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Retro Review: MEAN MOTHER (1974) and UNCLE TOM'S CABIN (1977)


(US - 1974)

Directed by Albert Victor (Al Adamson) and Leon Klimovsky. Written by Charles Johnson and Joy Garrison. Cast: Clifton Brown (Dobie Gray), Dennis Safren, Luciana Paluzzi, Lang Jeffries, Tracy King (Marilyn Joi), Bedi Moratti, Albert Cole, Al Richardson, Elizabeth Chauvet, Dick Poston, Irv Saunders, Barta Barri. (R, 87 mins)

Throughout his prolific career in Z-grade schlock, Al Adamson was no stranger to stitching together pieces of his various finished or unfinished projects with newly-shot scenes to to create completely different movies. He managed to get two more films out of copious amounts of stock footage from 1965's PSYCHO A GO GO (1967's THE FIEND WITH THE ELECTRONIC BRAIN and 1972's BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR). He turned his unreleased 1968 spy movie THE FAKERS into the 1970 biker flick HELL'S BLOODY DEVILS, and transformed the biker-turned-mad doctor horror flick THE BLOOD SEEKERS, uncompleted and abandoned in 1969, into 1971's DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN by adding Dracula and Frankenstein. In the case of 1970's HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS, where astronauts visit a prehistoric planet to stop a vampirism epidemic on Earth (?!), he used tinted footage from a black-and-white Filipino caveman movie as well as dinosaur shots from 1940's ONE MILLION B.C. Adamson's Independent-International partner Sam Sherman acquired a 1971 European thriller called RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, directed by Spanish journeyman and frequent Paul Naschy collaborator Leon Klimovsky (DR. JEKYLL VS. THE WEREWOLF, VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES). The story dealt with an American Vietnam War deserter (Dennis Safren) making his way to Rome and getting involved in jewelry smuggling and a kidnapping plot, but upon further review, Sherman didn't see much potential for it being a success at drive-ins and on the grindhouse circuit.

Original 1971 Spanish poster
His solution? Have Adamson cut about 45 minutes out of it, add new scenes and create an entirely new plot to turn it into a blaxploitation movie, with HAMMER and SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIP-OFF screenwriter Charles Johnson helping concoct the new story. They also brought back Safren--a Sal Mineo clone whose short career other than RUN FOR YOUR LIFE was limited to three TV guest spots before vanishing into obscurity--to shoot some new scenes to tie into the old RUN FOR YOUR LIFE footage, though his hair is very noticeably longer and more shaggy in these new scenes. The new movie became 1974's MEAN MOTHER, a haphazardly-assembled hodgepodge that's nonsensical even by Al Adamson standards. The star of these new scenes that make up MEAN MOTHER is R&B singer Dobie Gray in his only acting role. Gray was already known for his 1964 hit "The 'In' Crowd," and he was still enjoying the biggest chart success of his career with his 1973 radio staple "Drift Away." He's credited as "Clifton Brown" in MEAN MOTHER, ostensibly because he wanted to keep his music and acting careers separate. Translation: Gray didn't want fans of "Drift Away" going to see MEAN MOTHER. Adamson did likewise, using the pseudonym "Albert Victor" (his first and middle names) and sharing directing credit with Klimovsky.

It opens with a hilariously inept fight sequence that doesn't really have anything to do with anything that follows, with Beauregard Jones (Gray) beating the shit out of some guys on an L.A. rooftop. Cut to RUN FOR YOUR LIFE footage, with Joe Scott (Safren) in Vietnam, getting into an argument with his lieutenant and being placed under arrest. He's being transported to base when enemy soldiers attack. He kills the enemy soldiers and is the only survivor. With his hair suddenly much longer, Joe is rescued by fellow deserter Beauregard, who announces his intention to go to Spain, advises Joe to flee to Italy, and off they go into their separate movies. In old footage, Joe meets mystery man Daniel (Lang Jeffries), who gets him into the smuggling game and introduces him to cocktail waitress Therese (Luciana Paluzzi), who agrees to help him find an apartment the next day. Meanwhile, in Spain (played mostly by a Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles), an on-the-run Beauregard is discovered by some American criminals and gets into a brawl that's so unconvincingly executed that an extra sitting in a booth can be clearly seen laughing hysterically at Gray and the other actors (Gray may have been a terrific singer, but he's absolutely awful in these action scenes). The next time we see Joe in old footage, Therese is yelling at him about how he won't marry her and he fires back with "We've been through all this before!" Wait, didn't they just meet? Meanwhile, Beauregard is one step ahead of the syndicate, smuggling plates through Europe with his girlfriend Joy (Marilyn Joi, billed as "Tracy King") and eventually ending up in Rome, where he and Joe briefly reunite (Safren with shaggy hair), and just like wherever Beauregard was in Spain, Rome still looks a lot like the Hollywood Hills (the ruse isn't helped by Adamson failing to conceal the California license plates on the cars). Joe (Saffren with short hair) ends up trying to rescue a woman (Bedi Moratti) from some big event that has something to do with Daniel, and Beauregard and Joy try to elude syndicate guys who show up in Rome.

