Tuesday, October 25, 2016

No Way Back (1976)

          Graded on one very specific curve, this blaxploitation joint earns a passing grade, but just barely. The curve in question reflects the sad fact that most films directed by Fred Williamson are awful. Judged by any other standard, the picture would fare poorly. In any event, No Way Back is the second flick to star Williamson as private dick Jesse Crowder, following the character’s debut in Death Journey, which was released the same year. (Sources differ as to which flick came first, but since there’s no series continuity, pinpoint accuracy doesn’t really matter.) Hired from his home base in Los Angeles to track down a missing person in San Francisco, Jesse does his usual thing, seducing babes, smacking down bad guys, and smooth-talking informants. As per the norm for Williamson’s Po’ Boy Productions, the main order of the day isn’t telling a story so much as making Williamson look cool and virile, though whether clothing the star in a series of leisure suits with matching neck scarves actually accomplishes that goal is open to question. No Way Back is standard-issue schlock, a brainless action thriller with R&B jams on the soundtrack, but it’s redeemed by fun elements.
          The story, not that it matters much, involves a bank executive named Pickens (Charles Woolf), who swindles cash from his employers, then takes off with a sexy accomplice named Candy (Tracy Reed). Complicating matters, she actually works for a gangster named Bernie (Stack Pierce). Meanwhile, Pickens’ wife, Mildred (Virginia Gregg), searches for her husband with less than noble intentions. It’s the usual drill of double crosses and twists, with the resourceful Jesse caught in the middle. Where the picture makes up ground is in the realm of vibe. Soul singers the Dells provide smooth tunes for the soundtrack, Reed complements her beauty with respectable acting, and the high-octane scenes have a measure of novelty, as when Jesse literally rides to the rescue, on horseback, during the climax. There’s also a mildly amusing subplot involving a hustler played by the iconic TV host Don Cornelius. Is anything in No Way Back original or special? Not even close. Does the film lag so badly at times that it becomes almost narcotizing? You bet. But is No Way Back infinitely better than Death Journey? Affirmative. And given the incredibly low standards one must embrace when appraising the Po’ Boy Productions filmography, that faint praise earns No Way Back a halfhearted checkmark in the “win” column.

No Way Back: FUNKY

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