Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mondo Mandingo

I love trashy paperbacks, and I love trashy movies, so it stands to reason that I would love my friend Paul Talbot's latest book from iUniverse. I really enjoyed Paul's previous book, BRONSON'S LOOSE: THE MAKING OF THE DEATH WISH FILMS, which I wrote about here. But MONDO MANDINGO: THE FALCONHURST BOOKS AND FILMS is even better.

To quote the press release:

In 1957, the novel MANDINGO stunned readers with its lurid, unforgettable tale of Falconhurst -- a pre-Civil War slave-breeding plantation where unspeakable acts of sex and brutality took place everyday between the masters and slaves. Over the next three decades, MANDINGO sold millions of copies worldwide and spawned thirteen official sequel books as well as dozens of paperback imitators. The big-budget movie version of 1975 was one of the biggest hits of the year, as well as one of the most reviled films of all time.

Now, for the first time, the complete history of the bizarre MANDINGO phenomenon is told, including: the life of the eccentric author Kyle Onstott and the scandalous true stories that inspired him; the two writers who continued the Falconhurst series; and the background of the disastrous Broadway adaptation.

Believe me, everything you could ever want to know about the MANDINGO phenomenon is here. I was stunned to learn that Kyle Onstott, whose original MANDINGO novel sold millions of copies, was born and reared in the small town of DuQuoin, Illinois, home of the annual DuQuoin State Fair. I've been to DuQuoin many times, but have yet to see a Kyle Onstott statue there. The Chamber of Commerce needs to get on that.

MANDINGO led to more than a dozen followups that came out well into the 1980s, originally with Lance Horner as the author, and later Harry Whittington (not the same man whom Dick Cheney shot in the face) using the nom de plume Ashley Carter.

Talbot follows the evolution of the original MANDINGO characters in great detail throughout the rest of the Falconhurst books (named after the Louisiana plantation where the books are set), but he saves plenty of room to discuss the two films derived from the Onstott novel: 1975's MANDINGO and 1976's DRUM, which I recently reviewed here.

It's a tribute to Talbot that he was almost able to convince me that MANDINGO and DRUM are good movies, which they definitely are not, though they are incredibly entertaining if you're into bad movies. Talbot spoke to the directors of the two films, Richard Fleischer and Steve Carver (also interviewed in BRONSON'S LOOSE), star Ken Norton (yes, the boxer), and others involved in the movies, providing a candid behind-the-scenes look at two of the most controversial Hollywood films of the decade (and in the case of DRUM, one of the most troubled).

Talbot wraps up with a detailed examination of some of the "slavesploitation" ripoffs that followed MANDINGO, mostly coming out of Italy and Spain. And did you know that James Caan almost starred in a Broadway adaptation of MANDINGO?? Amazing.


le0pard13 said...

MANDINGO is certainly one exploitation movie, if you ever saw it, you'd not forget. Saw it when it debuted in '75 (and at a theater I'd come to work for a year later). This is one movie where I recall some of the comments by audience almost as much as it. Never did see Drum, though. But, the book sounds like an interesting read. Thanks for the review.

The Rush Blog said...

"MANDINGO" is a good movie. "DRUM" is not. "MANDINGO" turned out better than I had originally expected. "DRUM" turned out to be a second-rate copycat of the 1975 movie.

But I guess that most American film goers would prefer to believe that American slavery was practiced as it was depicted in "GONE WITH THE WIND" . . . or that it was harsh, but not that exploitive as portrayed in "ROOTS" and "NORTH AND SOUTH".

When it comes to race and slavery, we still prefer putting on the blinders.