Thursday, 18 July 2013

Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures.

"It’s a film buff's dream to give the theatrical experience to films that might never be seen in this country"[1] announced Quentin Tarantino in a prepared statement at the launch of Rolling Thunder Pictures in 1995. Set up under Miramax Films by Tarantino and headed by Jerry Martinez  The idea of Rolling Thunder was always to bring attention to a lot of films and directors and performers who we felt had been overlooked in the past. Not just in the mainstream but in general,”[2] Tarantino wrote in an LA Weekly article "I don't want to release new films so much as older exploitation movies and give them a new life. This is the personality I want the company to have.” It was intended that Rolling Thunder Pictures, named after John Flynn’s ‘back from Vietnam’ revenge thriller Rolling Thunder (1977), release up to four films a year including independent, cult and foreign movies to theatres but unfortunately the project was short lived closing in the summer 1997 because the short sighted Miramax refused to extend their contract putting out a statement that said “Rolling Thunder was no more, due to a lack of interest shown in the re-released movies.”

To coincide with the release of Django Unchained (2013) Miramax and Lions Gate released a special DVD set of 3 films previously released under the Rolling Thunder Pictures label. It included three American films from the 1970’s The Mighty Peking Man, Detroit 9000 and Switchblade Sisters.

The Mighty Peking Man 1977.

The original USA poster.
In the 1970’s the Shaw Brothers Studio was Hong Kong’s largest movie production company usually concentrating on martial arts movies. But they did produce films from other genres and one of these was The Mighty Peking Man. This was made in 1977 to capitalize on the previous years remake of the American monster movie King Kong produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by John Gullermin, but without the large budget. Also its been dubbed for the American market, but surprisingly enough you get used to it!

The Mighty Peking Man.

The film opens with an earthquake on the Indian side of the Himalayas and a giant monkey appears amongst the carnage.   A group of people soon set out to try and bring this giant ape back to Hong Kong to exploit it for their own gain. The party is led by a naïve young man, Johnny Meng (Danny Lee), who is unaware of the true nature of the trip. On their first day out in the jungle a herd of elephants attacks the party, trampling to death those not quick enough to escape, the second day is not much better when their attacked by ferocious tigers. Two men in fear of their lives jump into the quicksand, another has his leg bitten off. With greatly reduced manpower they attempt to scale a steep cliff losing more people in the process and still no sign of the Peking Man. When Johnny wakes up the following day its not long before he realises that the remaining members of the expedition have deserted him leaving him all alone in the inhospitable jungle or is he? You guessed it; the monkey appears and captures our hero. Is this the last we will see of the intrepid Johnny, well quite simply no! Down swings a female Tarzan and talks the monkey out of doing whatever very large monkeys do to their captives.  You see, Samantha ended up in the jungle when the airplane she was travelling in crashed killing both her parents and leaving the Peking Man to bring her up and I assume teach her the monkey tongue so the pair could converse. Samantha, played by a very fetching young Swiss actress called Evelyn Kraft, is dressed in an animal skin fur bikini that must be glued to her modesty zones because no matter what, it never moves! She also seems to have power over the other animals, except snakes, and even has a fully-grown pet tiger. At this point the film goes all lovey dovey with our two main protagonists running around the jungle like a couple of lovesick teenagers. Any way lets get back to the main plot. Johnny for some daft reason wants to continue with the idea of taking monkey man along with Ms. Tarzan back to Hong Kong. But of course the monkey ends up in the hands of some unscrupulous men with Samantha regretting she and her pal left the jungle in the first place but thanks to the script writers keeps wearing her bikini, which incidentally none of Hong Kong’s general public seems to notice. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what happens next but with out giving too much away I can tell you there’s a big climatic ending to look forward too.

Ms Tarzan in that bikini!

Detroit 9000 1973.

