Before you say anything about how "It's the Czech Republic", please note that in 1987, when this film was made, the Iron Curtain had not yet dropped and the two countries were still one country. Not that really has all that much to do with the short film at hand... We stumbled upon this arty cinema artefact while perusing the Shorts section of the always readable film website 366 Weird Movies. And while we have long known and admired the Czech stop-motion animator Jan Švankmajer, the name Jirí Barta, who seems to belong to the "second generation" of the Golden Age of Czech animation, was new to us. Born in Prague on 26 Nov 1948, he began studying at Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague in 1969. Riddles for a Candy, his first film that we know of, a short film, was released in 1978 and its cuteness factor and stop-motion style is a far cry from our current Short Film of the Month, The Last Theft. Over the years since Riddles, however, despite perhaps specializing in stop-motion, Barta has displayed a willingness to experiment in styles and technique that others of his Czech brethren do not.
And The Last Theft is definitely a different technique from his other films, long or otherwise. The roughly 21-minute short, Barta's follow-up to his highly respected, stop-motion, semi-long film The Pied Piper (1986 / full film), is not even a "real" animated film: shot with actors, it uses various techniques that give it an oddly animated feel, but in the end it is live action and feels perhaps a bit closer to the silent films of yesteryear than to Barta's general artistic output. A contemporary horror story at heart, The Last Theft's dreamlike, almost Gothic atmosphere, deliberate pacing, and oddly retro, silent-film vibe call to mind other art-infused movies like our Short Film of the Month for February 2020, The Fall of the House of Usher (1928).
The plot, as given at Children of the Blazing Fist: "The Last Thief starts off at night time with a robber (Ivan Vojtek) breaking into a supposed house. While he starts off small with a single gold coin, he notices more valuables that further entice him. His greed knows no bounds as he stuffs what appears to be a bowling ball sized bag full of anything of worth; from clothes, to fine silver wear, to even an old clock. As he searches the house, the thief grabs and breaks a pearl necklace, sending the individual beads everywhere. The thief tries to pick them up and stumbles upon a betting dice game being played by the house's residents. Greeted with solemn faces he is invited to join them and reluctantly sits down. Still nervous from his thieving, he calms down after rolling his first winning hand. [...]"
(Spoilers!) The third of Bela Lugosi's infamous Monogram Nine,*Black Dragons followed the seventh East Side Kids film Spooks Run Wild (1941 / full film / trailer) and preceded that a wasted life fave, The Corpse Vanishes (1942). Unlike the last mentioned slice of camp surrealism, however, Black Dragons is perhaps one of the harder of the Monogram Nine to take a revisionist approach to.
*Unfamiliar with the "Monogram Nine"? Well, to simply quote the filmmaker Donald F. Glut at Amazon: "Between 1941 and 1944, Bela Lugosi starred in a series of low-budget films released by Monogram Pictures. To many viewers at the time and during the decades that followed, the 'Monogram Nine' were overacted and underproduced, illogical and incoherent. But their increasing age has recast such condemnations into appropriate praise: in the 21st century, they seem so different not only from modern cinema, but also from Classical Hollywood, enough so as to make the aforementioned deficits into advantages. The entries in the Monogram Nine are bizarre and strange, populated by crazy, larger-than-life characters who exist in wacky, alternative worlds. In nine films, the improbable chases the impossible."
Made under the working title The Yellow Menace, the movie's final release title was undoubtedly inspired by an actual Japanese espionage organization, the Black Dragon Society, which arose during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). Released on 6 March 1942 in Los Angeles on a double bill with the Australian adventure flick Pituri a.k.a. Uncivilised (1937 / trailer), Black Dragons had gone into production soon after the 7 Dec 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, making the Poverty Row production one of the earliest anti-Japanese* wartime propaganda film releases after the US declared war (on 8 Dec 1941). (Interestingly enough, 21 days after the theatrical release of Black Dragons, the FBI arrested the members of the Black Dragon Society in California.) The filmic Black Dragons, or at least a splinter cell of the organization, promptly made a second appearance in another Monogram film roughly 2.5 months later with the release of the ninth (of 22) East Side Kids installment, Let's Get Tough! (1942 / full film), which like Black Dragons was scripted by prolific silent film and Poverty Row scribe Harvey Gates (19 Jan 1894 – 4 Nov 1948). Despite the further years of war in real life, that East Side Kids film was the last cinema appearance of devious rising-sun devils. *Only ever referred to in the film as "Japs", of course.
Black Dragons is not a very good film, and not just because it is a blatant (if understandable for the time) slice of anti-Japanese wartime propaganda. Like all the Monogram Nine, it is very much "overacted [when not underacted] and underproduced, illogical and incoherent", but on the whole it is a lot less strange or crazy or surreal than it is ridiculous, tedious and, at 64 minutes in length, about 50 minutes too long. Director William Nigh (12 Oct 1881 – 27 Nov 1955), who began his career in films as a silent film actor (he appeared in some 25-odd shorts and feature films between 1913 and 1925, including as a Keystone Kop) before becoming a prolific poverty row director,* does little in way of direction in the movie. But for the rather intriguing opening scene of a gathering of the upper crust in Washington, D.C., partaking heavily in the kind of loose lips that sink ships during an evening dinner get-together,** the camerawork of Black Dragons is pretty much of the stationary kind: static and unexciting, it does little to add tension or flavor or any visual creativity to the at times difficult to follow and ultimately ridiculous tale.
*His most familiar title might be The Ape (1940 / full film / trailer), while his most appreciated title seems to be I Wouldn't Be in Your Shoes (1948). In general, little biographical information is known about him — for example, though it is known that he was married to "Mrs. William Nigh", who even appeared alongside him playing "Sloppy Sue" in Notorious Gallagher; or, His Great Triumph (1916), a silent he wrote, directed and starred in, when and where they married or her full name is currently unknown, and no other family member of the same name seems to share his grave location. (He shares it with three members of a Goetz family.) He was, in any event, born in Berlin... Wisconsin.
