The History of Film
The 1970s

The Last Golden Age of American Cinema (the American "New Wave") and the Advent of the Blockbuster Film

Part 4

Film History of the 1970s

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

Film History by Decade

Index | Pre-1920s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s
1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s
| 2010s
The 1970s Decade

John Cassavetes - Independent Auteur

A Woman Under the Influence - 1974After his first feature film, the crudely-improvised Shadows (1959), independent filmmaker John Cassavetes, dubbed "the father of American independent cinema", turned to studio films for a few years, but then after finding studio films too restrictive, he resumed low-budget, independent filmmaking stretching into the 70s with his highly individualistic style and realistic, stark cinema verité (with unscripted and often inaudible dialogue, poor lighting, and improvisational character studies in overlong, amateurish and ragged films made with a hand-held camera). He used his actor's salary (in films like The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Rosemary's Baby (1968)) to finance his own film productions, such as:

  • A Child is Waiting (1963)
  • Faces (1968), his fourth feature (made in 16 mm) that began filming in 1966 - an over two-hour long study of infidelity in which he cast his wife Gena Rowlands as one of the lead characters, a high-class call girl named Jeannie Rapp; the film has been noted as the first independently-made and distributed American film to reach mainstream audiences
  • Husbands (1970)
  • Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)
  • A Woman Under the Influence (1974), one of his most brilliant films (for which he was nominated as Best Director) with Best Actress-nominated Gena Rowlands in the lead role as mood-swinging, lower middle-class housewife Mabel Longhetti whose increasing madness led to her institutionalization
  • The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)
  • Gloria (1980)

The 'Detective' and Crime Film Genre: Right-Wing Cop Action Films

Dirty Harry - 1971Following the success of Bullitt (1968), a cycle of "lone wolf" or "rogue cop" detective films appeared during times of rising crime, most prominently Don Siegel's bold Dirty Harry (1971) with emerging star Clint Eastwood as maverick, rule-breaking, .44 Magnum-wielding San Francisco cop Detective "Dirty" Harry Callahan. The entire film consisted of his dogged pursuit of psychopathic serial killer Scorpio (Andy Robinson) in the city, based upon the exploits of the real-life Zodiac Killer. 'Dirty Harry' became famous for his opening signature line toward a black bank robber (Albert Popwell) wounded on the ground who was tempted to shoot him - and he successfully bluffed him: "I know what you're thinkin'. 'Did he fire six shots or only five?' ...You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya punk?"

Throughout his impassioned, unrestrained and fanatical search for the killer, the heavy-handed and embittered Callahan was reprimanded by his authoritarian, bureaucratic superiors (the Mayor, the DA, etc.) for not following 'the book' and for illegally overstepping his procedural bounds by ignoring victims' rights. By film's end after killing Scorpio, the heroic Dirty Harry threw away his badge. Critic Pauline Kael labeled the film "fascist" and "deeply immoral" for its strident political views, since the film took a non-PC political stance - the POV of crime victims (rather than criminals) by its endorsement of autonomous vigilantism.

Four successors to Dirty Harry (1971) that starred Eastwood were:

  • Magnum Force (1973), d. Ted Post, more violent but less stylistic, with Harry taking on an avenging, black-clad police death squad involved in vigilantism
  • The Enforcer (1976), d. James Fargo
  • Sudden Impact (1983) - director/star Clint Eastwood's reprising of his formulaic role as an independent cop
  • The Dead Pool (1988), d. Buddy Van Horn

Similar to "Dirty Harry," Charles Bronson (as NYC architect Paul Kersey) sought vengeance as an angry, emotionless vigilante in Michael Winner's controversial thriller Death Wish (1974). Kersey was not present in his Manhattan apartment when his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) was lethally assaulted by hoodlums (and his daughter Carol was raped at the hands of one of the thugs, portrayed by Jeff Goldblum). Kersey sought extra-legal street justice for himself when the impotent police failed to solve the case, and he began to take pleasure in punishing muggers and other criminals, sometimes by posing as a vulnerable target but in fact setting up a predatory attack. Kersey soon found himself the target of NYPD Lt. Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) who was in pursuit of the vigilante responsible for numerous killings.

