He was a good husband at first. Then he turned into a total ape.
This Mexican poster for La novia del gorilla, aka Bride of the Gorilla, is chockful of interesting elements, from the massive simian at top, to the snake hanging in a tree, to star Barbara Payton being borne away by a second gorilla, and co-star Carol Varga in her classic “native” two-piece. There's a line early on: “White people shouldn't live too long in the jungle. It brings out their bad side—jealousies, impatience.” That sums up the thrust of the plot, the subplot, and the underlying themes, because it's a one-note psychological suspense flick about northerners out of place in the humid global south.
In brief, Raymond Burr runs a rubber plantation for colonial boss Paul Cavanaugh, and has the hots for his wife Barbara Payton. He kills Cavanaugh, thanks to a serendipitous lethal snake that's slithering by. He gets away with the murder, but he can't fool the withered old crone who runs the plantation house. She uses the pe de guine—the so-called plant of evil—to place a curse on Burr. It's slow to act, but by the time he marries the widowed Payton he comes to think he's changing into a beast. Is it in his mind? Is he suffering the effects of slow poisoning from the pe de guine? Or is he really a monster?
Bride of the Gorilla, while a middling and basically inconsequential cinematic effort, is well remembered by Hollywood buffs for its extracurriculars. Barbara Payton was being surveilled via detective by her husband Franchot Tone, and passed on the unfortunate news that Payton was enjoying sweaty horizontal interludes with Woody Strode. He was one of the best looking guys you can imagine, so it's no wonder the highly sexed Payton got hot and bothered. It was one in a series of affairs for her, but this one harmed her career because Strode was black. She would later suffer one of the worst downward spirals in celebrity history.
In any case, the question is should whether you give Bride of the Gorilla a screening. Hmm... well, owing to the good cast, we think so. Chaney and Burr are quality talents even when overrmatched by substandard screenwriting. But keep your expectations in check. It's watchable, but it's still pure b-movie schlock. It was originally released in the U.S., and opened in Mexico today in 1951
Caffaro knows how to Handle her business.
Why do we spend our valuable time watching exploitation movies? Well, because we watch all pulp related genres of movies, from film noir to horror. So why discriminate? We also watch such movies (which is a set we figure includes sexploitation, blaxploitation, women-in-prison, and more) because owing to their sexual, racial, and political aspects, their like will probably never be made again. Last month we completed our look at Cheri Caffaro's infamous Ginger McAllister sexploitation-spy trilogy. Now we're moving on to her later work in Too Hot To Handle, which premiered this month in 1977.
Set in and around Manila, Caffaro plays an experienced and wealthy assassin named Samantha Fox who takes on a difficult triple-contract. In order to succeed she'll need all her skills of disguise, deception, and sexuality. Meanwhile the cops are on her trail. When one of the investigators gets close—real close—Caffaro takes a liking to him and, passing herself off as her alter ego Melinda Burroughs, tries to navigate sleeping with the enemy while fulfilling her murderous obligations.
All Caffaro movies are low budget, and all are bad. This one is poorly written and acted, and as usual there's a touch of the kinky, both in front of the camera, as well as behind, as Caffaro's husband Don Schain directs her getting her squeezebox fondled by hairy co-star Aharon Ipalé. That's called commitment to the product and your art—or alternatively, finding a way to monetize your spouse-sharing fantasies. It didn't improve the movie.
The only surprise here was that former top European star Corinne Calvet somehow got suckered into playing a brothel owner named Madame Ruanda, later dying as one of Caffaro's targets. Alas, Corinne—sexploitation is a welcoming mistress for those desperate to pay bills, but next time we recommend a loan shark. The vig is a bitch but at least you get to hang onto your dignity. But even if Too Hot To Handle was too bad for Calvet to be in, it isn't too bad for you to watch. Caffaro is weirdly great. In the sexploitation realm nobody did more with less.
The name's Cooper. Brian Cooper. What—you were expecting some other secret agent?