**Typical, actually: though only two young women at the dinner event, the least interesting one, the blonde with no lines of dialogue, is identified today — she's played by the starlet Ethelreda Leopold (2 Jul 1914 – 26 Jan 1998) — while the far more interesting and worldly, and chesty and braless, brunette floozy in a silk top (who asks one of movers-and-shakers present, "With your influence in Washington, why don't you get a bill passed to increase the old-age pension for glamour girls?") remains unknown and forgotten.
That the many of Republican-looking industrialists introduced at the beginning of Black Dragons are actually secret fifth-column activists is quickly established. What is less quickly established is the who or why of Monsieur Colomb (Bela Lugosi), a man that shows up late one night at the house of fifth columnist William Saunders (George Pembroke [27 Dec 1901 – 11 Jun 1972] of The Invisible Ghost [1941 / full film] and Bluebeard [1944 / full film / trailer]). Colomb integrates himself into the soon-somnambulant Saunders's household under the guise of an "invited guest" and, one by one, kills or leads to the demise of the other fifth-column businessmen...
To the plot there is Saunders visiting niece Alice (1930-40 B-movie stalwart Joan Barclay, nee Mary Elizabeth Greear [31 Aug 1914 – 22 Nov 2002], of The Corpse Vanishes  and the classic The Seventh Victim [1943 / trailer]) and the butler Stevens (stage actor Joseph Eggenton [28 Feb 1871 – 3 Jul 1946], easily the best actor in the movie), who find the mysterious Colomb unnerving, and the manly if ineffectual FBI agent Dick Martin (Clayton "Lone Ranger" Moore, nee Jack Carlton Moore [14 Sep 1914 – 28 Dec 1999]), who is convinced something is rotten in the state of Denmark at the Saunders mansion.
The big showdown at the end, when Martin brings the last surviving fifth columnist Amos Hanlin (Robert Frazer, nee Robert William Browne [29 Jun 1891 – 17 Aug 1944], of the classic, entertaining horror films White Zombie [1932 / trailer] and The Vampire Bat [1933 / full film]) back to the mansion in an attempt to smoke out the now on-the-run Colomb does quickly devolve into a fun and surreally over the top resolution that aims to tie all the slippery loose ends together: Hanlin dies, while Colomb (revealed to actually be the Nazi plastic surgeon Dr. Melcher) survives a bullet in the back long enough for the now monsterfied (!) Dr Saunders to reveal... Well, that would be spoiling the big[gest] reveal, wouldn't it?
While the ending of Black Dragons does dive straight into the otherworld insanity that makes so many poverty row productions fun, the enjoyably daft resolution takes much too long to be reached. The true flaw of the movie, however, lies neither in the cheap production values nor the sub-standard acting nor the sleep-inducing direction nor in the now somewhat alienating anti-"Jap" propagandistic tone. What makes the film so unbearable is the substantial lack of interesting or noteworthy dialogue, the true key, for example, to the "success" of the indefinitely better Monogram Nine production, The Corpse Vanishes. The plot of that film is really no less nonsensical than the plot in this one, but it nevertheless works because the narrative inanity and low-brow action meshes so well with the inspired, oft-camp dialogue. Black Dragons, despite having been written by a co-scripter of The Corpse Vanishes, is almost universally lacking in the kind of knowingly fun dialogue that often saves this kind of lower echelon movie. Thus, the movie simply sinks deep into the quicksand of unbearable mediocrity and quickly becomes no fun to watch.
Still, one cannot say that some of the dialog in Black Dragons doesn't cause more than just one double-take. The number of such lines of dialogue, however, can actually be counted on one-and-a-half hands. The two least offensive lines of note are that of the previously mentioned brunette floozy, and Hanlin's response to Martin when the latter asks Hanlin whether he is not frightened of being murdered: "A busy man has very little time to indulge in feminine emotions." But the true jaw-dropper of the movie, the exchange that is close to impossible to erase from one's mind (though one would like to), is the following example of "witty" banter between Martin and Alice after Martin has tried a few times to convince Alice to leave the Saunders mansion:
Martin: "Alice, will you marry me?" Alice: "What for?" Martin: "So I can beat you up. It's the only way I can get you out of here."
Part II (July 2022), Background Babe of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: Jacqulin Cole,
Part III (Aug 2022), Background Babe of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: Bebe Louie...
Fifty-two years and three months ago, on 17 June 1970, Russ Meyer's baroque masterpiece Beyond the Valley of the Dolls hit the screens in the US of Anal. One of only two movies Meyer ever made for a major Hollywood studio (in this case, Fox), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is without a doubt one of the Babest movies ever made.
"Using unknowns you avoid highly exaggerated salaries and prima donnas." Russ Meyer
While we have yet to review it here at a wasted life (if we did, we would foam at the mouth in raging rave), we have looked at it before: back in 2011, in our R.I.P. Career Review of Charles Napier (12 Apr 1936 – 5 Oct 2011), and again in 2013 in our R.I.P. Career Review for the Great Haji (24 Jan 1946 – 10 Aug 2013) — both appear in the film.
"This is not a sequel. There has never been anything like it!"
At R.I.P. Career Review of Haji, we wrote, among other things, the following: "Originally intended as a sequel to the 1967 movie version of Jacqueline Susann's novel Valley of the Dolls (trailer), Meyer and co-screenwriter Roger Ebert instead made a Pop Art exploitation satire of the conventions of the modern Hollywood melodrama, written in sarcasm but played straight, complete with a 'moralistic' ending that owes its inspiration to the Manson-inspired murder of Sharon Tate and her guests on August 9, 1969. Aside from the movie's absolutely insane plot, the cinematography is also noteworthy — as are the figures of the pneumatic babes that populate the entire movie. For legal reasons, the film starts with the following disclaimer: 'The film you are about to see in not a sequel to Valley of the Dolls. It is wholly original and bears no relationship to real persons, living or dead. It does, like Valley of the Dolls, deal with the oft-times nightmare world of show business but in a different time and context.' [...]"