The original film led to three similar sequels in the 1980s:

  • Death Wish 2 (1982)
  • Death Wish 3 (1985)
  • Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)

The Start of Clint Eastwood's Growing Influence:

Clint Eastwood was transformed when he made an impressive debut as director in the psychologically-shocking, suspenseful, and violent Play Misty for Me (1971) about a KRML Radio disc jockey threatened by an obsessed fan who kept calling for her favorite song. He also starred as easy-going trucker and bare-knuckle fighter Philo Beddoe who was upstaged by an orangutan named Clyde in the C&W comedy Every Which Way But Loose (1978). Its success led to the inevitable sequel Any Which Way You Can (1980). Eastwood also starred in Siegel's suspenseful prison break-out film Escape From Alcatraz (1979). He also began directing, producing, and acting in westerns in the 70s - a career move that he maintained into the 90s, during a time when most directors avoided the unpopular genre:

  • High Plains Drifter (1973)
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
  • Bronco Billy (1980)
  • Pale Rider (1985)
  • Unforgiven (1992)

Urban Crime Thrillers, Militancy and Graphic Violence:

Serpico - 1973Graphic, realisitc violence in urban America was a major element of a number of 70s dramatic films starring police characters. The urban crime thriller based on a true story was Best Director-winning William Friedkin's Best Picture winner The French Connection (1971) echoed the brutal vigilante mentality of Eastwood's films. Two lower-middle-class tough cops in New York City - a good cop/bad cop partnership: racist, abusive, rule-breaking and hard-charging Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner Buddy "Cloudy" Russo (Roy Scheider), were on the trail of criminals throughout the urban area, and happened to see a suspicious connection between a lowly Brooklyn luncheonette owner Sal Boca (Tony Lo Bianco) and heroin drug dealers Joel Weinstock (Harold Gary) and French master-mind Alain "Frog One" Charnier (Fernando Rey). The drugs were to be smuggled inside the frame of a luxury car shipped from Europe. The film's most memorable sequence was Popeye's car pursuit of Charnier's assassin Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bouzzuffi) in an overhead elevated subway train. The downbeat, ambiguous and unhappy ending culminated in the friendly-fire killing of a cop by Doyle during an unsuccessful pursuit (and escape) of Charnier within an abandoned industrial building on Wards Island.

Its sequel by director John Frankenheimer - French Connection II (1975) brought back Gene Hackman as the tough-nosed NY cop still in pursuit of international heroin dealers in Marseilles. Sidney Lumet's Serpico (1973), based on the book by Peter Maas, was the true story of dedicated, honest New York cop Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) (nicknamed Paco) who fought against vast corruption in the city by blowing the whistle on others who took payoffs. William Friedkin also directed Pacino in Cruising (1980) as an undercover cop investigating grisly murders in NY's gay community. The headlines of a fact-based 1972 story about a defiant folk-hero - a bi-sexual bank robber in a desperate hostage situation, became the basis for Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Its unlikely story pitted nothing-to-lose hustler Sonny Wortzick (Al Pacino again) in a failed NYC bank raid against the authorities - to fund his boyfriend's (Chris Sarandon) sex change operation.

Sam Peckinpah's ultra-violent Straw Dogs (1971) provoked controversy with charges of gratuitous violence, and The Getaway (1972) with hard-bitten convict Steve McQueen in the lead role, was another typically-violent film. Michael Caine starred in the UK crime film Get Carter (1971) as the title character - a London gangster trying to avenge his murdered brother.

Sydney Pollack's suspenseful political thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) involved a researcher (Robert Redford) who discovered all of his co-workers dead after lunch - and a conspiracy within the CIA, and decided the only way to survive was to give his story to The New York Times.

Walter Hill's gang film set in a surrealistic New York City entitled The Warriors (1979) was worrisome for its instigation of violent gang warfare and feuding. Actual gang violence, including shootings, rumbles, and stabbings occurred during some showings of The Warriors (1979) and Michael Pressman's Boulevard Nights (1979), about East LA gang life in a Latino barrio.

The Continuing James Bond Series:

There were five additional entries in the Bond series in the decade, with a new actor (Roger Moore) in the role of agent 007 beginning in 1973:

  • Diamonds Are Forever (1971), the 7th Bond film in the series, again with Sean Connery as Bond (his 6th appearance, and last Bond film for 12 years), and Jill St. John and Lana Wood as the 'Bond Girls,' and Charles Gray as the villain (Ernst Stavro Blofeld); directed by Guy Hamilton
  • Live and Let Die (1973), the 8th film, and the first with Roger Moore as the special agent; fast-paced, entertaining, and violent; also with Jane Seymour as the 'Bond Girl' and Yaphet Kotto as the villain, Mr. Big [Moore was selected for the role of Bond because of two previous roles: as Robin Hood-like Simon Templar in the mid-1960s British TV series The Saint, based on the Leslie Charteris books, and as international playboy Lord Brett Sinclair in the early 70s British TV series The Persuaders]
  • The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), the 9th film, again with Roger Moore; also with Britt Ekland and Maud Adams as the 'Bond Girls' and Christopher Lee as the villain, Scaramanga; directed by Guy Hamilton
  • The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), the 10th film, and Roger Moore's third Bond film; with Barbara Bach as the 'Bond Girl', Curt Jurgens as the villain (Karl Stromberg) and Richard Kiel as Jaws
  • Moonraker (1979), the 11th film, an expensive one with an outer-space theme, also with Roger Moore; with Lois Chiles as the 'Bond Girl', Michel Lonsdale as the villain (Drax) and Richard Kiel as the menacing 'Jaws'

