He was born as Russell Albion Meyer. However, to the world, he would be better known as Russ Meyer, the King of the Nudies. Meyer made his feature début with the 1959 sexploitation flick, The Immoral Mr. Teas and would be responsible for some of the most familiar cult and exploitation films of the sixties and seventies. Films such as Vixen! As the first of Meyer's Vixens trilogy, Vixen! is an American production that is set in Canada. Despite this, it has a certain Euro-erotica aesthetic. Maybe it's the use of the familiar pastel palette of the Eastmancolor process. It may even be the breezy score that wouldn't feel out of place in a Radley Metzger film. Whatever it is, Vixen! has an ambience that would easily allow it to sit comfortably within the catalogue of Audubon Films. That said, at the same time, there is no doubt that this is a Russ Meyer film. As Russ, who produced a body of work that included the likes of Motorpsycho, Mondo Topless, Black Snake and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, was very much the auteur. He would come to be known for a parade of strong, pneumatic, sexually confident, predatory, female leads. Vixen, for example. Vixen, who is played by the physically accommodating Erica Gavin, ticks so many of the boxes from the Russ Meyer female-lead check list. So, her boobs are as large as her presence, and her appetite for loving proves to be insatiable. Anyhow, Vixen is married. Her husband, Tom, is played by Garth Pillsbury. Tom is a Canadian bushranger. He is honest, hard working and dependable. In some respects he is a little like Max Parodi's Masetto from the Tinto Brass comedy Frivolous Lola. He does everything by the book. However, for Vixen, this proves to be not enough. Because, Tom is also conventional, lacking spontaneity and is a little dull. In fact cardigan wearing and pipe-smokingly so. He also frequently works away from home. So, it appears that while the mouse is away, then the vixen will play. And what games our vixen called Vixen plays! This, it seems, is because Vixen is a bit of a sex addict. She simply cannot get enough! So, while Tom is out and about, she likes to get her leg over. Indeed, in a scene that is nearly identical to one in Massimo Dallamano's Venus in Furs, she mounts the local Mountie. She also fellates a fish and even, in the ultimate act of taboo, boffs her brother after a shower seduction. Through all this the viewer is invited to act as a sort of voyeur. It is as if almost every erotic scene is shot from behind things, such as trees or bushes or through windows, bedsprings and even legs. However, when her husband returns, she assumes the role of dutiful wife. It seems that barely a man, woman or fish is safe when Vixen about and Tom is not. She will sleep with anyone! Well, erm.... almost anyone! For, she won't sleep with Niles. Instead she calls him Rufus, she calls him shoe-shine. She refers to him as chocolate drop and "boy". She also calls him spook. Yet, some of the racist terminology deployed seems archaic, even for 68. Indeed, at times, she seems to reference a time way before the end of segregation. That's right! Vixen is a racist. Niles is black. Vixen even, when all else fails, starts to make new words up. Or, at least, this is what Vixen's brother, Judd, claims. Judd, who is played by Jon Evans, sort of understands that there is something simmering beneath the surface. However, he wrongly attributes this to Vixen being attracted to a fetishised view of black men. Judd sees this as a weakness on her part and it is one he is prepared to exploit. But, he is wrong. It is clearly not what she is about at all. So, who is this Niles? Well, Niles, who is played by Harrison Page from Sledge Hammer, is a friend of Vixen's brother. He is a draft dodger. Politically conscious, he has fled north, in order to avoid conscription. Vixen hates him. Or at least this what her behaviour suggests. But yet, deep down, it could well be that Vixen admires him. Niles, you see, represents all the things that she finds attractive in a man. He is decisive, he understands who he his, he knows what he wants. Unlike others around her, Niles does not allow himself to be beaten down despite a bidding-up of prejudice from Vixen. So is this it then? Is this, despite the nods toward the counterculture, simply a tale of a bored, racist, sex maniac, housewife? Well no! It isn't. Things aren't that simple. You see, the racism that is articulated, here in the context of Vixen, is more about the expression of power than of prejudice. Think, therefore, of Vixen! as being a musing on the dynamics of submission and domination. Especially in how this differs from relationship to relationship. Vixen, like so many characters crafted by Meyer over the years, is a strong woman who happens to inhabit a world of weak and meek men. She is conscious of this and seeks, but fails, to fully attain sexual fulfilment with men who she hopes to be strong enough to meet her on equal terms. After all, her conquests include those in