"Any movie that Jacqueline Susann thinks would damage her reputation as a writer cannot be all bad."
Russ Meyer films are always populated by amazing females sights, but Beyond the Valley of the Dolls literally overflows its cups in an excess of pulchritude that (even if somewhat more demurely covered than in most of his films) lights the fires of any person attracted to women of the curvaceous kind that preceded today's sculptured plasticity. The film is simply Babe Galore — and so, for the year to come, we are looking at the film careers of the women of the Babest Film of All Times, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The size of their breasts roles is of lesser importance than the simple fact that they are known to be in it somewhere, so we will look at the known unknowns in the background and the headlining semi-knowns in the front. With one notable exception: the National Treasure that is the Great Pam Greer. Though she had her film debut in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls somewhere in the background, and therefore should be included, we feel that a Wonderment of her caliber deserves an entry all of her own — a Sisyphean task we might one day endeavor... In any event, for however long it takes, we will look deep into the cleavages eyes of the various females known to be in the movie, although one or two might barely register. They were all date material (barring, perhaps, the ethereal-looking one, now dead, that ended up murdering her husband). Going alphabetically (last name) for now, let us take a look at another babe who had a limited but noteworthy career in film and a long one on stage: Trina Parks.
R.I.P. Career Review of Haji Part I (June 2022), The Non-babe of Note: Princess Livingston Part II (July 2022), Background Babe of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: Jacqulin Cole Part III (Aug 2022), Background Babe of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: Bebe Louie
Part IV: (Invisible) Background Babe
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls:
Trina Parks, born Trina Frazier on 26 December 1947, is an Afro-American multi-talent. Her place in film history is firmly established as the first Afro-American with a speaking part in a James Bond movie. In film, she was less active then on stage, with much of her film work probably unknown since she tended to appear uncredited and usually in the background, often using her amazing dancing skills.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
(1970, dir. Russ Meyer)
Saying Trina Parks "appeared" in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is perhaps a bit of a stretch, since she didn't exactly play anyone specific; theoretically, she didn't even play background filler. As she herself says in an interview at Cinebeats, "In Beyond the Valley of the Dolls I was a stunt girl. At that time I was thinking of getting into stunt work. But I quickly changed my mind when I realized that I had to jump from high places and possibly break my nails! That would not do at all!!" But with that, she did she take part in the film...
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls:
The plot, as found at AFI: "Tired of playing to high school audiences, Kelly (Dolly Read), Casey (Cynthia Myers), and Pet (Marcia McBroom), members of a rock trio, travel to Hollywood, California, accompanied by Harris Allsworth (David Gurian), the band's manager and Kelly's lover. There, they are befriended by Kelly's Aunt Susan (Phyllis Davis), an advertising executive, who, despite the misgivings of her lawyer, Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod), decides to share with Kelly the family fortune. At an orgy the band is discovered by the effeminate entrepreneur host, Ronnie 'Z-Man' Barzell (John La Zar), who rechristens them 'The Carrie Nations.' Among lovers quickly acquired at Ronnie's party are Lance (Michael Blodgett), a boorish gigolo, who enters into a liaison with Kelly; Emerson (Harrison Page), a law student who wins Pet's love; and Roxanne (Erica Gavin), a lesbian designer who captures Casey's heart. As the celebrated trio perform on national television, Harris, distraught by Kelly's infidelity and Casey's impregnation by him, hurls himself from the catwalk. He is rushed to the hospital, where Dr. Scholl (Dan White) informs Kelly that Harris can look forward to life as a paraplegic. Realizing that Harris is her true love, Kelly devotes herself to his care. Touched by Casey's plight, Roxanne arranges an abortion. Ronnie invites Lance, Roxanne, and Casey to a private party, at which costumes are distributed. Dressed as Superwoman, Ronnie attempts to seduce Lance, who is attired in a loin cloth. Rejected, Ronnie binds the gigolo. After revealing that he is, in fact, a woman, Ronnie bears her breasts, brandishes a sword, and chops off Lance's head. She then plunges a gun into the sleeping Roxanne's mouth and fires. Terrified, Casey phones her friends, who rush to her rescue but arrive too late. As Emerson and Kelly attempt to subdue Ronnie, the gun discharges, killing the transvestite. During the fray, however, the crippled Harris is miraculously cured. In a triple wedding ceremony, Kelly and Harris, Pet and Emerson, and Aunt Susan and an old love are united."
As we write this (19 July 2022), Trina Parks's entry over at Wikipediahas this film listed on her filmography, unlike the imdb. The film is based on a play of the same name that opened on Broadway in 1968 with James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander in the lead roles, which they eventually reprised in the film version. Both Jones and Alexander were nominated for Oscars, neither won.
AFIhas the plot: "In the first decade of the twentieth century, boxer Jack Jefferson (James 'The Voice' Earl Jones) beats [white guy] Frank Brady (Larry Pennell [21 Feb 1928 – 28 Aug 2013] of Bubba Ho-Tep , Superstition [1982 / trailer] and The Fear: Resurrection) in Reno, Nevada, and becomes the first black heavyweight champion of the world. To the consternation of his common-law wife, Clara (Marlene Warfield), and the militant Scipio (Moses Gunn [2 Oct 1929 – 16 Dec 1993] of Shaft [1971 / title track] and The Ninth Configuration [1980 / scene]), the irrepressible fighter takes as his mistress white divorcée Eleanor Bachman (Jane Alexander of The Man in the Wood [2020 / trailer]). After crossing the Illinois-Wisconsin state line with Eleanor, Jefferson is arrested in a hotel, charged under the Mann Act, and sentenced to three years in the state penitentiary at Joliet. Disguised as a member of a black baseball team, however, Jefferson escapes to Canada. Accompanied by Eleanor, he travels to London, England, where he is refused a license to fight. In Paris, France, he beats his white opponent so badly that none will challenge him. A pariah, he journeys to Germany. Later, in Budapest, the boxer is so reduced in circumstances as to play the title role in a cabaret performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin. When he is offered a reduced sentence by a federal agent in return for throwing a fight in Havana, Cuba, Jefferson refuses. He retires to Mexico, where he and Eleanor eke out a marginal existence. In desperation, Eleanor begs Jefferson to accept the Havana match. The infuriated boxer berates his mistress, blaming her for their hopeless situation. Distraught, Eleanor drowns herself in a well, after which Jefferson agrees to the fixed fight. During its final rounds he rebels and attempts, too late, to win the bout."
