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The Blaxploitation Era: A Scrapbook from the ’70s

20 Feb

In going through old file boxes from the 1970s, I found a number of clippings that effectively illustrate the Blaxploitation era of Hollywood filmmaking, a period from roughly 1971-75, when action and other genre films showcased black heroes and heroines, usually in reworkings of standard genre formulas. They were made quickly and cheaply to capitalize on a trend that could fade out at any time as it eventually did after its peak in 1972-73. These films played grindhouses and neighborhood theaters but also, for a time, premiered at the biggest Broadway movie palaces and commanded ads and constant press coverage. I usually saw them at Bronx neighborhood theaters where they were often paired with Italian westerns and, later, kung fu films, a trend which gradually displaced Blaxploitation. I’d like to share some of what I clipped 45 or so years ago, supplemented by movie stills from my collection and posters copied from IMDB and other sites.

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29 Dec

Today, December 29th, 2017, is the 50th anniversary of the New York City premiere of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, the third film in Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy of Italian westerns starring Clint Eastwood (whose character actually has names in the first two films but is only called “Blondie” in the third). In honor of the occasion, I pulled out my old 1998 MGM DVD edition, mercifully unrestored and just like it was when it played in New York theaters back then, and watched it. (I paid several visits to see it on the big screen in 1969-72 and again, years later, when it played the Film Forum.) I even recently found the original Elgin Theater schedule that announced the triple bill of this film with two films by Sam Peckinpah, THE WILD BUNCH and THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE, a seven-and-a-half-hour program which I attended on Saturday, January 29, 1972 with two friends from the Bronx. Continue reading

“Decoy” (1957): A Policewoman in New York

16 Oct

“Decoy” is a TV cop show that aired from 1957-58. There were 39 half-hour episodes and they were all filmed on location in New York City. There is only one recurring character in every episode and that’s Policewoman Patricia “Casey” Jones, played by Beverly Garland. Yes, this is the first of only a handful of cop shows with a central female protagonist. I knew very little about this series until I read J. Hoberman’s review of it in his Video column in the Sunday New York Times of Sept. 3, 2017. I had no idea it was filmed in New York, a full year before the much more celebrated and much longer-running “Naked City” TV series. I learned that the series was available on Amazon Prime, so I watched the first two episodes. I was so intrigued by them that I immediately ordered the complete series box set (for $11.99!) from One of the things that excited me in the first episode was the use of Times Square and 42nd Street and the generous views of some of the theater marquees in 1957.

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VHS Discoveries: Classic Kung Fu

4 Jun


Back in 1998 to 2003, my revived interest in “Old School” kung fu films from Hong Kong and Taiwan happened to coincide with a phenomenal outpouring of these films in low-cost VHS editions, usually bootleg or “gray market,” with many available in mainstream video stores (e.g. Suncoast, Virgin, Tower and FYE), but more often found at discount dealers like Record Explosion and Entertainment Outlet. A company called Xenon (with various subsidiaries) released quite a number of these films as part of the “Wu Tang Collection,” often given new titles designed to appeal to hiphop fans and fans of the rap group, the Wu-Tang Clan, which took its name and a significant amount of its content from kung fu films its members had seen on 42nd Street back in the day. One of its members, Ghostface Killah, even took his name from the villain of a 42nd Street hit called THE MYSTERY OF CHESS BOXING (aka NINJA CHECKMATE). Ol’ Dirty Bastard was the name applied to another member of the Clan.

