Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.
Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or
improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if
you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can
be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.
Samson (Rockne Tarkington) has made quite a life for himself - he owns a
well-loved, permanently overcrowded strip bar, has a big stick to hit people
with, a (probably doped up to the gills) lion lying around on the bar's counter
and is very much in love with his girlfriend Leslie (Carol Speed) who just
happens to have the biggest afro I've ever seen.
Samson deserves all that, too, because he is a deeply righteous man who lets
the local elderly alcoholic spend the night in his bar, and helps drug addicts
clean up their act. Well, after he has threatened them with his stick. He's also
the man responsible for keeping his part of town clean from two larger criminal
The more harmless one of these organizations is lead by his old friend Arthur
(Michael Payne) - who also moonlights as a perfectly legal and supremely
terrifying undertaker - and is not much of a problem, but the mafia family of
the Nappas is quite a different thing.
Old man Nappa (Titos Vandis, the first mafioso with a Greek accent) might be
the Gandhi of organized crime abhorring violence and spurting ridiculous wisdom
whenever the camera meets him, but his nephew Johnny (William Smith) is quite a
bit less tolerant.
Johnny has a few problems with things like impulse control and a tendency to
react violently to, well, everything, and he really really hates Samson, so he's
planning on killing our hero and taking over the bar owner's area, if his uncle
likes it or not.
That's easier said than done, though. As Johnny's uncle would say: "Piece of
cake? I know a man who choked on a piece of cake".
Samson doesn't have much of a problem with surviving the first murder
attempts of Johnny's goons, what with his would-be killers bringing no weapons
when they are trying to kill someone and him always armed with the Stick of
Hitting +5, so Johnny has to get creative. And he has some brilliant ideas. The
first one is letting his own girlfriend (Connie Strickland) work as an
undercover stripper at Samson's place to get info on his enemy's activities. Not
surprisingly, that doesn't work out too well for anyone, and only when Johnny's
plans get more baroque with blowing up Samson's bar, kidnapping Leslie (this
time with armed men!) and pushing his girlfriend out of a driving car so that
she will tell Samson of Leslie's whereabouts, does our hero have to work a bit
harder for his money.
As one might surmise from the more bonkers details of Black Samson's
plot, it isn't a film bound to win the Across 110th Street memorial
prize for intelligent and politically sound blaxploitation movies, but it is
such an enthusiastic piece of low-brow fun that I don't think that matters too
much in its particular case. It's not a completely stupid film either. Most of
Black Samson's characters (ignoring the psychopathic Johnny Nappa)
aren't deep, yet are at least two-note instead of one-note characters. Take
Arthur (played by Payne with insane enthusiasm, bug-eyed stares, a love for
cocaine and a tone of voice that make him look like Flavor Flav born too early),
who is definitely a bastard, a drug dealer and a coward but still stops short of
taking sexual favours from Leslie to help Samson. While that's not necessarily
character depth, it's more than I'd have expected to find in a blaxploitation
film directed by a future TV workhorse like Charles Bail.
It is also of interest to note that Samson is supposed to be a Black
Nationalist of some kind, and still allowed to be the film's hero and source of
inspiration to the people of his quarter. Compare that to the way politicized
African Americans are shown in most other blaxploitation movies and be
Bail's direction is mostly just workmanlike, without any of the more
psychedelic flourishes you sometimes find in the genre (which would have fit the
film's weirder ideas nicely), but the film doesn't drag and the action scenes -
while they aren't exactly Hong Kong quality - are quite solid.
The actors seem to be having a lot of fun doing their respective things, too.
I already mentioned Michael Payne's scenery-chewing, and that would be enough
for a normal film. Surprisingly, Payne's performance is overshadowed by William
Smith, who tries to be the most insanely insane bad guy in blaxploitation and
mostly achieves his goal by smirking, shouting and punching like a loon. I was
especially enamoured of the scenes with his uncle, which consist of him cursing
and getting angrier by the second while still needing to keep smiling and his
uncle spouting ridiculous words of wisdom.
Tarkington doesn't share in the overacting of his fellows and does instead
the cool (yet funky, don't worry) hero bit very well indeed, while the actresses
just don't have all that much to do except for looking pretty, crying and being
kidnapped and roughed up - unfortunately a destiny all too typical of women not
named Pam Grier in this genre.
I also need to point in the direction of the film's dialogue again that
contains some great pearls of silliness (and probably wisdom). Did you for
example know that the smell of death is not a nice smell, Johnny?
And then there's the film's grand finale that starts with a punch-up between
the Stick of Hitting and a few mafiosi, turns into a peculiar car chase whose
participants just steal a new car when they crash their old one, and ends with
the bad guys being bombarded with household appliances, doors and mattresses. I
think one of them is even killed by a flying fridge, which is hard to beat when
it comes to inappropriate ways of dying.
It's all as pleasantly silly as one could wish for and exactly the sort of
thing I hope for in my classic exploitation.