African American Film-Makers in the Early 1970s:

Black actors and film-makers had always played a part in early American film history, as either stereotypical or typecast characters (maids or mammy figures, porters, comic-relief characters, "Uncle Toms," etc.), or in the films of black film-makers such as producer/director Oscar Micheaux (with his low-budget, usually all-black "race films") and others. In the 1950s and 1960s, Dorothy Dandridge (the first African American screen siren), Harry Belafonte (the first African American male sex symbol), and Sidney Poitier (the first black superstar) became Hollywood's black superstars. Roles for blacks began to slowly increase in scope and change with the advent of concurrent social changes. A number of black athletes entered the cinematic arena to perform in generic action films, including O.J. Simpson, Jim Brown, and Fred Williamson.

African-American film-makers also began to make inroads in the late 60s, beginning with Gordon Parks Sr.'s brilliantly-photographed first directorial film The Learning Tree (1969) - an autobiographical account (or coming-of-age film) of a boy growing up black in 1920s Kansas, and realizing the consequences of race. [Note: Parks was a former photojournalist with Life Magazine, and the first black mainstream Hollywood director. Parks' film was a major milestone - he was the first African-American film-maker to direct a motion picture that was released by a major US studio.]

Independent film actor/director/writer Melvin Van Peebles was another of the earliest African Americans to work within the Hollywood studio system. Peebles' second film (and first Hollywood film) was the message movie-comedy Watermelon Man (1970), starring Godfrey Cambridge in a dual role as a Los Angeles insurance agent in 1968 named Jeff Gerber. Originally a suburban white racist and physical fitness enthusiast who became black overnight, he began to experience the hostility toward blacks in America.

Then came actor/director Ossie Davis' crime-comedy Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), an action, police detective and buddy film. Two plainclothes Harlem police detectives: Coffin Ed (Raymond St. Jacques) and Grave Digger Jones (Godfrey Cambridge), sought to investigate a fraudulent fund-raising scam on poor Harlem blacks known as "Back to Africa," run by corrupt black nationalist preacher Reverend Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart). The illicit funds were hidden in a bale of cotton. The film ultimately became the precursor to other popular buddy-cop films, such as Lethal Weapon (1987) and its franchise series (1987-1998), and a series of Bad Boys (1995) films. Director Mark Warren's Come Back Charleston Blue (1972) about a vigilante named Charleston Blue in Harlem, served as the sequel to Cotton Comes to Harlem.

Actor Sidney Poitier directed the revisionist western Buck and the Preacher (1972), his first Hollywood film. The title characters were: wagon-master Buck (Poitier) who led former African-American slaves (now aspiring homesteaders) from the South to the frontier after the Civil War to become land-owners and farmers. He was partnered with con-man Preacher (Harry Belafonte) to combat bands of white rogue agents led by villainous Deshay (Cameron Mitchell) who attacked the wagon trains and threatened to return the black settlers back to the South.

The Rise of Action Blaxploitation Films:

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song - 1971In the early 70s, a series of so-called 'blaxploitation' films emerged, either as a reflection of black anger at whites, as potential empowerment for blacks, or as a new marketing angle from Hollywood. Melvin Van Peebles abandoned his contract at Columbia to direct the X-rated, confrontational cult film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) - the first true blaxploitation film. It was specifically designed to upset white audiences (advertised with "Rated X by an All-White Jury"), with Peebles himself playing the part of the sex-hungry, violent anti-hero - a black prostitute and fugitive on the run from racist cops.

The successful independent film (budgeted at $500,000), with a gospel soundtrack by Earth, Wind & Fire, was released by independent distributor Cinemation, and aimed at urban black audiences, and began its run by playing in only two theatres (in Atlanta and Detroit). It caused tremendous controversy for its militancy, sex, anti-white sentiment, revenge-themes, and violence, although it became one of the most important black American films of the decade (eventually earning revenue of $10 million). Its most controversial scene was the rape of the director's son Mario by a middle-aged prostitute. [Note: Mario Van Peebles' film Baadasssss! (2004) told the story of how his father, Melvin, contributed to modern independent black filmmaking with his 1971 film.]