The Italian spy thriller New York chiama Superdrago, which we had a chance to watch during our little break last week, was known in English as Secret Agent Super Dragon, and is another in a spate of hipster spy movies that came in the wake of James Bond's massive cinematic success. It premeired in Italy this month in 1966. Three of its promo posters were painted by the great Sandro Symeoni, and while the above example is also attributed to him on some websites, that's incorrect. It's really by Enrico de Seta. Or said to be by one long-running online poster vendor. We're not actually sure about that because the signature doesn't look like his, but who are we to argue with the experts?
In the film, Ray Danton plays a retired agent codenamed Super Dragon—civilian name Brian Cooper—who's roused from his yogic meditations and drawn back into the spy game when a friend dies in a suspicious auto accident that may be related to previous strange deaths. The clues lead from a U.S. college town to Amsterdam (because what kind of spy movie would it be without some globetrotting?), and into the lissome arms of fellow spies Margaret Lee and Marisa Mell (because what kind of spy movie would it be without hotties à la carte?). Between romances Danton learns that the plot revolves around the untraceable drug synchron-2. Purpose: unknown (but don't be shocked if it's to do with world domination).
Few of these Bond knock-offs are sufficiently budgeted or technically proficient enough to result in good final products. Whether you like them has to do with nebulous factors. In this case, we thought Danton's unctious self-entitlement and blasé approach to world saving were funny. We loved when one of his many assailants swallowed cyanide, Danton said, “I'd better get rid of him,” then dumped the corpse out the nearest window. Cue sound effect of splashing water. New York chiama Superdrago is a bit camp without being a satire, and just poorly written enough to provide a few laughs without being a total screenwriting train wreck. But don't pretend we said it's actually good.
Mature and Dors pair up for a bloc buster thriller.
The 1957 Victor Mature/Diana Dors vehicle The Long Haul premiered in Italy today in 1958 as La strada è bloccata, which means “the road is blocked.” The art here is by Italian illustrator Anselmo Ballester. This is one of his better efforts, we think, with his Dors figure reflecting light from some off-canvas source, while a fire lights the background. You can see more from him here and here. As for the movie, we talked about it a while ago. You can read our thoughts here. And you can see a cool Japanese poster for the film here.
Everything out there wants to kill you—including the people.
We've shown you many magazines and books on the subject of headhunters (check here and here for our absolute favorites). Mid-century interest in the subject made its way to the silver screen more than once, in this case with Jivaro, which premiered today in 1954. The title references hunter-gatherer cultures centered in the northwestern Amazon rainforest across Ecuador and Peru who shrank human heads for ceremonial reasons. The movie was a 3-D production, a fact that becomes apparent as pottery, chairs, spears, and occasional flaming arrows fly toward the camera, and it was shot in Technicolor. For those reasons, we wouldn't call it a b-movie exactly, but it still could have used a boost in budget.
Fernando Lamas plays a rough and tumble trader who plies the Amazon River in a rat trap boat. This is a rough gig. People are mean as hell down there. Even the local priest knows martial arts. Lamas agrees to conduct hot redhead Rhonda Fleming to meet her fiancée, who has ventured far from the nearest trading post in search of gold. She's fresh from California and has no idea her man has turned into a drunk and is canoodling with a local girl played by Rita Moreno.
Fleming's fiancée goes incommunicado, and eventually Lamas decides to trek into the forbidden Valley of the Winds (cue wind machine and sound effects) in order to find him. There isn't much upside to this quest, but something has developed between Lamas and Fleming, and if they don't know whether her fiancée is dead or alive, he'll always stand between them. Or something like that. They head into the wilds, endure struggles that will look familiar to fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and in due time find answers to all their questions, if perfunctorily.