Arthur Marks is American b-movie director who is probably best known for TV series like Perry Mason, Starsky and Hutch and Dukes of Hazzard and of course the second film on this DVD re-release. Detroit 9000 was originally released in 1973 and has since been described as a police procedural but originally it was marketed as a blaxploitation movie.
Blaxploitation is a film genre that emerged in the USA in the 1970’s and was made specifically for an urban black audience but their appeal soon crossed over to white audiences. The best-known films were probably Shaft (1971), Cleopatra Jones (1973) Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974). The genre also included films with titles like Boss Nigger (1974) and Mandingo (1975) both said to be an influence on QT’s Django Unchained (2013). He also paid homage to the genre when he made Jackie Brown in 1997. Detroit 9000 certainly has the right ingredients: Set in poor neighborhoods, the film was shot on location in downtown Detroit in a poor area close to where the race riots took place in July 1967, which is referred to in the movie. Ethnic slurs against white characters, one of the tag lines reads ‘Visit the murder capital of the world--where the honkies are the majority’ and the use of other such derogatory words. The soundtrack includes funk, soul and jazz with heavy bass lines and rich orchestration another element of this genre.

Sgt. Jessie Williams.
The film has a basic story that involves two Detroit detectives, one white and one black. The veteran Detective Danny Bassett is played by Alex Rocco, who, it is alleged, was mixed up with organised crime before he successfully turned his hand to acting. The well educated ex football player Hari Rhodes is the black cop Sgt. Jesse Williams. The two police officers team up to investigate the theft of jewels and money placed in a ‘war chest’ at a political fundraiser for a local congressman’s election campaign.
Detective Danny Bassett.
As you would expect from this type of film there is some great action involving shot outs and lots of bodies. It has dated, but mainly because it shows a different attitude from what we have come to expect from our modern police force, it’s a time when if you had important information for the authorities then you could literally get away with murder, it also portrays a police force that would rather shoot you down than ask questions.  But the thing that raises it above many in this genre is that Orville H Hampton’s script succeeds in injecting a serious side which involves a   social commentary about race relations, the difficulties of a policeman's life and the corruptive influences power and money can have on people of any colour.  

Switchblade Sisters 1975.

Reputed to be one of the many movies that inspired Tarantino’s filmmaking this glorious grindhouse nonsense involves ‘the toughest gang of teenage girls to ever hit the street’s[3] After some great opening credits we meet the all female gang The Dagger Debs who are extracting a wee bit of social justice from a wicked debt collector, Hammer (Michael Miller), in their own inevitable way. Headed by Lace (Robbie Lee), whose boy friend Dominic (Asher Brauner) is the leader of the Silver Daggers the all male equivalent of the Debs, and her number two the malevolent one eyed Patch (Monica Gayle). When Lace and Patch find a stranger sitting at their favourite table at the local burger joint they ask the demure Maggie (Joanna Nail) to move by politely waving their switchblade’s under her nose. Maggie reacts in a manner that makes Lace respect her, but it has the reverse affect on the jealous Patch.  Things are about to warm up.
Gang leader Lace.

New girl Maggie.
Jack Hill, director of Switchblade Sisters (1975), is considered a living legend of the American exploitation films, he is known for such delights as The Big Dolls House (1971), The Big Bird Cage (1972), Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974) all starring Hill’s discovery Pam Grier.
The evil Patch.
As with all grindhouse/exploitation movies there enjoyable at a certain level, a sort of ‘Saturday morning at the pictures for adults’ level! As I’ve said before you can’t judge films without looking at each genre from a different approach. It’s like that advert on the telly ‘it does what it says on the tin’ and these three film’s set out to entertain, and believe me they do just that. The secret is to watch these films with the right mindset and you will undoubtedly enjoy them. It’s not only obvious but also interesting to see films that inspired one of America’s greatest exponents of cool cinema. Tarantino said of the collection “If you like my stuff, you can look at it as – this is where mine came from.” The DVD is available as an import from America and will require a multi regional player.

[3] 2013 Triple DVD release. 

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