That’s Blaxploitation! 12: COTTON COMES TO HARLEM (United Artists 1970)


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I’m not really sure if COTTON COMES TO HARLEM qualifies as a Blaxploitation film. Most genre experts point to Melvin Van Peebles’ SWEET SWEETBACK’S BADASSSSS SONG and/or Gordon Parks’s SHAFT , both released in 1971, as the films that kicked off the Blaxploitation Era. Yet this movie contains many of the Blaxploitation tropes to follow, and is based on the works of African-American writer Chester Himes.

Hardboiled author Chester Himes

Himes (1909-1984) began his writing career while doing a prison stretch for armed robbery. After his short stories started being published in Esquire, he was paroled in 1936, and soon met poet Langston Hughes, who helped him get established in the literary world. Reportedly, Himes worked for a time as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers in the 40’s, but was let go when a racist Jack Warner declared he “don’t want no n*ggers on this lot” (1). His first …

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A Movie A Day #303: The Evil That Men Do (1984, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


Clement Molloch (Joseph Maher) is a doctor who uses his medical training to torture journalists and dissidents in an unnamed South American country.  Holland (Charles Bronson) is a former  CIA assassin, who is content with being retired.  But when Molloch kills a journalist who was also an old friend of Holland’s, it all becomes about revenge.  No one’s more dangerous than Charles Bronson seeking revenge.  Working with the dead journalist’s widow (Theresa Saldana), Holland heads down to South America.  Since Molloch is always surrounded by bodyguards, it is not going to be easy to get him.  But who can stop Charles Bronson?

Bronson was 62 years old when he made The Evil The Men Do and he was still the toughest, coolest killer in the movies.  The Evil That Men Do is a rarity, an 80s Bronson film that was not produced by Cannon.  It still feels like a Cannon production, even if it is a little more interesting than some of the other films that Bronson was making at that time.  Dr. Molloch was clearly based on the notorious Nazi Klaus Barbie and Joseph Maher plays Molloch as being a dignified sadist.  Molloch also has a strange relationship with his equally cruel sister (Antoinette Bower).  That Molloch is so extremely evil makes the film’s final scenes all the more satisfying.

The Evil That Men Do is one of the best of Bronson’s later films.  Charles Bronson, man.  No one got revenge better than Bronson.

“DAMN YOU, KENNEDY!”: Assignment — Kill Castro (1980, directed by Chuck Workman)


7d9oDL3Y5kupCGgUsR6Jh5ZU1KfOne of my earliest memories of staying up late and watching cheesy movies on local television was the sight of Robert Vaughn standing on a beach and cursing, “Damn you, Kennedy!”  An echo effect kicked in, making the line: “Damn you, Kennedy Kennedy Kennedy Kennedy Kennedy!”

The name of the movie was Assignment — Kill Castro and sometimes it seemed like it came on every other night.  The movie started with a title crawl that was so lengthy and so set the tone for the entire film that I feel it is worth quoting in its entirety:

From 1961, the year of the Bag of Pigs to today, the Government of the United States has been embroiled in a series of events which have continually led our nation to crisis after crisis and to the brink of war.

ASSIGNMENT — KILL CASTRO, a true story is one of the most confusing and frustrating historical events that might have led to a world power showdown.  It happened yesterday!  It happened today!  It can happen again!

Names of persons and places have been changed to protect the individuals who were called upon to aid their country and in doing so placed their lives in jeopardy.

“I WILL GIVE ALL FOR THE LOVE OF MY COUNTRY … RIGHT OR WRONG! — G.W. Bell, Chief of Carribean (sic) Operations, Central Intelligence Agency”

This motion picture is dedicated to all people who desire to live in a free democratic society.

Robert Vaughn plays Hud, a former CIA agent who was involved in the original Bay of Pigs invasion.  When the mysterious Mr. Bell (Raymond St. Jacques) and a gangster named Rossellini (Michael V. Gazzo) agree to finance an operation to kill Fidel Castro, Hud recruits a Key West bar owner named Tony (Stuart Whitman) to take him to Cuba.  However, Mr. Bell and Rossellini are just using Hud to secretly smuggle heroin into Florida and, much like John F. Kennedy in 1961, they are planning on abandoning him on the beaches of Cuba.

The main problem with Assignment — Kill Castro is that we already know that Hud is not going to succeed in his mission because Fidel Castro is still alive and probably still bragging about how he sent Tony Montana to Miami.  The other problem is that the movie does not make any damn sense.  That title crawl was not kidding when it said the story was confusing and frustrating.  Everyone is so busy double-crossing everyone else that it is hard to keep track.  There has to be a simpler way to get heroin into Florida.  Surprisingly, this incoherent movie was written and directed by the legendary editor, Chuck Workman, the same Chuck Workman who puts together those montages for the Oscars.

Kill Castro does have a good cast, though none of them are at their best.  Along with Whitman, Vaughn, St. Jacques, and Gazzo, the cast includes Woody Strode, Albert Salmi, and Sybil Danning (whose last name is misspelled Daning in the end credits).  Fidel Castro plays himself and the film’s ending is provided by cannibal turtles.

Assignment — Kill Castro was just one of the many titles that this movie was released under.

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It was also known as Cuba Crossing,

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Key West Crossing, The Mercenaries, and my personal favorite, Sweet Dirty Tony.

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