Shaft - 1971The first major, commercial blaxploitation crime film with a black hero appeared at the same time - the colorful, action-packed, slightly tongue-in-cheek MGM film Shaft (1971) - again by esteemed black director Gordon Parks Sr. Shaft starred Richard Roundtree as the ultra-hip, handsome police detective John Shaft (the black version of Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" Callahan, and similar to the hard-boiled detectives of the 1940s) who worked in Harlem against the Mafia. He was hired by a Harlem racketeer to find the mobster's kidnapped daughter, and became involved in a Harlem criminal gang war between two opposing groups over drug trade. Shaft won an Oscar for Isaac Hayes' memorable theme song for the title credits of the film (proclaiming that Shaft was 'a private dick who's a sex machine to all the chicks'). The film brought ‘blaxploitation’ cinema to mainstream audiences, and emphasized a proud and tall black hero with multiple bed partners who was effective against crime. It spawned two lesser sequels: Shaft's Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973), as well as a TV series.

The earliest 'blaxploitation' films featured smart-ass 'jive' dialogue, street obscenities, muscle-bound black heroes, brutal action and fight scenes, car chases, gun play, some nudity, Afros and snappy duds, and despicable villains. On the down side, the aspirations of blacks were seen within the dregs of society in the inner city - demeaning role models such as pimps, drug dealers, mobsters, hitmen and super-sexual males without much intellectual acuity. Even some black groups such as the NAACP and CORE created backlash by opposing the militant, reprehensible exploitational black movies that glorified negative stereotypes and reinforced white attitudes toward black culture.

After the first few of these mostly B-films hit the screens, many other lesser, formulaic, and sometimes edgier, audacious "blaxploitation" films with black actors in stereotypical film roles began to flood the market - designed specifically for the newfound market of African-American film audiences. Some of the films were classic cult favorites, although others were low-budget, very poorly made and of inferior quality, such as The Black 6 (1973) starring six black NFL players who rode around as a motorcycle gang.

Starting in the early 1970s, over 200 major films would be released by major and independent studios to profit from the black movie-going audiences. In some cases because of the small number of African-American actors, black athletic superstars (Jim Brown, Rosie Grier, Fred Williamson, and Vida Blue) and others (comedian Richard Pryor got his start in these films as did Antonio Fargas) were recruited and cast in the lead or supporting roles:

  • Black Gunn (1972) - from Columbia Pictures, an action flick starring Cleveland Brown's fullback turned actor Jim Brown as Gunn - an LA nightclub owner who sought revenge for the murder of his ex Vietnam Vet younger brother Scott (Herb Jefferson Jr.) (involved with militant blacks who robbed money from racist Mob gang members, led by boss Capelli (Martin Landau))
  • Blacula (1972) - R-rated (for violence) - the first black horror film, and directed by black filmmaker William Crain, with an Afro-American spin on the entire vampire (Dracula) series; the sequel was Scream Blacula Scream (1973); it set the stage for other black horror films in the 1970s, including Ganja & Hess (1973), Abby (1974), Sugar Hill (1974), Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976), and J.D.'s Revenge (1976)
  • Hammer (1972) - the sports-themed film that used ex-football player Fred Williamson's (who played for the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs) grid-iron nickname "Hammer" - it was loaded with fight scenes featuring Williamson as B.J. Hammer, a muscle-bound, side-burned dock worker and boxer, who spouted an incredible line to his girlfriend Lois (Vonetta McGee) about what he did when he first moved to the city: "I cut my teeth playing big-time city games like Smack the Fag, Hump the Whore and Dodge the Needle, so ain't no jive-time jelly-belly cat gonna rip me off"
  • The Harder They Come (1972), the first successful film from Jamaica, starring Jimmy Cliff, and introducing reggae music and Rastafarian culture to the US
  • Hit Man (1972) - with Bernie Casey as enforcer 'hit man' Tyrone Tackett, featured lots of nudity including a memorable sex scene with sexy porn star Gozelda (Pam Grier); this blaxploitation classic was a modified adaptation of Ted Lewis' novel Jack’s Return Home that previously inspired the seminal gangster film Get Carter (1972, UK)
  • Slaughter (1972), from American Independent Pictures (AIP), an excessively-violent glorification of Harlem drug trafficking with Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown in the title role as an ex-Green Beret combating the Mob; followed by the sequel Slaughter's Big Rip-Off (1973)
  • Super Fly (1972) - directed by Gordon Parks Jr., with Ron O'Neal as a stylish, flashy-dressing, NYC cocaine pusher (and user) named Youngblood Priest, who drove a "hog" vehicle (Cadillac El Dorado) while out to complete one last major underworld drug deal or score in Harlem before he can "get out of the life" (in other words, go straight); it turned out that 'dirty' cops led by the white deputy police commissioner Riordan were using Priest as the middleman in ther drug dealings; with a funky Curtis Mayfield score (a soundtrack that outgrossed the film!) including the hit singles Super Fly, Pusherman and Freddie's Dead; one of the best known of the blaxploitation films, it inspired urban fashions (coke-spoon jewelry, perms, etc.) as Shaft (1971) had done; it was remade as Superfly (2018)
  • Trouble Man (1972) - an action-crime drama featuring actor Robert Hooks as "Mr. T." - described as "Cold Hard Steel! He'll Give You Peace of Mind... Piece by Piece!" and "His friends call him Mr. T. His enemies call for mercy!"- and with memorable soundtrack by Marvin Gaye
  • Black Caesar (1973), from writer/director Larry Cohen, modeled after the Warners' gangster classic of 1931, with Fred Williamson as Tommy Gibbs, who grew up to be a criminal kingpin: "The Godfather of Harlem", and with a memorable James Brown soundtrack (including "Down and Out in New York City"); followed by sequel Hell Up in Harlem (1973)
  • The Black 6 (1973), with lots of pro-football stars as Vietnam Vets - members of a motorcycle gang, including "Mean" Joe Greene, Carl Eller, Gene Washington, Willie Lanier, Ben Davidson and Mercury Morris
  • Hell Up in Harlem (1973), AIP's sequel to Black Caesar (1973), again by writer/director Larry Cohen, with the tagline: "Black Godfather is back...and there's gonna be Hell up in Harlem"
  • The Mack (1973), about Bay Area (Oakland) pimp and drug dealer John "Goldie" Mickens, (Max Julien), with Richard Pryor in a minor role as sidekick Slim [Note: The film's title was derived from the French and later Louisiana Creole patois term "maqereau" for pimp]
  • The Spook Who Sat By the Door (1973) - by director Ivan Dixon, and considered so very shocking, controversial, and incendiary (after record box-office business at inner-city theatres) that the FBI allegedly demanded its withdrawal from distribution, claiming it would incite race wars and riots
  • Black Belt Jones (1974), a martial arts blaxploitation film with Jim Kelly as a karate expert fighting the Mob
  • Three The Hard Way (1974) - a low-brow action thriller by director Gordon Parks Jr., about three 'blaxploitation' heroes (Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, and Jim Kelly) who went after rich, genocidal white supremacists with an evil scheme to release diseased water into the public utility systems of three major cities that would only affect the black population
  • Truck Turner (1974), a crime thriller starring Isaac Hayes as ex-football player turned bounty hunter (Truck Turner), whose prey was an LA pimp, and ultimately against crime syndicate leader Harvard Blue (Yaphet Kotto)
  • Willie Dynamite (1974), another blaxploitation film that glamorized the black pimp - starring Roscoe Orman (later portrayed "Gordon" on Sesame Street) as Willie Dynamite, a flamboyant, fur-decorated coat-wearing NYC pimp with gold platform shoes and a lime green pants suit, who drove a purple Cadillac (with leopard skin seats), and kept his 'bitches' in line with harsh treatment
  • The Candy Tangerine Man (1975), directed by Matt Cimber, with the tagline: "Git Back JACK--Give him no JIVE...He is the BAAAD'EST Cat in '75"; starring John Daniels in a duo-role as Ron - a conservative family man living in Los Angeles, and his alter-ego - a Sunset Boulevard pimp known as the Black Baron, who drove a distinctive yellow and red Rolls Royce; the film was a modified version of The Mack (1973)
  • Coonskin (1975) (aka Streetfight), by writer/director Ralph Bakshi, both animated and live-action, and originally released by Paramount Pictures; it told about a black rabbit from the South who became a drug-dealer on the ghetto streets of Harlem; due to its controversial nature, it was boycotted by CORE during a NYC premiere screening
  • Dolemite (1975), the first of two Dolemite films, by director D'Urville Martin, starring pioneering, non-PC black comedian Rudy Ray Moore as the superstudly title character - with the tagline: "With his all-girl army of Kung Fu Killers" - with "bone-crushing, skull-splitting, brain-blasting action!"; Moore's Dolemite comedy sequel was The Human Tornado (1976), followed by Moore's fantasy-horror comedy Petey Wheatstraw (1977) (aka The Devil's Son in Law)

Female Blaxploitation Stars:

A female version of the action sub-genre developed, often starring a vengeful heroine, notably Pam Grier, Rosie Grier's cousin, who was dubbed the "Queen of Blaxploitation." As a sexy super-mama toting a gun, she appeared in a number of hard-hitting films as the star:

  • Black Mama White Mama (1972) - a violent female subversion of The Defiant Ones (1958)
  • Coffy (1973) - her biggest hit, with Grier as free-spirited, sexy Nurse "Coffy" Collin seeking revenge on drug pushers responsible for her 11 year-old sister's heroin addiction; with the tagline: "...The baddest One-Chick Hit-Squad That Ever Hit Town!"
  • Foxy Brown (1974) - a remake of Coffy, and director Jack Hill's 4th and final film with Grier
  • Sheba, Baby (1975), PG-rated, and the last of Grier's run of B-movies with AIP
  • Friday Foster (1975), based upon an early 1970s Chicago Tribune syndicated comic strip (the first with an African-American woman as the leading character), with Grier portraying a more subdued, tame and squeaky-clean character - a media-magazine photographer in Washington DC; also starring Yaphet Kotto as private detective Colt Hawkins, Scatman Crothers as Noble Franklin, and Eartha Kitt as designer Madame Rena