The Great White Hope:
"Trina [Parks] has no lines in The Great White Hope, but she does perform a dance with Jack Johnson (James Earl Jones) at the street party celebrating his becoming the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion. [Defunct Trina Parks Tribute webpage]" That's her. of course, directly below to your right. Also in the cast: the great (and dead) American character actor, R.G. Armstrong (7 Apr 1917 – 27 Jul 2012).
Wikipediaoffers some clarification about the real boxer that the "Jack Jefferson" of the film is based upon: "[Jack] Johnson, the first African American to hold the World Heavyweight Championship title, was one of the best fighters of his generation. Yet, white reaction against Johnson's win[s] and his very public relationships with white women was so strong that, in 1912, the United States Congress, concerned that film scenes of Johnson pummeling white boxers would cause race riots, passed a law making it illegal to transport prizefight films across state lines. 'The great white hope' is a reference to the white boxer who many hoped would finally defeat Johnson. [...] The first 'great white hope' boxer to accept the challenge was Jim Jeffries, who came out of retirement to fight Johnson unsuccessfully in 1910. Johnson's title was eventually lost to Jess Willard, a white boxer, in 1915. There was some controversy surrounding Willard's win, with Johnson claiming he threw the fight. In part because of white animosity toward Johnson, it was 20 years before another African American boxer was allowed to contend for the world professional heavyweight title."
Jack Johnson (31 March 1878 – 10 June 1946) was nicknamed the "Galveston Giant"; he is known to have three documented marriages (all to white women, which ruffled a lot of feathers in the day), and his 1927 autobiography claims a marriage to the Afro-American named Mary Austin, in Texas, but no actual documentation of the marriage has ever been found. Much like the X-rating given to the masterpiece that is Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1972), Johnson's conviction for violating the Mann Act was handed down by an all white jury.
On 24 May 2018, Johnson (seen above with his wife Etta) was formally pardoned by wanna-be dictator, former U.S. President, and eternal fascist Donald "Toadstool" Trump.
Night Gallery — The Phantom Farmhouse
We don't usually look at television series, but for a show like Night Gallery (1970 to 73, if you exclude the original pilot broadcast over a year earlier in 1969) we're willing to make an exception. An anthology television series originally on NBC and hosted by the great Rod Serling (25 Dec 1924 – 28 June 1975), the tales featured tended to be more on the macabre and supernatural side than what was usually found on his far more respected and culturally influential TV series, The Twilight Zone (1959–64). Serling, as the host of The Night Gallery, would introduce the episodes in a darkened gallery, saying something along the lines of...
"Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of two paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector's item in its own way — not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspended in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare."
The painting further above, by Tom Wright, was one the Night Gallery paintings of the fifth episode of the second season, which aired 20 October 1971 and consisted of two 30-minute (including commercials) tales. The painting was used to introduce The Phantom Farmhouse, the segment paired with Silent Snow, Secret Snow. Silent Snow, Secret Snow, based on a "classic" American short story by Pulitzer Prize winner and US Poet Laureate (from 1950 to 1952) Conrad Aiken (5 Aug 1889 – 17 Aug 1973), generally gets all the respect. That segment was directed by Gene Kearney, who had actually already done a 15-minute independent short film of the tale some five years earlier.
Gene Kearney's first version of
Silent Snow, Secret Snow (1965):
Trina Parks, however, appears in the other segment, The Phantom Farmhouse, which was based on a short story of the same name by the relatively forgotten pulp fiction author and lawyer Seabury Quinn (1 Jan 1889 – 24 Dec 1969). The segment was directed by Jeannot Szwarc, who went on to direct such non-masterpieces as Jaws 2 (1978 / trailer), Supergirl (1984 / trailer), everyone's favorites slab of cinematic cheese, Bug (1975 / trailer), and the cult TV flick, The Devil's Daughter (1973 / TV promo, with Jonathan Frid).
Midnight Reviewshas the plot to The Phantom Farmhouse, which "offers a clever twist on the werewolf legend": "When the mentally unstable Gideon (David Carradine of Q , Dead & Breakfast  and so much more) blames the murder of a fellow patient on Mildred Squire (Linda Marsh of Freebie & the Bean [1974 / trailer], Homebodies [1974 / trailer] and Bill Gunn's legendary semi-lost directorial debut Stop! ) from a local farmhouse, psychiatrist Doctor Joel Winter (David McCallum of Dogs [1977 / trailer] and Jim Wynorski's The Haunting of Morella [1990 / trailer]) investigates the matter himself. Upon visiting the farmhouse, Dr. Winter falls deeply in love with Mildred — an attractive woman hiding a terrible secret about her true self. [...] Supernatural horror fans in particular will enjoy this segment, which combines witchcraft and lycanthropy in a compelling fashion."
Betty, the character played by Trina Parks, dies at the hands (paws?) of ghostly werewolves, set up as fodder by Gideon, who subsequently explains to Dr Winter that "[...] he didn't like Betty because she was 'a snoop' and 'too good' — and [Gideon] also implies that he bedded her before succumbing to this dislike. Betty was tolerable as a sexual partner, but she made him feel inferior, so she had to be dispatched by the clearly-coded-as-virginal Mildred. Making this even ickier is that Betty is killed in the same meadow where, just a couple scenes before, the bodies of slaughtered sheep were found. The connection between the woman and the service animals is blatant. [Roundtable Review]"
For a blow by blow account of the plot of the episode, go to David Juhl's blog. Interesting trivia about Night Gallery: 22-year-old Steven Spielberg made his directorial debut with the segment Eyes, starring Joan "No More Wire Coat Hangers!" Crawford, in the three-segment pilot TV film that aired 8 November 1969. The painting to her episode is directly above.
