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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Women In Cages (1971)




















Starring:
  • Pam Grier
  • Judith Brown
  • Roberta Collins
Starring:
Carol Jeffries (known as 'Jeff') is a naive American woman staying in the Phillipines. She is given ten years in prison after being set up by her drug-dealer boyfriend, Rudy. She endures the harsh conditions, sadistic head matron and attempts on her life, then convinces her cell-mates to try to escape with her through the jungle, in spite of the knowledge that ruthless trackers will be sent out after them.

American B-film companies found in the Philippines a cheap, plentiful supply of labour and locations for their tropical drive-in sleazefests. Admittedly these exploitation films are an acquired taste and a dubious form of entertainment; however they mark an important cultural milestone as the first features where a black actress, even playing a prison moll or topless revolutionary, is given a lead role of any substance. Director Jack Hill started the eightball rolling when he shot The Big Doll House in 1971, set in a nameless Latin American prison but filmed in the Filipino jungle. Unseen in Australia since the early 70s, the film featured a mixed cast of local and American exploitation regulars, but it's remembered as the first high-profile role for the later Queen of Blaxploitation, Pam Grier.

Legend has it that Sam Arkoff, head of American International Pictures saw a statuesque Grier at his company switchboard and cast her on the spot for her breakthrough hit Coffy. That, as they say, is bull shee-it. The former beauty queen made her film debut in 1970 as an extra in Russ Meyer's big breast bonanza Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, and appeared in a number of B-pics shot in the Philippines the following year for AiP's rival company, Roger Corman's New World Pictures. Alongside her role as the tough-as-nails prostitute in Big Doll House were supports in the horror flick The Twilight People and as a topless hooker (again!) in Cool Breeze, then back behind bars for Women In Cages.

In Women In Cages, Grier plays the sadistic warden for once, a pot-smoking lesbian with a fully-equipped torture chamber (including a guillotine!). The 'New Fish' (a recent inmate, for you prison film novices), a ditzy blonde ex-stripper called Alabama, has taken the heroin possession rap for her pimp boyfriend. She knows too much, so the pimp blackmails her cellmates to execute her. A competent and well-shot entry in the tropical prison genre from Filipino director Gerry De Leon, it places the embittered ex-addict and prostitute Grier in the position of slave owner, watching her white charges toiling away in the plantation with obvious ironic glee.

Friday, August 2, 2013

High Yellow (1965)




















Starring:
  • Cynthia Hull
  • Warren Hammack
  • Kay Taylor
CG
Cindy (Cynthia Hull), a light-skinned black teen, gets a job as a maid for the dysfunctional family of an oblivious Hollywood producer.  She keeps a diary and befriends the wild, jive-talking teen daughter, Judy (Kay Taylor) whose brother was kicked out of the military for being a "queer boy".  The Major (Bill Thurman) is a crazy, sadistic, alcoholic war-vet gardener, and Joseph (William McGhee) is a friendly servant.  The depressed mother (Anne McAdams, from Common-Law Wife) stays in bed.  This Dallas production shows how good Buchanan was before those AIP-TV movies.  The characters are interesting and/or sympathetic, the acting is good, and the plot (including a murder) works on several levels.  The instrumental theme is great, and I love the scenes at the Disco A-Go-Go, where Jody Daniels sings and the Rowdies do "Pushover".  It's hard to find (thanks to the director) but recommended.

God's Step Children (1938)























Starring:
  • Jacqueline Lewis
  • Ethel Moses
  • Alice B. Russell

IMDB.com
A young light-skinned Negress struggles to find her place in both the black and the white worlds.

Yet another highly controversial film from pioneer director Oscar Micheaux, which tries to be critical of black people who hate being black. A black mother gives birth to a mixed baby but she can't stand the backlash so she gives the child to another black woman. At nine years old, this child starts lying and trying to get her black teachers into trouble because she hates being black. She's sent to a convent but when the girl returns at the age of 21, she again tries to destroy everyone around here. This is an incoherent mess of a film that doesn't make a bit a sense and it's never real clear what message the director is trying to send. I couldn't make heads or tails out of any scene and in the end I was left with a major headache. The other films from the director that I've seen were often critical of black people, which was a brave thing to do considering these films only played black theaters but whatever Micheaux's point was here is certainly lost. Needless to say, the acting is pretty horrid throughout, which is hard to be too critical of since the majority of blacks were allowed in any sort of acting school at the time.

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