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.