One our favorite Bond films here at a wasted life, even though it is hardly the best Bond movie. But it does have the better-looking Wood sister, Lana Wood (of Demon Rage [1982 / opening]), as Plenty O'Toole (and indeed, Lana Wood had plenty), who dies the pointless death of most Bond girls; the psychopathic gay killers Mr Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr Kidd (Putter Smith); and the female salt-and-pepper team of Thumper (Trina Clark) and Bambi (Lola Larson). Contrary to popular opinion, Trina is not the first Black woman to ever appear in a James Bond movie; in Diamonds itself, another un-credited (and unknown) woman has that honor, as Nerdist — which we thank for the GIF below — points out: "Before Parks makes her grand arrival as the first Black woman bodyguard, another Black woman appears briefly before she's turned into a gorilla. That moment hasn't aged well because trash never ages well."
As Thumper, who for a while kicks Bond's ass, Parks even made it into the film's trailer — but wasn't given any screen credit. The honor of being the first Afro-American actress to appear and be credited in a Bond film goes to cult fave Gloria Hendry in To Live and Let Die (1973 / trailer).
Diamonds are Forever:
The plot, as found at Expelled Grey Matter:"We first join James Bond as he searches for Blofeld (Charles Gray of The Devil Rides Out  and The Beast Must Die ), eventually finding him and sending him off to his final reward — or so he thinks. With Blofeld gone, Bond returns from his time away from M5, and M (Bernard Shaw) assigns him to a new case: a large amount of diamonds have been reported smuggled out of mines in South Africa, and none of them have turned up on the black market, leading to fears that someone is stockpiling them for nefarious reasons. With rumors that one of the hubs for the operation may be in Amsterdam, M5 kidnaps a man named Peter Franks, whose job is to help get the diamonds into the U.S., and replaces him with Bond. Franks's connection, Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) is initially convinced, and Bond is met by Felix Leiter (Norman Burton) who lends his aid in discovering what is happening. Whatever it is, it soon turns out that everyone who has come in contact with the diamonds have met their fate at the hands of a pair of assassins names Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) and Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover). Bond almost meets his, but it turns out that the diamonds that Bond brought to the contact were fake, and everyone decides he needs to live — at least until the real ones turn up. To make matters more complicated Bond is reunited with Case, interrupting his interlude with a casino hanger-on by the name of Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood). When it turns out that the assassins meant to do away with Tiffany as well, she decides to switch sides and begin helping Bond and Leiter find out who is behind the diamond thefts, and why it all seems to point to a reclusive millionaire named William Whyte (Jimmy Dean), whom no one has seen in five years and whose casino dominates the Vegas Strip. Needless to say, Blofeld, as usual, isn't as dead as everyone hoped, and he once again has plans to hold the world for ransom."
The title track —
Dame Shirley Bassey's classic
Diamonds are Forever:
The original poster, as some might notice, was illustrated by no one less than the great Robert E. McGinnis. "Beginning with his first book cover in 1958, McGinnis became one of the most prolific book cover (and movie poster) illustrators active in the 60s and 70s, his work is always eye-catching. More information on him and examples of his fabulous work can be found here at Stainless Steel Droppings. Rich people might want to purchase a copy of The Paperback Covers of Robert McGinnis at the evil hat is known as Amazon."
Again, we don't usually look at TV series here at a wasted life, but this series belongs to those that followed a specific trend on commercial TV back in the seventies: each episode, though featuring a regular (or several regular) characters, was of movie length and almost self-sufficient.
McCoy, on rotation as part of NBC Sunday Mystery Movie (1971-77), was not exactly a big hit: starring Tony Curtis (of BrainWaves), whose career was already on the skids, McCoy, which was about a con man (Curtis) with a team of friends who "out-cons" bad guys, lasted only five episodes. The Big Rippoff, airing 11 March 1975, was the debut episode. Trina Parks is listed on the cast, but who knows where she is to be found in film-length episode.
Over at All Movie, Hal Erickson says: "[Tony] Curtis plays a sly but basically decent con artist who is engaged to recover $250,000 in ransom money from a recent high-society kidnapping. In the tradition of The Sting (1973 / trailer), Curtis uses scam tactics to get the money back — all the while keeping one step ahead from his own mobster creditors. Roscoe Lee Browne ([2 May 1922 – 11 Apr 2007] of Uptown Saturday Night [1974 / trailer], Black Like Me [1964 / trailer] and Super Fly T.N.T. [1973 / trailer]) costars as Curtis' loyal assistant, a nightclub comedian, while Brenda Vaccaro (of The House by the Lake [1976 / trailer] and, both with Herbert Lom, Ten Little Indians [1989 / trailer] and The Masque of the Red Death [1989 / trailer]) guests as an investigative reporter who assists in the sting. [...]"
A novelization of the pilot, written by "Sam Stewart" (otherwise known as Linda Stewart) was published by Dell in 1976. The film itself, however, was scripted by Roland Kibbee (15 Feb 1914 – 5 Aug 1984) and Dean Hargrove. Busy TV director Richard Quine (12 Nov 1920 – 10 Jun 1989) was a former child actor; as such, he is found in the forgotten horror programmer, Life Returns (1935).
Trina Parks plays Syreena, the main character of this divisive, white-man-made Blaxploitation comedy. We looked at this movie back in 2019, in R.I.P. Dick Miller Part IV: 1974-76, where we wrote:
"Any similarity between this true life adventure and the story Cinderella ... is bullshit."
