Cleaning Out the DVR #19: Things To Watch When You Have Flumonia!

So I’ve been laid up with the flu/early stage pneumonia/whateverthehellitis for the past few days, which seemed like a  good excuse to clean out the DVR by watching a bunch of random movies:

Bette Davis & Jimmy Cagney in “Jimmy the Gent”

JIMMY THE GENT (Warner Brothers 1934; D: Michael Curtiz ) –  Fast paced James Cagney vehicle has Jimmy as the head of a shady “missing heir” racket, with Bette Davis as his ex-girl, now working for his classy (but grabby!) rival Alan Dinehart. Allen Jenkins returns once again as Cagney’s sidekick, and Alice White is a riot as Jenkins’s ditzy dame. Some funny dialog by Bertram Milhauser in this one, coming in at the tail-end of the Pre-Code era. Cagney’s always worth watching, even in minor fare like this one. Fun Fact: Cagney’s battles with boss Jack Warner over better roles were legendary, and the actor went out and got a Teutonic-style haircut right before shooting began, just to piss the boss off!  

Dwight Frye & George Zucco in “Dead Men Walk”

DEAD MEN WALK (PRC 1943; D: Sam Newfield) – Perennial second stringer George Zucco starred in a series of shockers as PRC’s answer to Monogram’s Bela Lugosi series . Here he plays twins, one a good doctor, the other a vampire risen from the grave to enact his gruesome revenge. Despite the ultra-low budget (PRC made Monogram look like MGM!), it’s a surprisingly effective chiller due to some ingenious camerawork from Newfield. Much of the film’s plot elements are borrowed (some would say stolen) from Universal’s DRACULA , including casting Dwight Frye as the vampire’s loyal servant. Fun Fact: Romantic lead Nedrick Young later won a Best Story Oscar for Stanley Kramer’s 1958 THE DEFIANT ONES, which featured another horror icon, Lon Chaney Jr.

LADIES DAY (RKO 1943; D: Leslie Goodwins) – Broad baseball comedy (no pun intended) about star pitcher Eddie Albert , who is easily distracted by pretty women, falling for movie star Lupe Velez . They get hitched, and the other player’s wives band together to kidnap her and keep them apart so Eddie can concentrate on winning the World Series! Silly but enjoyable farce elevated by a cast of comic pros: Patsy Kelly, Iris Adrian , Joan Barclay, Max Baer Sr, Jerome Cowan , Cliff Clark, and Tom Kennedy (Nedrick Young’s in this one, too… a banner year for the actor!). Maybe not a classic, but a whole lot of fun, especially for baseball buffs like me. Fun Fact: Director Goodwins has a cameo as (what else?) a movie director.

MYSTERY STREET (MGM 1950; D: John Sturges ) – Tight little ‘B’ noir as a Boston bar girl’s (Jan Sterling) skeletal remains are discovered on Cape Cod, and police Lt. Ricardo Montalban tries to piece together the murder puzzle with the help of a Harvard forensics professor (Bruce Bennett) and some good old-fashioned detective work. Early effort from Sturges benefits from excellent John Alton photography and a script co-written by Richard Brooks . Elsa Lanchester is a standout as a blackmailing landlady among a strong cast (Betsy Blair, Walter Burke, Sally Forrest, Marshall Thompson, Willard Waterman). Fun Fact: Filmed in Boston, and many of the neighborhood sights are still recognizable almost 70 years later to those familiar with the Olde Towne.

Victor Buono as “The Strangler”

THE STRANGLER (Allied Artists 1964; D: Burt Topper) – Lurid psychological thriller stars Victor Buono in his best screen performance as a sexually repressed, schizoid psycho-killer with a creepy doll fetish. Ellen Corby plays his domineering, invalid mother. Cheap, tawdry, sensationalistic, and definitely worth watching! Fun Fact: Lots of old horror hands worked behind the scenes on this one: DP Jacques Marquette (ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN ), Art Director Eugene Lourie (director of THE GIANT BEHEMOTH and GORGO), Editor Robert Eisen (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ), and makeup man Wally Westmore (WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, WAR OF THE WORLDS).

