Tag Archives: Doctor Mabuse

Atlantis, Doctor Mabuse and H.G. Wells: movies

UNDERSEA KINGDOM (1936) is one of the worst serials I’ve ever seen, despite being produced by Republic, the master of the genre (creator of Tiger Woman, for instance). It’s clearly modeled on the classic Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials: Unga Khan, evil tyrant of Atlantis, plots to destroy the surface world, so instead of Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov we have Lt. “Crash” Corrigan (Ray Corrigan), Professor Norton (who like Zarkov is forced to work for the villain) and reporter Diana. Unfortunately the acting is terrible (even Gene Autry in Phantom Empire did better); Corrigan, a physical fitness coach in Hollywood at the time clearly has no idea how to act (though they do show off his physique as much as possible), and the guy playing Unga Khan is equally stiff. Worse, the cliffhangers are terrible. In one, a tank smashes into the wall; in the next episode, the impact doesn’t happen. Crash’s plane is blasted by a missile, he’s buried under a toppling temple and caught in a rocket exhaust but in the following episode he just gets up unharmed. That’s Grade-Z stuff. “We’re trapped in a metal tower that is being brought to the surface of the ocean by a madman!”

THE LIVING CORPSES OF DOCTOR MABUSE (1970) is a British film (from Amicus, the British horror studio that isn’t Hammer) titled SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN when it was released in the UK, but Mabuse-ified to juice the German box office. The film switches between seemingly unrelated plotlines such as a jogger who keeps losing his limbs, a serial killer haunting the London disco scene, kindly doctor Vincent Price (spoiler: he’s not kindly!) and sinister goings on at a secret police HQ somewhere in Eastern Europe (East Germany in the source novel by Peter Saxon). Does it all fit together? Yes, and not in a happy way. Despite the poster, Cushing doesn’t appear with Price or Lee, and the latter two only have one scene together. That said, this is fun, like a lot of Amicus. Oh, Price’s character is the one turned into Mabuse for the German market. “In this instance, this license has been taken to an excessive and gruesome extreme.”

While I rewatched THINGS TO COME (1936) just a year ago, I picked up Criterion’s edition during Barnes & Noble’s DVD sale. This definitive version adds three minutes to the DVD I had (the original ran 130 minutes before the editors began cutting), telling the story of how World War II runs into the 1960s and reduces the world to barbarism, only to have an enlightened cadre of scientists and technicians rebuild it. A century later, it’s time to head out into space, but for some small minds the thought of such adventures reduces them to terror. What got me to pick this one up was that David Kalat (author of the definitive book on Dr. Mabuse) provides the commentary, detailing how H.G. Wells actively involved himself in this project, with a clear understanding it would be filmed his way (which it was, but Michael Korda reshaped it in the editing room). The film’s fixation on ideas over character or plot reflects that Wells really did fear what another world war would do, and this movie was his Western Union on how to prevent it. Wells also wanted the film to be the anti-Metropolis (too simplistic a view of the future!) but never captured or understood the power and drama of Fritz Lang’s film. Raymond Massey plays the voice of reason in three eras (“Our revolution didn’t abolish danger or death, it simply made danger and death worthwhile!”) while Ralph Richardson plays a warlord who doesn’t realize he’s already a dinosaur. Flawed, but I freely admit I’m a fan. “God, what is the use of trying to save this mad world?”

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Dr. Mabuse vs. the Black Panthers, Abba vs the Librarians: Movies and TV

With THE DEATH-RAY MIRROR OF DOCTOR MABUSE (1964) the 1960s Mabuse cycle ends not with a bang but a whimper. Peter van Eyck, who was adequate as part of the ensemble in 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse is miserably dull as the central character, a super-spy out to secure the title McGuffin for England while You Know Who wants it for his own ends. This is a Mabuse film done as a Bond film, with a lot of similarity to Thunderball (David Kalat, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse, wonders if Death-Ray Mirror could actually have influenced the later 007 adventure) but none of the flair Eon brought to the Bond films of this era. It’s also much more sexist than Bond in its treatment of the female lead, and has the least mind-control of any of the films (mostly just a vague reference to Mabuse mindwiping people at the start of the film). “The almighty took seven days to create the world, and you could destroy it in a few seconds.”

