David F. Walker
Monthly: February 2018

Movie Poster of the Week – ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK

BadAzz MoFo’s celebration of the art of the movie poster (though not necessarily the movie itself).

Many of the movie posters that I’ll be highlighting here are for films of questionable quality (and some just plain suck). But then there’s those that, quite simply, totally kickass. Case in point: John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. As I’ve mentioned, Carpenter’s classic film helped spawn and entire genre of rip-off Italian exploitation films, some of which were really bad (like 1990: The Bronx Warriors), and the rest of which were terrible (like Escape from the Bronx). Here we have the Italian poster for Escape from New York, which is infinitely better than the American version (see below). Don’t get me wrong, I have an original version of the American poster hanging next to my computer. Excuse me for a second…I just had to marvel at its beauty. But compared to this Italian version, it’s just not all that awesome—more like kinda/sorta awesome. It’s made a bit more disappointing when you start to see some of the other posters for this movie, such as the quad poster just below the American version. Still, there’s no such thing as a bad Escape from New York poster, just some that kick ass more completely.

Here is another version, though I’ve never been that fond of this design.

And yet another…though I’m not sure if this version is a fan creation or not. The art itself is from the German version of the poster, but I’ve never actually seen an American version with this design.

And of course there’s this design — which is not an actual movie poster, but art that was created for the blu-ray release by Paul Shipper. Honestly, this might be my favorite of all the posters.

But then you have this fan poster by artist Chris Weston…and this is just amazing.

Or this fan poster by Brian Taylor.

Movie Poster of the Week – THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD

BadAzz MoFo’s celebration of the art of the movie poster (though not necessarily the movie itself).

Okay, I saw The Island at the Top of the World when it was in the theater—which will give you a hint as to how old I actually am. But I don’t remember anything about the movie. Not a single scene. And just so you know, my non-existent memories of the film have nothing to do with being really young at the time, because I saw movies before this one, and I totally remember those. No, I suspect this movie is just not memorable. For years, however, I remembered the poster being pretty cool. Well…it turns out the poster isn’t as cool as I remembered—at least the American version (below) isn’t that cool. The British version of the poster (above) for The Island at the Top of the World actually is pretty decent (at least compared to the U.S. version). But it still doesn’t make me want to watch the movie again.

BadAzz MoFo’s Blaxploitation Archive – NI**ER LOVER (a.k.a. The Bad Bunch,Tom, The Brothers)

NIGGER LOVER (a.k.a. The Bad Bunch,Tom, The Brothers) 1973 director: Greydon Clark; starring: Greydon Clark, Tom Johnigarn, Aldo Ray, Jock Mahoney

More than twenty years had passed since I watched director Greydon Clark’s NIGGER LOVER, and written my scathing review. This was one of the earliest reviews I wrote, and I was culling through my older work to create this archive of blaxploitation films, I thought to myself, “Maybe you should watch the movie again. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as you remember.” So…I watched it. And it was as bad as I remembered. Maybe worse.

The directorial debut of a man whose filmmaking skills could be called amusingly remedial, this is bargain basement exploitation at its most craptacular. To his credit, Clark did become a better director, but that doesn’t stop this piece of shit from being…well…a piece of shit. We are talking about the same director who would go on to make BLACK SHAMPOO, which is a really bad film, until you compare it to NIGGER LOVER, and suddenly it seems like the work of cinematic genius. But this is about NIGGER LOVER, not BLACK SHAMPOO, so let’s get down what needs getting down to.

Clark stars as Jim, a Vietnam veteran, whose best friend was killed in the war. Problems arise when Jim goes to deliver a letter to his friend’s father. Did I mention the Jim’s dead friend was black? This is a crucial plot point, because it means our hero must venture into the ghetto to deliver the message to dear old dad. Unfortunately, his dead friend’s brother, Tom – who now goes by the Makimba, because “Tom was my slave name,” has a honky-hating chip on his shoulder, and decides he needs to kill this no good whitey. There’s a bit more to Makimba’s decision to kill Jim – he thinks the evil cracker is working for a pair of racist cops (Aldo Ray and Jock Mahoney), who take pleasure in beating up on righteous soul brothers. Makimba  (Tom Johnigarn) also blames the death of his father on Jim, even though Makimba killed the old man with his own hands. But, you see, Makimba is blinded by hate, which is what Clark is really trying to explore as a filmmaker. The problem, of course, is that not only is the message lost amidst all the exploitation trappings of sex and violence, it is also lost in the mire of an abysmal script that is as racist as it is poorly written – which is to say that it is really racist, because it is also really poorly written. There’s actually a bit more to the film – something to do with Jim’s inability to commit to his girlfriend, while screwing some dope-smoking hippie chick on the side – but that’s as poorly crafted as the rest of this shit.