TNT Jackson - 1974Another major female blaxploitation star was voluptuous Tamara Dobson, who portrayed a female, undercover 'James Bond-like' US narcotics agent in Jack Starrett's blaxploitation crime thriller Cleopatra Jones (1973), combating poppy fields and the heroin trade run by an over-the-top female crime-lord "Mommy" (Shelley Winters), aided by "Doodlebug" (Antonio Fargas). [Note: The sequel was Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975).]

And former October 1969 Playmate Jeannie Bell starred in Roger Corman's and New World Pictures' TNT Jackson (1974) - a merging of kung fu and blaxploitation, in a plot about a karate expert (Diana 'T.N.T.' Jackson) searching for her brother in a section of Hong Kong known as "Yellow Town." Its tagline was: "SHE'S A ONE MAMA MASSACRE SQUAD." In the action thriller's most remembered scene, TNT was captured and confronted by drug-dealing mobster Ming (Max Alvarado), who threatened to burn her bare chest with his cigar, but then changed his mind ("Such a waste! Perhaps this will not be necessary"). She was able to escape, turned off the lights, and - while completely topless with only panties (that changed color) - fought off a darkened room full of male criminals after taunting them: "You want it black? You got it black."

The Lasting Influence of Blaxploitation Films:

The success of blaxploitation films brought some opportunities for blacks in the industry to work in Hollywood, although the vast majority of these films were still distributed, produced, and controlled by non-blacks. It also led to an onslaught of other black exploitation genres, blending the black urban tales with other genres. In the horror genre in particular, blaxploitation films in the 70s set the stage for "urban horror" in the ‘90s, with films such as Def by Temptation (1990), Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs (1991), Candyman (1992), and Tales from the Hood (1995).

What also followed were numerous remakes or lesser imitations ranging from black westerns to martial arts/kung fu films to horror, drama and gangster films.

BlaxPloitation Film(s)
Imitated or Remade
Blacula (1972)
Ganja & Hess (1973)
Scream Blacula Scream (1973)
Dracula (1931)
Buck and the Preacher (1972) - black western directed by Sidney Poitier (his directorial debut) Wagon Master (1950)
Cool Breeze (1972) The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Hammer (1972) The Set-Up (1949), the sport crime noir
Hit Man (1972) Get Carter (1972, UK)
Black Caesar (1973)
Book of Numbers (1973)
Little Caesar (1931) and other gangster films
Black Mama, White Mama (1973) The Defiant Ones (1958)
Blackenstein (1973) (aka The Black Frankenstein) Frankenstein (1931)
Cleopatra Jones (1973) James Bond series, especially Live and Let Die (1973)
Wattstax (1973) Woodstock (1970)
Abby (1974)
J.D.'s Revenge (1976)
The Exorcist (1973)
Black Belt Jones (1974)
Black Samurai (1976)
Kung-fu martial arts action films
The Black Godfather (1974) The Godfather films
Sugar Hill (1974) Zombie (voodoo) films of 1930s-1940s
Thomasine & Bushrod (1974) - western directed by Gordon Parks, Jr.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
- remade as Posse (1993) - d. Mario Van Peebles, in homage to "spaghetti" westerns
Black Emanuelle (1975, It./Sp.) Emmanuelle (1974, Fr.)
The Black Gestapo (1975) Nazi exploitation films
Boss Nigger (1975) Black western/comedy following the success of Blazing Saddles (1974)
Cooley High (1975) - coming of age film set in 1960s Chicago, directed by Michael Schultz American Graffiti (1973)
Coonskin (1975) Disney's The Song of the South (1946)
Black Shampoo (1976) Shampoo (1975)
Dr. Black Mr. Hyde (1976) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931 and 1941)
Mandingo (1975)
Drum (1976)
Revisionist Slave History
Lialeh (1973)
Black Throat (1985)
- "with an ethnic flavor"
Deep Throat (1972)

The cinematic blaxploitation craze weakened and substantially died in the mid-to-late 1970s, but then experienced a slight revival in the 1990s, with Keenen Ivory Wayan's parody film I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), star/director Eddie Murphy's Harlem Nights (1989), Mario Van Peebles' New Jack City (1991) and black western Posse (1993), and Larry Cohen's Original Gangstas (1996), reuniting stars from the earlier era including Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Ron O'Neal, and Richard Roundtree. Grier also starred in Quentin Tarantino's homage to the period - Jackie Brown (1998), and Samuel Jackson appeared in black director John Singleton's remake Shaft (2000).

