Monday, February 6, 2012

Black Caesar (1973)

Director: Larry Cohen

Starring: Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry, Art Lund, D'Urville Martin, Julius Harris, Minnie Gentry, Philip Roye, William Wellman Jr., James Dixon, Val Avery

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Hail Caesar, Godfather of Harlem...The Cat with the .45-Caliber Claws!

Plot: Tommy Gibbs is a tough kid, raised in the ghetto, who aspires to be a kingpin criminal. As a young boy, his leg is broken by a bad cop on the take, during a payoff gone bad. Nursing his vengeance, he rises to power in Harlem, New York. Angry at the racist society around him, both criminal and straight, he sees the acquisition of power as the solution to his rage. He performs a free-lance hit on a Mob contract to attract the attention of the head of a Mafia family. Reluctantly accepted into 'The Family,' he grows increasingly autonomous and aggressive, eventually starting a gang war.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Sure.

#1 on the Black History Month Project 2012

#96 on Drive-In Delirium Volume 1 (part of the TRAILER TRASH PROJECT)

When I first saw this years ago I didn't really dig it. I like more after this latest watch but it's not the home run you'd hope for...or maybe it is. I like how it's a lot like the Edward G. Robinson (one of my favorite actors) picture, LITTLE CAESAR (1931). It follows the same structure in the rise and fall of a big city gangster. BLACK even has a great montage with machine guns just like the '31 film and it feels like it was taken right out of a 30s gangster flick, too. Williamson (as Tommy Gibbs) does a great job as the titular character. He's a brute and even though his character is a little charismatic, he's selfish and not what you'd call a nice man. You get this early on in his rise to power when he takes his white business partner's (the guy who essentially helped (more than anyone) put him at the top of the bad guy food chain) apartment and everything in it. Then later he rapes the woman he loves in an attempt to make her reciprocate.

D'Urville Martin is always a hoot to watch. I love that guy. It's a fun flick for the first 2/3 but the pacing and the story suffer in the final half hour once things aren't looking good for Tommy. There's definitely a tonal shift for the final third and it's bad news on top of bad news for Tommy but there's something about this section that doesn't feel as strong as the rest of the picture. It's not as tight and it feels like it could have been handled better. I don't know. All I know is it's still a pretty good movie and it's much better than I remembered it. Plus it's got some great James brown tunes on the soundtrack (although they're used often enough to make you think they only hired him for the three tracks and wanted to milk that cow as far as they could).


  1. What about Black Snake Moan? Or Bad Day at Black Rock? Both are excellent.

  2. Black Snake Moan and Bad Day are now on the list. BSM is great and I've yet to see BDaBR. Can't wait. Thanks for the suggestions.