Released under multiple titles, there’s no getting around the fact that this film is bad on just about every level you can imagine. Everything from the writing to the direction to the acting is just plain awful. Clark tries trick you, with enough sex and nudity to keep you from noticing how bad this movie is, but honestly, there’s not enough nudity to make this film any good. Every single scene could have nudity, and you’d still be distracted by the ineptitude with which this shit has been cobbled together. The ad campaign for this garbage reads, “The movie they tried to stop!” Like that’s something they should’ve been braggin’ about.

Of NIGGER LOVER I can say this…I looooves the opening song, written by Sheldon Lee.
“Hey honky mother, where you go?/Who you lookin’ for
We don’t want your kind ‘round here/ Knockin’ at our door
Honky mother, no soul brother/ Don’t waste your helpin’ hand
Honky mother, nigger lover/ Ripped off by the man
Don’t be askin’ questions/ This street’s a dead end
One way or another, you’re a dead honky mother/ Just like your nigger friend
Hey honky mother, jive sucker/ Black and white don’t mix
Honky mother, nigger lover/ Good deeds just for kicks”

BadAzz MoFo’s Blaxploitation Archive – MANDINGO

MANDINGO 1975 director: Richard Fleischer; starring: James Mason, Perry King, Ken Norton, Susan George, Brenda Sykes, Ji-Tu Cumbuka

There are over 200 blaxploitation movies, ranging from the classic to the completely forgotten. But few have attained the level of infamy that MANDINGO has achieved. This is one of those films with a reputation that precedes it, conjuring up all sorts of lurid images. And that’s not to say that MANDINGO’s reputation as a sweaty bit of racist sexploitation trash is not well-deserved, ‘cause it is. It’s just that of all the blaxploitation films that have lingered in the collective pop-culture consciousness, it qualifies as neither the very best, nor the very worst. In fact, in some ways – especially when compared to so many of the other films of the era and genre – MANDINGO can be a bit mediocre.

Set on an old Southern plantation in the 1840s, the film finds plantation and slave owner Warren Maxwell (Mason), fretting over his only son, Hammond (King). It seems that Pa Maxwell wants Hammond to settle down, find a wife and cultivate the fruit of his loins. The problem is that Hammond pretty much only has a hankering for the chocolate variety of poontang. Still, Hammond agrees to marry Blanche (George), who happens to be his cousin (sometimes white people do nasty shit like that). Unbeknownst to Hammond, Blanche isn’t exactly a virgin, as it turns out she was doing the tango-skin polka with her brother (I told you, white people do some nasty shit). Well, since Hammond has popped a few cherries of some of comely slave wenches, he knows what pristine hootchie is supposed to feel like. And since his new wife’s quim is fitting him more like a well-worn shoe than a tight glove, he suspects something is amiss. This drives him back into the open legs of his favorite slave girl, Ellen (the boner-riffic Sykes), which of course makes Blanche lose her mind. Now, while all of this is going on, there’s the matter of Mede (Ken Norton) the Maxwell’s prime piece of property – a 100% pure-bred Mandingo slave, complete with an ankle-slapping trouser snake. When Blanche has finally had enough of Hammond’s cold-shoulder treatment, she decides to exact revenge by fucking his prize slave. The problem is that Mandingo cock is especially addictive to white women, and before you know it, Blanche is riding Mede’s Johnson like it was rollercoaster at Disneyland. When Blanche has a baby that everyone is expecting to be Hammond’s, it comes out looking more like a Milkdud, and the shit hits the fan, leading to a massacre that culminates in Mede being boiled alive. And the moral of the story is it’s okay for a white guy to get some black pussy, but if a black guy throws a hump into some white nookie, he’ll probably get killed for it.

