Thursday, November 24, 2011

Every Brother's Friend. Every Mother's Enemy.

Black Samson(1974)
Director: Charles Bail
Cast: Rockne Tarkington, William Smith, Connie Strickland

Blaxploitation has always been a favorite genre of mine, probably for it's mixture of nonsensical violence and bad taste. These were guy movies first and foremost, often overloaded with tons of blood and nudity to keep the dudes happy, though occasionly some thoughtful social commentary would reveal itself in classics like Superfly(1972) and some are bonafide action musts, such as the Shaft films. Black Samson is an oddball one, a film I probably would not have sought out had it not appeared on a DVD set along with the awesome, Three the Hard Way(1974). I just watched this flick and have to say, it was interesting. A different type of animal than what i'm used to, this wasn't especially violent or brutal, but instead focused on a tired, yet ridiculously presented plot about the white man moving in on the lead brother's territory. Oh brother!

Black Samson(Rockne Tarkington) is a righteous dude who operates a consistently full strip club(is that what the taglines mean by "every mother's enemy?") and he has a pet lion(!) and a nice girlfriend, Tina(Carol Speed). He also takes Teddy Roosevelt's motto, "speak softly and carry a big stick" a bit literally, as he also packs a crazy staff which he uses to bash in a few honky brains, like in the film's opening, where we are introduced to villian, Johnny Nappa(exploitation fave, William Smith) who wants to move in on Samson's territory. Samson keeps his streets clean, keeping out drugs and bad influence(except the strip club?) and wants all pushers out. Nappa is with the mob(of course) and when he's not fighting with his girlfriend over putting on his shirt(one of my favorite scenes!) he's trying to muscle in on Samson's territory. Despite, what his uncle(Titos Vandis) says to keave Samson alone, overly ambitious Johnny does it his way and sets goons on Samson. Obviously lost in the land of plot contrivances, nobody bothers to pack a piece, so Samson makes quick work of them with his oversized walking stick and soon he finds his strip club blown up and his girlfriend kidnapped! This leads to a silly car chase and an even sillier conclusion, where the people of Samson's neighborhood(refreshingly representing several ethnicities) drop everything, including the kitchen sink onto the heads of the gangsters! This scene really has to be seen to be believed, as it may be the first film, outside of Looney Tunes, where an enemy was dispatched by falling refrigerator!
Of course, Johnny and Samson duke it out, but it's not as exciting as it could have been, especially considering Smith's tough guy history, this could have been a really brutal and awesome fight. And why wasn't the lion involved? I kept waiting for him to be unleashed and turn the gangsters into catfood, but nope, he just sits around doped up in the club!

Black Samson is not what i'd call an intelligent film, though it certainly has a little more to say than other films of the period. Samson is decent, if dull, character who really tries to keep his community strong, keeping out both white and black dealers. I don't know what the deal is with the staff, if there is any significance, or why he's called black Samson. I suppose this may be alluding to the character from the bible, but that feels like a stretch, considering there's no Delilah(that could have been a good role for Pam Grier), but i'll except that. Tarkington is not as charismatic as actors like Richard Roundtree, Ron O' Neal, and Fred Williamson, but has some quiet presence and looks good in the action scenes. His two funniest, being his encounter with a shady lawyer, whom he holds over a high ledge and a run-in with some robbers, who get their skulls smashed in, and make the character appear a bit psychotic as he repeatedly pummels one dude's brain into mush, though he does give him a dime for his troubles!

Smith steals the show as the over the top, Johnny Nappa, and proves a worthy adversary, though his character is shoddily written. Most of the villains in these things were portrayed very broadly, and Nappa is no different, but Smith's portrayal is representaive of what a charismatic actor can do with a pedestrian role. Most of the rest of the cast are average, though Napolean Whiting  is funny as the old guy who hangs at Samson's club and Joe Tornatore's pop-eyed drug dealer is worth a laugh or two.
The exploitation elements aren't too high, there's little gore and the violence is largely reduced to fisticuffs and staff bashing. There's some nudity here and there, the best being Connie Strickland as Smith's girlfriend, who shows off her boobs at Samson's club. Plus, that opening has tons of skin and a white creep getting his head caved in by the mighty staff, so that sums up the film's appeal in a nutshell.

Black Samson is far from being a great movie, and heck, it's far from being a great blaxploitation movie, but it is fairly entertaining. It certainly is a strange little movie, one of those types I doubt we'll ever see again, but it still holds the distinction of being probably the best staff movie ever made and that's something, I guess.

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