THE FINAL COMEDOWN (a.k.a. Blast) 1972 director: Oscar Williams; starring: Billy Dee Williams, D’Urville Martin, Raymond St. Jacques
Acclaimed director Jules Dassian’s politically charged 1968 film UPTIGHT was in many ways the precursor to what would become the blaxploitation film. With an all-star cast, and a focus on the black militancy of the late 1960s, UPTIGHT broke new cinematic ground, and set the tone for what would come in the 1970s. Where Dassian’s film left off, this bad boy picks up. That’s not to say that THE FINAL COMEDOWN is a sequel, but it is the progression off the anger and violence that we saw coming to a head in UPTIGHT. Here, in THE FINAL COMEDOWN, we see all that hostility and rage explode.
Billy Dee Williams is Johnny Johnson, an ambitious, hard working young man, at the end of his rope. Our story unfolds with Johnny, and members of his Black Panther-type group in a shoot out with the pigs. Johnny is shot by the pork patrol, and through flashbacks we see the events that have lead to this moment. As the picture bounces from the present to the past and back again, the complexity of Johnny is revealed. From an idealistic pacifist, working for change, to militant leader, literally dying for change, the audience is privy to the evolution of Johnny’s character.
Billy Dee Williams, who, by the 1980s pretty much became a parody of himself, shows off his true talents in THE FINAL COMEDOWN. This ain’t the malt liquor pitchman here, this is the same actor that drove audiences to tears as Gayle Sayers in BRIAN’S SONG. This is the same actor that got a nation of women wet in LADY SINGS THE BLUES. This is the same actor that was supposed to star as Malcolm X in a film written by James Baldwin (seriously). Williams infuses so much complexity and emotional fury into Johnny that you can genuinely feel his rage. When Johnny gets into an argument with his white girlfriend, who calls him bitter, the emerging militant declares; “Bitter baby? I ain’t bitter. I was bitter 350 years ago. I’m violent! Do you hear me god dammit?! Violent!!” That single scene says it all.
Written, produced and directed by Oscar Williams, THE FINAL COMEDOWN was partially funded by the American Film Institute. I wonder how the AFI felt when they saw this explosive film, which was heavily influenced by Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1965 THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS. Williams is best known for writing such films as BLACK BELT JONES and TRUCK TURNER, he also directed HOT POTATO and FIVE ON THE BLACK HAND SIDE. But THE FINAL COMEDOWN is Oscar Williams’s defining film, a highly politicized blaxploitation drama mixed with an Italian neo-realism aesthetic. No other film has ever stripped away the larger-than-life image of the black militant, and given it such a human face. There can be a strange beauty to anger and violence, a bizarre poetry in bitterness; and THE FINAL COMEDOWN captures it all.
Additional funding for THE FINAL COMEDOWN came from B-movie mogul Roger Corman, who recut the film, added new footage, and released it under the title BLAST, with writing and directing credit going to Frank Arthur Wilson. The new footage for the alternative version was directed by Allan Arkush (ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL). BLAST was shorter than THE FINAL COMEDOWN, and from what I understand, much of the militancy was removed.