There’s really no way around it – MANDINGO is a downright sleazy film. The whole film is build around the salaciously taboo thrill of watching white people and black people humping. Keep in mind that this was 1975, and stuff like that was still considered really out there (not that we’ve progressed that much in the last four decades). But despite the whole sexploitation element of the film – something made all the more sleazy by the fact that the film was sold as some sort of historical epic – MANDINGO offers an interesting cinematic glimpse at the antebellum South. This is not the glamorized Dixie of Hollywood’s past, as depicted in films like GONE WITH THE WIND or THE LITTLEST REBEL. Instead, this is the nasty-ass South where human beings we bought and sold as chattel (and where Li’l John and the Eastside Boyz would rise to fame).

Over the years critics have blasted MANDINGO for being a terrible film, charges that I’m really in no position to argue (although I wouldn’t call it terrible and unwatchable). Critics have also blasted it for being a piece of racist trash, and while I would agree with the trashy part, it is no less racist than the culture and era it depicts – we’re talking about slavery for fuck’s sake, people!!! As far as I’m concerned, I appreciate a movie about slavery where things are a bit unpleasant, blacks suffer, and whites come across as racist scum. Something tells me once you strip away the some of the sexual shenanigans (but not all), MANDINGO is closer to the truth than GONE WITH THE WIND could ever hope to be. In fact, I know that’s the case, because GONE WITH THE WIND is a piece of racist propaganda of the worst kind. Yeah…I said it.

Ji-Tu Cumbuka in MANDINGO

Only in the 1970s could a film like MANDINGO get made, and it stands as a shining example of how the changing times were reflected in the blaxploitation films of the era. And I’m not just talking about the blatant sexuality of the film, but also in the militant politics that serve as one of the film’s only compelling elements. Ji-Tu Cumbuka has a co-starring roll in the film as Cicero, a rebellious slave who gives voice the popular militancy that found its way into most black-themed films of the 1970. Cicero tries to escape the Maxwell plantation, only to be captured and sentenced to death. Before he is hung, he gives a speech that makes my heart swell with pride. “I ain’t goin’ to give no lifetime of misery and sweat to these peckerwoods. I’d rather die than be a slave! You, perkerwoods, that’s right! You peckerwoods was oppressed in your own land. We was free, and you brought us here, in chains. But now, we here. And you just better know, this is much our land as it is your’n. And after you hang me, kiss my ass!”

MANDINGO was based on a novel by Kyle Onstott, which was turned into a stage play Jack Kirkland. I’ve never read the book (which was one of many slavery/sex books of the era), or seen a production of the play, but something tells me neither aren’t quite as graphically lurid as the film. Rockne Tarkington of BLACK SAMSON-fame starred in the stage version. Director Richard Fleischer was a long-time film veteran by the time he got behind the camera. His past credits included such classics as 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, and SOYLENT GREEN. By the time Fleischer directed MANDINGO, it was clear his career was in decline. His final films would include crap like CONAN THE DESTROYER and RED SONJA.

MANDINGO would spawn a pseudo-sequel, DRUM, also starring Ken Norton. It is also one of several entries into a bizarre sub-genre known as slavesploitation. Some of these were sexploitation films out of Europe, like GOODBYE, UNCLE TOM or PASSION PLANTATION, while others, like QUADROON, were homegrown flicks.

BadAzz MoFo’s Blaxploitation Archive – LIVE AND LET DIE

LIVE AND LET DIE1973 director: Guy Hamilton; starring: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Gloria Hendry, Geoffrey Holder, Julius Harris

For the better part of a decade the James Bond films set the standard for action and adventure films. Based on Ian Fleming’s popular books, the film franchise launched in 1962 with DR. NO, and nothing was ever the same. With each new film the Bond series grew in popularity, while spawning countless imitators. The role of James Bond turned Sean Connery into an international superstar, and after appearing in the first five films, he turned his back on playing 007 in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. He returned to the series for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER in 1971, but by that time the Bond films were a bit tired and worn out.

There was a time when the James Bond films were what other movies strived to be. But by the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s, films like BONNIE & CLYDE, THE WILD BUNCH, and THE FRENCH CONNECTION had changed the way violence and action were portrayed on the screen. Suddenly, the Bond films, were a bit behind the times. It wasn’t until 1973, when Roger Moore replaced Sean Connery in LIVE AND LET DIE that it would become clear how the Bond films had gone from the trend-setters to copying whatever was popular at the time.

