If you were acting in an Al Adamson movie, your career was probably in trouble. However, he somehow arranged for Nelson Riddle to pen the theme song to Hell’s Bloody Devils (it was originally conceived as a spy caper titled The Fakers) and Charles Earland composed a wonderfully funky soundtrack for his blaxploitation film The Dynamite Brothers. Adamson prided himself on his films’ profitability, but he never claimed they were great art. Regardless, he was mostly well-liked by his colleagues, so it is a shame he met a tragic end worthy of his exploitation films. Adamson’s career and premature demise are chronicled in David Gregory’s entertaining documentary, Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson, which screens during this year’s FrightFest in the UK.
Adamson was the son Victor Adamson, who at one-time had quite a career going as an actor and director of silent and early talkie westerns under the name Denver Dixon. His son Al took a shot at following in his footsteps, but quickly changed courses, believing he had an aptitude for helming horror and other assorted genres that featured gratuitous nudity and violence. The early years were a little rocky, but he had a great deal of success selling his biker and stewardess movies to drive-ins and grindhouses.
Along the way, Adamson employed a number of faded Hollywood stars, who had fallen on rough times. The great John Carradine was an Adamson regular, but even two of the surviving Ritz Brothers turned up in one of his later films. Unfortunately, he met a rather violent end. At this point, Flesh & Blood veers into true crime territory as it follows the investigation into Adamson’s disappearance and the grisly discovery of his body.
Frankly, it is impossible for a film to be dull when it can cherry-pick choice clips from the Adamson filmography. His co-stars included Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Russ Tamblyn (of West Side Story and Twin Peaks fame), Jim Kelly (Black Belt Jones), Angelo Rossitto (the diminutive actor best known for Tod Browning’s Freaks and schlocky Lugosi movies like Scared to Death), adult film star Georgina Spelvin, and Gary Graver (who was Orson Welles’s loyal cinematographer during his final years).
So yes, there are plenty of exploitation elements in Gregory’s film, but it also provides a fascinating perspective on the exploitation movie business, at its peak. Yet, it is really all about Adamson the man and filmmaker, who emerges as a sympathetic (if somewhat roguish) figure well worthy of our time and attention. In fact, the film gets rather poignant during the third act, especially when covering Adamson’s devotion to his late wife and his own violent fate.
Adamson’s story is definitely worth telling, especially when it comes liberally illustrated by clips of such eccentric and outrageous cinema. It is just a shame he cannot enjoy the overdue ovation. Very highly recommended for grindhouse fans, Blood & Flesh screens this Friday (8/23) during FrightFest 2019, in the UK.