THE BLACK PANTHERS: Vanguards of the Revolution (2015) is a good documentary about how an Oakland movement to stop police abuse of blacks (which, of course, makes this depressingly relevant) broadened into providing free breakfasts and health clinics while attracting followers across the country (as much because of their apparent pride and self-confidence as their actual policies), including a large percentage of women. The film chronicles the FBI’s obsessive war against the Panthers, the party’s attempt to switch to straight politics (“After the loss, there was no plan B.”) and the gradual internal collapse, heavily influenced by the FBI’s efforts at subversion. “We didn’t get those brothers to revolutionary heaven.”

MAMMA MIA: Here We Go Again (2018) is the sequel to the 2008 stage-to-screen musical, alternating the story of Amanda Seyfried struggling to open late mom Meryl Streep’s dream hotel despite everything going wrong with her secret origin as her mother heads to Greece for a summer of love and winds up bedding three different men in rapid succession. This was pleasant enough, but doesn’t feel as well structured as the first Mamma Mia — Cher’s appearance at the end is quite gratuitous, though she does give a great rendition of Abba’s Fernando. “You have the courage of the lion, the heart of the panther and the wisdom of the flamingo.”

The third season of THE LIBRARIANS has the cast coping with an unleashed chaos demon plotting to turn the world upside-down and a new government magic-hunting agency that’s determined to put the Librarians and their assets under lock and key. This has the series’ usual quirky fun, such as a reluctant cult leader trapped by her own popularity, a reunion of evil monsters and a magician wreaking havoc as he tries to impress his (he thinks) true love. I’ll also give them points for resolving Cassandra’s cancer problems without the usual miracle cure. “He didn’t tell you the Eye of Ra requires a human sacrifice.”

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This week seemed to have such promise

I was really optimistic about this week. Next round of Leaf articles hasn’t started yet, Screen Rant is done, I had time to focus on my personal projects.

But TYG was doing a lot of stuff this week that required concentration. And Plush Dog, for whatever reason, was needy. Actively needy, constantly trying to climb on her computer or barking for attention. So I wound up running interference, plus putting in a lot of extra dog walking. The time added up. Plus I was freaking out over some of the political news. It can’t be helped at times, but it’s not productive. I wound up several hours behind my quota for the week.

So what did I get done?

I finished a second draft of Only the Lonely Can Slay. Relocating the action to my old home town really sharpened the setting, and the dramatic arc improved some. However that’s a long way from saying it has a good arc. It’s trickier because I don’t want my protagonist to know exactly what she’s involved in, even when it’s all over. So we’ll see.

I thought a little about the rewrite of No One Can Slay Her but didn’t actually put any words to paper. I did make more progress on the final draft of Southern Discomfort. I’ve gone over four out of the 12 stories in the draft paperback of Atoms for Peace and edited them, though I haven’t made the corrections in the manuscript on my computer. That matters because some of the notes are just “sentence doesn’t work, fix it” when the correction is more than just a word or something concise.

I did not come anywhere near close my 1,000 words a day goal. Come July with no Screen Rant deadlines to make, it should be doable. And I will make it a priority.

I did draft a query for Space Invaders for McFarland but held off submitting it. There’s a couple of markets I’d like to look at first. Next month, one way or the other, it goes out.

Oh, and as noted this morning, I started making some upgrades to this blog. Hopefully that will prove worthwhile. It may be telling that I think of this as a blog first — but when I visit other author’s websites, I usually go to the blog first. After all, it’s the only part that’s likely to provide anything new.

And I also posted an in-depth review of The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse on Atomic Junkshop.

Subject to a couple of personal goals I hope to accomplish tomorrow, I got a little over 50 percent of my June goals go (the crazy schedule this week put paid to a couple of routine things I normally accomplish in the morning).

On the food front, we ate the first of the tomatoes TYG has been growing in the back, along with the herbs. Unfortunately the local squirrels pulled about twice that number off the plants — they don’t eat them, they just bite into them and leave them. Pure spite.