When LIVE AND LET DIE came out, the blaxploitation movement was in full swing. Two years earlier SHAFT helped usher in the both the genre and era of blaxploitation in a film that took many of its cues from the Bond films. Private detective John Shaft was a hardboiled asskicker who, like Bond, had a way with the ladies, a knack for getting out of the toughest scrapes unscathed, and operated by his own unique set of rules. In fact, SHAFT had been pretty much marketed as a Bond-like film. The superior sequels, SHAFT’S BIG SCORE and SHAFT IN AFRICA, with their revved up action sequences and, in the case SHAFT IN AFRICA, international locales, were even more like James Bond films.

LIVE AND LET DIE was the James Bond franchise’s official entry into the blaxploitation genre (making it arguably the biggest budgeted blaxploitation film of the time). Some people are likely to argue that the film is not a blaxploitation flick, but all you have to do is look at the rest of the cast, and it’s pretty obvious. There are more black actors in LIVE AND LET DIE than there are in SLAUGHTER and SLAUGHTER’S BIG RIP-OFF combined.

The plot revolves around Bond initially tangling with Mr. Big, a deadly crime kingpin with a vast empire, as he investigates the death of another double-o agent. In one of the film’s most memorable moments, Bond heads “uptown” into Harlem, where it appears every person above 110th Street is part of Big’s criminal network. In reality Mr. Big is Kananga (Kotto), the ruler of tiny island nation in the Caribbean, with a devious plot that involves heroin trafficking. Like all Bond villains, Kananga has his deadly henchmen, who include Tee Hee (Harris), who has a mechanical claw for a hand, and the supernatural Baron Samedi (Holder), a voodoo priest with a thing for snakes. Kananga has also got himself a tasty piece of pale tail, Solitaire (Seymour), who happens to be a virgin with psychic powers. But once Bond gets his hands on her, she’s a virgin no more, which only pisses off the nefarious villain even more.

Compared to all the other non-Connery Bond films, LIVE AND LET DIE isn’t all that bad, especially when you look at some of the crap Roger Moore would later star in. But the biggest problem with the film is Moore himself. Connery was a barrel-chested badass who could slug it out with Robert Shaw’s Red Grant in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, arguably the most formidable of all Bond villains or henchman. By comparison, Moore was nothing more than a scrawny excuse of a man who looked like he could be knocked over by a strong breeze. Watching him duke it out with Yaphet Kotto, who ranks as one of the most physically menacing of all Bond villains, it’s almost laughable.

As an entry in the blaxploitation genre, LIVE AND LET DIE ranks well above so many of the other films of that era. And while the lack of a black hero causes many to not consider the film part of the genre, those people are just plain wrong (I am, after all, the motherfuckin’ Man when it comes to all things blaxploitation, and my word is gospel). At the same time, I’m more likely to judge this film as a Bond movie than as a blaxploitation flick, although in either regard they come about the same – good, but not great.

LIVE AND LET DIE marked a new era for the Bond series, but also a sadly missed opportunity. The producers, who were so eager to cash in on the popularity of the blaxploitation genre, should have gone that extra mile and cast Calvin Lockhart (left) as 007. It would have been the perfect time for something like that to happen, and Lockhart would have been the perfect choice to play Bond. Instead we got Moore, which was so much less.

In addition to Kotto, Holder and Harris, LIVE AND LET DIE starred quite a few other black actors, most notably Gloria Hendry, who co-stars as duplicitous CIA agent Rosie Carver. The film also utilized the talents of some of the best known black stuntment of the day, including Eddie Smith and Tony Brubaker.

Movie Poster of the Week – ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX

BadAzz MoFo’s celebration of the art of the movie poster (though not necessarily the movie itself).

Last week, we showcased director Enzo G. Castellari’s 1990: The Bronx Warriors. And now we have Escape from the Bronx (a.k.a. The Bronx Warriors 2), Castellari’s sequel to what seemed like a terrible film, until you compared it to this follow up. As bad as the first installment of this Italian exploitation rip-off of Escape from New York was, Escape from the Bronx is even worse. But the poster art is amazing, which is all too often the best thing about these low budget grindhouse films from Italy. Here we have three different posters for one movie, and all three kick ass. Above we can see both the version that graced the box for the American home video release (on the left) as well as a French theatrical version. Below we have what I believe is a British poster. I can’t emphasize enough what a terrible movie Escape from the Bronx is, although “unwatchable” and “mind-numbingly boring” seem to really convey the quality of this trash. And speaking of trash, part of what makes this movie so laughably bad is lead actor Mark Gregory, who stars as Trash, the hero of both Bronx films. Rumor has it that Castellari discovered Gregory, working at a gym, or doing his laundry, or some nonsense like that. Gregory is one of the worst actors of all time, and we’ll be seeing more of him in movie posters we’ll be highlighting.