In retrospect, all of the blaxploitation films set the stage for future directors such as Spike Lee, John Singleton, and F. Gary Gray, and future stars such as Richard Pryor. For example, director Michael Schultz' entertaining urban comedy Car Wash (1976), with a script by Joel Schumacher, was a look at a day-in-the-life of the Los Angeles Dee-Lux car wash, starring Richard Pryor and other rising black stars. It was followed by Schultz' similar farce Which Way is Up? (1977) also with Richard Pryor (in a triple role).

The movement also contributed to the rise of Hip Hop music, influenced fashion, aided the development of the rap subculture, and produced other movies like the Beverly Hills Cop series and Pulp Fiction (1994).

Other Offshoots:

Inevitably, as blaxploitation films disappeared, alternative African-American films emerged, including other kinds of action films, comedy, and social dramas. Two black films more in the mainstream included 20th Century Fox's and blacklisted director John Berry's romantic drama Claudine (1974), starring Best Actress Oscar-nominated Diahann Carroll as the 36 year-old title character Claudine Price - an unwed and poor Harlem resident in the early 1970s who was on welfare with six children - and illegally on the side was a domestic maid. Her romance with garbage collector Roop (a young James Earl Jones) turned problematic for many reasons. Also popular was Paramount's Mahogany (1975), directed by Motown music chief Berry Gordy. It was the perfect cinematic vehicle for The Supremes' singer Diana Ross as an aspiring fashion designer named Tracy living on the South side of Chicago. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song ("Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)").

Changes in the Ratings System: The Dawn of the X Rating

Major changes in the Production Code had already occurred in the previous decade when the Motion Picture Production Code was replaced by a ratings system in 1968. This Fritz the Cat - 1972culminated in the X-rated Best Picture win for Midnight Cowboy (1969). The movie ratings system was modified in 1970, replacing the "M" rating with PG (meaning parental guidance suggested), and redefining "R" (as at least 17 years or older, unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian). "X" rated films were limited to eighteen year olds and above. The first PG-rated Disney Studios film was The Black Hole (1979), the studio's most costly film to date. The first X-rated, adult-oriented, full-length animated cartoon was Ralph Bakshi's cult favorite Fritz the Cat (1972) - the lusty adventures of an anthropomorphic, dope-smoking tomcat named Fritz, a character originally created by Robert Crumb. It was also the first independent animated film to gross more than $100 million at the box office.

Last Tango in Paris - 1973Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci released the controversial, landmark X-rated Last Tango in Paris (1972) with a number of sexually explicit scenes. A year after his portrayal of a puffy-cheeked, Mafioso don, Marlon Brando played Paul, a grieving, middle-aged widower who embarked on an anonymous yet passionate sexual relationship with a young French student (Maria Schneider) - although they never told each other their names. The film, which won Brando a seventh Oscar nomination, was declared obscene by an Italian court in 1976. And French director Louis Malle's first English-language feature film was the provocative Pretty Baby (1978), featuring nymphette Brooke Shields as a 12 year-old - the daughter of prostitute Susan Sarandon - being raised in a pre-WWI-era New Orleans brothel.

Mike Nichols' Carnal Knowledge (1971) was declared obscene by a 1971 Georgia ruling and banned in some areas of the country for its frank exploration of the sexual attitudes and problems of two modern Americans (Jack Nicholson as Jonathan and Art Garfunkel as Sandy), from their days as college roommates through middle-age. The Supreme Court overturned the state's ruling in 1974. William Friedkin's The Boys in the Band (1970) broke a Hollywood film barrier by honestly dealing with the subject of homosexuality. Jane Fonda won the Best Actress Oscar for Klute (1971) for her performance as Bree, a prostitute who was stalked by a psychopath. The last name of a small-town detective (Donald Sutherland) who investigated the disappearance of a friend and became involved with Bree, was Klute!

Pornography became a mainstream, legitimate curiosity with the screening of Gerard Damiano's exploitation fantasy Deep Throat (1972) with Linda Lovelace, although the film generated legal actions and challenges in many localities. Its initial, low-budget investment of $24,000 brought in receipts totalling at least $20 million (before the rental and video markets' profits), easily making it the most successful pornographic film of all-time. A soft-core X (or R)-rated series of films with abundant erotic nudity also came to US screens from France, beginning with Just Jaeckin's Emmanuelle (1974), starring Dutch-born actress Sylvia Kristel, and followed by the equally provocative, well-photographed sequel by Francis Giacobetti titled Emmanuelle, The Joys of a Woman (1975).

