Sunday, September 2, 2012

Black Caesar

              “Did you know a man’s beard keeps on growin’ even after he’s… dead?” quips Tommy Gibbs before he plugs his first man (in a barbershop, so you understand  why he says it) on his path into, up through, and up against the mafia in order to reign supreme.

Montages like this should be required of all mob movies.

               In an era where all you had to do was add the adjective “Black” to the front of any single word in order to create a movie, Black Caesar still oozes style and grit even these nearly 40 years later.  Former all-pro defensive back-turned-actor Fred “The Hammer” Williamson plays an ambitious kid from the streets of New York; looking to elevate his and his family’s status above the white people they used to work for/be abused by.

What better way to stick it to the man than to pull a Blanket Jackson with fur coats?

                This movie is not for the squeamish in terms of racial issues.  There’s hardly a line in the whole script that doesn’t couch one epithet or another.  If you can look past that, you have a very potent combination of machismo that carries out throughout the whole film in a way that will put a smile on your face: the early/mid 70s urban soul influence and the quintessential mobster archetype.

We would pay these guys to make us pay them for protection.
              Williamson spends a good deal of the movie chomping on a cigar, strutting down the streets in a sharp suit and mean sideburns.  His patronizing air and put-on Italian mob accent when dealing with the Cardoza Family is pretty hilarious.  The only time his character really goes off the rails as a tough-as-nails antihero masculine role model is when he doesn’t let no mean no with his own fiancée.  Not coincidentally, this is when things begin to spiral out of control for the character of Gibbs.  It is his hubris that leads to an epic and bloody downfall, just like the makings of any classic Greek tragedy.

There must be an aftershave or deodorant commercial in here somewhere...

                You can’t talk about this movie without talking about its music.  The soundtrack is scored nearly completely by one Mr. The Godfather of Soul, James Brown.  His impassioned singing (screaming) and his quintessentially tight band elevate nearly every scene of the movie in a way that makes the Man Movie Guide wish their life were accompanied by a soul band too.  Brown’s masterpiece does falter, however, during the only car chase in the movie… which is itself pretty silly and poorly constructed.

Not silly: Stylish men with afros gunning you down from a rooftop

                But we didn’t come here for the car chases, did we?  Or the bright orange-ish blood and bizarre gunshots (like the very top of someone’s hair), or even the bizarre inclusion of a Prussian World War I pistol (check it out:, for that matter.  We came here for the style, and we came here for the soul.  And that’s just what we got…

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