And we took the dogs to get groomed Wednesday. Plushie’s tail was so matted they had to shave it completely, leaving what looks like a little pig’s tail. Packs quite a wallop when he beats it on us.

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Dr. Mabuse and Peter Wimsey: Movies and TV

THE TERROR OF DR. MABUSE (1962) was a remake of Testament of Dr. Mabuse and known under that title as well as Terror of the Mad Doctor; under all the names it’s a pale shadow of the original. Wolfgang Preiss returns as Mabuse #3, now frantically dictating a new Testament of his own. Could he possibly be behind the crime wave sweeping the city? His shrink (Walter Rilla) says no, but in the world of Mabuse, you know how little statements like are worth. A good example of why this is an inferior film is the sequence where a rebellious hood confronts Mabuse in his lair. Instead of facing drowning as in the original, we get a silly sequence involving a hall of mirrors (pretty to look at, but not much of a threat) and then Mabuse spares him for plot reasons. Not without its moments — Mabuse’s wry second-in-command is a hoot (“Here’s money for bus fair.”) — but a poor wannabe compared to Lang. Gert Frobe adds his usual talent in his last role in this series. “This is not a philanthropic institution — corpses are part of our business.”

DR. MABUSE VS. SCOTLAND YARD (1963) is even weaker and not even terribly continuous (the references to Mabuse burning down his lab to destroy his Testament don’t fit the end of Terror) as the devil doctor (Walter Rilla again) now resorts to mind-control rays to accomplish what the original Mabuse did with sheer personal force. Peter van Eyck returns as a rather bland secret agent, aided and abetted by his dotty mother. “It means the control of mankind — a power more effective than any atom bomb.”

When Ian Carmichael first appeared as LORD PETER WIMSEY on TV I found him way too flighty and silly-ass. Rewatching now, I realize he’s a dead-on portrayal of Wimsey in the earliest books, though I’m not sure how well he’d have worked romancing Harriet Vane (this series never got to those books, though a later BBC production did). For the first season they adapted Clouds of Witness, in which Peter tries to clear his brother of murdering their sister’s disgraced lover. It’s a poor choice for an opener as it’s a very stiff mystery, with way too much time spent on Who Was Where When; having actors deliver the lines rather than reading them on the printed page helps, but not enough. I must admit though, Carmichael and the rest of the cast are good and the visuals (like the climactic trial in the House of Lords) are nice. “I did not travel 3,000 miles to pass moral judgment on someone as charming as you.”

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Dr. Mabuse, Sherlock Holmes and Agents of SHIELD: movies and TV

THE INVISIBLE DR. MABUSE (1962) drops off in quality from Return of Dr. Mabuse — if you’re not interested in the series, it’s at the point where finding something better to watch would be a good choice. Lex Barker returns from the previous film as FBI man Joe Como, investigating strange goings on (invisible stalkers! Disappearing agents! Killer clowns!) he’s convinced are tied to Dr. Mabuse. The German police aren’t convinced, but you can guess who’s right. At stake is Enterprise X, a scientist’s invisibility formula, plus Mabuse’s power to control the minds of men (though this Mabuse relies more on tech than his strong will). It’s certainly watchable, just not great; Karin Dor (best known as Spectre’s Number Eleven in You Only Live Twice) is good as the damsel in distress. “My fight will mean death, invisible death, until all mankind trembles before me!”

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1970) is an interesting but not entirely successful Holmesian experiment by Billy Wilder. Robert Stephens plays a laid-back Holmes (unfortunately he never conveys the steel that underlay Jeremy Brett’s Holmes) who agrees to help Gabrielle (Genevieve Page )investigate what’s happened to her engineer husband, despite Mycroft (Christopher Lee, the only person to play both Holmes brothers over the course of his career) warning him Stay Away. Over the course of the film, Holmes starts falling for Gabrielle and makes it clear that he does have feelings for women, they’ve just never worked out well in the past.

