After a while you can grow quite immune to the charms of blaxploitation, as many, many of them are all the same. This one justly faded from memory, until now revived as a way to fill out a four-movies-for-$5 set that also includes Black Belt Jones and Three the Hard Way. This one is quite, quite average, but soon emerges as having one major distinguishing feature: sadistic sexual violence against women!
This stars Rockne Tarkington [who?] as Samson, who owns a nightclub and is the badass controller of this certain neighborhood. He has a lovely faithful woman in Carol Speed, best known for her work in The Mack, who after this went on to star in Abby and appear in Disco Godfather, as Leslie, and his nightclub features a male lion chained in a very small area. But they didn't have humaneness toward animals back then, and it was perfectly awesome to chain up a lion as an accessory. We also see during the credits that the music is by Allan Toussant!
So Samson and company are just chillin' in his nightclub when in walks biker-movie icon William Smith as Mr. Nappa, who we will just call by Smith's nickname The Biller. He brings in a jerky white guy and they both make clear that they hold little respect for African-Americans. Biller at least can handle his shit, while the white moron throws out snide sass and starts offering $50 for a night of lovin' from one of the lovely exotic dancers [is it really THAT exotic?], growing to the point where Samson whips out his massive African club [I am referring to a large club made of wood], beats the guy down and throws him out on the street. Then follows a VERY strange scene in which The Biller goes out and kneels by his semi-conscious friend and tells him that he is "beautiful" in his idiocy, then shoves some money in his hand and tells him to "take a cab and get out--fast," then just leaves him there. It's so strange and the Biller's tone is so friendly-menacing I think we're supposed to intuit that he is a psychopath, but since he emerged as the cool, semi-respectful one in the scene earlier, it's kind of hard to judge at first.
That night, Samson, being a right-on brother, tells local drunk Henry that he can sleep in the nightclub, since he has nowhere to go. Leslie stands at his side, beaming over what a "righteous dude" Samson is, as many are heard to say in the opening minutes. Then we join the Biller apres sex with his blonde ladyfriend Tina. She has served her purpose now, however, and when she keeps yapping her pie-hole he says "You are starting to bug me" and physically picks her up and moves her out of his way. He continues to speak to her in a contemptuous tone, which she will soon have cause to feel is better than his normal behavior. Biller meets with his boss [who may be his father?] and is put in charge of wresting control of Samson's neighborhood away from him. If the Biller is insane, however, one look at his father’s matching curtains and wallpaper [below] will show you unquestionably why. Anyway, Samson knows that no good can come from no white man managing [i.e. selling drugs] in his neighborhood, a point made clear though indirection when we see Samson beating up Arthur, who controls a nearby neighborhood, and who sold drugs to a 14-year-old. Arthur says that he is just after a buck, and when Samson asks “What about our people?” Arthur freely admits that he doesn’t really care about any local families—except the Benjamins. Arthur is among the more colorful characters here, and serves as the required really colorful secondary character that every blaxploitation film must have.
I should mention that we’re only about 30 minutes in here and I am already quite bored and wondering if I should even bother watching to the end. It gets marginally better. I also fast-forwarded through the dullest parts.
So then Samson and Leslie are walking through an alley when I black guy comes up and asks for a quarter. Samson complies—because he’s a righteous dude, remember—but the guy is just using it as a distraction, and he and two other guys start beating the couple up. Blah, blah, Samson beats them all off. I mean he beats all of them up. He does not actually beat them off, in a, you know… oh, forget it. Though it might be a better movie if he did. Anyway, he and Leslie go home and are laughing and being all seductive and it’s like… uh, weren’t you guys just ATTACKED? Well, I guess they're just quite chill.
Then the Biller decides that he's going to send his girlfriend Tina in to be a stripper at Samson's club and act as spy. Tina, NOW is the time to seek a domestic-violence asylum program. It never ends well when your boyfriend forces you to become a stripper at his enemy's club--as I know all too well from some experiences I'd prefer not to discuss. She goes, and Samson immediately knows what's up, but gives her a job anyway. Tina is a huge hit with the black patrons, who unfailingly commend her booty-shaking prowess, despite the fact that evidence to the contrary is that moment on our screens. One is then left to ponder the subtext about black men being attracted to white women, which will remain unexplored by the film at large. Anyway, Tina too thinks that Samson is a righteous dude, and delivers no information, because there is no information to deliver, and this is where her problems start. The Biller has no sooner finished drowning the latest thug he sent to kill Samson than he turns on Tina and beats her to a pulp, accusing her of being attracted to Samson. We knew it couldn't end well, and although Biller is supposed to be a psycho, there's something about the way the violence against Tina is presented here that makes it seem as though it's supposed to be cool, and the Biller an awesome stud-man. But wait--it gets worse!
