Black Snake (film)

Black Snake is a 1973 American film directed by Russ Meyer. It was Meyer's return to self-financed projects, following the end of his brief deal at 20th Century Fox. Meyer's only attempt at the Blaxploitation genre, it was filmed in Panavision and was shot on location in Barbados.

Black Snake
Directed byRuss Meyer
Produced byRuss Meyer
Written byRuss Meyer
Leonard Neubauer
Based onan original story by Meyer and A. James Ryan
StarringAnouska Hempel
David Warbeck
Percy Herbert
Thomas Baptiste
Music byWilliam Loose
CinematographyArthur Ornitz
Edited byFred Baratta
Production
company
Trident Pictures
Release date
  • March 28, 1973 (1973-03-28)
Running time
82 min.
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$200,000[1]

A period piece about colonial slavery, the plot centered on Lady Susan, a cruel slave-owner and plantation mistress, and her domination of both the black and white men on the island. Anouska Hempel, a New Zealand-born actress well known in the UK, was cast at the last minute when Meyer's original lead fell ill.

Meyer was dissatisfied with the film, and for years afterwards he complained of Hempel's unsuitability for her part. In the late 1990s Hempel, now Lady Weinberg, bought the British rights; since then it has not been seen on UK television, though it has been released on DVD there.

Black Snake was originally released theatrically in the UK as Slaves and has also been released under the title Sweet Suzy.[2][3]

Plot

In 1835, Charles Walker travels to San Cristobal Island in the British West Indies to look for his missing brother Jonathan. Charles pretends to be a bookkeeper when arrives at Blackmoor Plantation, run by Jonathan's vicious ex-wife, Lady Susan Walker.

Cast

Production

Development

After making two films for 20th Century Fox Meyer wanted to return to independent filmmaking. He did not want to go back to the sorts of films he had done in the past though as he felt there would no longer be a market for it due to the growth in pornographic movies and increasing permissiveness of studio films.[1]

Meyer got the idea for the film after reading "some legend material from the Caribbean". He wanted "to dabble a little bit in a black film. The successful films that I've made have always been in the parody genre, so I figured I would try to come up with something that was kind of irreverent, like All in the Family, maybe."[1]

"The story is very soapy in one way," said Meyer.[1] "This is not a sex film," he said. "It's mainly sex and violence. It's hellishly entertining."[4]

"This is a very liberal film, extremely so, and it's told in a manner that is forthright, and with my rambunctious style," said Meyer. "I think there are a lot of places in the film where the blacks will get up and start cheering, particularly when they start whipping the white overseer who's been whipping them for a long time."[1]

Meyer described the characters as "a lot bigger than life. They're right out of an Al Capp cartoon. There are only two really sympathetic people in the picture, but for the most part, they're all terribly bad people."[1]

Casting

Meyer said finding the female lead was "a problem, because she's not the typical girl that I've had- the great cantilevered structured girl. First of all, I had to have a very good actress, which was more important than the physical characteristics. Also, I had to have someone who, like the rest of the cast could speak with a British accent, in order to make this thing work."[1]

Meyer cast Anouska Hempel who he said had "a great ass on her, she's attractive in the same way as Brigitte Bardot. And she's a good actress. She even came up with a cockney accent."[1]

Stefania Duncan, wife of the film's cinematographer Arthur J. Ornitz, later said it was "extraordinary" Hempel took the role. "She wasn't a struggling actress, her husband was very wealthy and everybody in the business knew that Russ Meyer was the porno king. My take on Anouska was that she was just a soft-core porn star. Because why would you bother doing Blacksnake? That would ruin your career, but obviously it didn't ruin hers."[5]

Shooting

The movie was shot on location in Barbados in 1972.[6] Meyer says he managed to get co-operation from the Barbadian government when he told them "the blacks win". The film was shot over seven weeks with three weeks of pre-production, plus another week of second unit.[1]

Meyer found shooting in a foreign country difficult. "Every day there was a new staggering problem that was presented to us," he said. "It was a very arduous thing, working in the cane fields, the humidity and the heat, the uncomfortableness of it, and I didn't provide all the niceties that an awful lot of these English actors expected, tea and umbrellas and folding chairs and so on." Meyer was unhappy with two performances although he refused to say who they were.[1]

Meyer said he spent "an enormously long period of time cutting" the film even though he wanted "to get away from the editing because it can be a real timeconsuming thing. I've got to spend more time in story development and casting, things of that nature. But I know that if I do not cut it myself, it will not have that same moxie that all the other Russ Meyer films have."[1]

Meyer says the budget was a little over $200,000 and if he had made it for a studio it would have cost at least a million dollars.[1]

Reception

The film flopped and in 1978 had still yet to cover its money.[7] In 1980 Meyer claimed he had "just" recouped his money.[8]

Meyer later said it "had a lot of things wrong with it. It had a skinny leading lady and she was British. All the actors were British. It was a costume movie. Like everything you could possibly do wrong, I did. It was a weak Mandingo. It's been called Sweet Susie and now it's called Duchess of Doom ... We thought we were making a picture that the blacks would really love. Now if we had made it about four years before it might have been a blockbuster. But we ended up with a film that blacks and whites both hated. The only place it did good business was in Little Rock."[8] "I was totally out of my element," Meyer said.[9]

For many year there were rumours that Hempel tried prevent the film from being released in the UK. In 1977 Hempel revealed she tried to prevent the film from being seen, saying, "The producers have inserted naked scenes without my permission. Worse, the double they have used is a much bigger lady with large breasts. It's ridiculous, but Mr Ferman [the British censor] advised me that it was not worth all the fuss to take legal action."[5]

Proposed Follow Up

Meyer wanted to follow the film with Foxy starring Edy Williams.[1] However that was never made.

See also

Notes

  1. SEX, VIOLENCE AND DRUGS ALL IN GOOD FUN! Berkowitz, Stan. Film Comment; New York Vol. 9, Iss. 1, (Jan/Feb 1973): 47-51.
  2. "Sweet Suzy". Variety. Retrieved 2009-12-21.
  3. SLAVES Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 45, Iss. 528, (Jan 1, 1978): 54.
  4. 101st Movie for Edward G. Robinson Haber, Joyce. Los Angeles Times 5 Sep 1972: d11.
  5. Lady Weinberg loses battle to block her blue movie past Sanderson, Elizabeth. Mail on Sunday5 June 2005: 32
  6. Shedding a Light on New Album Cover Haber, Joyce. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]04 July 1972: i13.
  7. THE BIG LURE: MOVIES AS AN INVESTMENT: TAKING A FLYER AT FILMS MOVIES MOVIES Lees, David; Berkowitz, Stan. Los Angeles Times 24 Sep 1978: l1.
  8. Ebert, Roger (July–August 1980). "Russ Meyer: Ten Years After the 'Beyond'". Film Comment;. 16 (4): 43–48, 80.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  9. Meyer: Up to his old chicks again Preston, Marilynn. Chicago Tribune 27 Apr 1975: e16.
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