Film Review: Live and Let Die (1973)

Release Date: June 27th, 1973 (US release)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: George Martin, Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney
Cast: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Julius Harris, David Hedison, Gloria Hendry, Clifton James, Geoffrey Holder, Madeline Smith, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell

Eon Productions, United Artists, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Tee-Hee, on the first wrong answer from Miss Solitaire, you will snip the little finger of Mr. Bond’s right hand. Starting with the second wrong answer, you will proceed to the more… vital… areas.” – Kananga

I’ve worked my way through most of the James Bond movies and only have a few left after this one. Granted, I’ve seen them all before but I didn’t review any of them until last year. And since I’ve been doing these out of order, I should note that this is not my first Roger Moore Bond film but it is his first outing as the iconic character.

I know that this one gets a pretty bad rap but it’s one of my favorites. But I’ll explain why.

To start, it came out at the height of the blaxploitation era in American filmmaking and it utilizes that to great advantage. The film has a lot of blaxploitation actors in this from Julius Harris to Gloria Hendry. And while it taps into that vibe well, this isn’t Bond trying to be blaxploitation, it just meshes well with that genre’s style where it needs to.

Additionally, I love the voodoo and magical elements to the film. They may feel out of place and hokey but by the 1970s, Bond movies had started to drive towards cheese. Honestly, this is the most ’70s-esque of all the Bond films and while it feels dated because of that, it still works really well for me. I love the voodoo stuff, especially Baron Samedi, who was brought to life by the always awesome Geoffrey Holder. No lie, Samedi is one of my all-time favorite Bond villains.

The setting of this film was also great. It went from New York City to New Orleans to the Caribbean and in doing that, married the urban blaxploitation vibe with the Caribbean beauty of Dr. No, the first Bond film. In a way this brings things full circle, as Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond had a strong geographic similarity to Sean Connery’s first outing as the character. And both filmed those sequences on location in Jamaica.

I also enjoyed Yaphet Koto in this as the evil Kananga. He was a new kind of Bond villain for a new era where the franchise couldn’t keep relying on SPECTRE as its premier threat. Koto’s work here, really set the stage for some of the other solid villains from the Moore era.

We also get the debut of Sheriff Pepper of Louisiana, who is probably more iconic than the size of his actual role in the series. He’s synonymous with the Moore era but he was actually only in two of Moore’s Bond pictures and fairly briefly. Still, he is a fan favorite and it’s been argued that he was a template for the cops in The Dukes of Hazzard, as well as Jackie Gleason’s Buford T. Justice from Smokey and the Bandit.

Now there are some cringe moments in this like when Kananga blows up like a balloon, floats and explodes. However, those moments are balanced out by the hokey stuff that worked better like the scene where Samedi gets a chunk blown out of his head and he just looks up at it before he shatters like a broken pot.

I love this movie. I get that it is frowned upon by more serious Bond fans but they miss the point. This series should be about fun escapism. This is exactly that.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Roger Moore James Bond movies.

Film Review: Stranded In Space (1973)

Also known as: The Stranger (original TV movie title)
Release Date: February 26th, 1973
Directed by: Lee H. Katzin
Written by: Gerald Sanford
Music by: Richard Markowitz
Cast: Glenn Corbett, Cameron Mitchell, Sharon Acker, Lew Ayres, George Coulouris, Steve Franken, Dean Jagger, Tim O’Connor

Bing Crosby Productions, Fenady Associates, 100 Minutes

Review:

This movie exists as The Stranger and as Stranded In Space. The only real difference is that Stranded In Space was re-released on VHS in the ’80s and it had a new credits sequence that looks very ’80s. This was kind of confusing for the era this was made in and for the overall look of the picture. That credit sequence wasn’t even made up of shots from The Stranger, instead, it was made up of footage from a low budget 1983 sci-fi film called Prisoners of the Lost Universe. I have no idea why the film’s distributor did this, as both movies are completely unrelated.

The reason why I watched the Stranded In Space version of this terrible film is because it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, even with the riffing of Joel and the ‘Bots, this was a real bore to get through.

But if I’m being honest, the concept and the plot weren’t bad. A NASA astronaut wakes up in a hospital after a mission that saw his crew get killed. He is told that he has to stay under observation and isn’t allowed visitors or even a newspaper. Eventually, he escapes but soon discovers that the planet is very different because he’s not on Earth.

