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'.