BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review
- Published Date
- by Loron Hays
Written and directed by Larry Cohen (The Stuff), Black Caesar is essentially a remake of 1931’s Little Caesar with Edward G. Robinson. To its credit; however, Cohen’s film has enough stylized action and Harlem locale in it to make it stand out and far, far apart from the original. The rise-and-fall themes are still there and yet, heavy on the irony, Black Caesar still comes across as honest and very, very real.
It all starts with a shoeshine. Opening in the 1950s, Tommy Gibbs, a young tough shoe shining his way up the ranks of the mob, gets in an entanglement with an Irish cop and is left with a permanent limp. After a spread of a few years, Gibbs (Fred Williamson) returns to the rugged streets of Harlem with a vengeance. He’s headed straight to the top and will take on any mob boss who challenges him. This is HIS city, after all.
Throw in some ill-advised decisions concerning his parents – one he wants to spoil (Minnie Gentry) and one he wants to kill (Julius Harris) - and a whole bevy of women (including Gloria Hendry, his main squeeze) eager to hop in bed with a most powerful man and Gibbs’ shortsightedness becomes obscenely apparent. Money isn’t the answer but just try and tell him differently. He prefers to shoot first and winds up wounded, back where he began.
Cohen’s direction throughout Black Caesar is tight. The action sequences are memorable and - as the flick has been name-dropped by everyone from Big Daddy Kane to Public Enemy – continues to influence. While the Harlem location shoots were handled by Saturday Night Fever’s James Signorelli, much of the film benefits from Cohen’s crisp economical choices. Ain’t no fat on this one, folks. It’s lean and mean and struts more often than it strolls.
Not even the soundtrack written by James Brown and bandleader Fred Wesley – with classics like “Down and Out in New York City” and ‘The Boss” – can convince Gibbs to change his ways. Harlem’s black mafia is his and his alone and his self-proclaimed kingpin status might just be his own undoing.
When cornered and running out of options, Blaxploitation got yer back, brother! Black Caesar, now available on blu-ray from Olive Films, is a definite must-own.
MPAA Rating: R.
Runtime: 87 mins
Director: Larry Cohen
Writer: Larry Cohen
Cast: Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry, Art Lund
Genre: Action | Crime
Tagline: Hail Caesar, Godfather of Harlem...The Cat with the .45-Caliber Claws!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Me? Live in this apartment? Why they'd hang me right off that terrace, Jew folks ain't even allowed here."
Distributor: American International Pictures (AIP)
Release Date: February 7, 1973
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: September 22, 2015
Synopsis: From shoe-shine boy to top mafia kingpin, the story of a Harlem youth's rise and fall in New York City's crime underworld.
Available on Blu-ray - September 22, 2015
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A
Olive Films does MGM’s DVD transfer a solid with this hi-def release. The 1080p image presents the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors are strong and the fleshtones look perfect. There is a lot of grain and it only adds to gritty realism of the film. Details are sharp throughout. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio sound mix is a good blend of funk and dialogue.
There is a trailer and that’s it.