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Robert Allen Schnitzer
Slave owner Warren Maxwell insists that his son, Hammond, who is busy bedding the slaves he buys, marry a white woman and father him a son. While in New Orleans, he picks up a wife, Blanche, a "bed wench," Ellen, and a Mandingo slave, Mede, whom he trains to be a bare-knuckle fighting champion. Angered that Hammond is spending too much time with his slaves, Blanche beds down Mede. Written by
Paul Benedict, who plays the trader Brownlee, must have really shocked people who recognized him from his television role at the time of the film's release, that of Harry Bentley, the neighbor in The Jeffersons (1975). In fact, the first sentence in the film is him asking how much a female slave and her infant was. See more »
About 18 minutes into the movie, when Dite tells Hammond that she's "knocked up", her leg changes position between shots. See more »
Cousin Charles, What the hell you doing, kissin on the mouth?
[Charles throws Katie to bed, removes his belt, and whips her with it]
What you doin that fer?
Makes a man feel good. She likes it too. Don't you pretty wench?
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It's very easy to see why this film wouldn't sit well with some people, black and white alike. Its vision of an ugly, vile, racist South is pretty hard hitting and memorable. It seems there is no depth to which it won't sink. The critics were plenty vocal about their dislike, while in actuality the film became an unlikely box office success. Nowadays it's seen by some as a camp classic, which is understandable given how theatrical it gets. It's essentially a period soap opera that happens to wallow in a lot of trash - there's violence, sex, and nudity, both male and female. It's based on a novel, by Kyle Onstott, and a subsequent play, by Jack Kirkland. The hilariously cast James Mason drawls his way through the role of a bigoted plantation patriarch in 1840s Louisiana, with Perry King playing his son. Among the story threads are the hideous envy that Kings' lowly wife (an over the top Susan George) shows towards the "wench" (Brenda Sykes), whom King is rather sweet on, and Kings' acquisition of a slave (the appropriately cast Ken Norton) whom he hopes will achieve tremendous success as a fighter. It's simply a hoot to see this cast - also including Richard Ward, Lillian Hayman, Roy Poole, Ji-Tu Cumbuka, Paul Benedict, and Ben Masters - sink their teeth into this melodramatic material, given unflinching and straightforward filming by Richard Fleischer and shot by Richard H. Kline with an accent on the unglamourous. Maurice Jarres' score is extremely flavourful and adding to the appeal of the soundtrack is the presence of the great Muddy Waters, singing "Born in This Time". The pacing is very unhurried, allowing us to really feel the discomfort of such scenes as slaves being stripped naked and whipped on the behind, or the sight of Mason resting his legs on a young slave boy hoping that the kid will absorb the rheumatism out of his body. One thing is for sure, and that's that "Mandingo" is the kind of experience you don't soon forget. One way or another, it affects you, and if anything it deserves some respect for not whitewashing the attitude of the times, revealing every sordid aspect of slavery and also giving its victimized characters a measure of dignity, and hope, in the face of total domination. The actors certainly play this for all that it's worth; Norton, in the central role, may not possess much in the way of acting chops, but he still has a quietly powerful physical presence. All in all, audiences should find it...interesting, to say the least. Followed a year later by another Onstott adaptation, "Drum". Eight out of 10.
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