Thursday, January 1, 2015

That Man Bolt (1973)

          Although he’s most closely associated with blaxploitation flicks, swaggering ex-NFL player Fred Williamson began his acting career in mainstream pictures, and he also tried expanding his blaxploitation-era stardom with movies that weren’t aimed solely at urban audiences. Williamson’s biggest such play was almost certainly That Man Bolt, an international crime/espionage thriller that features the actor as a professional courier who comports himself like James Bond. Excepting a brief appearance by Teresa Graves, Williamson is the only black performer with a major role, so That Man Bolt is about as close to a mass-appeal movie as Williamson got during his cinematic heyday. Seeing as how the film didn’t generate a sequel—or trigger the production of further non-blaxploitation projects starring Williamson—it’s safe to say That Man Bolt didn’t set the world on fire during its original release. Nonetheless, this is one of Williamson’s better vehicles simply because the storyline is passable and the 007-esque milieu allows Williamson to flex his charm as well as his formidable physical abilities.
          When the picture begins, ultra-confident tough guy Jefferson Bolt (Williamson) gets bailed out of a Hong Kong prison by a client seeking his services as a courier. The proposed job involves transporting $1 million in U.S. currency from the Far East to Mexico via Los Angeles. Complications ensue because people start trying to kill Bolt—and because Bolt discovers the money he’s transporting is counterfeit. Eventually, the story returns to Hong Kong for a martial-arts showdown between Bolt and an Asian crime lord.
          Since two directors are credited with helming That Man Bolt (Henry Levin and David Lowell Rich), it’s likely that either separate units handled photography on different continents, or that one director replaced the other partway through production. In any event, the look of the piece is generic but relatively slick, with an abundance of extras and location scenes. Some of the martial-arts flourishes are weaker than others (That Man Bolt is yet another ’70s movie featuring a secret school for karate-chopping assassins), but in general the Far East stuff is colorful. In one scene, acupuncture needles are used as torture instruments, and in another, Bolt has fun with his British employer (Byron Webster) by enlisting a heavyset female masseuse to give the man a thorough going-over. However, the energy level of the picture is never quite high enough, even though composter Charles Bernstein juices his orchestral score with occasional funk flourishes. Despite the erratic execution, Williamson keeps things light with his singularly self-assured screen presence.

That Man Bolt: FUNKY


William Blake Hall said...

I took one look at the credits and thought "Written by Quentin Werty? I don't think so!" "Quentin Werty" is obviously a play on QWERTYUIOP, the letters atop your average keyboard. A little Googling clarified that "Werty" is in fact one Ranald MacDougall, who wrote (or at least worked on) everything from the classic melodrama "Mildred Pierce" to the would-be epic "Cleopatra" to the TV movie that ushered in the series "The Name of the Game." MacDougall died shortly after this came out. He was a trouper. I salute him.

By Peter Hanson said...

Great catch, Bill... A pseudonym for typography nerds.

greg6363 said...

MacDougall was the husband of actress Nanette Fabray.