A.k.a. Get Down and Boogie. The second and last Blaxploitation film scriptwriter George Armitage ever wrote after 1972's Hit Man (trailer, with Marilyn Joi), Armitage was also set to direct Darktown Strutters (as he did Hit Man) but bowed out for another project that eventually fell through. He was replaced by William Witney (5 May 1915 – 17 March 2002), who had previously also directed the Gene Corman produced The Girls on the Beach (1965, see Dick Miler Part II). Darktown Strutters was his second to last directorial project; his final, the semi-Eurowestern Showdown at Eagle Gap a.k.a. Quell and Co. (scene), followed seven years later in 1982.
"Veteran western and serial director William Witney, a Tarantino favorite who began his career as a bit player in 1934, cashed in his Hollywood chips with this penultimate, extremely cartoony and uncharacteristic effort. New World picked it up from Roger Corman's brother Gene who produced it with Tennessee financing but was unable to find a distributor. When it proved a bit too bizarre for the general Blaxploitation market, NW reissued it two years later as Get Down and Boogie, to similarly meager boxoffice returns. [Trailers from Hell]"
According to Armitage, "The script, by the way, was one uninterrupted full sentence with no punctuation. I think I wrote it in three days. I was going to direct it, but Warners wanted to make a script I had written called Trophy, which was about two police departments getting into a shooting war. Unfortunately I still haven't been able to get it made. I thought the Darktown Strutters script was good. Roger Moseley, who was in Hit Man, was in the film. Joe Viola [director of The Hot Box (1972 / trailer) and Angels Hard as They Come (1971 / trailer)] started as the director, but he felt the production was too loose and there was almost a terrible accident. He left, and they brought in a famous Western director named William Whitney, and he finished the picture. I thought it was a fun film. I remember we had a screening and we invited Richard Pryor because we thought we might be able to get him to punch up some of the dialogue. I looked over at the aisle and Richard was crawling out of the theater! I took it that he was not totally crazy about the movie. After the movie was over we went outside and he was driving away in some sort of Ford Land Rover thing, wild eyed because he thought we were going to try and stop him. [Money into Light]"
On its "Counter Culture" list, the generally hard to please Worldwide Celluloid Massacre rates the film "Of Some Interest" and says: "Truly wacky Blaxploitation musical slapstick that has women with attitude on three-wheeled choppers looking for their momma (Frances E. Nealy [14 Oct 1918 – 23 May 1997]) and missing black people while fighting the KKK and cops with a single-digit IQ. The evil is personified by a Colonel Sanders lookalike (Norman Bartold [6 Aug 1928 – 28 May 1994]) who has built a cloning machine which produces pig-people and full-grown men in diapers. The cops have a siren the size of the car, there's VD (Otis Day), who carries a huge syringe in case somebody touches him and gets infected, a drug-dealer ice-cream man selling pot-sicle and other colorful clownish characters. Messy and wacky but not very funny."
The usually not easy to shock Temple of Shock, however, seems to have been shocked by the film, saying "It's a (great white) wonder the video box doesn't say 'Dey doan shake 'em like dese anymo'!'" Indeed, one is never sure whether the film is laughing with or at the Afro-Americans in the movie and watching the movie — but, damn! It be funny."
"Of course one could think to oneself — in today's enlightened times — that hey, it's written by a white dude, produced by a white dude and directed by a white dude, with a big dash of Green Pastures-style hokus in its cardboard iconography, how can it really lampoon racist tropes without being racist? (Armitage notes Richard Pryor crawled out of the test screening.) Maybe it can't, but that's no reason not to enjoy it. If you can't laugh in horror as the local police chief — dressed up in drag and blackface to catch a white female rapist who targets only "black male queers" — is shot trying to leave the precinct by his skittish officers (who don't recognize him), then man, you'll never survive the decade to come. [Acidemic]"
Over at the website of the best film magazine in the world, Shock Cinema, the blurb found on the "Shock Cinema Favorites" list says, "A beloved, brain-damaged, grindhouse all-time favorite! This blaxploitation/musical/comedy/biker movie is unapologetically surreal and stooopid, featuring a female motorcycle gang led by Trina Parks and decked out in threads that would've given Liberace wet dreams. Searching for the leader's missing mom (who ran the local Watts abortion clinic!), these funky femmes encounter a cocaine dealer in a white cowboy suit pedalling a 'Pot-sicle' cart; a karate choppin' Brother who breaks through doors (even at his own house); cycle-straddling KKK'ers in red leather hip boots, with crosses strapped to their cissy bars; a sexually-kinky Colonel Sanders look-a-like who's into cloning experiments and keeps kidnapped blacks caged in the cellar; outlandish song-'n'-dance numbers; plus more watermelon and ribs jokes than you'll believe. It's all jawdroppingly demented, with kudos going to whacked scripter George Armitage, director William Witney (who made about a billion B-westerns back in the '30s and '40s) and set designer Jack Fisk, who mixes Willy Wonka with Ken Russell for cornea-singing results. Look for Roger Mosley, Stan Shaw, DeWayne Jessie, plus Dick Miller as a local Pig [named Office Hugo]."
The original artwork to a later Darktown Strutters film poster, show further above, is by John Solie, whose websitehas gone dead — a bad sign, to say the least. Obviously enough, he also did the original artwork to the TNT Jackson (1974 / trailer) poster featuring the same gun-toting babe that was also later recycled for some of the Darktown Strutters' advertisements.
The clipping above is for a screening at the former Loews and current Landmark Theatre, where it screened with the Shaw Brothers' Seven Blows of the Dragon (1972), a.k.a. The Water Margin and Outlaws of the Marsh.
Seven Blows of the Dragon:
To add to all that, over a Cinebeats, Trina Parks says: "I enjoyed doing Darktown Strutters. One of the reasons was that I was able to play different characters, be funny and play it straight at the same time. I also enjoyed all the other actors I had scenes with. The movie was what you would call 'camp' but until I actually saw it I hadn't realized how camp it was. Way-before-it's-time-camp. The only part I really was a bit uncomfortable with was when I played the nun. My father put me in a Catholic elementary school, which I did not like at all but that's not why I was uncomfortable. I just thought that if there was any use of a Christian symbol, such as nun's clothing, the character shouldn't have been so 'raunchy'."
