Tuesday, August 5, 2014

In short: Slaughter (1972)

Someone murders the father of Vietnam war hero (since when was there such a thing?) Slaughter (Jim Brown) in what looks a lot like a mafia hit. Slaughter knew his father was involved in shady dealings but he still takes the assassination personally, and starts a hunt for the killer that suggests his name to be his program too.

Slaughter’s violent ways awaken the interest of racist US treasury department man A.W. Price (Cameron Mitchell) who recruits our very angry hero for his own war against mafia capo Mario Felice (Norman Alfe) and his main underling Dominic Hoffo (Rip Torn), informing Slaughter that Felice is the man responsible for Slaughter senior’s death, and putting him on his trail in Mexico. Supposedly, Slaughter is to follow orders and act somewhat less extreme than is his usual style but of course, soon people die left and right, things explode, and Hoffo’s girlfriend Ann (Stella Stevens), as well as treasury department agent Harry (Don Gordon) are charmed by Slaughter’s manly man ways. The whole affair has something to do with the mafia’s new super computer, the replacement of the old mafia guard with the new, and a casino.

However, the plot really is beside the point for Slaughter’s director Jack Starrett, and is only there to enable Jim Brown to be awesome, cool and violent, sometimes awesomely violent, and to give the film an excuse to take short breaks from its own overwhelming Jim Brown-ness to provide its audience with short but sweet moments of ridiculous mafia clichés. Which, close study of Slaughter suggests, might be all I ever dreamed of.

The fact that Slaughter is as entertaining an entry in the blaxploitation cycle as it is has a lot to do with Starrett’s sure hand for action scenes whose controlled wildness often reminded me of classic serial action, filmed with all the stylistic tics of a film made in the early 70s, yet also with a sense of excitement and an exhilarating air you don’t always get from your low budget cinema (of any era), because excitement isn’t cheap. There are even car chases I enjoyed watching, something that happens about every six months to someone who is not at all a car person like me.

Then there is, of course, Jim Brown, swaggering, running, looking constipated, romancing, shooting and making things explode in a manner that can’t help but convince one of Slaughter’s main thesis, namely, that Jim Brown is a total bad-ass, admired by men like his white sidekick Harry, loved by women, and only hated by racist arseholes and mafiosi.

What Slaughter isn’t is a movie with a subtext that tells us anything about the black experience, or even white writers’ interpretation of what a black audience might want to see on screen as a dramatization of the black experience, going for a pure power (and perhaps empowerment) fantasy even mostly lacking the semi-documentary scenes of urban squalor so typical of the genre. It would be easy to criticize Slaughter for this if the film wouldn’t permanently distract one with wild action and Jim Brown.

But then, sometimes wild action and Jim Brown are exactly what you need in your life.

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