HYSTERIA (MGM/Hammer 1965; D: Freddie Francis ) – This Hitchcockian homage gives character actor Robert Webber a rare starring role as an amnesia victim embroiled in a GASLIGHT-like murder plot. Director Francis’s keen eye for composition hide the budget restraints, and producer/writer Jimmy Sangster’s script pulls out all the stops, but I couldn’t help but wonder while watching what The Master of Suspense himself could have done with the material. As it is, a fine but minor piece of British noir with horror undertones. Fun Fact: Australian composer Don Banks’s jazzy score aids in setting the overall mood.

BEN (Cinerama 1972; D: Phil Karlson ) – Sequel to the previous year’s horror hit WILLARD is okay, but nowhere near the original. Crazy Bruce Davison is replaced by lonely little Lee Hartcourt Montgomery, an annoying kid (no wonder he’s lonely!) who befriends Ben and his creepy rat posse. The rodents cause havoc at the grocery (“Rats! Millions of ’em! At the supermarket!”) and a health spa in some too-brief scenes, but on the whole this looks and feels like a TV movie, right down to it’s small screen cast (Meredith Baxter, Joseph Campanella, Kaz Garas, Rosemary Murphy, Arthur O’Connell, Norman Alden). We do get genre vet Kenneth Tobey (THE THING ) in a bit as a city engineer, and the climax will remind you of THEM! , but like most sequels, this one fails to satisfy. Stick with the original. Fun Fact: Montgomery would grow out of his annoying stage and become an 80’s heartthrob in GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN.

And now, here’s Michael Jackson singing the cloying love theme from BEN at the film’s conclusion. Rats – yuchh!:

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Far Out, Man!: CHEECH & CHONG’S UP IN SMOKE (Paramount 1978)

Hey Man, if you dig crude, vulgar stoner comedy… wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah, Cheech and Chong, man. These two dudes were, like, really cool dudes, and made a lot of records and stuff, and… wait, what was I saying, man? OK, so Cheech and Chong were hippie culture’s answer to Abbott & Costello , and so popular they starred in a series of doper-themed movies, the first being UP IN SMOKE, a film basically about nothing except two burnouts trying to score some weed. C&C play their familiar personas of Pedro and Man, a pair of L.A. hippies floating their way through the world in a perpetual marijuana haze. . Sure, it’s uncouth, sophomoric, and defiantly non-PC, but had me laughing out loud forty years later!

The supporting cast features Stacy Keach as Sgt. Stedenko, a super-narc trying to stamp out drug use, and he’s a straight-edge riot. Keach and his band of incompetent undercover cops (Mills Watson, Karl Johnson, Richard Beckner) are the establishment bad guys, and poor Stacy takes the brunt of much of the buffoonery.  Strother Martin and Edie Adams appear as Chong’s rich parents (“Get a God damn job!”), Tom Skerritt is Cheech’s whacked-out Vietnam vet cousin Strawberry, and Zane Busby plays Jade East, who leads the boys to a Battle of the Bands at L.A.’s famed Roxy, which they end up winning, of course! Sunset Strip scenesters like Rodney Bingenheimer and the ever delightful Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith , and Ellen Barkin, comic Gary Mule Deer, and David Nelson pop up in cameos.

C&C wrote the script (if it can be called that!), and obviously knew their audience. They riff on some of their tried-and-true routines (Cheech’s low rider, “Dave’s Not Here”, and goofing on nuns a’la “Sister Mary Elephant”), and break out Cheech’s ‘Alice Bowie’ persona at the Roxy to sing their quasi-hit “Earache My Eye”:

Music producer Lou Adler (Carole King, The Mamas & The Papas, Johnny Rivers) sat in the director’s chair for UP IN SMOKE, which probably didn’t take a lot of effort. Adler dabbled in films, and produced the seminal 1967 rock doc MONTEREY POP and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. His only other directorial effort was 1981’s LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS, which has become somewhat of a cult classic. Adler was also part owner of The Roxy, and the movie has performances by punk bands Berlin Brats, The Dils, and The Whores, as well as music from War, Bobby Day, and (believe it or not) Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass..

