Initially planning to make a list of just 10 films, it was easy at first, but then I quickly realized that the 70’s were a great time for black films and there was such a wide diversity of films, that I couldn’t just list 10 blaxploitation flicks, but instead, expanded the list to include other films from that period that would not easily fit into the blaxploitation genre. Keep in mind that this is my list and not the last, definite word on the subject. Feel free to add, subtract or argue with my choices. We still have freedom of speech.
1) “Three The Hard Way” – (1974 dir. Gordon Parks Jr.) The great Gordon Parks’ son had quite a ride in the 70’s cranking out films actively, with this film, as well as “Super Fly,” and another one we’ll get into later. But for my money this is da’ bomb. A low rent, low budget (though at the time, with it’s $1.5 million budget, it was considered the most expensive black film) James Bond rip-off about three friends who get together to stop a white supremacist organization from killing all black people by poisoning the water supply, giving them all sickle cell. Now c’mon, who today would make a film about 3 brothers saving the entire black race? Yeah, I thought so. And you couldn’t even do a remake of this today. Name me 3 super-macho black actors today who could play the parts. Idris Elba? Michael Jai White? Who else can you think of? (Available on Warner Home Video DVD).
2) “Leadbelly” – (1976 dir. Gordon Parks) Parks Jr’s father’s compelling, haunting, moving film about the legendary blues singer, played magnificently by Roger E. Mosley. The studio that made the film, Paramount, fearing zero audience appeal, dumped the film in a few cities to little fanfare. Needless to say, it’s never been released on DVD. One of the truly great lost films of the 70’s.
3) “Melinda” – (1972 dir. Hugh Robertson) A film I’ve written about before on this blog. A really terrific, complex and sexy mystery thriller, directed by one of the first major African American Hollywood film editors, Robertson, who had previously edited “Midnight Cowboy” and “Shaft,” and who, unfortunately, died at an early age (Currently being remastered and coming out soon from Warner Archive DVD-on-demand label.).
4) “Gordon’s War” – (1973 – dir. Ossie Davis) Released by Fox, a totally forgotten and terrific, crackling action thriller about an ex-Vietnam vet (Paul Winfield), who leads a vigilante group of ex-vets to rid Harlem of drug dealers. Do I hear remake anyone? (Available on Shout Factory DVD).
5) “Top of the Heap” – (1972 – dir. Christopher St. John) Truly one of the weirdest films of the era about a corrupt, unhappily married, drug addict cop (played by St. John who also wrote the film) on the verge of a nervous breakdown, who goes into occasional fantasies, imagining himself as an astronaut on the moon. Highly regarded when it first came out, it vanished without a trace but is still fondly remembered by the few who saw it when it was released… like me.
6) “Black Caesar” – (1972 – dir. Larry Cohen) Basically an updated reworking of those old 1930’s Warner bros crime dramas, like “Little Caesar” and “Public Enemy,” but made with a real grittiness, and one of Fred Williamson’s most iconic roles. Also, the soundtrack by the great James Brown is the coldest, hardcore, f—-g greatest soundtrack ever for a blaxplotation film. Sorry for those who think Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack for “Super Fly” is the standard. (Available on Warner Home Video DVD or you can watch the complete film in parts on You Tube).
7) “Aaron Love Angela” – (1975 – dir. Gordon Parks Jr) Not admittedly the greatest film, and it does have it problems, including a cop-out ending that resolves nothing. But this reworking of “Romeo and Juliet,” about a black high school basketball player who falls in love with a Puerto Rican girl, despite their parents objections, is a sweet-toned film, with some real toughness. Another film by Parks Jr., who was on the verge of becoming a major player in Hollywood, when his life was sadly cut short in a plane crash, in Kenya, in 1979, while scouting locations for a new movie (Not available on DVD or anywhere)
8.) “Let’s Do It Again” – (1975 – dir. Sidney Poitier) Of the 3 comedies Poitier made with Bill Cosby (the other two being “Uptown Saturday Night” and “A Piece of the Action”) the second one, this one, is by far the funniest and stills hold up today despite its absolutely far-fetched plotline about a con job involving hypnotism, and a rigged boxing mtach (Available on Warner Home Video DVD)
9) “The Education of Sonny Carson” – (1974 – dir. Michael Campus) An unflinching movie about Carson’s life, growing up on the mean streets of Harlem (Available on DVD).
10 and 11) “Coffy” and “Foxy Brown” (1973/74 dir- Jack Hill) How could I not put these two films on the list, and not pay my respects to The Goddess, The Queen, the stone-cold most beautiful, and baddest chick there ever was – Pam Grier? (Both available blu-ray through Arrow Films U.K.(Region 2) and soon in June in the U.S. in blu-ray on Olive Films)
12) “Truck Turner” (1974 – dir. Johnathan Kaplan) A violent, very funny, always exciting action film about a skip tracer, which, for a second, made Issac Hayes a major movie star. Lt. Uhura, aka Nichelle Nichols, is incredibly sexy and jaw-dropping awesome as the evil brain out to kill Hayes. The final insane shoot-out through a hospital, was stolen from the shoot-out sequence in a hospital maternity ward, from director Sam Fullers’ little-seen 1972 thriller, “Dead Piegon (Coming out in July on blu-ray DVD through Kino Studio Classics)
13) “Bingo Long’s Traveling and Motor Kings All Stars” – (1976 – dir John Badham) An affectionate but a tad too jokey and rambunctious film about the Negro League baseball team in the 1930’s, with Richard Pryor stealing every scene he’s in. The film originally was to be directed by Steven Spielberg after “Jaws” (Available on Universal Home Video DVD).
14) “Slaughter’s Big Rip Off” (1973 – dir. Gordon Douglas) – This sequel to 1972’s “Slaughter,” starring the absolute definition of hardcore black masculinity, Jim Brown, is far superior to the first one, mainly thanks to director Gordon Douglas, a long-time Hollywood veteran director who had been directing films for over 30 years, for every studio, with every major star (Available on DVD).
15) “Claudine” (1974 – dir. John Barry) Hard to believe, but this simple and very charming, but tough at times romance about a single mother on welfare, who falls in love with a garbage man, caused quite a ruckus when it came out. Some objected to the premise, and felt that the lead character presented a “negative” portrayal of black women. But the biggest objection was the casting of Diahann Carroll (who got an Oscar nomination for best actress for her performance) in the lead role; some felt that she was too “bougie,” not “black enough,” and too beautiful to play a welfare mother. One of the few films made in the U.S. by director Barry after he left for France, after being “blacklisted” during the 1950’s “Red Scare” (Available on DVD, but unfortunately pan and scan not in its original aspect ratio).
Now over to you. What films would you add, subtract, etc?