BadAzz MoFo’s Blaxploitation Archive – KILL SQUAD

KILL SQUAD 1982 director: Patrick G. Donahue starring: Cameron Mitchell in a cameo and a bunch of people you’ve probably never heard of

Okay…I know…this isn’t really a blaxploitation movie. At the same time, it isn’t really that much of a martial arts movie – which is what is was sold as being – so, I don’t think we need to get caught up in the semantics of defining the genre of KILL SQUAD. I’m including here because…well…I guess it helps to provide certain historical lesson. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. Plus…and have to honest here…I really like this poster.

By the ‘80s, for all intents and purposes, blaxploitation was dead. Maybe not so much dead as it was mutated into something so completely different you couldn’t really recognize it. Before things really changed for black films in 1986 with Spike Lee’s SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, all there really was were a handful of post-blaxploitation flicks. What had once been blaxploitation had morphed and mutated into several uniquely different film types. The first type of neuvo-blaxploitation were the buddy films like 48 HOURS and IRON EAGLE, which cast a black actor opposite a white actor. These films ultimately evolved into another type of black action film like BEVERLY HILLS COP and ACTION JACKSON. The second type of post-blaxploitation were flicks like THE LAST DRAGON and KRUSH GROOVE, which were very true to the blaxploitation spirit, except they didn’t have much by way of testicular fortitude, and posed no threat to whitey. These films would eventually change and shift and become films like BOYZ N THE HOOD and JUICE. And the third type of film to crawl from the wreckage of what had once been the great genre of blaxploitation was what I like to call quite simply “shit”. That’s right, shit. These shit-films are the direct descendants of the shit that was being churned out in the ‘70s. I’m talking about shit like THE GUY FROM HARLEM, VELVET SMOOTH, and SPEEDING UP TIME, to name a few of the more shitty films of the 1970s, which would then evolve into shitty films of the 1980s.

Perhaps one of the biggest pieces of shit is KILL SQUAD, a film that first begs to be put out of its misery with a dull, rusty spoon through the skull, and ultimately makes you want to put the very same spoon through your own skull. The story revolves around a team of elite ‘Nam vets who reunite to help their former platoon leader avenge the murder of his wife. Hopefully, I won’t be ruining anything when I say that most of the men get killed off, and as it turns out, it was the platoon leader who had his wife murdered, and that the investigation is a sham meant to deflect any suspicion from him. Sorry to spoil the ending, but if you’re the type of person who would watch and enjoy KILL SQUAD…well…discerning taste is something you are sorely lacking.

Except for a brief role by Cameron “I’ll-act-in-anything-for-a-dollar” Mitchell, KILL SQUAD has a no-name cast of actors who probably went on to jobs where phrases like “check the oil” and “you want fries with that” are part of the day-to-day lingo.

BadAzz MoFo’s Blaxploitation Archive – JOSHUA

JOSHUA (a.k.a. Joshua: The Black Rider) 1976 director: Larry Spangler; starring Fred Williamson

Some evil racists make the mistake of killing Civil War veteran Joshua’s (Fred “the Hammer” Williamson) momma. In the process of killin’ Momma Hammer, they also kidnap the wife of the white man that she worked for. Now, I don’t need to tell you Joshua ain’t givin’ a rusty shit ‘bout the wife of no white man; but as anyone who’s seen ORIGINAL GANGSTAS knows, Fred ain’t havin’ that abuse of his momma. And quicker than you can say, “Don’t be messin’ wif my momma”, our main man sets out on a trail-o-revenge. Joshua tracks them no good varmints across the open prairie; and one by one he makes sure they all contract a serious case of the deaths. One sucka gets took out with a rattlesnake, one gets spear chucked, others get filled fulla lead, and one gets blown to smithereens. It all sounds pretty exciting…but it isn’t.