UP IN SMOKE’s raucous dope humor opened the floodgates for stoner comedies to come. Yeah I know, there’s no redeeming social qualities whatsoever, and it’s lewd and infantile, but I don’t really care – it makes me laugh! That’s pretty much all I want out of a comedy, and Cheech and Chong deliver the goods. *sniff, sniff* hey, did somebody let a skunk in here?

Moldy Horror: FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (Warner Bros/Amicus 1973)

I’ve discussed the Max Roseberg/Milton Subotsky Amicus horror anthologies before on this blog. All are good, if uneven, little entries in the genre, and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is no exception. This was the last of the Amicus tales of terror, a quartet of creepiness based on the work of British horror writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes. I’ll admit I’m not familiar with Mr. Cheywynd-Hayes’s work, so I couldn’t tell you if the movie’s faithful to it or not. I can tell you FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is about 50/50 in the chills department.

An all-star British cast gives it a game try, though. The segments are linked by horror icon Peter Cushing , looking rather gaunter than usual as the proprietor of Temptations Ltd., an antique shop which serves to set the stories in motion. Unfortunately, the part is a waste of Cushing’s talent; I could see him in any of a number of roles in the stories ahead to far greater effect.

The first involves David Warner as a man who purchases an antique mirror, then gathers his friends around to hold a séance. Warner gets more than he bargained for when he’s possessed by a murderous spirit trapped on the mirror’s other side. This segment is particularly gruesome, and Warner is good as always, but so predictable that it failed to satisfy the horror lover in me.

Next up we find Ian Bannen as a drudge married to a shrewish wife (zaftig Brit ex-sexpot Diana Dors ), who steals a Distinguished Service Medal in order to impress an Army veteran-turned-beggar (Donald Pleasence ). Bannen’s invited to dinner at the beggar’s flat, and becomes spellbound by his daughter (Pleasence’s real-life daughter Angela). This one’s got a pretty neat twist ending that I didn’t see coming, which is rare for a hard-core horror fan like me. Kudos!

We turn now to comedy, with Margaret Leighton as a dotty psychic who aids a couple (Ian Charmichael, Nyree Dawn Porter) rid themselves of an Elemental, a mischievous, malevolent spirit trying to possess the husband. Despite some cool special effects during the exorcism scene, and Leighton’s fun turn as the clairvoyant, this segment was just okay.

Finally, we come to Ian Oglivy , who buys a door with a strange-looking carving on it. Bringing it home to wife Lesley-Anne Down, he installs it as a kitschy cupboard door, only to discover upon opening it that it leads to a mysterious blue room where evil and black magic dwell. This was a very good, scary piece with a Corman/Poe type atmosphere, and for me ranked as the best of the lot.

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE suffers most from the pedestrian direction of Kevin Connor, making his feature debut. Connor would go on to a fairly pedestrian career, helming the Amicus/Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations; of his filmography, only MOTEL HELL is a real standout. The movie, as I said, is about half successful, and I’d recommend DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS or TALES FROM THE CRYPT as better representatives of the Amicus horror anthologies. But for genre fans, it’s worth a look anyway.

Dirty Boulevard: George C. Scott in HARDCORE (Columbia 1979)

Cracked Rear Viewer: “Back in the day….”

Dear Readers: (groaning) “There he goes again. Another history lesson!”

CRV: “B-but it’s important to put things in their proper historical context!”

DRs: (sigh) “We guess you’re right. Sorry.”

CRV: (beaming) “No problem! Now, like I was saying…”

Back in the day, every major urban city, and many smaller sized ones, had what was known as a “Red Light District”, where sex workers plied their trade. These streets were loaded with sex shops, peep shows, massage parlors, strip joints, and Triple-X movie palaces, with hookers and drug dealers hawking their wares. New York City had its Times Square/42nd Street area, Boston had The Combat Zone near Chinatown, and Montreal the infamous St. Catherine Street. For Los Angeles, the action was on Sunset Boulevard, and it’s into this seedy milieu that writer/director Paul Schrader plunges George C. Scott in 1979’s HARDCORE, which isn’t about sex so much as it is about relationships, both intrapersonal and with society at large,  and a father’s frantic search for his missing daughter.

