Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered and Shafted

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2004

BadAzz MoFo

Written, Directed and Produced by David F. Walker

We live in a time where people are in absolute terror of being labeled or having labels put on anything. Especially creative folk. Ask a writer what she writes and she may very well look at you as if you’re something that dropped from the south end of a northbound horse while replying; “I refuse to put a label on my work.” Ask a musician what type of music he plays and he looks at you like you tried to shank his momma as he answers; “I don’t like to put a label on my work. Labels are limiting.”

Now, you may ask what does that have to do with my reviewing the highly entertaining and informative Blaxploitation documentary MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED? To be honest, absolutely nothing. It was a thought that occurred to me while watching the movie’s various interviews with the icons of Blaxploitation: Ron O’Neal. Jim Brown. The late great Jim Kelly and William Marshall. Gloria Hendry. Fred Williamson. Antonio Fargas. Robert Hooks. Rudy Ray Moore. Glynn Turman. The question is put to each of them what is Blaxploitation and each and every one had a different interpretation of what the Blaxploitation genre meant to them on a personal and professional level. Maybe the problem with labels is not the label itself but that people can never agree on one solid definition of what the label means?

Yeah, my brain ran to thoughts such as that while watching the movie and that’s a good thing because I enjoy watching a movie that makes me think. Especially when it’s about a subject I love such as Blaxploitation. That period of American Cinema isn’t just history for me. It’s very much an alive and vital genre as I vividly recall seeing most Blaxploitation movie double and triple features on Manhattan’s infamous 42end street during the decade Blaxploitation dominated movie theaters. (Roughly 1970 to 1979) And it’s a genre that still has a massive influence on my writing.

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MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED runs only 92 minutes and covers a lot of ground in that relatively short running time. But writer/director David  F. Walker through his interviews manages to give us a fairly comprehensive overview of the psychological, financial and artistic aspects of the genre. And it’s an overview given by the men and women who were actually there and working during that time. And they speak quite frankly and honestly about how it was and what was going on. There are some truly eye-opening moments in those interviews such as when Jim Brown and Fred Williamson break it down financially exactly why Hollywood needs black actors far more than the black actors need Hollywood. Or when Jim Kelly talks about how Hollywood studios gladly sacrifice truckloads of money just as long as they can continue to promote the image of blacks that they want to promote.

I’ll occasionally have discussions with young black fans of films that are very dismissive and even disgusted with Blaxploitation. They see it as not being very far removed from the mammies and coons and minstrels of earlier Hollywood years. This documentary is made for them. It’s impossible to seriously study Blaxploitation and not also study how the genre related to the racial/political climate in America at that time. One is bound up in the other and if you explore one then you begin to understand the other.

And then when you throw in the dynamic that in the late 1960s Hollywood was dying as an industry and Blaxploitation saved it…well, that’s another whole bag of chips we done opened that we got to chew on if we’re gonna talk about the subject honestly. Sure, many of the images in those movies were hideously negative but some were uplifting and positive as well. Blaxploitation was just as much about empowerment and control as it was about making a profit and entertaining working folks on a Friday or Saturday night.

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But I’m not here to make the movie’s case. It does that very well on its own. My only job is to recommend it to you and I do so very highly. MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED can be seen uncut, in its entirety and for free on Vimeo. If you’re a fan of Blaxploitation or don’t know a thing about it, either way you’ll enjoy yourself. Peace.

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Black Belt Jones

BLACK BELT JONES

1974

Warner Brothers

Directed by Robert Clouse

Produced by Fred Weintraub

Written by Fred Weintraub and Oscar Williams

When it comes to the subject of martial arts movies there isn’t a sane human being alive that would argue that Bruce Lee was The King. But if there is such a thing as The Prince of Martial Arts movies then that title certainly has to go to Jim Kelly. Playing up the novelty of a black master of karate ensured that African-American audiences in the 1970’s, hungry to see black heroes up on the screen would pack the theaters. And they did. I and my friends must have went to see BLACK BELT JONES at least half a dozen times during its original theatrical run and we weren’t the only ones. Whenever the subject of blaxploitation comes up and I’m asked to recommend titles, BLACK BELT JONES is always one of the first movies I mention. The non-stop action, the humor, the wonderfully 70’s fashions and dialog and of course the charm of Jim Kelly as well as his co-star Gloria Hendry makes this essential to any blaxploitation collection.