Not to be confused with the Harry Novak produced exploiter The Muthers, directed by Donald A. Davis and released in 1968, poster directly below, which we looked at here way back in 2014: that Muthers is a white-chick-heavy softcore sex film.
No, this Muthers here is, for the most part at least, a Blaxploitation women-in-prison film — directed by no one less than the Filipino trash master extraordinaire, the great Cirio H. Santiago (18 Jan 1936 – 26 Sept 2008) — the man behind Vampire Hookers (1978), among many, many fun films — who supposedly co-wrote The Muthers with some one-shot scriptwriter named Cyril St. James... which probably means that Cirio H. Santiago wrote it himself.
Let us explain. "Cirio" is a goose-step away from "Cyril". And Santiago, well: "Santiago (also San Iago, San Tiago, Santyago, Sant-Yago, San Thiago) is a male Spanish name that derives from the Hebrew name Jacob (Ya'akov) via 'Sant Iago', 'Sant Yago', 'Santo Iago', or 'Santo Yago', first used to denote Saint James the Great, the brother of John the Apostle." Thus, we here at a wasted life would hypothesize: Cirio H. Santiago = Cyril St. James. (No proof of course.)
Trailer to Santiago's
In The Muthers, Trina Parks shares top poster billing alongside three other Afro-American, overly attractive women: Jeanne Bell, Rosanne Katon, and Jayne Kennedy.
The regretably now defunct website Critical Condition (R.I.P. – we loved you!) had the plot for a film they called a "yawner": "The Muthers are two female pirates, Kelly (Jeanne Bell, Playboy Playmate of the Month October 1969 above not from the film) and Angie (Rosanna "Dreamboat" Katon, below not from the film, of Motel Hell ), who lead their all-male crew robbing and plundering pleasure cruises and yachts of their goodies on the high seas ('Muthers' is also the name of their pirate vessel, a three outboard motor-powered speedboat equipped with stationary machine guns and mortars). When Kelly's sister, Sandra, runs away from home, Kelly and Angie set out to the island of Santo Domingo in search of her. [...] Kelly and Angie are informed by a government official that Kelly's sister was kidnapped by white slaver Montiero (Tony Carreon [30 Jun 1926 – 27 May 2003]), who kidnaps unescorted women, holds them prisoner on his coffee plantation and uses them as slave labor (among other things). Kelly and Angie agree to go to Montiero's plantation [...]. Once on the prison plantation, Kelly and Angie meet prison trustee Marcie (Trina Parks), who clues them into the rules of the plantation. Marcie also informs Kelly that Sandra escaped from the plantation two days earlier and has not been caught...yet. [...] Montiero's mistress, Serena (Jayne Kennedy), who used to be a prisoner on the plantation, slowly becomes friends with Kelly and secretly begins helping Kelly and Angie escape [...]. As if things weren't tough enough for them, Kelly and Angie's old nemesis, the dreaded pirate Turko (John Montgomery), is on the warpath and is killing all their friends and associates on the outside as he tries to find out their location. When Sandra is recaptured and killed, Kelly makes it her mission to make sure Montiero pays for it with his life. Kelly, Angie, Marcie and Serena escape from the plantation (Marcie is bitten on the breast by a cobra during the escape and Serena sucks out the poison), but it all turns out to be a set-up by Serena and Montiero. The girls still manage to escape and hook-up with their pirate crew, where they get into a gun battle with Montiero and his guards. When Turko and his crew suddenly appear, it's a free-for-all that many will not survive. [...]"
"Another American/Fillipino co-production from the prolific Cirio H. Santiago [...]. Santiago still cannot stage an exciting fight scene through choreography or even tight editing to make a performer with no martial arts training seem adept, but the central quartet of women are suitably sympathetic hard-asses [...] to make the climactic shootouts compelling. [...] Some of the stock music includes Francesco De Masi tracks that date back to either The Murder Clinic (1966 / German trailer) or Riccardo Freda's The Ghost (1963 / trailer) [...] [DVD Drive-in].
"Just like every other snake I've met — won't leave my tits alone!"
Marcie (Trina Parks)
"The best performance [in The Muthers] is from Parks, who gets the campiest lines (her funniest follows a snake bite in the jungle). Parks had previously handled absurd comedy with aplomb in Darktown Strutters and could have been the Regina Hall of her day if she'd been given more opportunities. [Horn Section]"
Back in the wonderful day of double [and even triple] features, at The State in Austin (a town on Planet Texas), The Muthers got paired with an entertaining if lesser Pam Grier vehicle, Sheba, Baby (1975 / trailer), directed by dead cult auteur William Girdler (22 Oct 1947 – 21 Jan 1978).
And in North Carolina, at the Center Theater, it got paired with a title that would no longer make it into print advertisements, [white guy] Jack Arnold's Blaxploitation western Boss N****r (1975 / trailer) — which, at least, was written and produced by Fred Williamson (below, not from the film, playing with a white pussy).
Trina Parks appears, uncredited, as one of a multitude of Afro-American women dancing in a church scene. "Trina's on the right. She's moving so fast it was impossible to get a clear picture! [Defunct Trina Parks Tribute webpage]" She's in the trailer for less than a split second.
Machete Maidens Unleashed! started out as a documentary on the great if diminutive Weng Weng* (7 Sept 1957 – 29 Aug 1992), and was originally commissioned for Australian television. The Australian director, Mark Hartley, once said, "[I] never thought of myself as a documentary film-maker, but I wanted to tell the story of Not Quite Hollywood (2008 / trailer below). Then afterwards, it was all about getting a narrative film made, but then Machete Maidens came along as a job-for-hire, and those films took me to lots of festivals where they got lots of positive responses. [Bristol Bad Film Club]" And, eventually, helped him get his first full-length feature film job: he helmed the 2013 Aussie remake (trailer) of the 1978 Aussie horror flick Patrick (trailer). It does not seem to have been a hit. *If you're interested, there is a documentary on Weng Weng out there: Andrew Leavold's 2007 feature-length The Search for Weng Weng (trailer).