Dear Readers: (giving the fish-eye) “Boston, huh. That’s your neck of the woods.”

CRV: “Hey, it was a long time ago. I was young, dumb, and full of c…curiosity!”

Scott plays Jake Van Dorn, a repressed, heavily religious businessman from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He and his daughter Kristen lead a safe, secure life revolving around church and family. Kristen and her cousin Marcie are sent on retreat to a Calvinist Convention in California, and soon Jake gets word his pride and joy has gone missing from Knott’s Berry Farm with a strange man. The distraught Jake flies to LA, but when the police prove no help, he hires a somewhat shady PI named Andy Mast to find his daughter.

Mast does, but what he finds shocks Jake to his fundamentalist core… the detective procures an 8mm loop of Kristen having sex with two men. Jake and Mast butt heads, so Jake goes out on his own to roam the grimy side of LA, experiencing culture shock in a world he knows nothing about. The denizens of this grimy arena are an understandably tight-lipped lot, so he takes it upon himself to go undercover as an out-of-town porn investor, sinking ever deeper into the dirty swamp.

Posing as a casting director, Jake meets a lad with the moniker “Jism Jim”, who he recognizes from the loop he saw with Kristen. When Jake starts asking questions about Kristen, now known as “Joanna”, the young would-be stud talks trash about how kinky she was, and an enraged Jake lashes out, beating Jim mercilessly until he gets some info on his daughter’s whereabouts. This leads to Niki, a prostitute and part-time porn actress, who agrees to help Jake… for a price, of course. The unlikely pair, a conservative Midwestern businessman and a freewheeling hooker, travel to San Diego and San Francisco on a grungy trail that takes them to a man named Ratan, a notorious producer of S&M and “snuff” films…

DRs: (scowling) “Sounds pretty gross. Where’s the value in a film like this?”

CRV: “It’s socially significant. And says a lot about the state of America, even today. An apathetic society, turning it’s back on its values…”

DRs: (eyes rolling) “Oh, brother.”

Scott is a sight to behold, going from staid patriarch to obsessed father desperately trying to save his little girl, no matter what the cost. The scene where he sits and watches the stag loop is painful and uncomfortable, as he agonizes over the obscene footage. His veneer of civility, of reliance on God in all things, is shattered when he enters this sleazy world, and Jake in turn becomes as animalistic as the predators that roam those dark streets. Scott was one of his generation’s greatest actors, and he totally immerses himself in the part, adding subtle shadings every time more is revealed about his daughter and himself.

Season Hubley plays the hooker Niki, to whom Jake becomes a father figure. She’s brash, stoned, and street smart, the opposite of Scott’s Van Dorn. He needs her more than she needs him, but the two form a bond, broken only when Jake finds his daughter at last, leaving poor Niki alone to the streets once again. Hubley played a similar role in the 1982 exploitation classic VICE SQUAD, and is an actress who can always be depended upon to deliver the goods. She was the title character in THE LOLLY MADONNA WAR, played Desdemona in a rock version of Othello called CATCH MY SOUL, and appeared with ex-husband Kurt Russell in both the TV Movie ELVIS (as Priscilla Presley) and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Peter Boyle’s Andy Mast isn’t exactly Philip Marlowe, but a knight in rusty armor who knows all the players on the mean streets of LA. He’s got a bit of John Wayne in him, referring to Jake as “Pilgrim” throughout the film, and is an important part of the proceedings. Dick Sargent (the second Darin on BEWITCHED) is Jake’s equally repressed brother-in-law, worried Jake has gone too far down in the muck and mire of Hollywood. Marc Alaimo, Bibi Besch, and Tracey Walter have small roles, as does Hal Williams as “Big Dick Blacque”, a porn star auditioning for Jake who calls him a racist when he doesn’t get the (bogus) part.