Like director Jack Arnold’s BOSS NIGGER (which also starred Williamson), JOSHUA draws much of its inspiration from the European-produced spaghetti westerns, which had been popular in the 1960s, but by the 1970s had become increasingly dependent on comedy to keep the genre going. While BOSS NIGGER is a technically poor film, it is fun to watch, coming across like a blaxploitation version of Enzo Barboni’s TRINITY films. JOSHUA, on the other hand is reminiscent of spaghetti westerns from the mid-to-late 1960s, playing like a Franco Nero or John Garko film – something along the lines of MASSACRE TIME or VENGEANCE IS MINE, neither of which are all that good in their own right. But even by the standards of mediocre-to-crappy spaghetti westerns, JOSHUA isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, lacking the visual flare that fueled even some of the more craptacular Eurowesterns. While not being brain-melting terrible, JOSHUA ain’t exactly good either.

The Hammer is the only saving grace to the film, but he doesn’t keep the film moving the way Charles Bronson propels the similar CHATO’S LAND. And pretty much all the moving this film does is at a turtle’s pace, thanks in part to Larry Spangler’s flat, uninspired direction. Spangler also produced Williamson’s first western, THE LEGEND ON NIGGER CHARLEY, and he wrote, produced, and directed the sequel THE SOUL OF NIGGER CHARLEY (neither of which comfortably rest in the realm of what might be considered “decent” films). But beyond Spangler’s lifeless direction, we also have Williamson’s script, which takes no chances and gives no dimension to the hero. And while a dimensionless hero may be somewhat acceptable, flat and stale villains can really weigh a movie down, which is just another part of this sorry state of affairs.


BadAzz MoFo’s Blaxploitation Archive – IF HE HOLLERS, LET HIM GO!

IF HE HOLLERS, LET HIM GO!(a.k.a. Dead Right; Night Hunt) 1968 director: Charles Martin; starring: Raymond St. Jacques, Dana Wynter, Kevin McCarthy, Barbara McNair

First things first: whatever you do, don’t confuse this movie with the Chester Himes novel of the same name. It would be easy to make that assumption, especially since star Raymond St. Jacques would go on to star in two very successful blaxploitation films based on Himes’s work (COTTON COMES TO HARLEM and COMEBACK CHARLESTON BLUE). The second thing you need to do is never – and I mean never – confuse this with a good film. But given the terrible direction and even worse writing, you’d have to be a complete moron to think this film is good. Hell, it’s a challenge just to find anything of merit about this nearly forgotten junk. Although it came before that actual start of the blaxploitation era, this was one of several key films that helped paved the way for what was to emerge in the 1970s.

Things start out with a certain amount of promise with St. Jacques starring as James Lake, a man doing a life sentence in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. James escapes from prison, and while on the run he crosses paths with Leslie Whitlock (McCarthy). Even though he feigns ignorance, Whitlock knows that Lake is an escaped convict. Rather than turning Lake in, the evil ofay forces the righteous soul brother into killing his wife for him. It seems Ellen Whitlock (Wynter) has a gang of loot, and her unscrupulous husband wants it all to himself. It’s right about here that the film begins what seems like a never-ending descent into the toilet. It just keeps getting worse and worse as Lake goes on the run after he thinks he’s killed Ellen, but much to Whitlock’s surprise his wife turns up alive. Our hero continues to flee throughout the second act, as a series of flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks reveal his life before prison. Part of these flashbacks includes Lake’s affair with Lily (McNair), the woman he shuns once he’s locked up in the joint. From there it just gets more ridiculous and convoluted, as Lake attempts to clear his name and stop Whitlock from trying to kill his wife again.

IF HE HOLLERS, LET HIM GO isn’t exactly a great film when it starts, but it is still amazing how bad it gets by the time it is over. Usually films that end this poorly start out as total crap. But since this film starts out with the hope of at least being a mediocre noir-ish thriller, where it ends up makes it that much more disappointing.

Written and directed by a hack named Charles Martin, IF HE HOLLERS is one of those late 1960s films that paved the way for blaxploitation. St. Jacques’s hero was definitely part of the new breed of black protagonists – strong, intelligent, and willing to stand up for himself. He even gets to put his ass deep in the foot of a white motherfucker (which is always good for a bit of entertainment). But at the end of the day, this movie sucks ass. I’d like to think that if it were a better film it might be better remembered, but then THE SPLIT (starring Jim Brown) is a much better film from the same year, and that’s just as forgotten. As a film, Martin’s pathetic piece of junk is really only good for unintentional laughs.

