Category Archives: Crime

Black Legion

Cover of "Black Legion"

Cover of Black Legion

Directed by Archie Mayo & Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Produced by Robert Lord
Written by Story: Robert Lord
Screenplay: Abem Finkel & William Wister Haines
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Dick Foran
Erin O’Brien-Moore
Ann Sheridan
Music by W. Franke Harling, Howard Jackson & Bernhard Kaun (all uncredited)
Cinematography George Barnes
Editing by Owen Marks
Studio Warner Bros.
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) January 17, 1937 (NYC)
January 30, 1937 (US)
Running time 83 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Black Legion is a 1937 film that depicts an offshoot of the notorious Ku Klux Klan. Many of the messages contained in the film are just as poignant today as they were 70+ years ago, that is that in times of trouble that it is easy to blame and scapegoat migrants. Having recently read the ramblings of a Melbourne white supremacist who among other things labelled me a ‘race traitor’, shows that despite what some people say, deep racism is still around. Just by browsing the Anti-Bogan website you can see just how warped some people still are about these things.

In Black Legion Humphrey Bogart plays Frank Taylor, a factory worker who gets passed over for a promotion at his job, which goes to Polish American Henry Brandon. Taylor ends up falling for the propaganda of the Black Legion, a clandestine white supremicist organisation. Thanks to the ideas promoted by the Legion, Taylor begins to blame foreigners for his woes. There are consequences for Taylor as he loses his wife and child and then murders his best friend after letting slip his membership of the Legion.

The film is very well acted and the young Bogart is great. This was still a year or so before he became a big star. The film is a little preachy, but it is still totally absorbing.

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Shaft In Africa

Shaft in Africa

Image via Wikipedia

Directed by John Guillermin
Written by Stirling Silliphant
Starring Richard Roundtree
Frank Finlay
Neda Arnerić
Vonetta McGee
Frank McRae
Distributed by MGM
Release date June 14, 1973
Country (USA)
Running time 112 min.
Language English

Shaft In Africa is the third instalment in the Shaft trilogy of blaxploitation movies from the 1970s. This film focuses on private detective John Shaft after he has been enlisted by an African nation to bust up a slavery ring in Ethiopia and France.

This is a very 70s movie, with lots of slang from the era, much of which would have been hilarious even then. While the music is great it does not feature the iconic Theme From Shaft by Isaac Hayes which is featured in the first Shaft film. Unlike the other movies John Shaft is more like a black James Bond than what we expect.

Shaft In Africa was the least successful of the Shaft films and was panned by critics. I guess that the reason for this is because Shaft has been taken out of his regular NYC environment, with the film makers obviously trying to make this not just another blaxploitation movie. Personally I enjoyed the picture quite a bit and thought it was rather exciting. Richard Roundtree is as charismatic as ever as John Shaft, whilst one of his love (or should that be lust) interests, Aleme, played by the late Vonetta McGee, looks a lot like Beyonce in this film.

I must also make a slight mention of the cars in the film. Usually in blaxploitation movies you expect to see big, late 60s – early 70s, American V8 muscle cars that have been pimped out to the extreme, but not in Shaft In Africa. At the start of the film Shaft is seen driving and Alfa Romeo GTA, whilst the French villain Amafi drives a Citroen DS. At the end there are also a number of Renault 8s.


Foxy Brown

Cover of "Foxy Brown"

Cover of Foxy Brown

Directed by Jack Hill
Produced by Buzz Feitshans
Written by Jack Hill
Starring Pam Grier
Antonio Fargas
Peter Brown
Terry Carter
Music by Willie Hutch
Cinematography Brick Marquard
Editing by Chuck McClelland
Distributed by AIP
Release date April 5, 1974
Running time 94 min
Country United States
Language English

Foxy Brown is one of blaxploitation’s most iconic films, featuring Pam Grier in the title role, but it is I think a little too over the top with its gratuitiveness, especially with the violence perpetuated towards Foxy. I know that exploitation films are supposed to feature lots of sex, violence and nudity, but the scenes of Foxy being held captive at the farm I felt were something that made me a little uneasy and that the film’s makers had gone a wee bit too far.

Still other than that complaint the film is entertaining and does feature all the hallmarks of a good blaxploitation movie; Pam Grier, 70s fashion, big afros and lots of funky soul music. Sure the acting is terrible in some parts and the dialogue does tend to be a bit clichéd and awkward at times, but I still enjoyed the film mostly.


