Saturday, December 6, 2014

Black Samson (1974)

          Excitement is in short supply throughout Black Samson, a blaxploitation action/drama that fails to impress in the areas of characterization, originality, and suspense. That said, the sleaze factor is relatively low, and the basic theme is positive: An African-American community rallies around a noble small-business owner while he battles white criminals seeking to exploit the community. Black Samson is unlikely to make a strong impression on anyone, but at least it’s not dehumanizing. Physically formidable Rockne Tarkington stars as Samson, the Afrocentric owner of an inner-city nightclub. Perpetually wearing colorful dashikis and carrying an ornate tribal staff (which doubles as a club during fight scenes), Samson even keeps a pet lion on the bar of his nightclub. When Samson ejects a white customer for getting too friendly with one of the venue’s topless dancers, Samson ignites a grudge match with gangster Johnny Nappa (William Smith). Johnny wants to use violence in order to take over criminal enterprises in black neighborhoods, but Johnny’s dad, Mafia boss Joseph Nappa (Titos Vandis), is a gentleman criminal who detests unnecessary bloodshed. Other prominent characters include Samson’s girlfriend, Tina (Connie Strickland), who encourages Samson to give up his business rather than tussle with the Mob, and Johnny’s girlfriend, Leslie (Carol Speed), who spies on Samson while working as a dancer in his club.
          Everything in Black Samson is familiar and mundane, with the story unfolding at a too-leisurely pace. Worse, the great New Orleans composer Alan Toussaint misses the mark with his low-ebb jazz/R&B score, because while Toussaint generates a few tasty grooves, he can’t quite conjure the driving funk that gives the best blaxploitation flicks their irresistible tempo. Still, leading man Tarkington is believable whenever he’s roughing up bad guys, and leading lady Strickland has a few terrific moments, especially when entreating her man to avoid danger. Concurrently, B-movie institution Smith has fun playing one of his signature sadistic villains, although he’s hamstrung by an anemic characterization that lacks even one full dimension. The only novel element of the picture emerges during the final scene, when Samson’s neighbors attack gangsters by flinging household junk off rooftops. To cowriter-producer Daniel B. Cady’s credit, it’s hard to think of another movie in which a refrigerator is used as a murder weapon.

Black Samson: FUNKY

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