Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Black Godfather (1974)

Once the blaxploitation genre reached full flight, many low-rent producers were content simply adding the word “black” to an existing title and then spinning a rudimentary story to justify the new hybrid moniker. The Black Godfather is ostensibly a riff on The Godfather (1972), so both films depict a transfer of power within a criminal empire. Yet while The Godfather is cinematic masterpiece, The Black Godfather is execrable. The acting is terrible, the music score is chaotic, the story is lifeless, and to describe the characterizations as nonexistent would be to give them too much credit. Rod Perry, an amiable but unskilled actor best known for playing the second-in-command cop on the TV series S.W.A.T. (1975-1976), stars as J.J., a street punk who gets taken in by a crime boss after J.J. is wounded during a brazen robbery attempt. The crime boss, Nate Williams (Jimmy Witherspoon), grooms J.J. as an underworld apprentice. Once J.J. rises to power, he clashes with a white gangster, Tony Burton (Don Chastain), who has flooded black neighborhoods with heroin. You see, J.J. is a criminal with a conscience, and he wants to draw the line at hard drugs (a nuance stolen from Marlon Brando’s character in The Godfather). The narrative of The Black Godfather is pedestrian, but it should have been sufficient for generating passable escapism. Unfortunately, writer-producer-director John Evans’ work is incompetent on nearly every level—his scenes lack focus and rhythm and shape. Furthermore, Evans fails to include enough action to keep the story moving (instead lingering on uninteresting dialogue scenes), and he has difficulty presenting story events in a coherent manner. Actors suffer for the lack of guidance, so the embarrassingly bad Witherspoon, for instance, comes off like a camera double running lines before the real actor arrives. (As a result, his character may be the mellowest hoodlum in all of blaxploitation.) In the lead role, Perry simply seems confused. He’s calm in one scene and enraged in the next, with very little narrative explanation for his mood swings. If you’re hankering for a blaxploitation riff on gangsters, stick with Larry Cohen’s vivacious Black Caeasar (1973), which is high art by comparison with The Black Godfather.

The Black Godfather: LAME

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