This was Paul Schrader’s second film as both writer and director, the first being BLUE COLLAR. He made a splash with his screenplay for TAXI DRIVER, another movie exposing the dirty underbelly of American life. Most of Schrader’s films deal with the dark side of human nature, from AMERICAN GIGOLO to AUTO FOCUS, RAGING BULL to AFFLICTION, and contain religious overtones (Schrader also wrote the screenplay for Martin Scorsese’s THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST). Schrader uses music to represent the dichotomy of Van Dorn’s life; in the Grand Rapids scenes we hear the gospel strains of “Precious Memories”; when Jake hits LA, the industrial rock noise of composer Jack Nietzsche dominates. He puts Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young’s “Helpless” to good use when Jake enters his first porn shop, and the film ends again with the gospel standard, father and daughter reunited but never to be the same again. HARDCORE may not be an easy film for some to watch, but it’s not supposed to be. In the world of Schrader and HARDCORE, nothing is what it seems, and life is as hard as those grubby streets where anything can be had… for a price.

DRs: “OK, but next time why don’t you review a Disney movie or something. Next thing we know, you’ll be doing porn reviews!”

CRV: (lopsided grin) “Well, you know, some of them do have historic and cultural significance. There’s DEEP THROAT, THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES, BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR…. hey, wait, come back! I was only kidding!!”

“Back in the day”: Boston’s Combat Zone

Fast Friends: THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (United Artists 1974)

Clint Eastwood  is posing as a preacher in a small Montana town, giving his Sunday sermon. Meanwhile, carefree Jeff Bridges steals a Trans Am off a used car lot and goes for a joyride. Clint’s sermon is interrupted by a hit man who opens fire in the church, chasing Eastwood down through a wheat field, when Bridges comes speeding along, running the killer down. Clint hops in the Trans Am, and the two become fast friends, setting up THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, a wild and wooly tale that’s part crime caper, part character study, and the directorial debut of Michael Cimino.

Clint plays Korean War veteran John Mahoney, a criminal known as “The Thunderbolt” who pulled off a successful half-million dollar armory robbery. His ex-gang members (George Kennedy , Geoffrey Lewis ) think he betrayed them, and are out to kill him, but not before finding out where the loot is hidden. He’s basically a loner, an island unto himself, until he meets up with Bridges’ Lightfoot, an affable goofball who lives outside society’s rules. These two outsiders form a bond as they wander around aimlessly, trying to stay one step ahead of the murderous Red Leary (Kennedy) and his quiet partner Goody (Lewis).

The killers finally catch up with our stars, but things are smoothed over, and the four go to retrieve the money, hidden behind a blackboard in a one-room schoolhouse. But the schoolhouse is gone, apparently torn down by progress, and with it their dreams, until Lightfoot comes up with a brilliant idea: recreate their glorious achievement by heisting the armory again. Red, who detests the young neer-do-well, scoffs at first, but “Thunderbolt” is all in, and the elaborate scheme (complete with Bridges in drag) goes off just as planned, except for one fateful mistake at a local drive-in….

Jeff Bridges deservedly earned his second Oscar nomination as the free-spirited Lightfoot, a man-child who’s a loner like Eastwood’s character. The older “Thunderbolt” takes a shine to Lightfoot’s outrageous attitude and outlook on life, which he finds similar to his own. Bridges really came into his own during these 70’s flicks, and was soon a major star in his own right. George Kennedy is always good playing a mean, nasty dude (as opposed to Bridges as THE Dude!), and Lewis offers comedy relief as the soft-spoken Goody. The cast is full of Familiar Faces from film and TV, including Catherine Bach (THE DUKES OF HAZZARD) as a hooker, PLAN 9’s Gregory Walcott as a used car salesman, Alvin Childress (Amos of AMOS’N’ANDY fame) as a janitor, and Gary Busey, Jack Dodson, Burton Gilliam, Beth Howland, Roy Jensen, Karen Lamm, Bill McKinney, Vic Tayback, and Dub Taylor . Rock’n’roll backup singer supreme Claudia Lennear (Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Delaney & Bonnie, etc) has a bit as a sexy secretary.

