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.