So another round of thugs try to kill Samson, after which Leslie makes an impassioned speech about how she doesn't want to be with a dead man--while often making the below facial expression. Later Samson warns Henry the homeless guy not to sleep in the club and gives him money for a motel. Henry opts to save the money for other purposes, and well, that just happens to be the night bad guys leave some lit dynamite outside the club door. Henry perishes, but Lulu the lion survives without a scratch or apparent psychic trauma.
Then Leslie goes to the offices of Arthur, kingpin of the next neighborhood, who is constantly snorting coke, making goofy wide-eyed expressions, and refusing to get involved with anything dangerous, principles be damned. Leslie makes clear that she is willing to offer her body to convince him to help Samson, which Arthur accepts, but soon after decides he can't go through with. As soon as she leaves, Biller's thugs break in and kill Arthur's henchman [whose martial arts skills were sadly overmatched], although Arthur escapes.
Now we're building up to the showdown, and in advance of this Leslie gets kidnapped and taken to the required abandoned warehouse. There two thugs have her tied, and in a moment where the violence-against-women meter shoots way into the red, pull out a knife and begin cut her breasts! This is way, way too much, especially as, even though it's the villains doing it, the point of view of the movie is that it is pretty darn awesome, and appropriate for your entertainment.
But that's not all! On his way to the final showdown, Biller is in the back seat of a limo with a bruised Tina at his side. She tells him she wishes he wasn't so mean, and he tells her the facial bruises aren't that bad, then opens the door and shoves her out of the moving car! We see Tina hit the street and roll a few feet. At this point this film's violence against women is just way beyond the pale.
But luckily we're about to wrap this up. After a long shootout at the warehouse, where Samson rescues Leslie, they repair back to their neighborhood, where they are joined by Arthur, who has finally decided to do right. The Biller's crew comes down this street and are trapped, and suddenly the denizens of the entire neighborhood appear along the rooftops and pelt them with everything from bricks to refrigerators. The thugs are dispatched, and of course it comes down to a fistfight between Samson and the Biller, and I'll leave you to guess who wins. The end.
So basically it's just your standard blaxploitation flick, with its righteous dude hero who has a hot n' faithful woman, cares for the underpriviliged, and protects his neighborhood against whites who want to sell drugs to kids there. He also, as is quite common, owns a nightclub. The villain, as per usual, is a white racist who comes from an established family [or, in other cases, a large corporation], which casts him and his racism and institutionalized. It leads to a series of attacks and finally a showdown, blah, blah, blah.
There are three areas in which this movie stands apart. One, in that The Biller is portrayed as an out-and-out psychopath. Only, everyone in these movies are so outrageous and hyper-stylized that it's difficult to tell at first that he is SUPPOSED to come of as a psychopath, and not just that he's a typical outrageous villain. Another distinct thing about this movie is the way it literalizes the support and revolt of everyone in the neighborhood, so it's not just symbolic--the actual entire neighborhood wins their own fight at the end.
And the last way in which this movie stands out, as mentioned, is its violence against women. For better or worse, a certain amount of violence against women is endemic to this genre, but this movie steps way over the line in the sheer imaginative sadism it shows. Sure The Biller is portrayed as a psychopath, and his thugs irredeemable racists, but there is still no reason we need to imagine them cutting a woman's breasts. By the time Biller has shoved Tina out of the moving car, it seems clear that while the movie is ostensibly shaming this kind of violence, it is portrayed with such a tone of awesomeness that the aim is to excite the audience with how very naughty--and in its own way ultra-cool--treating women this way is. It's a real off-putter, and I suspect it's one of the key reasons this movie didn't benefit from the blaxploitation revival of the early 90s and remains a bit buried today.
If you happen to buy the 4-movie set, and you have time to kill, you could do worse than to watch this [though let it be noted that you could also do much better], but other than that, I think we're safe just letting this one slide into history.
It won't kill you--but it is quite generic and lame.