authority: an older brother, a law enforcement officer, a husband who seems to be more of a father figure than partner.... Most submit too readily to her without challenge or chase. All, that is, except Niles. He not only proves able to resist Vixen, but also, he doesn't allow himself to be ground down by her bigotry. Which, as the story progresses, become increasingly desperate. Indeed, it all sounds more like the attention seeking words of a spoilt child who is, for once, not getting her own way. Anyhow, aside from Vixen herself, there is another who seems to be willing to exploit Niles. So, late in the feature, Meyer plays his joker. You see, while this may seem a little bizarre on first glance, he introduces an Irish republican communist into the pot. However, despite all the talk of liberation, equality, of Cuba or of the brotherhood of man, our IRA man turns out to be another racist. The result is a showdown between Niles and the overbearing Marxist-Leninist. At this point Vixen, if nothing else, learns to respect Niles.
Occasionally, exploitation films do nothing more than capture a prevailing mood of the time. They needn't be sex films, nor monster movies. They needn't be biker flicks, nor kung fu films. They could simply be considered exploitation on account of the fact that they latch onto current events, or even older news stories that have cut deep into the public consciousness. They could be exploitation films by, for example, telling the story Bonnie and Clyde or even that of Ed Gein. Indeed, the latter would be re-imagined in number of exploitation films. Texas Chainsaw Massacre for example. While, the Charles Starkweather spree would be referenced within The Sadist. These are dark subjects that are used to titilate, to excite. But, this particular exploitation film would take a different tack altogether. It played on contemporary hopes and even fears. As with Japan's Godzilla movies, which spoke to the hopes of a nuclear free world that is counterposed to the fear of nuclear anhilation, so this is a film that counterposes the change that accompanies the march of history with those who would fear where such changes could lead. It is a film that is cautiously optimistic. In taking such a perspective, The Black Klansman was not alone. For example Roger Corman would direct the excellent Intruder. This would cover much of the same ground. Also, Joseph P. Mawra's would touch upon similar in the trashy Shanty Tramp. Albeit from a more sensationalist perspective. Meanwhile, for zombie fans, George A. Romero would cover a Civil Rights Movement theme in his iconic and genre defining Night of the Living Dead. After all, if exploitation cinema can and does address the prevailing political climate then, it stands to reason that exploitation directors would deal wth the subject of civil rights. In the case of The Black Klansman, this was during the immediate aftermath of the Watts Riots. You see while, in London, England were busying themselves with the preparations for hosting the football World Cup, the United States was going through a profound transformation. As Dylan, not Thomas, would famously note, the times were definately a-changin'. Communism also was the subject of an abundance of filmic fretting. This too dovetailed with the concerns of those for whom The Civil Rights Movement would represent a step too far. Indeed, along with drugs and teen delinquency, communism proved to be the drive-in bogey man par excellence. For example with Invasion USA. Indeed, both version manage to tap into the red-scare as poopers flapped to the rhythm of the cold war. The original version tries, and fails spectacularly, to be dark and sombre. While, on the other hand, years later, a Chuck Norris version hyperactively taps into a more hubristic vein altogether. This is understandable! After all, for the USSR, by the eighties the game was up. Indeed, this was the age of political necrosis that accompanied the Gorbachov era. Norris clearly knew this, and so he kicked ass with a rocket laucher. In Rocky 4 Stallone did similar without. However, despite this, these films would seldom represent a sincere polemic. After all, the directors who primarily produced grindhouse and drive-in theatre films were not all about the sweetness and light. Their primary concern would be to get bums on seats. To make money. In order to do so they would be prepared to shock if necessary. After all, business is business! Anyhow Mikels, born Theodore Mikacevich, once said that, in order to make a film it takes "everything you possess within you!". If this is the case then it stands to reason that Mikels must possesses a grindhouse within himself. Because that is what he makes: grindhouse films. To get a bit of a flavour of what it is that Ted V. Mikels is all about then just take a look at that filography! As a director he would bring us such colourfully titled fare as The Corpse Grinders, Blood Orgy of the She-Devils and The Doll Squad. As a producer he would be responsible for the co-producing of