For us, the movie raised new ones, such as where was the screenwriter during all this? Lost in the jungle too, we guess. But we can't say Jivaro is bad. While shot entirely in Hollywood with second unit footage from South America added to fill in the margins, it's actually somewhat convincing in its setting. And Fleming is good, though with her red hair we can't believe the Jivaro we able to miss her with so many arrows. But that's film tradition for you—even today, using better weapons, villains still have terrible aim. If you aim to watch Jivaro, we recommend drinking some firewater to make it a more entertaining diversion, and keeping your expectations in reasonable territory.
The lawless of the jungle.
The curious and certainly never-to-reappear style of movies referred today as women-in-prison, or WIP, is a subgenre of sexploitation cinema that came about for one reason: it used settings in which women were helpless. Well, in theory. The dramatic thrust of the plots always derived from attempts to retain dignity and to escape captivity. The protagonist was usually an odd woman out—an unjustly imprisoned victim or an undercover operative—surrounded by a mix of prisoners who were hopeless, cruel, sexually predatory, and complicit, plus the abusive guards, one of whom nearly always was a sadistic woman.
Hotel Paradis stars Anthony Steffen, Ajita Wilson, and the slinky Cristina Lay, sometimes referred to as Cristina Lai. There are numerous posters for it, but we like the above Danish effort featuring a fight to the death. Its text notes: This film is banned in many countries because of its strong scenes.... it's shown in Denmark in uncut version. Indeed. Interracial lesbian sex might be to blame for the banning. There are other possible reasons too. We won't waste our time trying to figure it out. As an aside, the movie was filmed concurrently with the WIP flick Femmine infernali using the same cast, director, and sets. So consider this a write-up of that movie too, since the pair are basically identical.
Plotwise, a group of women are being transported to a jungle hellhole prison where forced labor is used to dig for emeralds. When their guards are ambushed and killed by patriot soldiers seeking to steal the emeralds to fund a nebulous revolt, the women agree to continue posingas prisoners in order to aid the infiltration of the camp. Behind bars is one inmate—Wilson—who has the shining or something, and keeps telling the others that violence, death, and freedom are coming. Also coming are WIP staples such as the evil wardenness, languorous shower scenes, whippings, baroque tortures, and sexual assault. It all ends pro forma with a climactic shootout.
Obviously, you have to go into these types of movies with a sense of humor if you can. When Lay first meets Wilson in the camp, she says, “My name's Maria. I'm frightened.” Why, oh why, didn't Wilson respond, “I'm Ajita. I'm a virgo”? Too bad we didn't write the script. Lay then helps herself to Wilson's pipe—which Wilson just a bit earlier had used to masturbate. If she can obtain a pipe you'd think she could get a dildo, but whatever, in prison you have to find your pleasures where you can. And in women-in-prison movies the same holds true—we thought the scene was hilarious. It was merely one of many.
It should be noted that while Wilson is the female lead, and we've shared a couple of racy images of her and highlighted her importance as a trans trailblazer, Lay is the audience draw here. She's unusually beautiful, and director Edoardo Mulargia and the movie's producers know it quite well. She gets the most loving camera work, the wettest shower scene, a nice interlude with Wilson, and goes through the entire final shootout obviously naked beneath her tattered prison tunic and with the top of it hanging wide open. It's not quite Frauen für Zellenblock 9, in which Karine Gambier and company perform their long escape sequence completely starkers, but it's notable just the same. Hotel Paradis is obviously sexist and exploitative. As we've said before, in the same way blaxploitation movies usually show a racist power structure before the hero shatters it, sexploitation movies sometimes do the same with sexism. Sometimes. Not here. There are additional flaws. Compared to better WIP efforts it lacks the winking sense of humor, the empowerment undercurrent, and the sense of actors having fun while making something they know is ridiculous. There's a hardcore cut of this film with explicit scenes spliced in. It merely amplifies the aforementioned issues, so we suggest you avoid that version. But really, if you avoid Hotel Paradis entirely you'll probably be a better person for it. It premiered in Italy as Orinoco: Prigioniere del sesso in the autumn of 1980, and in Denmark today in 1983.
The movie is a Horn of plenty—of sticky historical issues.
