Combustible Celluloid
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With: Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry, Art Lund, D'Urville Martin, Julius Harris, Minnie Gentry, Philip Roye, William Wellman Jr., James Dixon, Val Avery, Patrick McAllister, Don Pedro Colley, Myrna Hansen, Omer Jeffrey, Michael Jeffrey
Written by: Larry Cohen
Directed by: Larry Cohen
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 87
Date: 02/07/1973

Black Caesar (1973)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Paying the Cost to Be the Boss

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the essential "blaxploitation" movies of the 1970s, Black Caesar was written and directed by a white man, the prolific Larry Cohen, although it was also based on a white movie, the gangster classic Little Caesar (1930). Fred Williamson plays the title character, actually named Tommy Gibbs, who started life as a shoeshine boy, beat up by a racist cop. As an adult, he takes on the local Italian gangsters in New York — he visits a mafioso in a restaurant and drops a severed ear in a plate of spaghetti — and becomes a powerful crime lord. But of course, his downfall is imminent. Cohen provides some reverse-racial commentary that's interesting, if crude; the hero's mom works as a maid, and he tries to "free" her with his money, but her reaction is not what he expects. The best part of all this is James Brown's funky songs and score, including tracks like "Down and Out in New York City" and "The Boss," as well as the weirdly haunting "Mama's Dead." Tommy was so popular he was brought back for a sequel, Hell Up in Harlem. Olive Films released the Blu-ray in 2015.

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