Sadly, the film does hold a certain amount of historical significance in that it was one of the first leading screen roles for Raymond St. Jacques. During the era of Sidney Poitier’s box office reign, St. Jacques was one of the actors intended to be the “next big thing.” He started out on the stage, moved to television, and first really got attention in 1964 for his performances in BLACK LIKE ME and, more specifically, Sidney Lumet’s THE PAWNBROKER. He gave a standout performance along side Godfrey Cambridge in COTTON COMES TO HARLEM, but by the time the blaxploitation movement kicked into high gear, refined actors such as St. Jacques were taking a backseat to the rugged leading men like Jim Brown and Fred Williamson. Most of St. Jacques’ blaxploitation roles were in supporting parts in films like COOL BREEZE. In 1973 he starred in, co-produced and directed BOOK OF NUMBERS, based on the novel by Robert Deane Pharr. This was his only time spent behind the camera, and not a terrible effort (especially considering his co-star was Phillip Michael Thomas). The rest of his career was spent in smaller supporting rolls or in television appearances. One of his last memorable performances was in John Carpenter’s under-rated THEY LIVE. St. Jacques passed away in 1990.

BadAzz MoFo’s Blaxploitation Archive – THE HARDER THEY COME

THE HARDER THEY COME 1973 director: Perry Henzell; starring Jimmy Cliff

Reggae was just beginning to become a recognizable sound on the global music scene, and blaxploitation was already in full swing in 1973 when this little film from Jamaica landed in theatres. Few people ever refer to it as a blaxploitation flick, even though the film was originally marketed as such by Roger Corman’s distribution company, New World. But to be clear, Perry Henzell’s cult classic contains all the trappings of the blaxploitation genre – sex, drugs, violence, anti-establishment message – and it came out during the height of the blaxploitation era. Well, if it looks like a duck, and walks like duck, then it must be a duck (even if it speaks in Jamaican patois).

Singer Jimmy Cliff stars as Ivan, a young man from the country who ventures into the rough-and-tumble streets of Jamaica looking to make a name for himself. Just a few minutes off the bus and the naïve Ivan already falls victim to a big city rip-off, losing all of his possessions. But rather than get out while the getting is good, he bums around looking for a way to make ends meet, eventually seeking refuge at a church. But when Ivan develops a boner for a young woman, and she gets a bit moist between the legs for him, things go bad (it seems the church’s preacher has his eye set on popping the cherry of Miss Thang). Ivan decides to pursue his dream of being a singer, but winds up getting screwed over by an unscrupulous producer. Just when it looks like things can’t get worse for our hero, he lands a job as small-time ganga peddler. Now I know that for some of you a career in dope dealing…oh, excuse, marijuana is an herb…may seem like a good job. But for Ivan, who seems to have been born under an unlucky star, his new job simply leads to more problems, including him shooting a cop. Quicker that you can say, “It was I who shot the sheriff,” Ivan is on the run from the law. Soon, with his song blasting from every radio and the cops looking everywhere for him, Ivan becomes a folk hero.

Upon its initial release – as something of a blaxploitation crime thriller – THE HARDER THEY COME had trouble finding an audience. All of that changed when it found a home in the bourgeoning midnight movie scene, which had made big hits of films like EL TOPO and NIGHT OF THE LVING DEAD. THE HARDER THEY COME quickly developed a cult following, in large part to midnight screenings in New York and Boston (in Boston it stayed in theaters for an amazing six years), where it became a seminal favorite among the art house/foreign film crowd. This is the primary reason it is seldom talked about in the context of other blaxploitation films, which is fine, because it really does deserve the status it has earned. But at the same time it should be recognized as a classic blaxploitation film.

Inspired by the real life Jamaican criminal/folk hero, Ivanhoe Martin, better known as Rhyging, Jimmy Cliff’s Ivan is the quintessential blaxploitation hero, cut from the same cloth as characters like Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweetback, who exist at the very bottom of society’s ladder. Ivan embodies the ultimate rebel, a poor man who seeks to better his life, only to be betrayed by the church, exploited by the wealthy, and persecuted by corrupt law enforcement. His rise to fame is not through his creative genius or his hard work, but through the criminal activity that comes as a result of his being pushed too far. He is a character that the disaffected and disenfranchised audiences of the time could rally around, and that was part of what led to the film’s success.

The other factor in the success of THE HARDER THEY COME was the classic soundtrack. Regarded by many as one of the greatest reggae albums of all time (no argument there), it is also, because of the nature of the film, a great blaxploitation album. Many of Cliff’s greatest songs appear on this album, which serves the film as a Greek chorus in much the same way Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack fueled SUPER FLY.

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