Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Black Caesar

The Action Mutant…
bets Fred Williamson has an elbow growing from his dick, he’s so tough!

Black Caesar

review by Joe Burrows

The moral: Fuck Chris Tucker!
The argument: Is this what passes as a strong, African-American action hero today? A guy that supports Michael Jackson and nearly sounds like him, too? There aren’t many other choices, unfortunately. Wesley Snipes was around, until direct-to-DVD and the IRS come calling. Vin Diesel? Ice Cube? Forget it. Going the Disney route seems to be the answer for them. There’s some hope with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson involved (as I hope to get The Rundown and Walking Tall on here at some point) but the recent success of The Game Plan doesn’t bode well for us action-philes. Besides, The Rock’s has a bit of a mix going on (he’s part Samoan…any wrestling fan worth their salt knows he’s apart of the long standing Samoan family tree!). I’m talking about an unmistakable, unabashedly, black man, you know? Thank God Sam Jackson’s still around so I can yell “THAT’S SOME GOOD MUTHAFUCKIN’ BEER! YOU’LL BE FUCKIN’ FAT CHICKS IN NO TIME! YOU MIGHT EVEN FIGHT A NIGGA OR TWO! Just don’t fight Fred Williamson.

The Plot, as it was:
Williamson is Tommy Gibbs, a black man that rose from the ghetto of Harlem and up through the Mob to become the top boss. Pissed at the racist element that kept him down as a kid (i.e. white folk), Gibbs uses his position of power to gain revenge on the cops and mobsters that do or have done him wrong. However, he drives away his closest woman Helen (Gloria Hendry), which leads to more complications for the one they call “Black Caesar, the Godfather of Harlem”!

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Cult director Larry Cohen (Q: The Winged Serpent, It’s Alive) seemed to be going for more of an epic feel with the Blaxpoitation pic and that aspect puts it a step or two above the genre’s standards. The realities of the shoot sometimes sabotage the ambition (Reality: the film’s budget was a scant $450,000), which leads to awkward editing (one of the earlier efforts of John Landis’ regular edit man George Folsey Jr.), even more awkward uses of sound and sped up film (Tommy running from some killers is an unintentional hoot) and some lack in characterization. But this is a film that is meant to be fun and it certainly is, especially for fans of the time period (that James Brown score is so kick-ass). Williamson can be charismatic and menacing (sometimes at the same time) and really puts himself into the role. It’s far from a perfect performance but he balances his vulnerability with his obvious physicality (former pro football player), as he never seems like a glorified superhero. The rest of the characters are mainly hit and miss, especially Hendry as Helen who might as well be called a “walking plot device”. The whites in the film are expectedly evil but they are more grounded here and not so much the over-the-top cardboard cutouts they would be in other genre films (note: sequel). And face it, Reverend Rufus (D’ Urville Martin) is freakin’ hilarious! Every crime boss needs their own Rev. Rufus!

Body Count/Violence: 29. It’s a gangster movie at heart, so most of the death is by guns (with some cheap looking blood thrown in for good measure). There’s some fighting, windshield cracking and tie strangling as well but the highlight has to be Gibbs
beating down a cop with his shoeshine box. That scene alone is worth the rental! Mammy! (Note: Most versions of the film now include the original, more down beat ending of the film. Test audiences hated it to the point that it was removed without Cohen’s permission at the time of the original release but cooler heads have prevailed since then.)

Sexuality/Nudity: Williamson and Hendry have two sexual scenes, one where she is topless and raped and another, softer one where she’s fully nude. Williamson’s muscled physique is also nude in the second scene but its more profiles than anything else.

Language/Dialogue: A few F bombs, some milder stuff and (of course) plenty of racial slurs.

How bad was it?:
Critics of the genre put this near the top of its respective field, as it’s a little more focused and not all over the place (note: sequel!). Some critics just dismiss it as trash, which is of course their loss.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Box office figures are hard to fish out for this time period but everything printed about this American International produced film mentions box office hit. With a reported budget of $450,000, it’s easy to figure out that it was pretty successful when it was released on 2/7/73. It is on DVD under the MGM “Soul Cinema” label.

Film: **1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ****1/2/*****

Copyright 2007 The Action Mutant.

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