Monday, June 28, 2010

Black Caesar from 1973

For a long time I have wanted to watch some of Larry Cohen's blaxploitation films and finally over the weekend I saw his second one, Black Caesar. Some of you may know Larry Cohen as the man behind such diverse titles as Q the Winged Serpent, It's Alive and the under-seen God Told Me To. One check of his filmography will reveal the vast array of films he has written, produced, and directed. The man has long been a legend to me. The first blaxploitation film that Cohen directed was Bone from 1972 but I have yet to find that one.
Black Caesar is the story of Tommy Gibbs, played very competently by Fred Williamson, whose life in Harlem is fraught with turmoil. The hardships he faces steer him into a life of crime as he first starts partnering with the mafia to become a sub-boss of the Harlem area. There is a non-stop, twisty game of political intrigue and blackmail that is always behind the scenes. There are betrayals, deceit, and pathos throughout. The character of Tommy Gibbs is not necessarily a likable guy, but he has been through so much that I really found myself pulling for his version of corruption over the various public officials who had turned bad. There is some amazingly grim moments as people frequently play more than just the "race card", they throw the entire deck of 52 "race cards" into the mix and the result is still impactful 37 years after the initial release.
The denouement was appropriate, and heavy and it sets up the sequel that came out later in the same year Hell Up In Harlem.
If you're a fan of movies like Shaft, Truck Turner and Super Fly, then I would say you should check out Black Caesar as it establishes many of the tenets that we have come to expect from the genre and has a more complicated storyline and better performances than most of the rest.
-Marty

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