding members of the Japanese Communist League-Red Army Faction hijack Japan Airlines flight 351, which had been en route from Tokyo to Fukuoka. After releasing the passengers, the hijackers proceed to Pyongyang, North Koreas's Mirim Airport, where they surrender to North Korean authorities and are given asylum.
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