Thursday, May 24, 2018

In short: Black Eye (1974)

Ex-cop of course turned private eye - as well as beater of drug dealers and protector of prostitutes - Shep Stone (Fred Williamson) stumbles into quite the case. When looking in on prostitute Vera (Nancy FIsher), he only finds her corpse, as well as her murderer. The guy is armed with a knife but also swinging a cane with a special silver handle. We the audience already know that cane belonged to a silent movie star, and Vera stole it from the top of his coffin. After a pretty intense fight, the killer escapes with his cane and most of his bones intact. Shep’s not the kind of guy to let this sort of thing slip, so he convinces his ex-partner in the police to hire him to work the case, instead of the people actually responsible for investigating murders.

Because our hero’s a bit of a multitasker, he also agrees to a second case a couple of hours later. He is to find runaway daughter Amy (Susan Arnold) for a guy named Dole (Richard Anderson). Working the cases – if indeed these are separate cases – will lead Shep through all sorts of very 1974 situations, as seen through the eyes of nearly 60 years old director Jack Arnold.

The late 60s and the 70s didn’t exactly treat low budget movie pro Arnold too well, or perhaps he just never really managed to adapt his sensibilities to the new era of filmmaking. In any case, the non-TV work of late period Arnold always feels to me a bit like the work of a man who is trying his best to follow the contemporary exploitation angles but doesn’t quite have the vocabulary needed to do it convincingly. In Black Eye’s case, all attempts to depict the early 70s life and mores of younger people seem to come from a position of raised eyebrows, the director nearly audibly tutting at homosexuals, lesbians, late hippies, religious zealots, and letting his lead tut right with him. It’s often rather awkward, and could indeed be pretty unpleasant at times if not for the joy it is to watch Fred Williamson at work. Williamson spends much of his time using his nearly proverbial (at least if you’re moving in my circles) laidback swagger to stroll from slightly off kilter scene to slightly off scene as a character you might imagine to be played by James Garner in case of Wiliamson’s unavailability, flirting, pretending to be shocked by stuff my grandmother wouldn’t have been shocked by at the time – and how I love him for so clearly only pretending – and from time to time hitting deserving people in the face.

Every couple of scenes – when the film isn’t suddenly turning into a Sunday afterschool special or spends its time on a slow motion romance montage you gotta see to believe and which incorporates a nearly naked Williamson and later a tandem  – Arnold gets up to more timeless things. The handful of action scenes are mostly spirited and fun, and demonstrate that Arnold still had his old directing chops and just didn’t really warm to his material. Still, if you’re interested in the bodies of work of Arnold and/or Williamson, or want to see a 70s private eye film with a black lead that isn’t really a blaxploitation film, this one has enough good moments to be worth your while.

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