With scenes from RUN FOR YOUR LIFE seemingly edited in at random, MEAN MOTHER is a mind-bogglingly incoherent experience. Whole chunks of story from RUN FOR YOUR LIFE have been hacked away willy-nilly with zero thought given as to how what's left can work into the plot of MEAN MOTHER. Gray and Safren only have two actual scenes together--in "Vietnam" and in "Rome"--before Safren returns to his previous movie, already in progress. Adamson has so little interest in what's going on with Joe's side of the story that Safren eventually vanishes from MEAN MOTHER altogether, with Gray's Beauregard explaining him away with a shrugging "He gave himself up!" Even without knowing the backstory or if they somehow don't pick up on Safren's hair continuity, anyone watching MEAN MOTHER can immediately tell it's comprised of two separate movies just from the different look of the film stock on RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, and its Eurolounge score and post-synced dialogue juxtaposed with the more American look and live sound of the Gray footage, with is augmented with a standard funky blaxploitation soundtrack. MEAN MOTHER makes 87 minutes feel like an eternity, and even then, Adamson had to pad his end of the movie with nearly ten minutes of Joi seducing some syndicate doofus charged with babysitting her while the others track down Beauregard. "Drift Away" is a song everybody knows, but there's little wonder why Gray's acting career began and ended here, and Safren never acted onscreen again. He's awful in both shoots (he, Paluzzi, and Canadian actor Jeffries appear to be dubbing themselves in the RUN FOR YOUR LIFE scenes), and has this strange affect where he leans way too hard into the enunciation of his "T"s, leading to robotic line readings like "It doesn't maT-Ter," and "I've got thirT-Tee thousand." Best known as the lethal Fiona Volpe in 1965's THUNDERBALL, former Bond girl Paluzzi was lovely in every movie she ever made, but I'm willing to bet that to this day, 42 years retired from acting, she still has no idea she's in an Al Adamson blaxploitation movie called MEAN MOTHER.

(US - 1977)

No director credited (Geza von Radvanyi, Al Adamson). No writer credited (Fred Denger, Geza von Radvanyi, Al Adamson). Cast: John Kitzmiller, Herbert Lom, Olive Moorefield, Mary Ann Jenson, Prentiss Moulden, Erwin Fuller, Jean Clark, Biff Yeager, J.C. Welles, Chuck Welles, Vincent Isaac, Marilyn Joi, O.W. Fischer, Gertraud Mittermayr, Catana Cayetano, Charles Fawcett, Vilma Degischer, Thomas Fritsch, Bibi Jelinek, Harold Bradley, Aziz Saad, George Goodman. (R, 98 mins)

Speaking of Bond actors utterly oblivious to their presence in an Al Adamson movie, John Kitzmiller probably would've been shocked to find himself starring in the director's 1977 version of UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, especially since he died in 1965. Best known as Quarrel, the islander who helps 007 get to Crab Key in 1962's DR. NO, Kitzmiller was born in Battle Creek, MI in 1913 and joined the US Army after graduating with a chemical engineering degree from the University of Michigan. He was stationed in Italy during WWII and just stayed there when the war ended. He fell into acting after a chance encounter with a young Carlo Ponti, which led to him becoming a regular presence in postwar Italian neo-realist films, including one of the lead roles in Federico Fellini's 1950 directing debut VARIETY LIGHTS. He worked all over Europe, even winning the Best Actor award at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival for the Yugoslavian war drama VALLEY OF PEACE. It didn't lead to bigger and better roles--being a black actor in Europe, Kitzmiller found his options were limited, so he usually ended up playing a variety of soldiers, servants, or jazz musicians, and as time went on, he fell into depression and alcoholism. But in 1964, he landed the starring role in UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, a prestigious, three-hour West German/French/Italian/Yugoslavian adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe's legendary 1852 novel. As Uncle Tom, Kitzmiller headed an international cast that included Herbert Lom as Simon Legree, German-based American singer Olive Moorefield as Cassy, and other respected European actors like O.W. Fischer, Mylene Demongeot, Eleonora Rossi Drago, Charles Fawcett, and Juliette Greco. It was directed by Hungarian filmmaker Geza von Radvanyi, best known for the 1958 version of MADCHEN IN UNIFORM. UNCLE TOM'S CABIN won acclaim in Europe when it premiered in West Germany in April 1965, but it still didn't provide a career bump for Kitzmiller: the actor died two months before the film's release, succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver at just 51.

