|Index||9 reviews in total|
Despite my skepticism about the whole "cash-in" business, I can't deny
that the Blaxploitation genre has yielded some remarkable achievements,
most notably Larry Cohen's BONE (1972) and Bill Gunn's GANJA AND HESS
(1973); unfortunately, THE BLACK GODFATHER would definitely come
somewhere near the bottom if such a list was compiled
! Having already
updated private detectives, vampires, monsters and what have you to the
funkier generation, it was only a matter of time before we also had a
colored Don to lord it over the underworld; it's a pity, though, that
the mobster here is nothing like his Italian namesake (unless having
his bodyguard named Sonny is enough to earn him the title of
Anyway, I've already spent far more time writing about this film than it deserves; suffice it to say that the hip dialogue (brimful of catchphrases like "dig", "nigger", "brother", "right on", "the man", "that where it's at", etc.) is risible, the hairstyles outrageously dated, the action sequences amateurish, the compulsory song score mediocre and the acting woeful. Despite all this, I guess I was in a "bad movie watching" mode tonight because I was reasonably entertained by this junk and I can't wait to get my hands on that other Blaxploitation double-feature disc THE BLACK SIX (1974)/THE BLACK GESTAPO (1975) which is available for rent from the local DVD store !
"The Black Godfather" begins with a young guy, J.J. (Rod Perry), nearly
getting himself killed but being ultimately rescued and taken under the
wing of a guy who is in charge of the numbers rackets in the inner
city. Despite nearly getting killed, J.J. is insistent that he has
plans---plans on taking down the established white mob that has set up
shop in the ghetto. However, and this is odd, it's never really certain
what his plans are once he's destroyed this mob. Does he want peace for
his community or does he want to be the next mob boss.
This is an unusual blaxsploitation film in that I have seen similar types of movies but never one that is so muted and low-key. The normal bouncy 70s R&B music is gone and so are the loud stereotypical sorts of characters. Some, I am sure, will dislike this--they WANT the crazy over-the-top characters you see in many blaxsploitation films. Some might appreciate that the folks AREN'T so stereotypical. The problem I had is that although I appreciated these sorts of characters, the script itself just lacked energy and life--definitely making this a lesser film of the genre.
By the way, look for the rather visible mic at 20:00 at the top of the screen--much like you'll see deliberately included in the recent blaxsploitation parody "Black Dynamite" (a definite must-see).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Wise old numbers king Nate Williams (affably portrayed by legendary blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon) reigns supreme over a gritty ghetto urban jungle. Nate makes shrewd pimp J.J. (well played with fiery aplomb by Rod Perry) his righthand man. J.J. in turn declares war on evil white heroin drug lord Tony Burton (a smoothly hateful Don Chastain). J.J. enlists the aid of passionate black militant leader Diablo (essayed with fierce gusto by Damu King) to rid the neighborhood of smack. Writer/director John Evans delivers plenty of snappy, profane dialogue, a decent smidgen of gratuitous nudity, and occasional outbursts of exciting action (a wild karate fight between two women rates as the definite stirring highlight). Nice supporting performances by Diane Sommerfield as J.J.'s sweet girlfriend Yvonne, Duncan McLeod as corrupt, on the take cop Lt. Joe Sterling, Tony Burton as Nate's loyal, volatile body guard Sonny Spyder Brown, John Alderman as wormy, stuttering dope pusher Cockroach, and Anny Green as Tony's sassy blonde moll Honey. Jack Steely's rough, grainy cinematography, the well-drawn main characters, and the soulful groovin' score by Phil Moore and Martin Yarbrough further enhance the funky fun of this enjoyable blaxploitation item.
This movie pretty much follows the same path of many others of it's ilk. A socially conscious hero (Rod Perry) tries to uproot evil in the neighborhood (i.e. drugs) through violent tactics and (of course) runs up against corrupt cops and the mob who (of course) are far more nasty than they are competent. The film has little to distinguish it. Most of the action is at the early 1970s TV show level. On the plus side, Rod Perry does occasionally manage to rise above the material and the opening theme song is pretty cool.
On the one hand, it's pretty good to focus on a man whose aim is to
keep drugs out of his community, but this is silly. The fight scenes
aren't as neat as those seen in "Shaft" or "Superfly". An interesting
factoid is that Tony Burton, who plays Sonny, has also starred in two
of the most famous movies: he played Apollo Creed's trainer in "Rocky"
and the garage owner in "The Shining" (on whose set he played chess
with Stanley Kubrick).
