Stick-ing It To The Man
Black Samson US 1974
Directed by Charles Bail
Warner Brothers Region 1
Warning: A couple of spoilers are possibly waiting to beat
you over the head with a big stick in the following review.
What’s his name? Black Samson.
What’s his game? He doesn’t have one...
Um... yeah, okay then... apparently.
At least that’s the case if you go by the incredibly lethargic lyrics in the impossibly ponderous song which opens the movie here and serves as its theme tune. Accompanying a title sequence of credits superimposed over various customers and topless dancers in Black Samson’s nightclub... this less than enthusiastic musical statement by Allen Toussaint is, in my opinion, a really bad start to a film which is a not very special but highly competently put together entry in the string of classic blaxploitation movies made at the time.
Riding the wave of popular genre titles like Shaft, Coffy and Cleopatra Jones, the director shows himself more than up to the task of cobbling together a variation of these kinds of movies, although it has to be said that there’s not an awful lot to get that enthusiastic about in this one either. Also, this director went on to make the less than stellar Cleopatra Jones sequel, Cleopatra Jones And The Casino Of Gold, which is something I just can’t forgive him for after the first movie in that series was so cool.
So there’s not much to say about Black Samson... he owns a nightclub and he “keeps his area clean” (the streets just around his nightclub is what I think we’re talking about here) but the Italians want to “muscle in” on his territory, bringing crime and drugs to Black Samson’s “people”. Okay... so when the man says no, one Italian guy played by William Smith... who comes across in this as a really nasty, poor man’s version of what would happen if you rolled up Jack Palance and Cameron Mitchell into one person (and who doesn’t seem to have stopped working since... fantasy genre fans might recognise him as the father of the titular character in the 1982 movie Conan The Barbarian) ... decides that he won’t take no for an answer and starts trying to make life uncomfortable for Black Samson (Rockne Tarkington) and his woman.
And there you have the entire film in a nutshell because it basically follows the following formula for the entirety of the movie...
1. A scene where Samson and either a potential ally in his fight against Italian crime or an antagonist (or both) talk a bit.
2. Then a scene where the Italians ambush him and get beaten by him in a fight and/or car chase.
3. Italian mobster does something nasty or evil (or both) to make him lose sympathy with the audience.
4. Then another fight or ambush with Black Samson...
... then repeat until enough running time is covered and you get to the final act.
Now then, there’s not an awful lot to recommend this film. The characterisation is so thin that if you took all the characters and stood them on a table you'd need to glue sticks to their backs to stop them from flopping over. You don’t care much for anybody except you know you want Black Samson to win, mostly because the lead villain damages girls and is sexist and wants to kill people. The only things which seem to define the title character are the fact that he has a lion behind the bar (and that’s where he stays all movie because the darned thing looks like it’s doped to the eyeballs whenever a human actor is on the set) and a big stick which he uses to beat fairly defenceless villains with until they fall over after he’s caved their heads in. It does, though, seem less than sporting to have the main hero relying less on his cunning and quick wits and more on a big, decorative stick and so, sometimes, he beats and pummels bad guys with his fists a little, before picking up his discarded stick again and giving them a good head whacking.
This film is okay... it’s competently shot and edited, the acting is fine (although a little whiny and irritating in some quarters) and Black Samson, for all his lack of back story or motivation, is a fairly sympathetic character you don’t mind rooting for... but the end is what made me sit up and take note. I’m used to seeing a few good men go with the lead character and give the villains their just desserts, heck I even tolerated Jim Kelly fight bad guys amidst soap bubbles at the fairly weak climax to the pretty good Black Belt Jones... but this one is interesting because it looks like there’s no escape for our hero... you know there will be, you just don’t know what it is yet.
The film gets nasty and Black Samson’s woman gets her breasts carved up with a knife to keep him away... but he finds out where the mob have got her stashed and breaks out with her, riding back to his block with her alone and pursued by cars full of angry Italian mobsters. When they chase him into his street though, all the people in the neighbourhood who know that Black Samson is “the man” take to the roof tops and in an unusual display of solidarity for this kind of movie, start chucking bricks, heavy objects, even refrigerators and kitchen sinks down upon the heads of the Italians. This is the people standing up for what they believe in until, by the end of this interesting little sequence, only the main villain is left standing and uncrippled so he can fight Black Samson in a duel to the death. No surprises in this long and drawn out fight then... Black Samson’s fists can reign down some righteous blows on his opponents but it’s not too long before his big bugger of a stick gets to do the talking and the main bad guy is thoroughly “sticked to death” by the whole experience.
And that’s it... there’s not a heck of a lot more to say about this movie other than the music doesn’t kill the vibe too much and it’s fairly watchable if you like films in this sub-genre. If you’re just starting out on black action heroes of the late sixties and early seventies, however, I could recommend a whole bunch of other movies which work this particular formula in a much more entertaining fashion than this one does. This one’s best watched if, like me, you’re into these kinds of movies... it’s no Shaft’s Big Score or even a Truck Turner though, I'm afraid.