Poster for the 1965 German version
The German-language UNCLE TOM'S CABIN was a tough sell in the US, where it wouldn't appear until 1969, when distributor/showman Kroger Babb released a version cut by nearly an hour and dubbed in English (Lom's voice isn't heard in the shorter US cut, though he is speaking German in the original version). It wasn't a hit, but Babb kept it in circulation, even re-releasing it in 1975 as CASSY. In 1976, a financially-strapped Babb sold his 1969 re-edit of UNCLE TOM'S CABIN to Adamson and Sam Sherman's Independent-International and, as usual, Sherman had a brilliant idea: relaunch the film to capitalize on the phenomenal success of the TV miniseries ROOTS, and to make it even more marketable, have Adamson spice it up with some salacious sex and violence to pull in the MANDINGO and DRUM crowd. Adamson cut about 40 minutes out of the already-shortened 1969 re-edit, and added a new subplot about a Legree slave named Napoleon. In the original 1965 film, Napoleon (Aziz Saad) escapes by jumping off a steamship and swimming away but is killed by an alligator. In Adamson's version, Napoleon manages to make it to land, where he's suddenly played by a different actor (Prentiss Moulden) and finds refuge at a nearly abandoned plantation where young spinster Melissa (Mary Ann Jenson) is all by her lonesome and very horny. Of course, she seduces Napoleon, allowing Adamson to give us a couple of prolonged, grinding sex scenes. Fearing his presence would put Melissa in jeopardy, Napoleon leaves her but is caught by three Legree goons (among them Adamson regular Biff Yeager), who proceed to strip him, gang-rape him (why not rip off DELIVERANCE while we're at it?), tie him to a tree, and pour boiling tar all over him until he dies.

Adamson cuts back to the 1965 scenes, but the story has been so chopped up, so many actors have been cut entirely (Rossi Drago, Demongeot, and Greco are nowhere to be seen in Adamson's version), and so many characters and relationships obliterated by hacking away entire sequences at random that there's no narrative to speak of whatsoever. But really, that's not why Sherman had Adamson restructure von Radvanyi's film anyway. Adamson semi-regular and MEAN MOTHER addition Marilyn Joi (best known as Cleopatra Schwartz in KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE) is on-hand at the beginning as a slave's daughter who tries to run away and gets raped by one of Legree's men, who taunts her father with "Hey, boy! I'm gonna fuck your daughter!" Those same three Legree guys in the new footage also fear contracting a venereal disease from raping Napoleon, but one quips "Can't be any worse than what we got from that sheep!," a line that one can only assume was in Beecher Stowe's first rough draft. They also wind up castrated by the first rape victim's father and two other slaves as the movie comes to an abrupt end, completely abandoning the characters who are actually in UNCLE TOM'S CABIN. Adamson's new footage is trashy and tasteless, and the Napoleon/Melissa sex scenes are barely above stag-quality in production value and execution. Also, having none of the technical crew credited (no director, no writers, etc), along with the use of "Albert Victor" on MEAN MOTHER really begs the question "How utterly disreputable must a movie be for Al Fucking Adamson to leave his name off of it?"

John Kitzmiller (1913-1965)
The added skin doesn't quite gel with the rest of the film which, despite the sloppy dubbing overseen by Babb, is clearly a prestige project that had some money and effort put into it. The 1977 composite released by Independent-International, included in Severin's epic 14-disc, 32-film Adamson box set on the same disc as the aforementioned MEAN MOTHER (because physical media is dead), actually played in theaters and at drive-ins across America (and they re-released this cut again in 1979 under the unlikely title WHITE TRASH WOMAN), so it's possible Herbert Lom, then enjoying a bit of a career upswing thanks to his exemplary work as twitchy Inspector Clouseau foil Dreyfus in the rebooted PINK PANTHER franchise, knew he somehow ended up in a crummy Al Adamson movie. Poor John Kitzmiller definitely did not, and he never would've imagined starring in a sleazy, grindhouse T&A revamp of UNCLE TOM'S CABIN 12 years after his death, let alone WHITE TRASH WOMAN two years after that.

Al Adamson's revamp of UNCLE TOM'S CABIN
opening in Toledo, OH on 3/11/1977

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