The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Black Gunn

In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, a genre called 'blaxploitation' hit theaters that was similar in the vein of B-movies, gory slasher flicks, spaghetti westerns, and biker movies. These were definitely not movies designed for awards season or critical favor, instead focusing on giving audiences what they wanted...violence, sex, drugs, and all set to a cool soundtrack.  Blaxploitation was generally intended for an African American audience, giving a different audience a story about black people.  Stars like Richard Roundtree, Fred Williamson and Jim Brown became huge stars as their movies hit theaters.

Now I've seen a handful of blaxploitation movies -- most notably Shaft -- and thought they were all right, ranging from enjoyable guilty pleasures to downright bad movies.  As a fan of Brown, I've seen Slaughter and decided to watch 1972's Black Gunn this week mostly because I am a fan of the former NFL star.  It's a difficult movie to review (partially because it wasn't very good) mostly because it drips with hypocrisy that made it hard to go along with the movie.  Is it meant to be an exciting action flick or a movie that tries to deliver a message?  I had trouble deciding and struggled to finish the movie.

Running a high-end club in California, Gunn (Brown) does his best to avoid any social conflict going on with militant black groups and the white mafia in Los Angeles.  His brother is a member of one of those groups, BAG (Black Action Group), and is in hot water after the group knocks off a mafia cash room, also stealing important ledgers full of bribes and payoffs.  Gunn still tries to stay out of it, but when his brother is killed for the robbery, all bets are off.  With help from the BAG (including leader Bernie Casey), Gunn goes on the hunt for the men who took out his brother. Pressure from the police and a local senator keep the heat up, but Gunn has his sites set on a low-level mafioso (Martin Landau) he believes is responsible for his brother's death.

Let's get the few positives out of the way early.  In movies like The Dirty Dozen, Dark of the Sun or Ice Station Zebra, Brown is this super-cool action star whose presence made up for his limited acting range.  As Gunn though, he seems to be sleepwalking.  Yeah, the action scenes are handled well, but he never gets into the part.  The eclectic cast is a whopper of a weird one with some odd choices made.  Landau is the ridiculously sadistic mafioso but is in maybe three total scenes, Brenda Sykes is Judith, Gunn's girlfriend, MLB pitcher Vida Blue makes an appearance, and Italian beauty Luciana Paluzzi is an Italian beauty up to no good. The script is nothing special and doesn't have a lot going on, but with the names involved it's at least fun to watch them do their thing.

The one thing I don't really understand with the blaxploitation movies I've seen is that they are one big stereotype.  All the black men are pimps, drug dealers, crooked cops, hired killers, and the women are junkies and whores.  Then there's the white folks who are typically sadistic, brutal, greedy and love nothing more than keeping minorities down.  The portrayals are so obviously over the top that it's hard to take anything seriously.  Landau maniacally laughing as he shoots at Brown and Casey (missing wildly by the way) actually had me laughing out loud.  Paluzzi is the slinky possible love interest who must be up to something who pulls a gun out of nowhere when the jig is up.  I don't know, I just don't understand the appeal with stories that are just plain awful in the portrayals of all races, cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and everything in between.

So add that all up, and we're rooting for a black militant group ranting about how bad the Mafia is.  But because they're fighting the Evil Man, that makes them good?  I guess not, but they're not as bad as the white bad guys (played to slimy perfection by Landau, Bruce Glover, and William Campbell) who torture everyone and kidnap kids.  Race aside, maybe that's my problem.  I wasn't rooting for anyone.  There's NO ONE to root for.  We are never given a reason to side with Brown's Gunn other than that he's cool and therefore must be the bad guy.  Then throw in some hit over the head message about race in America, and you've got a real winner.

What was interesting about Black Gunn was the time it was released.  The 1970s style is everywhere from the giant afros to the cool musical score to the cars the size of boats and just about everything else associated with the decade.  Is it enough to warrant a recommendation?  Not at all, but I've got to throw this one a bone.  It's pretty bad, but it's not the worst movie ever.  Now there is a ringing endorsement for you, huh?

Black Gunn (1972): * 1/2 /****

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