Monday, May 18, 2015

The Baron (1977)



          Nominally a blaxploitation flick—albeit one that was released well after the blaxploitation craze had peaked—The Baron is really more of a character study about a movie-industry hustler. It’s not the most sophisticated picture, and the story lags during the middle, but there’s just enough credibility, novelty, and seediness to make The Baron somewhat interesting. Calvin Lockhart, a Bahamaian actor whose crisp speaking style and rigid bearing create an aristocratic comportment, stars as Jason, a headstrong actor/director/producer trying to assemble financing for his latest project. (We’re shown a snippet of the in-progress movie, which stars Jason as the swaggering multimillionaire adventurer “Baron Wolfgang von Trips.”) When Jason’s primary financier announces that a studio wants to buy the underlying literary property—but also wants to replace Jason as actor, producer, and director—Jason is crushed. Later, when the backer dies in an accident, Jason realizes that he’s responsible for money the backer borrowed from a gangster named Joey (Richard Lynch).
          Desperate for cash, Jason initially reaches out to a drug dealer nicknamed “The Cokeman” (Charles McGregor), and then he consents to becoming a live-in gigolo for an aging society dame played by old-Hollywood star Joan Blondell. Suffice to say, Jason’s moves don’t sit well with his girlfriend, Caroline (Marlene Clark), who struggles to understand why he can’t let go of his cinematic dreams and simply live a normal life.
          The Baron suffers from logy pacing, a problem exacerbated by sleepy music (jazz great Gil Scott-Heron contributed to the score). Additionally, Lockhart is so straight-laced that he’s not the right guy to play a fast-talking schemer descending into an abyss of humiliation and lies. That said, Lynch makes a terrific bad guy, oozing oily charm as he insinuates himself into Jason’s life, and Blondell hints at the pathos of a lonely woman who must purchase companionship. Yet the most interesting aspect of the story is actually the one that gets the least attention. As in the earlier B-movie Hollywood Man (1976), the notion of a filmmaker getting bankrolled by the Mob creates all sorts of interesting possibilities. Yet The Baron’s cowriter and director, Philip Fenty, explores virtually none of them. Nonetheless, The Baron pulls things together for its final act, thanks to a memorable last confrontation between Jason and Joey and an offbeat chase scene.

The Baron: FUNKY

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