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Black Caesar
The Godfather of Harlem

USA 1973
produced by
Larry Cohen, Peter Sabiston (uncredited) for Larco, AIP
directed by 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, Patrick McAllister, Don Pedro Colley, Myrna Hansen, Omer Jeffrey, Allan Bailey, Cecil Alonzo, Francisco De Gracia, Larry Lurin, Andrew Duggan
written by Larry Cohen, music by James Brown

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Back in the 1950's, when he was still a teenager (and a shoeshine boy), Tommy (Omar Jeffrey) got set up by teh (white) mob and arrested. Now Tommy (now played by Fred Williamson) is out again, and it's payback time ... but his own way: First, he kills a man for the white mob to elbow himself into the organisation, and instead of payment, all he asks for is an insignificant Harlem block to control. Then he gets his hands on McKinney (Art Lund), the cop who booked him as a teen - and blackmails him into submission. He also takes over the appartment from his lawyer Coleman (William Wellman jr) and control of the mob from Cardoza (Val Avery) ... but the bigger he gets, the more slip-up Tommy makes, and soon, he loses Helen (Gloria Hendry), the only woman he ever loved, to his best friend and accountant Joe (Philip Roye). And with Helen, those who oppose him - mainly McKinney and Coleman, who never did forgive Tommy's taking over his appartment - finally have a weapon against him, and they use her as a means for his downfall.

Ultimately, all of Tommy's men are picked out and assassinated one by one, and in the end, his opponents go against Tommy, who fights to the last, but ultimately dies from multiple gunshot wounds in front of the rundown building that used to be his home when he was a child. And in dying, he is robbed by a group of youngsters who have no respect for him despite the fact that he was once the most feared man in town.

 

Basically, Black Caesar, Larry Cohen's first foray into blaxploitation, is the classic gangster formula that Warner Brothers used in the 1930's applied to the demands of the blaxploitation genre. But other than most other such films at the time, Cohen's film consists of more than just a few scenes of sticking it to the man, it's full of social and political satire, rich in subtext, and does not simply run along a black and white/good and bad-formula but explores the grey areas ... but all in the context of a highly entertaining and expertly paced genre film, and set to a great and fitting funk and soul soundtrack by black music legend James Brown.

Recommended.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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