Director Michael Cimino with Clint Eastwood

Eastwood himself was originally scheduled to direct, but instead gave young Michael Cimino a shot at his first feature job. Cimino began his career directing TV commercials, and was co-screenwriter on the sci-fi film SILENT RUNNING and Eastwood’s DIRTY HARRY sequel MAGNUM FORCE. His shot framing against the backdrop of Montana’s Big Sky country is picture  perfect, and he ably guides the cast of pros through their paces. It’s a good first outing, and led to 1978’s Oscar winner THE DEER HUNTER, copping both Best Picture and Director that year. Unfortunately his follow-up, 1980’s HEAVEN’S GATE, became one of Hollywood’s all-time disasters, and tanked big-time at the box office. To be honest, I’ve yet to see it, so I couldn’t tell you if it’s as bad as it’s reputation. I have seen and enjoyed Cimino’s 1985 YEAR OF THE DRAGON, which I feel is underrated and overlooked. But the bombing of HEAVEN’S GATE pretty much ended Michael Cimino’s career as a major filmmaker; he died in 2016, his dreams and the promises of his debut film THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT and his masterpiece THE DEER HUNTER unfulfilled.

 

That’s Blaxpolitation! 12: SHAFT (MGM 1971)

“That Shaft is a bad mother…”

“Shut your mouth!”

“But I’m talkin’ about Shaft”

“We can dig it!”

  • – lyrics from Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from SHAFT

1971’s SHAFT, starring Richard Roundtree as “the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks”, is the movie that kicked off the whole 70’s Blaxploitation phenomenon.  Sure, Mario Van Pebbles’ indie SWEET SWEETBACK’S BADASSSSS SONG was released three months earlier, but it’s X-rating kept younger audiences out of the theaters. SHAFT reached more people with it’s R rating, and the publicity machine of MGM behind it. In fact, John Shaft not only saved the day in the film, but helped save the financially strapped MGM from bankruptcy!

The opening sequence alone makes it worth watching, as the camera pans down the gritty mean streets of New York City (42nd Street, to be exact!) and that iconic funky theme song by Isaac Hayes kicks in! There’s a couple of heavy hitters on the prowl for private eye John Shaft… too bad for them! After Shaft throws one of them out of a window, his police frenemy Lt. Androzzi (Charles Cioffi ) wants some answers, including what’s brewing up in Harlem with rackets boss Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn).

Shaft wants to find out too, and soon discovers Bumpy’s daughter has been kidnapped, possibly by a radical militant gang led by Shaft’s old running buddy Ben Buford (Christopher St. John). He’s hired to find her, but when some of Buford’s crew are gunned down by unknown assailants, Shaft finds himself caught in a gang war between Bumpy and the Mafia. Being the ‘bad mother’ that he is, Our Man Shaft enlists the militants to aid him in rescuing Bumpy’s little girl from the mob in a wild climax.

Richard Roundtree as John Shaft is closer in spirit to Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer than PI’s like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe . Shaft’s a take-no-crap kinda guy, as quick with fists as he is with his wits, and of course the ladies all love him! He’s got attitude to spare, especially when sparring with white establishment cats like Androzzi. Roundtree went on to portray the super sleuth in two sequels (1972’s SHAFT’S BIG SCORE and 1973’s SHAFT IN AFRICA) and a brief TV series (1973-74). Some of his other films include EMBASSY (1972), CHARLEY ONE-EYE (1973), EARTHQUAKE (1974), DIAMONDS (1975), and AN EYE FOR AN EYE (1981).

Director Gordon Parks (1912-2006)

Director Gordon Parks was a true renaissance man. He first gained notoriety as a photographer for LIFE Magazine, and turned his autobiographic novel THE LEARNING TREE into a 1969 Warner Brothers film, making Parks the first black director for a major studio production. He was editorial director for ESSENCE Magazine from 1970-73, and an accomplished poet, painter, and musician. Among his other screen works are the buddy-cop pic THE SUPER COPS (1974), THOMASINE & BUSHROD (1974, a sort-of Blaxploitation Bonnie & Clyde), and the biography of folk-blues legend LEADBELLY (1976). His son Gordon Parks Jr. was director of another iconic Blaxploitation flick, SUPER FLY (1972).