The core plot is great, but the opening scene — Holmes avoids an embarrassing situation by implying he and Watson (Colin Blakely) are lovers — feels tacked on and awkward. And while Watson isn’t a dummy like Nigel Bruce, he seems to be the butt of the joke in ways Bruce never was. On the plus side, this has several canon references (such as this story coming from the Charing Cross safety deposit box where Watson hid the stories he didn’t want to publish) and it tackles Holmes’ cocaine use several years before Seven Percent Solution made it the heart of the plot. Given Holmes’ complaints here that Watson’s writings completely distort his image, Without a Clue would make a good double bill. “The question is, what turned his wedding ring green, and why are there three dead canaries in his coffin?”

The first season of Agents of SHIELD I complained the cases were too mundane for a superheroic universe. Over the seasons, though, they’ve gotten increasingly fantastic yet if anything I’m less interested. This season we had them trapped in a dystopian future, desperate to return home and avert it; in the second arc, they wound up home trying to thwart the Hydra plot that brings down the doom. I’m not sure what’s missing, but I may be done with this one when it returns. “How was I to know there was an alien-invasion protocol?”

Whatever it lacked, TIMELESS has it — unfortunately it’s struggling for renewal where SHIELD has already gotten the nod. This season the villainous Rittenhouse conspiracy introduces sleeper agents into the past, ready to wait for years before the order comes to take out the target of the week; in-between missions the team, of course, has to cope with its personal dramas. The use of Lucy the historian as a kind of walking Google (if it’s a historical fact, she’ll conveniently know it) is annoying and so are some of the nexus points (Lucy improbably claims that if bluesman Robert Johnson doesn’t record his music, civil rights and all the other revolutions of the 1960s will never happen), but I’d definitely watch it if it returns. “Miss Tubman, you’re a total badass—where I come from that’s a compliment.”

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A bad baronet, a bad novel, Dr. Mabuse and Black Lightning: the rest of my week’s media

RUDDIGORE was Gilbert and Sullivan’s parody of then-stock stage melodrama elements, but it works even if you don’t know or care about the prototypes they made fun of (the orphan who looks to the Bible for guidance is here an orphan who looks for it in an etiquette book) it’s still very funny. A young farmer romances sweet orphan Rose, concealing that he’s the rightful heir of the bad baronets of Ruddigore, who are compelled to do evil every day or die in terrible agony. But when his rival in love exposes him, he must assume the accursed title … A great job as always with the Durham Savoyards, but it had some serious sound problems (one of the actors was almost inaudible and we were in the second row). “I sometimes think that if we could hit upon some word for you to use whenever I am about to relapse – some word that teems with hidden meaning like “Basingstoke” – it might recall me to my saner self.”

I like John Brunner and the text on Jeff Jones cover for BLACK IS THE COLOR promised an interesting yarn (voodoo in 1960s Swingin’ London!). Unfortunately, the story of a dissolute twentysomething who stumbles into an international conspiracy (South Africa plans to have a black militant commit a terrorist act, figuring Britain will stop condemning them for apartheid) goes with the theory voodoo is psychosomatic (it kills people because they believe it) which isn’t as interesting as real magic (and the ending reveal Maybe It’s Real is just trite). And while Brunner’s trying to avoid it, he ends up embracing the Superstitious Darkie cliche. Overall, a very talky, slow book, and any sixties spy show could have made better use of the premise.

THE RETURN OF DR. MABUSE (1961) — was the first Mabuse film not made by Fritz Lang, and it’s surprisingly good. Police inspector Gert Frobe gets pulled off vacation to investigate a US organized-crime plot to ally with a crime kingpin in Germany (US B-actor Lex Barker plays his first role in the Mabuse series here). Could it be a certain evil genius survived his previous film? As Gert Frobe digs deeper he discovers mysterious crimes, mysterious beggars and a suspicious prison before getting to the truth (which involves a mind-control drug, the series’ first shift into SF). Better than I remembered it. “The devil doesn’t pray — on the contrary, he wants to be prayed to.”

BLACK LIGHTNING was the CW’s newest superhero show, though taking place on a separate Earth from Supergirl’s or Flash’s. Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) is a retired superhero, happy to make the high school he runs the focus of his world-saving efforts. But when the 100 crime cartel kidnaps his daughters, Jefferson is forced to go back into the field — and of course, can’t quit once he does. Like Luke Cage this is a very black show, but it also stands out from the crop by making Jeff a family man whose two daughters are just discovering their own meta-powers; that opens up storytelling angles that Oliver’s fatherhood this season on Arrow simply can’t deliver. I could have done without Tobias Whale as the evil albino (he’s that in the comics, but albinism=evil is a stereotype), but overall a very satisfactory season. “The devil deals the cards.”

