A tough, gritty blaxploitation classic not to be missed
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 06/05/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Black Caesar (1973) is one heck of a good movie. I hate the term blaxploitation that is used to describe movies of this genre because it implies that these sorts of films are somehow second-class entries in the world of cinema. Black Caesar is a first-class ride from start to finish, taking as much from classic gangster films of the 1930s and 1940s as it does from earlier blaxploitation films such as Shaft. Larry Cohen gave us a tough, mean, dirty, gritty film that tells it and shows it like it is: plenty of cursing, gunplay, blood, profanity, nudity, and racism. I have heard that the starring role was originally written for Sammy Davis, Jr. Nobody loved Sammy more than I do, but there's just no way he could have done the things that Tommy Gibbs does effectively. A lot of people deride the acting skills of Fred Williamson, which makes no sense to me; the man is just fantastic in this film.
Tommy (Williamson) grew up on the streets of Harlem, where the living was hard. When a corrupt, racist cop smashed up his leg at a pay-off exchange gone wrong, young Tommy's future was set. Eight years in prison taught him everything he needed to know to pull off his master plan of becoming the man who runs Harlem. Just after he limps back into town, he scores a mafia hit in broad daylight and uses that audacious act to nose his way into the local Family. Back then, the Mafia didn't make a habit of embracing blacks, no matter how useful they could be. All Tommy asks for is a block in Harlem to call his own; he gets it, and a new reign of terror begins as Tommy and his associates begin cleaning house. At first, they talk about helping the blacks in the community at the same time, but this whole thing is really just about the money and the power. Ironically, Tommy finds himself working with the same slimy cop who broke his leg as a youth, but he's got the guy by the short hairs thanks to his acquisition of certain evidence against him.
As you might expect, a couple of blocks in Harlem is just the beginning for Tommy. He quickly expands his operation and puts the screws to the Italians running the show in New York. He becomes, for all intents and purposes, "the man" and gains control of all of Harlem. All the power and money can't make him happy, however; no one seems to appreciate the things Tommy can give them, especially his mother and his wife. As things start unraveling in his personal life, he is set up for a fall - and his Italian "friends" are ready and willing to take him down. The final half hour of the movie is nothing short of intense, as Tommy tries to deal with betrayal and simply stay alive. His final encounter with the racist cop who has tormented him for so many years makes cinematic history, as far as I'm concerned.
The music makes this fantastic film even better, as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, supplies the funky soundtrack. Songs such as Down and Out in New York City and Mama's Dead sharply define pivotal moments and make sure the film always fires on all cylinders. It's hard to believe Black Caesar was filmed in only 18 days, especially given some of the elaborate chase scenes taking place on New York streets. This is a masterpiece of a low-budget film. Maybe a couple of the sociological aspects of the film don't play as effectively as they did back in 1973, but Black Caesar has really lost nothing of its raw power and intensity over the years."
CITIZEN CANE OF THE BLAXPLOITATION GENRE
Eddie Landsberg | Tokyo, Japan | 12/12/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"SHAFT, SUPERFLY and THE MAC were considered the grand-daddies and MVPs of the Blaxploitation genre, however, I think HELL UP IN HARLEM was the one that really got the popular vote... (My fave actually is ACROSS 110th STREET and THREE THE HARD WAY then BLACK CEASAR and HELL) - - Hell up in Harlem was the Sequal to BLACK CEASAR, but it was much more fast paced. In fact, basically it was BLACK CEASAR without the plot. Its kinda... the post show payback time. BLACK CEASAR basically is HELL UP IN HARLEM with more plot and charactor depth.. Its a story about rising to the top from the bottom, how to play a person and change the tables, but the danger of letting success get to your head (o.k. in a blaxsploitationish way...) If that aint enough JAMES BROWN did the soundtrack - - I love Durville Martin in the role of his boyhood friend turned a phony preacher who eventually finds God - - at an inopportune time. This is a great watch, and the directing and acting are actually quite good. For a comedic take on this Genre... dont forget to watch IM GONNA GET YOU SUCKA ! (The shots of the gritty streets of NYC are incredible by the way... second only to Superfly and Cotton Comes to Harlem.)"