Trader Horn is an Academy Award nominated movie adapted from the real life African adventures of the explorer Alfred Aloysius “Trader” Horn, and as a major production has many high quality posters. The one above is our favorite, but all the promos are impressive, as you'll see when we share some a little later. Trader Horn is an archetypal white goddess movie—which is to say, a group of intrepid adventurers encounter a white woman reigning over an African tribe. Obviously, Hollywood took a bit of creative license with Horn's biographical writings. At least, we assume so. Harry Carey plays Horn, an old hand on the Dark Continent, whose aplomb in the face of danger is nothing short of Richard B. Riddickesque: “The good Lord only gives us one death to die and a fellow musn't bungle it.”
On the other side of the emotional spectrum is the white goddess, played with pre-Hays Code abandon by a half-clad Edwina Booth. The central thrust of the plot is Horn's efforts to return Booth to the modern world. That's standard for the white goddess sub-genre. What isn't standard is Trader Horn's location shooting in the places known back then as the Terrritory of Tanganyika, the Protectorate of Uganda, Kenya ColonyAnglo-Egyptian Sudan, and the Belgian Congo. The expenduture must have been enormous, but the money shows—vividly. You won't be surprised to learn that people died making the film—one by being consumed by a crocodile, and the other by being trampled by a rhino. There were also numerous illnesses and accidents. And... it was all worth it! Just kidding. Thoughts and prayers. We don't have to get into specifics on the movie's plot. There isn't much of one. It's more of a narrated travelogue than a linear story. Even so, it's a massive production well worth seeing. Obviously, old movies usually have their issues, none more so than old movies set in Africa. But if you go in with the right attitude they can be fun. For example, anytime a white character says something about how savage Africans are, just add to the end of the line of dialogue something like: “Says the guy from the race that invented flame throwers and the electric chair.” Also, take a drink (optional). The subsequent occasion an awful generalization is made about Africans, come up with two more horribly savage things whites invented. You'll never run out. Best pair from our screening: “Says the guy from the race that invented the Spanish Donkey and pension clawbacks.”
Look, here's the thing—it can be a good idea to keep it light when it comes to ninety-year-old movies that touch on race, sort of the way it can be a good idea to laugh it off when your grandfather tells you that during his miliary service he once went to Tokyo on shore leave and found the Japanese to be, “an inscrutable little people.” You can't change him, so you save your valuable anger for when you'll really need it, like when you go to Florida, where racism officially doesn't exist. In Trader Horn's defense, it may have been—like your grandpa—fairly liberal for the period. Kenyan castmember and Masai chieftain Mutia Omoolu gets at least a dozen lines of dialogue. We bet he didn't get paid union scale, though. Actually, the SAG didn't exist until 1933, but you get the point. Omoolu and fellow Kenyan performer Riano Tindama did, however, earn a trip to L.A. for reshoots, an event that occasioned some sensationalistic press coverage of a predictable nature.
We've wandered far afield. Let's crank this careening post back onto the main roadway and ask: Is Trader Horn a good movie? Owing to its age, we obviously wouldn't go that far. But it's a tremendous spectacle, and serious film buffs should see it. The idea that actors were out there on the veldt shooting this stuff instead of in front of a green screen emoting opposite a volleyball on a stick is amazing. But that type of unfiltered filmmaking is possibly gone for good. For one thing it costs a fortune. And generally, the arc of cultural development tends toward more safety, whether physically, mentally, professionally, or whatever. Beyond a doubt, certain things are lost along the way. Visceral cinematic realism comes to mind. But on the other hand, it's good for people not to be eaten by reptiles or contract schistosomiasis. Watch the movie and see what you think. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1931.
Liking this film will demand very hard work.