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Absurd comedy and creepy surveillance: this week’s movies

BEYOND THE FRINGE (1969) was the filmed final stage show of the once-famous improv troupe, which included Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. In this show they discuss the United States (“It’s a young country, isn’t it — a lot like Ghana.”) and each other (“We may be lower class, but Jonathan’s a Jew and that’s worse!”), explain both nuclear deterrence and WW II (“The only thing that can raise the tone of this war is a futile gesture.”) and in one of their classic skits a one-legged man auditions for Tarzan (“If no two-legged men audition in the next 18 months, you have a very good shot.”). Some of the humor doesn’t click with me, but a lot of it does. “No other country can boast of having the world’s second-largest radio telescope. Before long, we may have the third or even fourth largest, and without adding any equipment whatsoever!”


Fritz Lang had no interest in remaking Dr. Mabuse but by the late 1950s his career was fading, so when a German studio proposed the idea, he was interested. But as it turned out, THE 1,000 EYES OF DR. MABUSE (1960) was not a remake but a second sequel, following Testament of Dr. Mabuse. It’s a very different movie from the first two, with the new Mabuse barely appearing in that identity — in fact there’s almost no criminal presence other than his coldblooded agent, Number Twelve. Instead the focus is on the cop (Gert Frobe) investigating a mysterious shooting and Peter van Eyck as a millionaire falling for a woman who’s life he’s saved. Throw in a mysterious clairvoyance, voyeurism, surveillance and you get a hell of a movie, even dubbed.“The life you have saved is threatening you — it means death for you!”

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Two Maxwell Smarts, Two Doctor Mabuses: movies

GET SMART (2008) suffers from trying to be two things at once. On the one hand this reboot of the sixties spy spoof is a stock zero-to-hero story with Steve Carrell as a brilliant CONTROL analyst who gets his first shot at fieldwork alongside veteran agent Anne Hathaway (I wonder if the emphasis on Hathaway having undergone age-concealing plastic surgery is meant to duck the age disparity?); on the other, it wants to be a spy spoof so Carrell keeps pulling the same bonehead shticks as Don Adams (“Would you believe Chuck Norris with a BB gun?”) and the two never reconcile (it makes me appreciate how Adams could make Max’s occasional bursts of competence believable). And the climax is pure action film, and I don’t mean that in a good way. The cast includes Alan Arkin as Chief of CONTROL, Bill Murray as Agent 13, Mako Osai of Heroes as a tech nerd, Terence Stamp playing Siegfried perfectly serious, Patrick Warburton as Hymie the robot, James Caan as a nitwit President Bush II knockoff and Dwayne Johsnon as Agent 23 (who gets a twist that I spotted early). “Hey guard why don’t you come in here so I can make you my pretty little girlfriend?”

THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (1933) is the sequel to Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler in which Mabuse, despite being insane and committed to an asylum, wreaks so much havoc even his agents are unsettled (without giving away too much, it’s one of those films where the terrorism looks horrifyingly plausible and effective). This time he has a more formidable adversary in Otto Wernicke as Inspector Lohmann (plus a henchman who wants out) but it’s still Mabuse’s show. This has a number of excellent special features, most notably commentary by Mabuse expert David Kalat (which goes into detail on Lang’s dubious claim the film is an anti-Nazi allegory) and a documentary The Three Faces of Mabuse. This compares the original masterpiece to the shorted French version (filmed by Lang with French actors for the French market) and a later American cut, The Crimes of Dr. Mabuse. A great DVD from Criterion. “No-one has any idea what kind of phenomenal, superhuman mind came to an end with Dr. Mabuse’s death.”

THE LAST WILL OF DR. MABUSE (1933) was the American title for the French version (as Kalat notes, “will” has a double meaning in a Mabuse film) which was included on the Criterion DVD. Not as good as the German — Lohmann is much less impressive and forceful here — and with one change Kalat didn’t mention, Mabuse being described at the start as a super-hypnotist with a history of mesmerizing people into crime. Worth the added time it took to see it. “The testament of Mabuse? Is there such a thing?”

