In going through old file boxes from the 1970s, I found a number of clippings that effectively illustrate the Blaxploitation era of Hollywood filmmaking, a period from roughly 1971-75, when action and other genre films showcased black heroes and heroines, usually in reworkings of standard genre formulas. They were made quickly and cheaply to capitalize on a trend that could fade out at any time as it eventually did after its peak in 1972-73. These films played grindhouses and neighborhood theaters but also, for a time, premiered at the biggest Broadway movie palaces and commanded ads and constant press coverage. I usually saw them at Bronx neighborhood theaters where they were often paired with Italian westerns and, later, kung fu films, a trend which gradually displaced Blaxploitation. I’d like to share some of what I clipped 45 or so years ago, supplemented by movie stills from my collection and posters copied from IMDB and other sites.
BLACULA opened on August 25, 1972 at the Criterion Theater, the same theater where LAWRENCE OF ARABIA had played for over a year a decade earlier and FUNNY GIRL the same just four years earlier. I went with some friends from the Bronx to see the film at the Criterion on its second weekend and it may have been my first trip to the theater. The film starred William Marshall, a classically trained actor, whom we knew from roles in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Star Trek” and a handful of movies, such as DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, in which he played one of the gladiators and a close associate of Demetrius, and THE BOSTON STRANGLER, in which he’d played Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts. In BLACULA, he plays an African king who defies Count Dracula in the 19th century and is turned into a vampire who is revived in 1972 Los Angeles where he has a series of adventures and romance with a young woman who resembles his long-dead queen (Vonetta McGee).
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