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VHS Discoveries: Italian Genre Films from Hercules to Bronson

14 Apr

My first exposure to English-dubbed Italian genre films was when I saw TV commercials for “sword ‘n’ sandal” movies when I was a child, including HERCULES, HERCULES UNCHAINED, THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII and THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES. I didn’t get to see any of these in theaters at the time but would eventually see all of them on TV. The first film of this type I would see on the big screen was GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS, starring “Hercules” himself, Steve Reeves, and it played on a double bill with JET OVER THE ATLANTIC, a low-budget black-and-white American thriller set on an airplane, in January 1960, when I was six years old. Two years later, I saw several more Italian mini-spectacles when I began patronizing the Tremont Theater, which offered triple features of movies that had already played every other theater. Among the films I saw there were THE TROJAN HORSE, also starring Reeves; THE MONGOLS, starring Jack Palance and Anita Ekberg; LAST OF THE VIKINGS, starring Cameron Mitchell; and THE MINOTAUR, starring American Olympic athlete Bob Mathias. On March 10, 1963, I saw my first all-Italian double feature, SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD and WARRIORS FIVE, chronicled here on March 10, 2013 in my blog entry entitled, “March 10, 1963: The Making of a Film Buff.”

(Steve Reeves as Aeneas in THE TROJAN HORSE)

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Japanese Star in the U.S.: “The Travels of Kinuyo Tanaka”

17 Sep

The Criterion Collection edition of Kenji Mizoguchi’s THE LIFE OF OHARU (1952) includes as a special feature a 31-minute documentary entitled “The Travels of Kinuyo Tanaka” (aka “Kinuyo Returns,” according to the subtitle for the Japanese title, and  “Kinuyo Tanaka’s New Departure,” as it’s called on IMDB). Tanaka plays the title character in THE LIFE OF OHARU and starred in quite a number of films for Mizoguchi (including WOMEN OF THE NIGHT and UGETSU), as well as films by such other great Japanese directors as Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa. She’s pictured here in THE LIFE OF OHARU, in which she plays a merchant’s daughter who experiences an extraordinary series of ups and (mostly) downs as she’s buffeted by fate and the wills of men more powerful than her in 18th century Japan:

“The Travels of Kinuyo Tanaka” was made in 2009 and compiles film footage taken during Ms. Tanaka’s goodwill tour of the U.S. in 1949. Some of the footage was 35mm black-and-white and some was 16mm color Kodachrome. A few scenes have sound, but most are silent with narration in Japanese recorded 50 years after the fact. Still photos are used a lot as well. Ms. Tanaka’s voice is heard very briefly during an interview (shot in color) on her return to Hawaii just before heading back to Japan and seen late in the film. Most of the film, in fact, covers the Hawaii leg of her trip, during which she visited Japanese-American communities; performed on stage; paid calls on local politicians, including the territorial governor and the (female) territorial senator; and soaked up some local Hawaiian color, including Hawaiian-style fashions and trips to the beach.

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42 St. 42 Years Ago: SHAFT Revisited

30 Aug

Today, August 30, 2013, is the 42nd anniversary of my first trip to a 42nd Street movie theater (on August 30, 1971). I’ve amassed quite a bit of material related to that trip, so it seemed like a good opportunity to commemorate it. I’ve managed to re-watch both films seen on that trip and I’ve been in touch with both friends who accompanied me that day. The film that drew us was SHAFT, directed by Gordon Parks and starring Richard Roundtree as a black private eye with an office in Times Square, an apartment in Greenwich Village, and a client in Harlem, locations that marked three of the major centers of street life in New York in the early 1970s. The second feature chosen to play with it was, oddly enough, a low-budget black-and-white science fiction film made in 1956 called IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, a title that had already played on television regularly by this point. The film was directed by Roger Corman and the stars were Peter Graves, Beverly Garland and Lee Van Cleef. I suspect it was Van Cleef’s presence in the cast that gave it some cachet, since Van Cleef had become popular among 42nd Street audiences thanks to the steady stream of Italian westerns he’d made after reviving his career with appearances in two of the movies making up Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. Van Cleef’s name was prominently displayed on the theater marquee as this shot from the time shows:

The theater was the Lyric, situated in the middle of a row of six theaters on the north side of 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, the famous “Deuce” of New York legend. SHAFT had opened in New York on July 2 at the DeMille Theater on Broadway and 47th Street, but I don’t know at what point in its run it started playing at the Lyric. The marquee in that picture says “Held Over 4th Big Week,” but I couldn’t say whether that was in July, August or September.

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