Don King: Only In America (1997, directed by John Herzfeld)

Don King: Only In America is an HBO biopic of the controversial boxing promoter, Don King.  It’s a good movie but it will probably always be overshadowed by what happened when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association voted to give Ving Rhames the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a TV-Movie or Miniseries.  When Rhames won, he called fellow nominee Jack Lemmon to the stage and gave him the award, saying “I feel that being an artist is about giving, and I’d like to give this to you.”  Lemmon, who had been nominated for his work in 12 Angry Men, accepted the statue while the audience gave Rhames a standing ovation.  The HFPA later sent Rhames a second statue and Spike Lee satirized the entire incident in Bamboozled when he had Damon Wayans give away an award he had won to Matthew Modine.

Ving Rhames plays the title role in Don King: Only in America and he definitely deserved every nomination and award that he received as a result.  The episodic film starts in the 50s, with a young King being sentenced to prison and then shows how King went on to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in America.  It’s not always a flattering portrait.  The movie fully documents how King cheated the boxers that he managed and the damage that he ultimately did to the image of boxing, a sport that didn’t have a particularly good reputation to begin with.  At the same time, Rhames is such a force of nature that it’s hard not to sometimes admire King’s chutzpah as he deals with and outwits everyone from the Mob to the IRS to racist fight promoters to greedy dictators.  As played by Rhames, King makes himself a success by the virtue of his own hard work and utter ruthlessness.  He’s a flamboyant showman who knows how to play hardball behind the scenes and who refuses to take no for an answer.  He ruins the lives of too many people to ever become a sympathetic figure but he remains a fascinating one.

The film features Rhames, as King, standing in a boxing ring, telling us his story and occasionally interrupting the flashbacks whenever he thinks that they’re reflecting too negatively on him.  (When the film shows Muhammad Ali, played by Darius McCrary, incapacitated by Parkinson’s, King stops the film and angrily tells us that he had nothing to do with that.)  The real Don King supposedly hated the way this film portrayed him and threatened to stop doing business with HBO after it aired but he should have appreciated Ving Rhames’s performance.  Don King is fond of saying that he could have become a millionaire “only in America,” and Rhames’s flamboyant, charismatic, and no holds barred performance convinces us that he’s right.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #14: Contraband (dir by Lucio Fulci)

The 1980 film, Contraband, tells a story of the Neapolitan underworld.

Luca Ajello (Fabio Testi) and his older brother, Mickey, have a pretty nice operation going.  They pilot boats up and down the coast of Italy, smuggling cigarettes and booze into Naples.  It’s given both of them a pretty good life.  They own a racehorse.  Luca’s got a big house with a beautiful wife (Ivana Monti) and a precocious son.  The police are too incompetent to stop them and their disco-loving boss, Perlante (Saverio Marconi), keeps them safe from any interference from the other mob bosses working in Naples.

But then, one night, two men disguised as policeman pull Luca and Mickey over while they’re driving down an isolated road.  The fake cops proceed to fire what seems to be over a hundred bullets into Mickey.  Luca, having ducked down in his seat, is not spotted by the assassins.  Determined to find out who murdered his brother and why, Luca immediately suspects a rival mobster named Scherino but Scherino insists that Mickey’s murder was actually ordered by a mysterious French drug lord known as Il Marsigliese (Marcel Bozzuffi, who also played a French drug smuggler in The French Connection).  The French are trying to take over the rackets in Naples and a sudden surge in violence, one which sees nearly every mob boss in Naples murdered on the same day, suggests that Scherino is telling the truth.

Contraband is a brutal Italian crime film, one that is notable for being one of director Lucio Fulci’s final non-horror films.  (Contraband was released after Zombi 2 but before City of the Living Dead.)  Though the film might not feature any zombies or any talk of “the Beyond,” it’s still unmistakably a Fulci film and some of the film’s brutal violence remains shocking even when seen today.  The scene where a duplicitous drug smuggler gets her face melted with a blow torch is nightmarish and it’s followed by a scene where a rival gangster graphically gets the back of his head blown out.  (Fulci lingers on the hole in the man’s head, giving us an out-of-focus shot of the people standing behind him.)  A later gunfight leads to one gangster dying with a gaping hole in his throat while another has his face shot away, despite the fact that he’s already dead.  It’s graphic but it’s also appropriate for the story being told.  This is a movie about violent men and, as Fulci himself often pointed out whenever he was challenged about the graphic gore in his films, violence is not pretty.  Contraband is not a film that’s going to leave anyone wanting to become a gangster.

The plot is not always easy to follow but, as is typical with a good Fulci film, the striking visuals make up for any narrative incoherence.  Fulci’s camera rarely stops moving, creating a sense of unease and pervasive paranoia.  Much like the characters in the film, we find ourselves looking in every corner and shadow for a potential threat.  A meeting with an informant at a mist-shrouded sulfur pit ends with assassin literally emerging from the mist and stabbing the informant from behind.  A later gun battle on a narrow street seems to feature gunmen literally appearing out of thin air.  Fabio Testi is ruggedly sympathetic as Luca while Saverio Marconi does a great job as the decadent Perlante.  Meanwhile, Marcel Bozzuffi is legitimately frightening in his few scenes as the evil French gangster.  He’s a great villain, smug and willing to kill anyone.  You don’t have to support organized crime to support the idea of running the French out of Naples.

Contraband is a minor crime classic and proof that there was more to Fulci than just zombies and serial killers.  Today would have been Lucio Fulci’s 93rd birthday and it’s also a good day to track down Contraband, an offer that you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa

6 Shots From 6 Films: Special Lucio Fulci Edition!

6 Shots From 6 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 6 Shots From 6 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

93 years ago today, in Rome, Lucio Fulci was born!

Today is a very special day for fans of Italian horror.  It’s also a special day for those of us here at the Shattered Lens.  Anyone who has been reading this site for a while knows that we’re big Fulci fans at the TSL.  So, in honor of the anniversary of his birth, here are….

6 Shots From 6 Films

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971, dir by Lucio Fulci)

Zombi 2 (1979, dir by Lucio Fulci)

The Beyond (1981, dir by Lucio Fulci)

The House By The Cemetery (1982, dir by Lucio Fulci)

The New York Ripper (1982, dir by Lucio Fulci)

Murder Rock (1984, dir by Lucio Fulci)

The Sexy Covers of Charles Copeland

by Charles Copeland

I first profiled Charles Copeland back in 2015.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much information available about him.  Considering that he was apparently a very prolific cover artist and that many of his covers are considered to be pulp classics, it’s sad and surprising that there’s not much biographical information about him online.  Copeland’s covers frequently featured women who may have been sexy and frequently undressed but who were also strong and clearly in charge of every situation in which they found themselves.

Five years later and there’s still not much infomation out there in Copeland but I have found some more of his work.  So, here’s even more from Charles Copeland!