Parks’ photographic eye brilliantly captures New York at its down-and-dirtiest, and handles the obligatory 70’s sex scenes with taste and discretion. The script by Ernest Tidyman and John D.F. Black (based on Tidyman’s novel) is righteous, but I know what you’ve all really been waiting for, so here’s that super-cool opening credits scene featuring Isaac Hayes’ super-funky Oscar-winning “Theme from SHAFT”!:

More in the THAT’S BLAXPLOITATION series:

BLACK BELT JONES

BLACULA

FOXY BROWN

ABAR THE BLACK SUPERMAN

The CLEOPATRA JONES Saga

TOGETHER BROTHERS

TROUBLE MAN

SUPER FLY

THREE THE HARD WAY

HELL UP IN HARLEM

SLAUGHTER

 

That Voodoo That You Do: Roger Moore as James Bond 007 in LIVE AND LET DIE (United Artists 1973)

Three British agents are murdered, and James Bond is sent overseas to investigate the doings of Dr. Kananga, despot of the Carribean island nation of San Monique in LIVE AND LET DIE. But wait… that’s not Sean Connery as 007, or even George Lazenby. It’s Roger Moore , making the first of his seven appearences as Bond, and adding his own indelible stamp to the role. Moore is a bit more humorous as the secret agent in a film that has elements of Blaxploitaion and voodoo horror to it, but is still 100% Bond.

Sir Roger, fresh off starring in televisions THE SAINT and THE PERSUADERS, handles the role with aplomb, whether battling the bad guys or wrestling in the boudoir. The plot concerns 007 trying to learn the secret of Dr. Kananga and his connection with Harlem ganglord Mr. Big. This takes Bond to New York, New Orleans, and Jamaica (subbing for the fictional San Monique), with plenty of action and perils along the way. Kananga relies heavily on the occult power of Tarot reader Solitaire, but it seems romance with Bond is in the cards for her. Kananga’s got some heavy hitting henchmen, like Tee Hee and his metal claw hand, and Baron Samedi, who may or may not be the real-deal leader of the “legion of the dead”.

Of course, there are lots of action set-pieces along the way, including at a crocodile farm, and a long boat chase through the Louisiana bayous, where we’re first introduced to redneck Sheriff J.W. Pepper, a character many Bond fans disdain, but I’ve always had a soft spot for actor Clifton James’s comic-relief cop. Things get ugly when Bond learns Kananga’s fiendish plan to flood the U.S. market with free heroin, essentially putting the mob out of business and taking control of the drug trade, and that Kananga and Mr. Big are one and the same. Captured in the criminal’s underground lair, Bond and Solitaire are about to become shark bait, but we all know 007’s much to clever for that!

Yaphet Kotto  is suitably evil in the dual role of Kananga/Mr. Big. Kotto, a movie mainstay in the 70’s and 80’s, is best known to contemporary audiences for his time on TV’s HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS. Jane Seymour is one of my favorite Bond babes as the mystical Solitaire. Blaxploitation vet Julius Harris is his usual menacing self as Tee Hee. Dancer Geoffrey Holder is scary good fun as Baron Samedi (later played by Don Pedro Colley in SUGAR HILL ). Gloria Hendry plays traitorous rookie agent Rosie Carver, while David Hedison takes his first turn as CIA liason Felix Leiter (he’d return to the role in 1989’s LICENSE TO KILL). Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell are back as M and Miss Moneypenny, respectively.

Guy Hamilton returns as director, working from a Tom Mankiewicz screenplay, in this unusual entry in the 007 canon. The theme song was a big hit for ex-Beatle Paul McCartney , rising to #2 on the Billboard charts. Beatle producer George Martin orchestrates the films’ score. LIVE AND LET DIE was a great first outing for Roger Moore, though his Bond movies did seem to get progressively sillier as time went on. Let’s wrap up this look as Roger Moore’s Bond debut with the spooky-cool opening credits, sung by the one and only Paul McCartney: