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Tommy Gibbs is a tough kid, raised in the ghetto, who aspires to be a kingpin criminal. As a young boy, his leg is broken by a bad cop on the take, during a payoff gone bad. Nursing his vengeance, he rises to power in Harlem, New York. Angry at the racist society around him, both criminal and straight, he sees the acquisition of power as the solution to his rage. He performs a free-lance hit on a Mob contract to attract the attention of the head of a Mafia family. Reluctantly accepted into 'The Family,' he grows increasingly autonomous and aggressive, eventually starting a gang war. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
As I watched this low budget film I came to realize that while it is exploitation, it's still a story of an angry man that deep down wanted respect from those close to him. The film starts out with a young kid in 1953 Harlem who makes money giving shoe shines and gets involved in a mob hit and is told to take a package to a building to a bad cop named McKinney (Art Lund). McKinney accuses the kid of stealing money from him and is beaten badly until he has a broken leg. Fast forward to the mid 60's and young Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson) is now a grown man and executes a mob hit on his own and tells a mafioso named Cardoza (Val Avery) that he's responsible and wants in with the mob and just wants to run an area in Harlem. He rises in power and has some important log books with all the information on important people on the take. He has a girl named Helen (Gloria Hendry) but doesn't have the sophistication to keep her. Finally the mob decides to get rid of him and now he's the target! This film was directed by Larry Cohen (It's Alive!) who is a veteran of low budget efforts and the film is benefited by his experience. The film is actually shot on location in Harlem and in several shots you can see people staring at the camera. Also, the Apollo Theater is seen as the camera pans the street. While this is another version of "Little Caesar" there is an aspect of the story that I found very well handled and it was the scenes where Tommy Gibbs is feeling betrayed and alone. One scene in particular that stands out is at his mothers funeral and he asks his father if he's all right. What adds to these scenes is the effective use of music that helps establish the mood of the film and these scenes in particular. The music is by James Brown and Barry DeVorzon. Even with limited funds and some poorly dubbed dialogue can't detract from the emotions in parts of this film. Fred Williamson is a former football player and his acting experience was very limited so his performance is even more impressive to watch. The guy has natural charisma on screen but he also shows that he can bare his emotions like any good actor. If you like these types of films than this is one of the classics of its genre. As much fun as it was to watch Williamson smear shoe polish on Lund and make him sing "Mammy" the film has more to offer than that. The scenes of Williamson's character feeling alone and betrayed along with the good music score are what make this film stand out from the others of its kind. Classic exploitation.
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