Steve Barkett's wonderful work of post-apocalyptic auteurship, The Aftermath. This, of course, featured genre stalwart Sid Haig! Therefore it is, by default, brilliant. So, with that said, on first inspection it may come as something of a surprise to learn that Ted V.Mikels dives headlong into the civil rights debate with The Black Klansman. What may surprise even further is that this does not, in fact, represent an especially trashy intervention. Indeed, The Black Klansman is a fairly robust drama with a certain Southern Gothic noir ambience. Nevertheless, it is still exploitation cinema. For, after all, what is exploitation film if not an attempt to tap into the themes that interest, or even stun, audiences? This means not merely generic exploitation but also thematic exploitation too. This also means, at times, topicality. That is, capturing the mood of the day. The Zeitgeist if you will. If there is something deceptive, indeed exploititive, about The Black Klansman, though, it is the title. You see, despite holding such promise, the film bears no relationship to The Black Gestapo. Nor does it offer the comedic black-and-under-bedsheets hi-jinx of Blazing Saddles. Indeed, surprisingly, it is a film that plays it all fairly straight. Indeed, the film is a fairly serious take on a serious subject matter. The Black Klansman is definately not a film that seeks to put the grin back into grindhouse! You see, this is not blaxploitation as such. This is no Disco Godfather, nor a Foxy Brown or Human Tornado. Indeed, this is despite the presence of Max "The Mack" Julien. Who, by the way, turns in a delightful, scene stealing performance. Max even gets to make a speech that seemingly presages that of Cyrus from The Warriors. You dig? Instead, think of The Black Klansman a being close to John Mackenzie's biopic The Infiltrator from 1995 . After all, this is what the film is about. Infiltration of the far right. Because, although played by a white actor Richard Gilden, this is the story of a fair skinned black man who is able to pass for white. He is therefore able to get under the robes of the KKK. Gilden is able to achieve all this by simply wearing a ridiculous Elvis wig. Though this is a somewhat fanciful and implausible idea. But things border on the crazy when he whips off the hairpiece to reveal that he is not, in fact, white. Apparently! His "Tadaa! I'm black!" moment will most likely provoke laughter. Because Gilden clearly isn't. Anyhow, here, Gilden even sleeps with the daughter of the Grand Cyclops! That's a sort of Klan boss. Indeed, she was only the Klansman's daughter but she was certainly a wizard under the sheets! Old joke, sorry! Couldn't resist! Anyhow, ahem, so... Joking aside, what The Black Klansman, represents is something a little downbeat. Neverthelss, it still sets out to shock. Possibly for sensationalist reasons. Because the story includes what was still, at that time, the largely taboo subject of interracial relationships. And set in Alabama too! After all, this was still a number of years before a time when even a song performance, during which Petula Clarke gently touches Harry Belafonte's arm, was enough to cause a frothing, swivel-eyed uproar. However, despite this, the film would nevertheless represent an incredibly potent political statement. Albeit one that may have far less traction amongst contemporary thrill seeking audiences. However, back then, this would be a case of portraying that which seldom gets portrayed. It is a film that showed that which was almost never shown. The Black Klansman then, was taking risks. It was being edgy. As an aside, it is also known, among other titles, as I Crossed the Color Line.
Republic Pictures cranked out hundreds of B movies. These included loads of westerns such as The Arizona Kid, with Roy Rogers, and Prairie Moon with Gene Autry. Indeed, when it came to the world of the one hour western, few companies would be as prolific. They would also come to would be known for their serials. These would feature the likes of Zorro, The Lone Ranger, Dick Tracy and so on. Founded in 1935, by Herbert J. Yates, Republic Pictures is a name that is probably familiar to fans of genre pictures. Incorporating Trem Carr and W. Ray Johnston's Monogram Pictures, Republic would include, upon its roster, familiar names such as John Wayne and Gene Autry. Active until the late fifties, the company was, itself, the result of a merger of a number of Poverty Row studios. Although it is not that explicit in the title, Republic's The Bold Caballero is, in fact, a Zorro film. Indeed, this is one of the earlier depictions of the character. It is also, apparently, the first talkie Zorro feature film and the first colour Zorro. However, the character itself goes back a little further still. This is because Zorro was actually based upon a character created a decade earlier by Johnston McCulley. You see, our masked hero goes right back to a 1924. Indeed he was, initially, the subject of a serialised magazine story that was entitled