The Action Mutant…
thinks its Hizell, right?
Hell Up in Harlem
review by Joe Burrows
This sequel to Black Caesar didn’t exactly break any new ground in narrative (as compared to the first film) so why should I? Seriously, the DVD art cover just about as much depth as I would in this space here.
The Plot, as it was:
For starters, the last five minutes of Black Caesar never happened. Instead of what happened there, Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson) is found nearly dying by his father (Julius Harris) and is taken to the hospital. Gibbs decides to make his father his business partner and they attempt to gain revenge on anyone that had anything to do with Tommy’s near demise. After a finding out his former flame Helen (Gloria Hendry, who was also in the James Bond film Live and Let Die with Harris) has been murdered, Tommy decides to leave everything behind and go out west to start over. However, when an ambitious upstart within the organization (Tony King) kills Tommy’s dad and kidnaps his son, it’s only a matter of time before Gibbs starts raising some hell…UP IN HARLEM!
Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
After the sudden success of Black Caesar, director/writer Larry Cohen had to churn out a quick sequel to keep the cash train rolling for American International. Needless to say, Hell Up in Harlem employs very little of the characterization, pacing and (yes, even) subtlety that the first one possessed. There’s minor spark in between the action sequences, which there are plenty more of and have more gratuitous amounts of dead bodies so things don’t get boring. Hell is even more haphazardly made than its predecessor, as the editing and story matters both seem to be on autopilot. The white folks are even more stereotypically evil than before, with one white character being in charge of possibly killing Gibb’s son because he’s the only one that can do such a thing. That white devil! Anyway, the film is never boring and never takes itself seriously, as there are several (unintentionally) funny moments and enough action to keep one interested. Williamson is still the great presence he was in Caesar but just don’t expect the overall tight package that film was. The sequel is more along the lines of the Blaxpoitation film your parents told you about and you’ll have fun with it if you can accept it as a guilty pleasure.
Body Count/Violence: 72! When in doubt, up the body count! A seemingly endless number of extras are sent out to meet their maker in several shootout scenes. People get shot point blank in the face, strangled, harpooned, beaten down, shot some more, lynched (don’t worry, it’s the other way around this time) and shot even more! The most memorable has to be a mobster that get’s impaled by a beach umbrella (with blood literally drawn in, instead of squibs!). Just to ensure he really deserved it, he happens to be sprawled out on a Confederate flag beach towel! What the hell does an Italian guy need with a Confederate flag beach towel?!?
Sexuality/Nudity: Margaret Avery bares breasts in a sex scene with Williamson, who shows off his sculptured man ass.
Language/Dialogue: Not as strong as in the first film.
How bad was it?:
Critics admit this was fairly inferior to Black Caesar, due to this film being more of the typical Blaxpoitation fare. Some did like it for what it was, which is the best way to approach it (like I did…much more enjoyable that way).
Did it make the studio’s day?:
Hell Up in Harlem was released by American International in December of 1973, just ten months after Black Caesar hit the multiplexes. No budget or box office is available but A.I.P’s films were so low budget, they always had a way of turning a profit. Like Black Caesar, this is available on MGM’s Soul Cinema DVD label.
Entertainment value: ****/*****
Copyright 2007 The Action Mutant.