Mafia Don Steffano (Andre Philippe) gets word that the city is going to build a glitzy new civic center and he buys up all the land on the proposed site. There’s one more piece of property he needs; The Blackbyrd Karate School owned by Pop Byrd (Scatman Crothers) who won’t sell. Local drug dealer Pinky (Malik Carter) is in The Mob’s pocket and is engaged to force Pop Byrd to sell. Pop Byrd owes Pinky some money and Pinky inflates the debt, offering a deal for Pop Byrd to pay off the I.O.U. with the karate school. Pop Byrd is accidentally killed by Pinky’s henchmen during negotiations. Enter Black Belt Jones (Jim Kelly) a former student of Pop Byrd’s who now works for an unnamed government agency but is hinted to be The CIA. Along with Pop’s beautiful and dangerous daughter Sydney (Gloria Hendry) who is as adept in karate as Jones himself, Black Belt Jones goes after not only Pinky’s gang but Don Steffano himself to avenge Pop Byrd’s death and save the karate school.

For movies like this, you don’t need much of a plot to get things going and one of the strengths of BLACK BELT JONES is that it takes such a simple plot but due to the energy of the actors, the fight scenes, the characters and the splicing together of the blaxplotation and martial arts genres it makes it so much fun to watch.

Jim Kelly himself would never claim to be all that as an actor but he had so much swagger, cool and charm that it more than made up for any lack of acting talent. And there never was a cat who could pull off wearing an afro that big and not have it look ridiculous on screen.

This is the movie that has the fight scene where his cohort Toppy (Alan Weeks) turns lights on and off in the karate school at three second intervals so that the outnumbered Jones can ambush Pinky and his thugs with comedic effect. Listen closely to the comments Pinky makes during the scene and I guarantee you’ll be on the floor laughing. In fact, Malik Carter walks away with the acting honors in this one. Pinky is a wonderful bad guy, full of just as much swagger and charm as Jones himself and he’s got the best dialog of anybody in the movie. Earl Jolly Brown plays one of Pinky’s chief henchmen and you’ll recognize him as being one of Mr. Big’s henchmen in the blaxplotation flavored James Bond movie “Live And Let Die.”

There’s also some very recognizable faces such as Marla Gibbs from “The Jeffersons” and “227.” Ted Lange from “The Love Boat” and Eric Laneuville who seemingly was in just about every movie and guest-starred on every TV show of the 70’s. His name is not one most people recognize but his face is. After a successful acting career he has since gone on to be one of the most talented directors working in television with multiple episodes of dramas such as “Quantum Leap” “Monk” “Lost” and “Everybody Hates Chris” to his credit.

And then there’s Gloria Hendry. Most people remember her as Rosie Carver in “Live And Let Die” but for me BLACK BELT JONES is the role I always think of first when her name is mentioned. I have no idea if she actually was involved in martial arts back then but she sure looks as if she was in this movie. She’s got two terrific fights scenes: the poolroom brawl in which she wallops the piss outta half a dozen of Pinky’s toughs, all of them twice her size and the most famous fight scene in BLACK BELT JONES where she and Jones take on a hoard of enemies at a car wash, battling them in a sea of soap bubbles. It doesn’t hurt that during the fight the only thing Miss Hendry is wearing is a denim shirt that barely covers up her other assets.

What else? Oh, yeah…the absolutely kickass theme song performed by Dennis Coffey. It’s a legendary theme song and rightly so, played over the opening credits while Jones has his first fight scene in a parking lot. It’s a fight scene that has sound effects you just don’t hear anymore. When Jones hits these guys it sounds like somebody whacking a leather couch with a tennis racket.

So should you see BLACK BELT JONES? Yes. Yes. A thousand times YES. Jim Kelly got robbed in “Enter The Dragon” when his character got killed off (they shoulda killed off that stiff John Saxon instead) but Robert Clouse and Fred Weintraub, knowing what they had, more than made up for it by giving him such a fun and exciting star vehicle. BLACK BELT JONES is nothing but fun from start to finish. For those of you Politically Correct People please be advised that there are racial and sexual stereotypes galore and there is frequent use of the N Word. But if you can accept that the movie was made in a less enlightened period and go with it as such, you’ll have a great time watching it.

If you want to see BLACK BELT JONES as well as three other blaxplotation movies of that era: the sequel to BLACK BELT JONES: “Hot Potato” “Three The Hard Way” which has Jim Kelly team up with Jim Brown and Fred Williamson and “Black Samson” next time you hit Target see if you can find the Warner Brothers 4 Film Favorites: Urban Action Collection. I got my copy a few years and paid $9.99 for it. I’m fairly certain you can get it for five bucks now. Even though “Hot Potato” is a big disappointment, the collection is still worth your money. Enjoy.

87 minutes

Rated R