There’s a lot of cool territory to explore with the plot but this film doesn’t care about being an interesting or engaging film, it would rather take a good idea and then throw it into a shredder.

Like several films from this era that MST3K featured, this one was actually a television show. It wasn’t, however, a couple of random episodes strung together, it was a TV movie used to serve as a pilot. But it falls flat, even if it is more coherent than similar MST3K selections.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: a lot of the other sci-fi films riffed on MST3K.

Film Review: The Exorcist (1973)

Release Date: December 26th, 1973
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: William Peter Blatty
Based on: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Music by: Jack Nitzsche
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, Linda Blair

Hoya Productions, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes, 132 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Your mother sucks cocks in Hell, Karras, you faithless slime.” – Demon

Few motion pictures have a profound effect on American culture en masse. The Exorcist is one of those pictures and even though I was born five years after it was released, it was the one film that I heard people describe with actual terror in their voice. I was warned about it at an early age, most of the people in my family couldn’t even talk about, it was like the Voldemort of motion pictures in my heavily Christian household.

However, once I did see it, and at a very young age, it went the route most things do for me that people warn me away from or over hype, it didn’t overwhelm me with its terror or greatness.

Still, it is a damn fine motion picture in many ways. But as far as its effect on me, it wasn’t as bad as what I had built up in my mind. But it is bone chilling and terrifying, especially looking at it within the context of the era it came out in.

When I was talking to my mum recently, I pointed out that horror films, in less than ten years, went from Vincent Price movies, which are family friendly at this point, to movies like The ExorcistTexas Chain Saw Massacre and Last House on the Left. To me, it seemed like an extreme jump. Sure, there were gory exploitation films popping up in the ’60s but most people were unaware of those unless they lived near a grindhouse theater in a large city. It just feels that the harder, darker tonal shift in the ’70s, which this film was a part of, had a lot to do with the state of American culture at the time between the Vietnam War, the Nixon crap, the tensions over civil rights, multiple assassinations of prominent figures and so much more.

This is one of those films that I assume everyone over 18 has seen but it is also 45 years old now and these young kids today don’t give a shit about the classics or have the attention span for them. I don’t think that this is a film that will work for younger people because they’ve seen more fucked up movies than this and this story is a slow build towards an insane climax where film’s today have to deliver some sort of scare or special effects extravaganza every five minutes.

The Exorcist is perfectly paced, however. Some may feel it is too slow or that it could have been cut down but the emotional and terror build is so well executed that altering it would probably dilute the effect of the last thirty minutes.

One of my favorite scenes, which is still chilling and effective, is when the priest has the demon (in Regan’s body) tied to the bed and they have a conversation. This exchange is more terrifying than any of the demon’s physical antics.

This picture has impeccable cinematography, lighting and music. Everything used to shape the tone and atmosphere was perfect. The direction was good, the acting was solid and everything just came together really well.

The only thing that would have made this better for me was more backstory on the demon and more clarity as to why it chose Regan. I understand that it was some sort of revenge plot to mess with the priest but the motivations could have been clearer and the backstory could have been fleshed out more. Also, I wanted to know more about the demon. But then again, all of this also could have added too much to the simple story the film tried to tell and it could have easily gotten too convoluted.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The Exorcist sequels and prequels, The Ninth ConfigurationRosemary’s BabyThe Omen film series.

Film Review: Detroit 9000 (1973)

Also known as: The Holy Hill Caper (working title), Detroit Heat (video title), Police Call 9000 (Canada), S.O.S. Black Guns (France), Call Detroit 9000 (UK & Ireland)
Release Date: August, 1973 (Detroit)
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Written by: Orville H. Hampton
Music by: Luchi de Jesus
Cast: Alex Rocco, Hari Rhodes, Vonetta McGee, Herb Jefferson Jr., Ella Edwards, Scatman Crothers

General Film Corporation, Rolling Thunder Pictures (1998 re-release), 106 Minutes

Review:

“Was this a honky caper to keep black power from taking over the state Senate?” – Reporter

Detroit 9000 was originally marketed as a blaxploitation film during the height of that genre’s run. In reality, it is less blaxploitation and more urban crime thriller.

It was never hugely successful but it had a resurgence in the late ’90s when Quentin Tarantino helped to get it in the public eye by sampling it on his Jackie Brown soundtrack and by helping to get it redistributed into some theaters. A DVD release followed that.