Bloody Mama

Directed by Roger Corman
Starring Shelley Winters as ‘Ma’ Kate Barker
Pat Hingle as Sam Adams Pendlebury
Don Stroud as Herman Barker
Diane Varsi as Mona Gibson
Bruce Dern as Kevin Dirkman
Clint Kimbrough as Arthur Barker
Robert De Niro as Lloyd Barker
Robert Walden as Fred Barker
Alex Nicol as George Barker
Release date March 24, 1970
Running time 90 min.
Country United States
Language English

Bloody Mama is an interesting movie, if a little bit over the top in its campyness, especially the portrayal of Ma Barker by Shelley Winters. It’s not a great film or even a particularly good film, but it is watchable exploitation from Roger Corman. Like much of Corman’s stuff it’s pretty F’d up. This is one of Robert De Niro’s earliest pictures and he gives an interesting performance as Floyd Barker, Ma’s junkie son. The film is not trying to be a faithful biography of America’s notorious crime family, but just an exercise in shocking and entertaining it’s viewers. The film is violent and there is a little bit of nudity BUT surprisingly very little bad language. Bloody Mama was something that I probably will only watch once.


The Untouchables

Cover of "The Untouchables (Special Colle...

Cover via Amazon

Directed by Brian De Palma
Produced by Art Linson
Executive: Raymond Hartwick
Written by David Mamet
Based on The Untouchables by Oscar Fraley and Eliot Ness
Starring Kevin Costner
Sean Connery
Andy García
Charles Martin Smith
Robert De Niro
Patricia Clarkson
Billy Drago
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Stephen H. Burum
Editing by Gerald B. Greenberg & Bill Pankow
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date June 3, 1987 (1987-06-03)
Running time 119 minutes
Country United States
Language English 

The Untouchables is a very good picture about one man’s ruthless pursuit of justice at any cost. It is a semi-fictionalised account of Eliot Ness’ efforts in trying to bring down Al Capone’s criminal empire in the early 1930s, yet it is full of historical inaccuracies which do detract a little from the enjoyment of the film.

The main inaccuracy would be the portrayal of the death of Frank Nitti, one of Capone’s top henchmen. The movie depicts Ness throwing Nitti off the top of the courthouse during Capone’s trial, when in reality Nitti committed suicide in 1943, over a dozen years after Capone’s trial. (The only reason I know this is because I have watched numerous documentaries on Nitti and Capone on the Criminal Investigation channel!) De Palmer and Mamet are really taking liberties with the truth here.

Another thing I found a little incomprehensible is the fact that Ness would fight his battles with Capone and his cronies so openly and that many members of the public ended up becoming innocent victims. The prime example of this is the scene at the crowded station when they are trying to arrest Capone’s book keeper and a gun fight breaks out. Surely Ness and any other law enforcement officer would have tried to avoid this.

Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Capone is almost as a cartoon villain, although I am not sure if the reason for this is due to De Niro going over the top or the way it has been written. Sean Connery gives a good performance as Ness’ mentor Malone though, a role which won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, while Costner is alright as Eliott Ness.

The Untouchables is one of those popcorn films in which the best thing to do is to switch your brain off before viewing it, and to look at it as being just a piece of entertainment rather than being a serious look at a historical event.


M

Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by Seymour Nebenzal
Written by Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou, Paul Falkenberg & Adolf Jansen
Starring Peter Lorre
Otto Wernicke
Gustaf Gründgens
Ellen Widmann
Inge Landgut
Theodor Loos
Friedrich Gnass
Music by Edvard Grieg
Cinematography Fritz Arno Wagner
Editing by Paul Falkenberg
Distributed by Vereinigte Star-Film GmbH
Paramount Pictures (US)
Release date Germany: 11 May 1931
United States: 3 May 1933
Running time 117 minutes
99 minutes (US)
Country Germany
Language German

Fritz Lang’s M is an interesting 1931 German film. For much part it seems almost like a silent movie. It wasn’t uncommon for film makers in the late 1920s and early 1930s to add sound elements to what started out as silent movies, Hitchcock did this with Blackmail as did Howard Hughes with Hell’s Angels, as they tried to catch up with the boom in talkies in the aftermath of The Jazz Singer.That said, M has long stretches of silent scenes but as sound, or a particular tune, plays an important part in the picture it must have originally been conceived as a talkie.

The plot concerns the hunt for a serial killer who has been murdering young children. The police have hit a dead-end and have started targeting the criminal underworld in the hope that this will help them find the killer. What it really does is cause the criminals to take matters into their own hands so that they can get the police off their own backs and get back to business.

Peter Lorre is quite impressive as the serial killer even though he really doesn’t do much until near the end of the film when he is on the run from, and subsequently captured by, the underworld. It’s interesting to hear the emotion in his voice when he is pleading for his life and stating that none of his accusers know what it is like to be him.It is worth watching this film for his performance alone.