Friday, January 22, 2021

Film Fun: Music from Movies – The Black Klansman (USA, 1966)

"Get control of myself?! Who the hell are you, white woman, to tell me to get control of myself?!"
Jerry Ellsworth (Richard Gilden)
Let's take a meandering, diffuse look at the title track to a movie a.k.a. Brutes and I Crossed the Line: the B&W exploiter The Black Klansman, which has relatively little to do with Spike Lee's "serious" film from 2018, BlacKKKlansman (trailer). About the only thing they share is a similar name. 
Trailer to
 The Black Klansman (1966):

This flick here, a product of the great, legendary "incredibly strange filmmaker" Ted V. Mikels, born Theodore Vincent Mikacevich (29 Apr 1929 – 16 Oct 2016), is a relatively straight exploitation movie, if with slightly more serious intent than the average Mikels film.
The fourth directorial project of Mikels and his last B&W film, The Black Klansman was preceded by Mikels's sexploitation titles One Shocking Moment (B&W / 1965 / full film) and Dr. Sex (color / 1964 / full film / French poster below), and his dull directorial debut, Strike Me Deadly (1963 / trailer).
When The Black Klansman was released as I Crossed the Line in NYC, it got paired rather oddly with the even older Japanese color film, Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman a.k.a. Zatoichi on the Road (1963 / trailer), the 5th of a series of 27 Japanese Zatoichi films starring Shintarô Katsu (29 Nov 1931 – 21 June 1997) as the titular blind, itinerant swordsman and masseuse.
As Talking Pulp puts it, "The Black Klansman isn't Blaxploitation, it's half a decade too early and it doesn't have the wisecrackin' street slang of those pictures or the sweet style. However, it does feel like a sort of proto-Blaxploitation film. At its core though, it is a Civil Rights era thriller in a similar vein to Roger Corman's The Intruder (1961). This falls more on the exploitation side though." Indeed, it is pretty much a full-blown entry of what Mondo Digital refers to as "racesploitation", which "became a movie mainstay in the '70s, [but] ... was too hot a topic in the volatile '60s to get much traction on the big screen.*"
* Other films of the time that pushed the buttons of "anti-miscegenation"-minded individuals and other Republicans include I Spit on Your Grave a.k.a. J'irai cracher sur vos tombes (1959 / trailer), Les tripes au soleil a.k.a. Checkerboard (1959 / scene), My Baby Is Black (1961 / trailer), I Passed for White  (1960 / trailer), Born Black a.k.a. Der verlogen Akt (1969) and the decidedly non-exploitive, Oscar-nominated message movie, One Potato Two Potato (1964 / scene). 
The Department of Afro-American Research Arts Culture has the plot to The Black Klansman: "This melodrama exploits racial tensions with the tale of a light-skinned African-American (Richard Gilden, of The Unknown Terror [1957 / trailer / full film]), as Jerry Ellsworth] who impersonates a Caucasian and joins the notorious Ku Klux Klan to get revenge on the bigots who bombed a church and killed his daughter. Soon after joining, the vengeful father begins having sex with the clan leader's daughter (Maureen Gaffney)." Harry Lovejoy, above, plays the KKK daddy.
Film trivia: Richard Gilden was "a white man playing a Black man playing a white man" [Grindhouse Database]. Maureen Gaffney (b. 1 July 1943), also found in the nudie-cuties Pardon My Brush [1964 / poster above] & Hawaiian Thigh [1965], the latter of which was distributed by Harry Novak, "is now the artist Maureen Gaffney Wolfson, and she now swings a paintbrush instead of her boobs". The image below is a print of one of her paintings, Celestial Concerto of Love, and can be purchased directly from the artist.
The Black Klansman was shot in 21 days near Bakersfield, CA – and NOT "in complete secrecy in the Deep South". "In addition to executive producer Joe Solomon, the approximately $80,000 budget was supplied by Richard Gordon and distributor Jerry Solway of Astral Films, Ltd. [...] The Black Klansman was an entry at the 1966 Cannes International Film Festival, and marked the screen debut of actor Max Julien [the co-scriptwriter & co-producer of Cleopatra Jones (1973)], and James McEachin. [AFI]"
The script of The Black Klansman was supplied by Arthur Andrew Names Jr. (25 July 1925 – 9 Aug 2015) and John T. Wilson, who later joined forces to write Mikels's Girl in Gold Boots (1968 / trailer) and Names's only known directorial credit, Snakes a.k.a. Fangs a.k.a. Holy Wednesday a.k.a. Snakelust (1974). Jerry's white girlfriend in La La Land, Andrea, whom he later saves from lynching in Alabama, is the only known film role of Rima Kutner* (photo below), a "queen of non-reaction".
* Rima Joy Kutner (14 Jan 1936 – 5 Oct 1988), the model/actress and 1958 Northwest University-graduate daughter of "Luis Kutner, lawyer, author, lecturer, artist, entrepreneur, poet, athlete, and musician, [who] was born in Chicago on June 9, 1908, the son of Paul Kutner, a house painter and decorator, and Ella Kutner. Kutner's religious background was Jewish, and he described his ancestry as 'mixed French, English, Spanish, German, and Russian.' An inveterate romantic, he liked to tell newspaper reporters that when his mother was a young Russian-Turkish girl she was kidnapped at the age of 11 and forced to become a dancing girl in the harem of a Turkish pasha. She was rescued from her captivity at age 15 by some Russian sailors who took her to the Crimea where she was protected by a young painter and opera student, Paul Kutner, whom she later married."