We're back to Cheri Caffaro quicker than you thought, finally taking a look at The Abductors, part of a trilogy of films, along with Ginger and Girls Are for Loving, in which she plays government agent Ginger McAllister. The character, who is no James Bond or Emma Peel (budget alone prevents that), usually lounges around sun-drenched climes, but occasionally is called in by her handler to deal with tough cases. This time she's needed to take down a sex trafficking ring. She recruits her pal Laurie Rose as bait, has her swallow a tracking chip, allows her to be kidnapped, and intends to follow her to the heart of the operation. But the plan doesn't quite work out—cut to Caffaro and Rose bound, gagged, and at the mercy of bad men. Things look dire at that point. There's not much upside in being tied up in a basement in nothing but your panties. However Caffaro and Rose have two advantages. First, they both know karate or something. And second, they both love sex. They don't even have to fake it. These two can get off even with the flabbiest villains. And if their martial arts and sexual prowess don't bring down the crooks, they have outside help from an entire government funded crimefighting organization. In short—they'll be just fine. The movie is less so. In the end you can say about it exactly what you can say about the other two entries in the Ginger McAllister series: it's bad but interesting; it's surprisingly equal opportunity with its nudity; and it showcases a uniquely brave actress in Caffaro. The Abductors premiered today in 1972.
The return of the dragon.
A while back we shared two Italian posters for the Hong Kong action flick Tang shan da xiong, aka The Big Boss. Those were painted by Averado Ciriello, and one of them, with star Bruce Lee depicted as moving so fast he had seven blurry arms, brought to mind those moments in The Matrix when Neo and Mr. Smith fight at mindbending speed. We're looking today at more art from the movie. The above efforts—a finished poster and a preliminary study—were painted by Italian artist Giuliano Nistri for the film's British release by Crest Films. We included the study because we wanted to highlight a website that you should visit, where you can see more of the same and gain a greater appreciation for Nistri's work. It's at this link. Tang shan da xiong premiered in England today in 1971.
When she gets them on the hook they never get off.
The beautiful photo-illustrated poster you see above was made for the British drama Man Bait, featuring George Brent, Marguerite Chapman, and Diana Dors. We gave it a watch, and for some reason the opening credits say, “introducing Diana Dors,” though this was actually her thirteenth credited role. We won't try to puzzle out that mystery. Plotwise, Dors and her irresistible lips are the bait, as she's convinced by a lowlife male acquaintance to blackmail her boss out of three-hundred pounds by threatening to lie about him making an unwanted advance toward her. Unfortunately, Dors is a reluctant scam artist, which puts her at odds with her manipulative accomplice. To say that everything goes wrong for her because of this relationship is an understatement.
Overall, Man Bait is a good film. While Dors is adequate in her role (she was still only twenty-one, despite her previous experience), Brent and Chapman, who both had dozens of films on their résumés at this point, are flawless as the blackmail victim and his loyal employee. An undercurrent of unrequited love prompts Chapman to side with Brent even though things look pretty bad for him as the plot progresses. But there's no need to be too terribly worried—the movie was made during the Hays Code censorship era, so you know crime can't pay. Sure, the Code was American, but even British productions adhered to it if they hoped to earn a U.S. release. Man Bait did when it premiered in Los Angeles today in 1952.
In order to qualify as a temptation there has to be a chance you can resist. These are not a temptation—they're a certainty.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
1920—The Nazi Party Is Founded
The small German Workers' Party, or DAP, which was under the direction of Adolf Hitler, changes its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Though Hitler adopted the socialist label to attract working class Germans, his party in fact embraced mainly anti-socialist ideas. The group became known in English as the Nazi Party, and within the next fifteen years expanded to become the most powerful force in German politics.
1942—Battle of Los Angeles Takes Place
A object flying over wartime Los Angeles triggers a massive anti-aircraft barrage
, ultimately killing 3 civilians. Initially the target of the aerial barrage is thought to be an attacking force from Japan, but it is later suggested to be imaginary and a case of "war nerves", a lost weather balloon, a blimp, a Japanese fire balloon, or even an extraterrestrial craft. The true nature of the object or objects remains unknown to this day, but the event is known as the Battle of Los Angeles.
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