Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
USA, 1972. Sig Shore Productions. Screenplay by Philip Fenty. Cinematography by James Signorelli. Produced by Sig Shore. Music by Curtis Mayfield. Costume Design by Nate Adams. Film Editing by Bob Brady.
One of the biggest successes of the blaxploitation craze of the seventies, this surprise hit took in millions within weeks of release and drew ire from interest groups like the NAACP, who condemned its promotion of negative stereotypes. Ron O’Neal is terrific as a New York City kingpin cocaine dealer who is growing anxious about his unchecked power, luxuriating in the hot tub with one of his gorgeous molls and unable to shake the feeling that things will end badly. Deciding to pull off that ever-popular movie trope, the one last score to end them all, he sets up a scheme that will provide him with enough money to disappear for good. Unfortunately, his business is connected with mobsters who have no intention of letting him interrupt the money train that he’s got going, and he is being pursued by cops who have equal interest in keeping him under their thumb. Somehow, he must find a way to outwit these pressures as well as competition on the street to keep him and his number one lady safe on his way out of this dangerous life. This debut by director Gordon Parks Jr gets a great deal of mileage from how glamorously the low budget cameras capture the flamboyant fashions being sported on the mean streets of the city; Parks reportedly added a great deal of footage of walking between scenes to bring the film up to a respectable feature length and, in doing so, created an experience that functions as a potent time capsule of the era whose preserved styles entertain even when the plot does not. It actually meanders quite a bit for the first half of its running time, indulging in observations of its impossibly cool protagonist before really kicking things into gear in its second half, but the film’s success is very easy to understand, with an iconic lead character functioning as something of an urban superhero and brought to life with such charisma by O’Neal.