Okay, but enough about the movie and other tangents, let's get to the soundtrack – but not the film music by the great Bolivian-American composer Jaime Mendoza-Nava (1 Dec 1925 – 31 May 2005), who also scored such masterpieces as Orgy of the Dead (1965 / great trailer), The House Near the Prado (1969) & The Hanging of Jake Ellis (1969), both with Charles Napier, The Cut-Throats (1969) & The Midnight Graduate (1970), both with The Great Uschi, Grave of the Vampire (1972 / trailer), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976 / trailer), Vampire Hookers (1978 / trailer) and so much more.
No, let's give a listen to and then look at the title track, entitled (Surprise!) The Black Klansman, by Tony Harris, which even had a one-sided 45-rpm release back when the film came out (somehow we doubt it got much airplay). You can't really dance to this one, which starts with the stanza: 
"The Ku Klux Klan killed my little Girl. 
Now I'm alone in this hostile world. 
My plan for vengeance may seem odd, 
but with the help of God, 
I will destroy them from within... 
disguise myself and be the Black Klansman!" 
Yeah, the lyrics are a hoot and basically explain the plot of the movie, a movie which tends to generate pure denegation and rare praise. ("Stark, violent and stuffed with upsetting imagery, The Black Klansman is just as distressing in 2018 as it was in 1966. [BirthMoviesDeath]") But the song is pretty good, particular if you're into classic garage rock like that found on the fabulous Nuggets compilation LPs of the 80s. In this case here, the song has an intriguing, almost proto-Californian country garage rock appeal – hardly a surprising tone for the song, once you hear some of the other music Tony Harris was doing around the time. 
Tony Harris's title track to 
The Black Klansman:
Tony Harris was an active man in the 60s and early 70s, as is revealed over at West Coast Fog, but then he disappeared. So we checked our attic, and found out that there is a guy out there named Anthony Harris who, just like Tony Harris, is the son of the American film producer and distributor Jack H. Harris (28 Nov 1918 – 14 Mar 2017), the man who brought us The Blob (1958), Master of Horror (1965 / trailer) a.k.a. Obras maestras del terror (1960), and his own and only directorial project, Unkissed Bride a.k.a Mother Goose a Go-Go (1966 / trailer). Dare we assume that Anthony and Tony are one and the same person? (Anthony, b.t.w., is married to an Alizon; if you look them up online you'll notice that some people seem to not like them or the recording studio, Power Studios Inc, that they run [ran?] from their pleasant-looking, 97-year-old home on Orlando Ave in West Hollywood.) Anthony, in any event, supposedly helped script Larry Hagman's Beware! The Blob! (1972 / trailer) and possibly produced some of the music, including the theme Son of Blob, by Mort Garson (20 July 1924 – 4 Jan 2008).
But years ago, way back in 1965, when Anthony was still only Tony, the young Harris released an interesting "psychedelic acoustic garage" single, Scorpio, backed with the even better psychedelic garage rock ditty, Honey. He followed them with a decidedly "raw and snotty folk-rock ode to the superhero in the vein of the Turtles best work", a novelty garage rock song entitled Super Man (below), backed by the far-better slice of psychedelia, How Much Do I Love You. The how and why he ended up doing the title track to The Black Klansman is unknown to us, but all of Tony Harris's early work (i.e., 60s to the 70s) is worth a listen. 
Tony Harris sings 
Super Man:
To connect the dots to a title track we recently covered here at a wasted life, and as evidence of how incestuous regional music scenes tend to be, one of Harris's earliest known songwriting credits is for the surf instrumental Carmen P., first recorded by the totally unknown LA group The Citations, a songwriting credit he shares with John Marascalco and Richard Delvy (20 Apr 1942 – 6 Feb 2010). Delvy "might be remembered by some as one of the founding forces of Surfer music: as a drummer, he began his career in music with The Bel-Airs (listen to 1961's Mr. Moto) and The Challengers (listen to 1962's Surfbeat)." He was also the arranger (and we presume the drummer) on the great title track to The Green Slime (1968), as we mentioned here at Film Fun: Music from Movies – The Green Slime (USA/Japan, 1968).
Last but not least, Tony Harris was, like Anthony Harris, extremely active as a music producer. The same year that he was playing in Pacific Ocean, a psychedelic band now remembered primarily as an early footnote in the career of its vocalist, actor Edward James Olmos, he also lent his talents as producer and arranger to... 
Milton Berle's "truly wretched" 
Yellow Submarine (1968):

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