Woody’s Benediction

His name was Woodrow Wilson Woolwine Strode and he was a football star, a professional wrestler, a WWII veteran and a famous Hollywood character actor who should have become a star. But the closest Woody Strode ever got to playing the leading role in an American film was Sergeant Rutledge (1960), in which he portrayed the title character but was fourth billed after Jeffrey Hunter, Constance Tower and Billie Burke. In an ironic twist that makes sense in a Pre-Civil Rights Hollywood, Strode had to travel to Italy to finally receive top billing and the only genuine leading role of his career in Black Jesus (1968) aka Seated at his Right (the Italian title is Seduto alla sua Destra). It is probably one of his least known films but easily his biggest role and possibly his best performance.      

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John Ford’s Up the River

If someone used the expression “up the river” in the early part of the 20th century, they usually weren’t referring to a location or direction; they meant prison time for some fool. Although there is nothing funny about going to jail, director John Ford decided to take a lighthearted approach to the topic in Up the River (1930), one of his earliest sound features.    Continue reading

Carole Lombard: Shady Lady

Prior to her breakout role opposite John Barrymore in the screwball comedy Twentieth Century (1934), Carole Lombard was a struggling young contract player at Paramount Pictures where her talent was often squandered in mediocre projects and B-pictures like It Pays to Advertise (1931), No One Man (1932) and Supernatural (1933). There were exceptions, of course, and one of the better examples is Virtue (1932), which confirms Lombard’s promise as an actress in her pre-stardom years.   Continue reading

The Age of Assassins (1967)

A paranoid conspiracy thriller delivered in a droll tongue-in-cheek style with generous helpings of black comedy and anti-establishment satire doesn’t really fit neatly into any genre and Kihachi Okamoto’s The Age of Assassins (1967 aka Epoch of Murder Madness; Japanese title: Satsujin Kyojidai) was generally dismissed by critics and avoided by audiences when it was first released in the late sixties. Like many of Okamoto’s films, it didn’t receive theatrical distribution outside of its own country and that’s a shame because the film has the essential goods to become a bona fide cult classic on the order of Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill (1967) or Kinji Fukasaku’s Black Lizard (1968). The Age of Assassins arrived at the tail end of the secret agent craze but it is not really a James Bond parody. Think of it instead as a crazy quilt journey through an off-kilter, pop culture universe where no one is who they appear to be.   Continue reading