The quintessential "blaxploitation" film. . .
Tim O'Brien | Fitchburg, Ma | 03/16/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Those of us who know what it takes to make a powerful film know that you don't need a gargantuan budget and a big-name director. This stylish, gritty crime film from the 1970s "blaxploitation" library stars Fred Williamson as Tommy Gibbs, a tough, confident hood who works his way up the organized crime ladder in New York City. Director Larry Cohen perfectly blends elements from DePalma's "Scarface", 1930s gangster films, and the powerful, in-your-face violence is expertly complemented with the themes of loyalty, redemption, and greed (The scene in which Tommy's gang heads a bloody gun battle at a Mafia pool party was exceptionally well done). The performances were all convincing, especially D'urville Martin's over-the-top portrayal of Tommy's preacher friend. Combining raw, uncompromising violence, a complex morality tale, a dynamic soundtrack from the godfather of soul, James Brown, and believable performances, this film is a powerful journey into the realm of organized crime and its a shame that more people don't know about this movie. So for those of you who like big-budget, socially acceptable Hollywood garbage with action scenes almost completely lacking adrenaline, go see a James Cameron film. If you want an honest, uncompromising character study, definitely check out this underappreciated gangster flick. Don't miss a particularly entertaining scene in which Tommy gets knife happy on one of his victims in a barber shop, cutting off a certain appendage. This scene receives an indirect if perverse tribute in Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs.""
The Holy Grail of blaxploitation (as far as I'm concerned)
Ronald Reagan III | 08/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Usually when the word "blaxploitation" is heard by a moderate movie buff, the first film that comes to mind is something like SHAFT or SUPERFLY. Now that is a pity because even though they're both good films their enterainment and personality level dosn't manage to reach BLACK CAESAR. This film is excellent, violent, funny (mostly unintentionally) and fairly unusual for a blaxploitation film; the main character, Tommy Gibbs (Fred "The Hammer" Williams) is a complete loser who starts of as a shoe-shine boy who gets it from white coppers, then he can't get the girl he wants and he ends up getting gunned down in front of Tiffany's! Director, Larry Cohen (IT'S ALIVE, GOD TOLD ME TO) also manages to capture a lot of Harlem's sleazy atmosphere. James Brown's funky themesong 'Down and Out of New York City' go's down nicely too. Fred and Larry returned to make a sequel (!) HELL UP IN HARLEM (despite the fact that he dies here!). In a recent interview with The Hammer in Shock Cinema, magazine he says that he dosn't really have any memories of Cohen except that he was a very weird guy!"
So You Try Hard or You Die Hard
Jack Baker | LeRoy,IL | 04/04/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This was a truly excellent movie, a gangster flick drawing heavily from the blaxploitation genre. Fred Williamson plays Tommy Gibbs, a young tough who works his way from shoeshine/mob messenger boy to crime boss. He uses the Italian mob and the corrupt cop who beat him severely as a teenager to gain a foothold and then turns the tables on all of them. None of it seems to matter, though, as he still can't satisfy the women in his life, no matter what he can give them. As his world begins to crumble around Tommy, the film builds to a stirring climax. Tommy's final revenge on the crooked cop is both poetic and brutal. If you haven't seen it, I won't spoil it for you.
The story moves at a quick pace, never dragging. There's plenty of nudity, violence, and cursing, so if that sort of thing bothers you, stay away. Fred Williamson is very convincing as Tommy and Art Lund is particularly slimy as McKinney, the corrupt, racist cop. Both come off as more than just cardboard "hero"/"villain" cutouts. The female characters aren't as strong as their male counterparts, pretty typical for the gangster genre, not just the blaxploitation films.
It should be noted as well that the movie boasts a fantastic soundtrack performed by the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. "Down and Out in New York City" is one of my favorite James Brown numbers.
I highly recommend checking out this movie if you're into gangster films or the blaxploitation films of the seventies. This movie doesn't disappoint on either of those fronts and boasts a pretty good story to boot."