The Curse of Capistrano. Following this publication, Zorro would appear in a number of silent feature films. These would include À la manière de Zorro, from Belgium, and also a number of American versions of the story that would star the legendary Douglas Fairbanks. Indeed, by 1936, the year of The Bold Caballero, Zorro would even already have been the subject of a serial from Republic. Throughout the years, more Zorro serials would follow. In this particular instance, Zorro is portrayed by Robert Livingston. Yes! That's right! This is the same Robert Livingston that would appear in Al Adamson's I Spit on Your Corpse! followed by The Naughty Stewardesses. Oh, and its sequel! Also, out of interest, it is worth noting that this was not the first time that Livingston would play a masked cowboy. Indeed, in 1936, he would do so in twelve part serial called The Vigilantes Are Coming. On that occasion he'd play the Zorro-esque "Eagle". In The Bold Caballero, though, and unusually for cinematic depictions of the character, this Zorro is portrayed as wearing a full face mask. Indeed, this is, apparently, the only time that Zorro would be featured, in a film, in such a way. So this Zorro may appear somewhat unfamiliar to cinematic fans of the character. Because, rather than look like the Zorro we are used to, Livingston here looks somewhat like Dagoberto Rodríguez's masked rider from the quirky Mexican horror western, Rider of the Skulls. Nevertheless, this is, surprisingly, an accurate depiction of Zorro. For, it is how he was presented in the original story. Indeed, as a result, when the film opens with our Zorro before the gallows, it isn't entirely clear that he is really a hero at all. Because, this Zorro looks like an executioner! So, despite appearances we a have dashing hero, check, a love interest, check, some villains, check!!! Creepy masked avenger, che.... Wait a minute, creepy? Yes, that's right, creepy! Because, even aside from that mask, a chilling, supposedly supportive, sinister sounding murmured chant of "Zorro! Zorro!", that emanates from the injuns that gather in front of the noose, is a little disquieting. However, this is clearly not the intent. It's just how it is! What we do quickly learn, however, is that, despite appearances to the contrary, this Zorro is in fact a hero. Yay! So, with that cleared up, we also learn that we have, pretty much, all the heroic elements in place to make this a genuine matinee classic. And, like Robin Hood, our hero is a champion of the poor. He is a man of the people, a gentleman pauper, and a friend of the downtrodden and dispossessed. Indeed, this is precisely why his neck is on the line. Anyhow any Robin Hood needs its Maid Marian. This Marian comes in the shape of Lady Isabella Palma. She provides the love interest for Zorro's gentleman pauper alter ego, Don Diego Vega. Played by England's Heather Angel, Lady Isabella she is the daughter of the governor. When her father, played by Robert Warwick, is murdered, she is led to believe that Zorro is the culprit. Her Ladyship vows revenge. However, little does she realise that her suitor, Don Diego, is in fact Zorro. Nor that he has been, in fact, set up! However, it is not all about the romance. Despite a heavy dose of courtship, humour and intrigue, this is a film that is, at its core, an adventure film. This also means that there is a fair bit of action too. So, given that Zorro is a swordsman, expect a bit of swashbuckling and chandelier swinging. Besides, for the Fifty Shades crowd, there is even little bullwhip action too! However, since this is also a western then there is, as would be expected, some fine horsemanship. Some of it rodeo style. A lot of this takes place around the incredibly familiar, and somewhat overused, boulders of the Iverson Movie Ranch. All of this is achieved with tongue firmly planted in cheek. This is especially evident in the interactions between the roguish, corrupt and ambitious love rival Commandante Sebastian, played a German born, brownface wearing Sig Ruman, and our hero. This is definitely kept light. For example, in one scene, Ruman gets to mime serenades, as Zorro performs from within the shadows. Fun! There is a just a general ebullient playfulness that permeates the entire script. For, the real strength here lies in the writing. In all this, the work of Wells Root is excellent. So, the results, here, may well be chock-full of acerbic wit, but the film is also, at times, poetic and exquisite. For, it is the writing, above all, that makes this film. It is this, in particular, that sets The Bold Caballero out from the B-western herd. So, anyhow, if you like Zorro films, then forget Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Because this is one is better! Honest! Then again, what isn't? You see, sinister looking Zorro aside, what we have with The Bold Caballero is, in truth, an absolutely classic Saturday morning effort. Indeed, what better way could there be to begin a weekend than in the company of The Bold Caballero?