So, there's nothing special about "The Black Godfather". Like any blaxploitation flick, it's purpose is to show African-Americans being cool. This one succeeds at least partly.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After a burglary in Harlem goes bad and his best friend is killed a wounded "J.J." (Rod Perry) is rescued by a man named "Nate Williams" (Jimmy Witherspoon) who is also known as "the Black Godfather" due to the fact that he owns the numbers racket there. After treating his wounds Nate decides to mentor J.J. because he recognizes something special in him. Sometime later J.J. becomes quite influential in both gambling and prostitution--but not in drugs which is controlled by an Italian mobster named "Tony Burton" (Don Chastain). Having seen the devastation within the black community caused by heroin J.J. decides to team up with some black militants led by a man named "Diablo" (Damu King) to make it more difficult for Tony to do business in this part of the city. Unfortunately, Tony has no intention of abandoning such a lucrative market and war soon breaks out. At any rate, rather than reveal any more of this movie and risk spoiling it for those who haven't seen it I will just say that this was a fairly decent "blaxploitation" picture. Admittedly, some of the scenes were rather slow and it could have used a bit more action here and there but otherwise it turned out okay. Accordingly, I rate it as about average.
It seems clear from reading reviews here that a number of people went
into "The Black Godfather" expecting the typical tropes of the
Blaxploitation genre, and were disappointed to find that they are few
and far between in the film. Aside from the title and mostly-black
cast, the movie is a far better example of a crime drama, and a
particularly well-made one at that. The acting is convincing and
forceful, particularly from Rod Perry's J.J. and Don Chastain's rival
mob boss Tony. The plot is coherent and skillfully juggles multiple
character threads and conflicts. The picture quality on the version I
watched was poor, but I didn't expect much better from an obscure film
from the early 70's.
Stay away if you're just looking for loud-mouthed stereotypes blasting each other to bloody corpses, the title has led you astray. But check it out if you want a crime movie with a lot of heart poured into it.
The Black Godfather (1974)
* 1/2 (out of 4)
The title to this Blaxploitation flick pretty much tells you all you need to know. Rising gangster J.J. (Rod Perry) wants to get his black brothers buying dope from their own kind and in order to do this he must battle the evil white gangster (Don Chastain) who keeps pushing into his neighborhood. THE BLACK GODFATHER is a pretty lame entry in the genre for a number of reasons but the biggest is that it's simply got a cash-in title and very little else. A lot of these Blaxploitation films were nothing more than cash-ins but every once in a while you'll come across one that's actually good. Sadly, this here isn't that type of film as this here is pretty boring from start to finish and there are only a couple campy scenes that keep it from being a real disaster. I think the biggest problem is the rather lackluster direction, which just never pumps any energy or excitement onto the screen. The film just seems to be going through the motions and there's nothing that happens that you won't see coming from a mile away. Even the lead character isn't all that interesting and not for a single second do you care about his cause, care about his friends or even care if he's killed or not. As with most of these films, all the blacks are hard-working people just trying to make some cash for themselves while all the whites are evil racists. This simple set up can be fun when it's done correctly but here it just seems tired and old. I actually thought Perry was good in the lead role but it's really too bad that the screenplay didn't give him something better to do. I also liked Chastain as the bad guy. The highlight of the film is when a group of blacks break in on a couple and the white woman is needing a fix and offers herself for one. This entire sequence is pretty hilarious and it's too bad we didn't get more moments like this.
The Black Godfather is one of those underestimated movies that nobody seems to understand. I just cant understand these ratings and why nobody appreciates great actors like Rod Perry,who's performance as J.J. knocks Pacino's Michael Corleone character out of the field. This is the tale of urban mobsters at its best. Unlike Pacino,who inherits pretty much everything from his father,Nate(Jimmy Witherspoon) makes J.J. work for it.Along with great characters like Sonny(Tony Burton) and Tony,who's the perfect white villain,The Black Godfather is one of those unforgettable films you will not forget. You will be entranced by the excellent film-making. Also, look for Tangela Dixon's debut,who now works as a bus driver in Alachua County. She will be the one kicking butt on screen. Whoever does not own this film will be sorry. Not only did I buy myself a copy,but I went back and bought four more for my relatives.After this experience,the original Godfather will seem petty and worthless. Get this movie!
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