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USA 1973
Directed by
Larry Cohen
4 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
David Michael Brown
3 stars

Black Caesar

Synopsis:  Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson) is a small-time hood with a mission. He wants to make his way to the very top, no matter what he has to do. Seeing power as his only way of getting back at the police who used to make his life a misery, he takes out a hit for the Cardoza family as a means to infiltrate the mob. Once he has gained their trust he slowly takes over, becoming the first Black Godfather.

Larry Cohen may well be better known to modern day audiences for his scripts to Phone Booth and Cellular but as a writer, director and producer he was a prolific one-man cult film factory. Q – The Winged Serpent, God Told Me To, Bone and the It’s Alive series all were original and inventive low budget thrillers that built Cohen’s reputation as a director who could deliver the goods.

Black Caesar, a blaxploitation remake of the Edward. G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. 1931 classic, Little Caesar, was Cohen’s first film in the genre. He went on to make a sequel Hell Up in Harlem and the blaxpolitation reunion, Original Gangsters. Fred “The Hammer” Williamson displays a great deal of charm in the lead role and was the reason for the film’s huge success. The ex-American football player became a genre stalwart, appearing in such action-packed cult classics as Three The Hard Way and Mean Johnny Burrows. His romantic interest, Gloria Hendry, is a sassy heroine who went on to seduce James Bond in Live and Let Die.

Another reason for the film’s success was a fantastically funky score by hardest working man in show business, James Brown. He even makes an appearance at a party and provides the perfect soundtrack as Williamson and company shake their tail feathers on the dance floor.

Beneath the usual trappings of the blaxploitation genre, Cohen gives us a quite serious movie. Racism is high on the agenda as a young Gibbs is harassed by the police and has to deal with a torrent of physical and verbal abuse. His whole life is an act of revenge against the white authorities. It lends the film a certain gravitas often lacking in the more frivolous and fun showings that most viewers associate the blaxploitation genre with. Not that this should dissuade any potential viewers, because when it wants to, Black Caesar knows how to get down and strut its stuff.




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