A Clockwork Orange - 1971It has often been falsely claimed that the producers of an R-rated sex comedy, The Happy Hooker (1975), based on the book of memoirs by legendary New York madam Xaviera Hollander (portrayed by Lynn Redgrave), were sued by the Walt Disney Company for using the Mickey Mouse Club theme song during a group sex scene. In fact, a hard-core X-rated porn film titled The Life and Times of Xaviera Hollander (1974) (aka The Life and Times of a Happy Hooker) (starring Xaviera Hollander as the narrator, and also the notorious John Holmes) was the one whose makers were sued - they used the Mickey Mouse Club theme song in an explicit orgy scene. It was set in a game room with a pool table, where three nude males wearing Mickey Mouse ear-hats first sang the theme song, and then the redhaired Happy Hooker (Samatha (sic) McClearn) had sex atop the pool table with one of the men, to the slow, guitar-strummed tune of the theme song. Then, she engaged with all three - "a triple trick" - a birthday present bought by a rich father for his son and two friends.

British director Stanley Kubrick faithfully adapted Anthony Burgess' novel for his X-rated A Clockwork Orange (1971, UK) about juvenile droogs (led by Malcolm McDowell as Alex) on a rampage. The Warner Bros. film was a violent, perceptive dark satire of the future that juxtaposed rape and brutality to classical music and the euphoric tune Singin' in the Rain. Kubrick was forced to re-edit the controversial film in order to receive an R-rating. Soon after the film's release, Kubrick withdrew it from distribution in the UK to effectively suppress its exhibition after copycat violence.

Woody Allen's Comedic Era:

Woody AllenBrooklyn-born, stand-up comedian Woody Allen joined the ranks of the young new directors of the 'New Hollywood', beginning his rise as a screenwriter on What's New, Pussycat? (1965) and work as an actor in What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) (his first film) - the redubbing of a James Bond-like Japanese action film. He also acted as Bond's nephew in Casino Royale (1967), plus took an acting and writing role in Play It Again, Sam (1972) based upon Allen's own 1970 play. He also appeared as actor, writer and director in the makeshift Take the Money and Run (1969) (his directorial debut film) - a mad-cap, farcical mock-documentary spoof of traditional gangster films, with Allen portraying an inept, would-be thief. His second uninhibited, satirical political comedy, Bananas (1971) was about a meek products tester in a factory who departed for South America and accidentally became a heroic revolutionary dictator.

His next three films were also comedies. Everything You Always... - 1973Humorous sketches in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask (1972) dramatized the contents of David Reuben's popular sex manual, covering topics such as public sex, perversion, and ejaculation. Two of his best early films, with his typical collection of sight gags and witty jokes were Play it Again, Sam (1972), a film version of Allen's own play about a crushed film critic who took romantic advice from an imaginary Humphrey Bogart, and the futuristic, wacky sci-fi spoof and Rip Van Winkle tale set in the year 2173, Sleeper (1973) - the first Allen-directed film with ex-real-life love interest Diane Keaton. Love and Death (1975) spoofed Tolstoy's Russian novel War and Peace, and was a parody of films by Bergman and Eisenstein.

Annie Hall - 1977As the decade progressed, Woody Allen's major breakthrough triumph was a semi-autobiographical, bittersweet and poignant love story/comedy Annie Hall (1977), with Oscar-winning Best Actress Diane Keaton as the tomboyish, kooky, and nervous title character (noted for saying: "La-di-da, la-di-da") in a relationship with the urban neurotic Allen (as New York Jewish comedian Alvy Singer). The ditzy ingenue's impromptu, man-tailored wardrobe costumes influenced fashion trends, and the self-reflexive, kaleidoscopic film contained a variety of innovative strategies and narrative techniques, including animation, subtitles, split-screens, direct addresses to the camera breaking the 4th wall, the instant appearance of Marshall McLuhan to refute a statement ("If life were only like this"), etc. The influential film awarded Allen with top accolades including the year's Best Picture (defeating Star Wars (1977)), Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (Marshall Brickman and Woody Allen) Awards. Originally titled Anhedonia, it was severely edited down from a 2.5 hour rough cut to its present 93-minute length.

Turning more serious and introspective, Allen directed the somber Interiors (1978) - a film with Bergman-esque qualities. The film, a portrait of a family's disintegration, was less well-received. At the conclusion of the decade, Allen directed and starred in another of his best, most accomplished and deepest films, Manhattan (1979) - one of his biggest hits to date. It was a beautifully-photographed black-and-white, sardonic comedy about a group of sophisticated but neurotic Manhattanites with their attendant foibles, loves, angsts, and frustrations in the search for happiness and fulfillment. The film, filled with George Gershwin music, featured Allen as a 42 year-old comedy writer in a relationship with a 17 year-old high-school student (Mariel Hemingway) in his most favorite hometown. At the end of the decade, he directed the autobiographical Stardust Memories (1980), about a successful director who suffered a mid-life crisis.

Film History of the 1970s
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

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