The TV movie GET SMART AGAIN (1989) was the good reunion film (I haven’t seen an earlier theatrical release, The Nude Bomb but I’ve never heard anything good about it) using some of the original creative team and all the original cast except Ed Platt as the Chief (Platt had passed away fifteen years earlier). KAOS acquires a weather control machine so US intelligence puts Max back in the field, reuniting with not only his old friends but archfoe Siegfried (played by the original actor, Bernie Koppell). Captures the show’s spirit perfectly; John de Lancie plays a KAOS mole and Harold Gould is a villain plotting to improve American literacy (“KAOS will publish the world’s great books, and if people don’t read them all — they die!”). “In 1969, KAOS traded him to THRUSH for two rookie killers and a minor-league mugger.”

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A mad genius, an aging Holmes and the baddest cat that ever walked the Earth! Movies

Criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse was introduced in print in the 1920s in Norbert Jacques’ Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler. As my friend Ross got me the most recent of the many Mabuse movies for Christmas, I figured I’d rewatch them starting with Fritz Lang’s DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER: The Great Gambler, a Picture for Our Times (1922). Here Mabuse (pronounced like “a boozer,” not “abuse”) runs a brilliant criminal enterprise (we see a major caper involving stock fraud in the first few scenes) but his real passion is “gambling with men’s lives, with their faiths.” Which is to say, he amuses himself ruining their lives in games of chance (his hypnotic ability guarantees a win) even though he doesn’t need their money. When he encounters Countess Dusy Told, he realizes she’s as detached from humanity as he is (though less evil) and destroys her husband (forces him to cheat) so he can claim her for his own. This is so melodramatic I’m not sure it would work away from the silent screen, but work it does. “I think it’s safe for you to let room 321 to someone else now.”

As was the custom back then, Fritz Lang finished the story in DR MABUSE INFERNO: A Game of People of Our Time (1922) which aired the night after the first. Here Mabuse proves himself surprisingly human as his passion for Dusy starts to crack him. At the same time, he brilliantly anticipates any move by the movie’s nominal hero, the prosecutor von Wenk; as a former lover of Mabuse gloats, nobody can stop the great mastermind except himself. In many ways Mabuse is a forerunner of Blofeld or the Kingpin, a man who controls everything from behind the scenes and crushes all his foes. With Rudolph Klein Rogge as Mabuse, this is well wroth catching, even at 4.5 hours.  “I want to be a giant, a titan, who churns laws and gods like withered leaves!”

I had high hopes for Ian McKellan’s MR. HOLMES (2015), portraying the Great Detective in the 1940s as he finds himself sliding closer to death and worse, losing the sharpness of his wits. From there we join Holmes in his flashback booth as he remembers the case that convinced him to quit, and a visit to Japan after Hiroshima. Unfortunately the narrative (which I think is meant to dramatize Holmes looking over the failures of his life) doesn’t hold together (there’s really no point to the Japan trip) and while I don’t require absolute fidelity to the Canon in a film, the script is very un-Holmes (declaring he despises imagination, for instance — Doyle’s Holmes considered it a vital tool of his trade) and doesn’t offer any compensation. With Laura Linney as Holmes’ housekeeper and Nicholas Rowe (Young Sherlock Holmes) as a screen Sherlock. “The money was to arrange for the headstones your husband would not allow.”

Jim Brown is SLAUGHTER (1972), ex-Green Beret and “the baddest cat that ever walked the earth” seeking vengeance on on mobster Rip Torn for murdering Slaughter’s parents, a quest that happily requires Brown to do the nasty with Torn’s blonde mistress Stella Stevens. This isn’t as well structured as Shaft or Pam Grier’s Coffy, as witness we never really learn what deep secret Brown’s dad had to be killed to hide (admittedly if I liked the movie better I wouldn’t mind) and the revenge plotline wraps up a bit too conveniently. With Cameron Mitchell as The Man. “Be careful Dominic, your lack of patience is what brought him here.”

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