The film stars Alex Rocco and I love seeing him in his younger days. He’s a guy who I’ve appreciated in just about everything he’s done. Here, he plays a cop trying to do things by the book in a town full of corruption, crime and racial tension. His partner is black and played by Hari Rhodes. The two of them had a dynamic relationship that works well on screen.

You also get to see Vonetta McGee, one of the queens of blaxploitation cinema, and Scatman Crothers as a charismatic preacher.

The one thing that this film had working for it was the action. Sure, there are some flaws, like a noticeable squib on a guy’s neck before it blows open and that same guy firing an assault rifle in the most nonsensical way possible, but this picture is action heavy with a lot of gravitas.

It also feels gritty and real. While that was normal for urban movies of the era, this one just has an extra level of authenticity. It was filmed on location in Detroit and the city really is a character in this film in the same way that New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles really came to life in some of the top film-noir pictures of the 1940s.

I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would. I’m a fan of blaxploitation flicks and while this isn’t a true blaxploitation picture, it was kind of better than that style’s average offering due to being more of a straight up crime picture. Yes, racial issues were at the forefront but this felt less like a political and social statement and more like a buddy cop action movie that just happened to take place in that cinematic landscape.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Cotton Comes to HarlemBlack CaesarThe MackTruck Turner and Bucktown.

Film Review: Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

Also known as: Blacula II, Blacula is Beautiful, Blacula Lives Again!, The Name is Blacula
Release Date: June 27th, 1973
Directed by: Bob Kelljan
Written by: Joan Torres, Raymond Koenig, Maurice Jules
Music by: Bill Marx
Cast: William Marshall, Pam Grier, Don Mitchell, Michael Conrad, Lynne Moody, Richard Lawson

Power Productions, American International Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Your bread, man, all of it! Or are we gonna have to become anti-social and kick your ass?” – Pimp, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any ‘bread’ on me, and as for ‘kicking my ass’ I’d strongly suggest you give it careful consideration before trying.” – Blacula/Mamuwalde

Blacula was a better than decent attempt at merging blaxploitation cinema with classic horror. It also did fairly well for American International, so a sequel was pretty much a no brainer.

William Marshall came back but that was it. But if you need to find someone to replace Vonetta McGee, one of the queens of blaxploitation pictures, you hire the other queen, Pam Grier.

This film also brings in a voodoo twist and its a voodoo ritual that resurrects the bones of Blacula and brings him back into the world once again. Grier also plays a voodoo practitioner that becomes the apple of Blacula’s eye since his beloved African princess isn’t in this tale. All things considered, while I loved Marshall and McGee playing opposite of one another, I really liked Marshall’s chemistry with Grier too.

The gist of the story is about how a voodoo priestess, Lisa Fortier, chooses an apprentice to be her successor that isn’t the man destined to be her true heir. The rejected heir becomes outraged, buys the bones of Blacula and uses his powers to bring the vampire back to life. The evil voodoo heir needs Blacula to help him get revenge but Blacula turns him into a vampire and enslaves his spirit. As the film rolls on, Blacula ends up with a large vampire horde that is hard for him to control and after being smitten with Grier’s Lisa, he must protect her from his own children of the night.

While this isn’t as good as the first Blacula, it isn’t a huge step down either. I liked Grier, a lot. I also liked the voodoo element and the fact that it came with its own twists and powers that could be exploited in this tale of hungry rogue vampires. Plus, William Marshall just looked so comfortable in the role. While he isn’t the traditional Dracula, he brings a certain gravitas and legitimacy to the Dracula mythos and holds his own against some of the greats. He’s certainly better as a Dracula-esque character than the vast majority of actors who stepped into the role of a vampiric aristocrat.

Scream Blacula Scream was good enough to at least warrant another sequel but alas, this was the last film in the short-lived Blacula series. There have been rumors of a remake for years but nothing has ever actually materialized. But I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Blacula as the undead never truly stay dead.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Blacula, of course! I also like watching these paired with those two Count Yorga movies from the same era and also put out by American International.

