Citizenship is slippery, as Born in East L.A. demonstrates.
Citizenship isn't so concrete, as Born in East L.A. demonstrates. Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Unstreamable is a weekly column that finds films and TV shows you can't watch on major streaming services in the United States. This week: Cheech is deported in Born in East L.A., Chong is roasted in The Tommy Chong Roast, Sidney Poitier and Abbey Lincoln get set up in For Love of Ivy, and there's actually more than one lady with a sword in Lady With a Sword.

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BORN IN EAST L.A.
USA | Mexico, 1987, 85 minutes, Dir. Cheech Marin
I thought I was in love with Cheech at the end of this movie. Im not, but what a thought!
I thought I was in love with Cheech at the end of this movie. I'm not, but what a thought! JK
I can't stop thinking about this hat Rudy Robles (Cheech Marin) wears in a scene early on in Born in East L.A. I love the way the bill is crudely cut off from the hat; I love the message (No beer, no work); I love the man who wears it. But this comedy written, directed, and starring Cheech isn't about fashion, but rather the tenuousness of American citizenship if you're not white. Third-generation Mexican-American Rudy is erroneously deported when the factory his cousin works at gets raided by police and Rudy is caught without ID. Despite his family being in the U.S. for generations, the government stuffs him and other undocumented workers onto a bus for a country where Rudy doesn't even speak the language.

The film follows his attempts at crossing the border to get back home. It's all a bit fantastical and light-hearted (the current conditions on the border are horrendous), but it's an interesting skewering of the systems on both sides of the border that keep those seeking a better life impoverished and criminalized. It should also be noted that Born in East L.A. comes from the parody song of the same name and was Cheech's first big solo career move after his break up with comedy partner Tommy Chong. JASMYNE KEIMIG

Available for rental on DVD at Scarecrow Video and Netflix DVD.

***

THE TOMMY CHONG ROAST
USA, 1989, 60 minutes, Dir. Barry Glasser
Playboy made some slick VHS releases.
Playboy produced some slick VHS releases. CB

In 1982, a little thing called The Playboy Channel premiered. The channel started out mostly playing R-rated movies, including a lot of Cheech & Chong fare. The stupid stoner duo was a staple in this era of Playboy, and so Tommy Chong was given the full glitzy Vegas treatment when the company decided to host The Tommy Chong Roast in '86.

The special is a golden locker room of famous male comics, including David Steinberg, Richard Belzer, and a young Jerry Seinfeld—and also Black comic and actress Marsha Warfield, the only woman on stage. The fun and significant part of this cute red relic is how all the comics are introduced. Seinfeld, such a newcomer that he needs an extended introduction, is described as having "a lot of momentum" and being "very funny." Chong sits throughout the roast acting characteristically dopey—and kinda hot, in the mid-80s, if I'm being honest.

While we're here talking about Chong: I'm still pissed off about Operation Pipe Dreams. CHASE BURNS

Available for rental on VHS at Scarecrow Video. There's a good unauthorized YouTube upload, but I can still include it here based on our rules*.

***

FOR LOVE OF IVY
USA, 1968, 101 minutes, Dir. Daniel Mann
A charming little romance.
A charming little romance. JK
For Love of Ivy is self-possessed in a way I didn't expect it to be. The main characters—Ivy (Abbey Lincoln), a young Black maid looking to start a new life for herself, and Jack (Sidney Poitier), a sly Black trucking business owner—are attuned enough to their class and societal differences to know why they are "wrong for each other." In spite of this, the spoiled children of the white, wealthy Austin family—Jack’s client and Ivy’s employer—aggressively pressure the two to date, not wanting their maid to stray too far from their household. These power dynamics force the couple to play along with the ruse, making them more aware of the forces that put them together. It goes deeper than you might expect of a typical romcom.

Still, it's a straightforward plot. There's an unexpected romantic connection. Then betrayal. The man makes a mistake, then runs to go get his girl back. But the film's dry humor, Ivy's weariness, and the clipped exasperation that frequently plays across Jack's face makes the film a delightful watch. Also of note: Quincy Jones composed the score! JASMYNE KEIMIG

Available for rental on DVD at Scarecrow Video and Netflix DVD.

I can't find a proper trailer. Some scenes from the film, if you're interested:

***

LADY WITH A SWORD
Hong Kong, 1971, 75 minutes, Dir. Kao Pao-Shu
Lily Ho is THE lady with a sword.
Lily Ho is THE lady with a sword. CB

Let's see here... We've got flying daggers. Kid fighters. An epic boss battle with a grandma. And, uh, a lady with a sword. The very fun, very schlocky Lady with a Sword is the directorial debut of Kao Pao-Shu, an actress who joined the Shaw Brothers Studio in the late '50s, appearing in over 80 of the studio's films before pivoting to directing. This ruthless, bloody, and *~*femme*~* martial arts drama follows a woman out for fucking revenge after her older sister is murdered by a man she—well, I won't spoil it. (If you notice similarities between this and Kill Bill, you're not alone.)

Lily Ho, one of the Shaw Brothers' most popular female martial artists, stars as this lady with a sword, and she—I apologize in advance for this—slays. In addition to Ho, Kao Pao-Shu rounded out this thing with a strong female ensemble, a noticeable difference from many Shaw Brothers films. Kao would go on to create and run her own production company, Park Films. Remember her name! CHASE BURNS

Available for rental on DVD at Scarecrow Video.



*Each Unstreamable film is Unstreamable when we find it. That means we couldn't find it on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or any of the other 300+ streaming services available in the United States. We also couldn't find it available for rent or purchase through platforms like Prime Video or iTunes. We don't consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.

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