This blog is devoted to all those pieces of 20th century culture too often pooh-pooh'ed by the so called 'high brow' crowd. The stuff that conjoures words like 'vibrant', 'garish' and 'lurid'. Cheap paperbacks, b-movies, exploitation, fantasy, horror and hokey sci-fi - all have a place on this blog where the trash of yesterday is recognised as the classics of today.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Movie Review: Black Caesar (1973)

A little while ago I was on a Blaxploitation kick and was watching as many movies in the genre as I could get my hands on. As well as the classics like Shaft (1971) and Coffy (1973), I was pleasantly surprised by Black Caesar, a rise and fall type story which we've seen since in stuff like Scarface (1983) and American Gangster (2007), a film which has much in common with Black Caesar.

The film centers on Tommy Gibbs, a tough shoeshine kid in 1950s Harlem. After a savage beating from a nasty Irish cop (which leaves him with a permanent limp), Gibbs disappears for a few years and returns in the shape of Fred Williamson. Gunning for the mob, Gibbs soon has his own territory and is on the up, surrounding himself with a posse of hoodlums and running Harlem with the old tools of fear and respect.

Such a story could easily be a generic shoot em up style film, but Black Caesar has enough heart and message in it to make it more than worthwhile. The main morale in the film (as in Scarface) is of course that money isn't the answer to all problems. This is highlighted in a particularly poignant scene between Gibbs and his mother who has worked as a maid for rich white folks all her life. When Gibbs is finally wealthy enough to buy her the very apartment she has spent so many years cleaning and gives it to her to live in, she is far from happy, claiming that she 'wouldn't know how'.

The film also has a great sense of irony. As with most gangsters, Gibbs loses all sight of what's important in his quest for money and power and at the film's conclusion he is back exactly where he started (he is robbed and beaten to death in the derelict remains of his childhood home by a gang of young urchins none too different from what he once was).

James Brown's soundtrack is also excellent with classic songs of the genre 'Down and Out in New York City' and 'The Boss'.

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