Film Review: Black Mama, White Mama (1973)

Also known as: Chains of Hate (alternate), Women In Chains (Canada), Hot, Hard and Mean (UK), Chained Women (Philippines), Frauen in Ketten (Germany)
Release Date: January 19th, 1973
Directed by: Eddie Romero
Written by: H. R. Christian
Based on: an original story by Joseph Viola, Jonathan Demme
Music by: Harry Betts
Cast: Pam Grier, Margaret Markov, Sid Haig

Four Associates Ltd., American International Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Some jive-ass revolution don’t mean shit to me!” – Lee Daniels

This film has been on my radar for years but I never had the opportunity to watch it until recently. I expected it to be a “women in prison” film but with the girls on the run and chained together while they spit racist shit back and forth at each other. However, it is a much better movie than that and to be completely honest, I was surprised about how good this movie actually is.

But really, I shouldn’t be surprised about the film’s quality, as Pam Grier has “the thing”. I can’t really define “the thing” but it’s this quality certain actors have that just makes them standout and rise above everything around them, as a beacon of absolute awesomeness, even if they are in a film that is total shit. Luckily, this film isn’t total shit, so it’s even better than just it’s great star.

Grier does have some help though because Margaret Markov, the white girl chained to her, is really damn good in her role too. You actually care about these girls and their separate agendas where in any other movie like this, you really wouldn’t give a shit and just hoped that violence or a titty were going to pop into the next shot.

Black Mama, White Mama also features Sid Haig in what is now one of my favorite roles he’s ever played. He’s basically a white cowboy criminal kingpin that wears colorful shirts, a sweet hat and rules his particular island of the Philippines with a big posse and big guns.

This starts as a standard “women in prison” movie, except that it takes place (and was shot) in the Philippines. Then there is an escape when the prison bus carrying the girls is attacked. One wants to go one way, to reach a boat with a lot of money, the other wants to go the other way, to her boyfriend and to help fight a revolution to free the island from tyranny. There are police in pursuit, a Filipino kingpin in pursuit, an American kingpin in pursuit, revolutionaries in pursuit, dogs in pursuit and a whole lot of sexy women running away from all of it.

Black Mama, White Mama is exceptional when looking at it within the context of being some throwaway, run of the mill, sexploitation, grindhouse, “women in prison” movie. It feels less grindhouse-y and more like something Cannon Films would make in the ’80s.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Pam Grier movies from the era. It’s not a standard “women in prison” film and it’s not an urban action drama but any Grier film will still probably flow well with this regardless.

Film Review: White Lightning (1973)

Also known as: McKlusky (working title)
Release Date: August 8th, 1973
Directed by: Joseph Sargent
Written by: William W. Norton
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Bo Hopkins, Jennifer Billingsley, Diane Ladd, R.G. Armstrong, Laura Dern (uncredited)

United Artists, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I was tryin’ to save these two buddies of mine from getting knocked up by a homosexual.” – Gator McKlusky

White Lightning is a decent movie but not anything exceptional. Yet it still holds a special place in history because it’s popularity would help it to kick off a new type of film genre in the 1970s. Without this, we might not have had all those other car and trucker movies. Hell, who knows what Burt Reynolds would have done had he not carved out his place in history with this sort of role.

This took that ’70s whitesploitation shtick and made it mainstream. This was a film put out by a major studio and had some semblance of a budget compared to the similar grindhouse pictures of the time.

Burt Reynolds, himself, referred to the film as “…the beginning of a whole series of films made in the South, about the South and for the South. No one cares if the picture was ever distributed north of the Mason-Dixon Line because you could make back the cost of the negative just in Memphis alone. Anything outside of that was just gravy. It was a well done film. Joe Sargent is an excellent director. He’s very, very good with actors. And it had some marvelous people in it whom nobody had seen before. Ned Beatty for example. I had to fight like hell to get Ned in the film.”

The film had a pretty good score done by Charles Bernstein, who would make that famous A Nightmare On Elm Street theme a decade later. The score here may sound familiar to fans of Quentin Tarantino, as he reused some of it for his Kill Bill films.

Reynolds was pretty good as Gator McKlusky and he would get to return as a character in the sequel Gator, three years later.

The plot sees Gator initially try to breakout of an Arkansas prison but his attempt is foiled. He then works out a deal to bring down a crooked Sheriff, who is responsible for murdering his brother. Gator wants revenge, the system wants justice and everyone loves moonshine and fast cars.

White Lightning isn’t my favorite film in the genre it helped popularize but it is still worth revisiting from time to time due to its cultural significance and because well, Burt Reynolds is cool. Although, I prefer him alongside Jerry Reed.