Not Quite Hollywood:
[...] "A sleazy and sordidly salacious stroll down memory lane reveals the trashy wonders that went into the weird and wild world of Filipino exploitation cinema as told by those who made them, acted in them, and very nearly died doing them. [...] Lovingly compiled and oozing with a glowing green blood that would make Dr. Lorca proud, Machete Maidens lives up to its title and then some with its bevy of mud-caked, machete wielding wild women, machine gun toting mercenaries, gnarly, nasty looking monsters, one armed executioners and midget super spies. [...] Hartley's diabolical documentary never shirks when it comes to presenting the Philippines as anything but a riotously out of control war zone where the behind the scenes stories were often just as, if not more entertaining than the films themselves. The director shows a grand hand at grasping the ideology behind exploitation movies and what makes them work. [...]. [Cool Ass Cinema]"
Machete Maidens Unleashed! was well received by most, but to give voice to a rare dissenter, let's look no further than Regrettable Sincerity: "You'd think that Machete Maidens Unleashed!, an enthusiastic documentary [...] about low budget American films made in the Philippines would fit perfectly into my lowbrow criteria, and it would, if it were more than a self-congratulatory clip show. It skirts over the more interesting material, John Landis discussing the bogus feminist read on the women-in-prison genre (he's right, sometimes a naked lesbian fistfight is just a naked lesbian fistfight) and a moment where producer and self-promoter Sam Sherman brags that he knowingly poisoned the audience at a public screening." Trina Parks is present through clips taken from The Muthers, and maybe as a talking head. Over at Adventures in Nerdiness, they mention: "I say [The Muthers] is the 'Blaxploitation film that wasn't' because of a comment by one of the stars of the film in the documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed! Either Jayne Kennedy or Trina Parks mentioned that the roles were not written to be four black women, and despite it being very Blaxploitation geared it did not demand to be such from the script. That is just marketing. The Muthers is often mentioned as the only film to have four black female leads." (Considering AiNwrote that in 2011, it seems odd that they so completely overlooked Set It Off , which also stars four Black women.)
Machete Maidens Unleashed!
Immortal Kiss: Queen of the Night
(2012, dir. David DeCoteau)
After years and years and years, Trina Parks finally has the lead role — as "The Queen of the Night", vampiress Amina — in a film virtually no one has ever seen, one of 13 "movies" directed by the ever-and-overly productive anti-director David DeCoteau in 2012. More than anything else, this poorly plotted and made "vampire film" is an excuse to show a lot of deliciously handsome and physically fit Afro-American men lounging around in tightie-whities. (Tightie-whities, like white sports sox, never did much for us...)
Immortal Kiss:Queen of the Night:
A former specialist of sexless softporn films (see: Blonde Heaven ) who actually began his career "directing" gay porn prior to finally segueing into rent-paying romance TV films for Lifetime, DeCoteau has also "directed" a lot of horror flicks, including a whole slew whose sole point of note is their fixation on scantily clad males instead of scantily clad females. (Had DeCoteau only made a few good such films, we would be the first to sing praise.) Immortal Kiss: Queen of the Night is one such male-fixated non-scary, sexless and dull "horror" flick, but for a change it focuses on Afro-American flesh instead of lily-white wanna-be male models.
As Black Horror Movies, the only site that to date (18 Jan 2022) has seen fit to bother writing about the movie, points out, "David DeCoteau is a 30-plus-year veteran of the cheesy schlock horror filmmaking circuit, but [...] Immortal Kiss: Queen of the Night is his first foray into African-American cinema, and as it vividly — or rather, blandly — shows, his emphasis veers much more sharply towards the 'homoerotic' than the 'horror.' [...] The plot, as it were, involves each guy arriving, being shown to their room, disrobing for one reason or another and... well, that's pretty much it. Eventually, Amina's jealous assistant Parnell (Preston Davis) begins killing them off in hopes of taking their place by the queen's side, but gore fans will be disappointed to find that all but one kill takes place off screen — because, really, how can you sacrifice the TEN MINUTES OF SHOWERING in this film? Or the crucial dream sequence in which Jerell (Jerell Pippens) just walks around the house in his boxer briefs for ELEVEN MINUTES? Oh, and I can't forget about Jerell in the hot tub, just rubbing himself for ANOTHER six minutes. In fact, of Immortal Kiss's 72-minute running time, I'd say 30 minutes is made up of pure beefcake with no dialogue and no attempt to advance the plot whatsoever."
111 the Force
(2020, dir. Boysing Samuel)
"Blaxploitation alien invasion. [Moviefone]" A low-budget (estimated at $20,000) sequel to the equally obscure no-budget (estimated $3,000) 111: The Sunriser(2018), which, also features Jeffrey M. Morris as Det. James Morris. (For this film here, Morris also took over the positions of scriptwriter & producer.)
In 111 the Force (a.k.a. 111 Experience), Trina Parks plays Det. Morris's wife, Joy Morris. Jeffrey M. Morris is from another planet, as evident from some of his uploads at YouTube. Trivia. "Shortly before Jeffrey M. Morris was born, Jeffrey's parents bought there [sic] first house in Queens' New York from Garrett Morris of SNL."
Oscar-worthy acting in a scene from
111 the Force:
Over at YouTube, where the clip above is embedded, Morris offers a plot and opinion: "Three New York City Detectives defuse tensions between extraterrestrials and humans within New York City's 5 boroughs. Detective Ralphie Valdez (Kandy Pierre) faces a real life and death situation and discovers her 111 firearm talks! Detective James Morris Sr. of THE BIAS UNIT died August 27, 2014 [and] then returned to life in real life on 9/14/2014 in order to break into motion pictures of Hollywood. This is his breakout performance in the elevator!"
Now go to:
Background Babe of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,