MGM/UA Home Entertainment
Directed by Arthur Marks
Written by Bob Ellison
Produced by Bernard Schwartz
Whenever Blaxplotation fans get together and start discussing their favorite movies of the genre, I guarantee that BUCKTOWN is in the top ten, if not the top five. And with good reason. It stars three icons of the Blaxploitation genre who were able to move on when Blaxplotation died and find careers in the mainstream. And it’s an early film of Carl Weathers who went to find his own success in the “Rocky” movies as well as in “Action Jackson” and “Predator” as well television shows such as “In The Heat of The Night” and the cut down well before it’s time “Fortune Dane”. And it’s a good story professionally acted and directed.
Duke Johnson (Fred Williamson) returns home to the small town of Buchanan, Alabama which is nicknamed ‘Bucktown’. He only intends to stay in town long enough to bury his brother and then leave. But right from the moment he hits Bucktown, things ain’t right. The police force is openly racist and hostile. Duke finds out his brother died under seriously shady circumstances. And to make matters worse, it’ll take two months before the paperwork is done so that Duke can settle his brother’s estate.
He’s offered a solution by Harley (Bernie Hamilton) the amiable town drunk who worked for Duke’s brother. Harley suggests that Duke re-open his brother’s bar/nightclub. After all, Duke’s got to stay in Bucktown anyway, right? What’s the harm? The idea is met with no enthusiasm by Aretha (Pam Grier) who was in love with Duke’s brother. Matter of fact, she doesn’t like Duke very much, period and sums up her feelings about him in one well-put sentence: “he ain’t nothin’ but a big city, jive ass spook!”
Duke re-opens the nightclub and quickly discovers that Harley left out one important detail: Police Chief Patterson (Art Lund) and his police force are shaking down everybody in Bucktown since its main businesses appear to be gambling, prostitution and drug dealing. Duke tries fighting back but it’s clear that he’s going to need help to clean up the town.
One phone call later and help diddy-bops into Bucktown in the form of Roy (Thalmus Rasulala) Duke’s oldest friend who grew up with him and served with him in the military. Roy comes with his crew: Hambone (Carl Weathers) T.J. (Tony King) and Josh (Gene Simms) and once these guys get started, there simply isn’t any stopping them.
In short order, Roy and his crew brutally and viciously slaughters the corrupt cops and I do mean slaughter. These guys do not believe in taking prisoners and once the smoke clears, there’s nobody left standing but them. Now quite naturally everybody thinks Roy and his crew are going to go back where they came from but such is not the case. Because after checking out the action in Bucktown, Roy sees no reason why he shouldn’t step into the vacuum he created and run Bucktown himself. And it becomes quickly obvious that Roy and his crew are far worse than Patterson and his corrupt cops ever were. Even though Roy orders his men to steer clear of Duke, T.J and Hambone don’t think that’s fair and they initiate their own plan to drive a wedge into the friendship of the two men and turn them against each other. It takes Harley being beaten nearly to death and Aretha almost being raped to make Duke realize that it’s his responsibility to put things to right in Bucktown or die trying…
BUCKTOWN has got a bit more meat on the plot than most Blaxplotation movies and I suppose that’s why it’s still remembered to this day. It’s also a different movie for Fred Williamson and Pam Grier in a lot of ways. Fred Williamson doesn’t play his usual ultra-hip superdude with a quick quip and easy smile for every situation. He’s actually pretty reserved through much of the movie until the end when he finally gets sick of Roy’s shit and decides that no, he ain’t gonna take it anymore.
Pam Grier herself isn’t the Filmic Goddess of War she usually plays. She acts as Duke’s conscience, pointing out to him the necessity of his doing the right thing and taking responsibility for dealing with Roy. Thalmus Rasulala is marvelous as usual. He was one of those actors who never seemed to turn in a bad performance no matter what role he played or what movie he’s in. Besides his many roles in Blaxplotation movies he also played the father of Kunta Kinte in ‘Roots’. If you only know Bernie Hamilton from “Starsky and Hutch” you’ll be surprised at seeing him here as a washed up ex-pro football player who likes pulling a cork way too much. Carl Weathers makes the most of his supporting role here and it’s interesting seeing him play a bad guy. The only actor in the movie I can’t stand is Tierre Turner who was one of the most annoying child actors of the 70’s. He’s since gone on to become one of the best and most respected stunt coordinators in the business and I’m happy for him since acting plainly wasn’t for him.
So should you see BUCKTOWN? If you’re a fan of Blaxplotation, you probably already have. If you haven’t then this movie is an excellent place to start, especially since it stars Fred Williamson, Pam Grier and Thalmus Rasulala. Your education in Blaxplotation isn’t complete until you’ve seen them at work.
As usual, whenever I review a movie from the 70’s and 80’s I feel I should inform you that these movies were made in a time before Political Correctness and as so, racism and sexism is all over the place. And the violence isn’t played for laughs. It’s downright brutal and messy. If you have a thin skin and are easily offended then by all means, stay away from BUCKTOWN. But if you’re made of sterner stuff and want to dip into film history and spend some time with a true classic of the genre, by all means, enjoy.
And here’s a P.S. for you: BUCKTOWN was remade in 2004 as “Full Clip” which starred Busta Rhymes in the Fred Williamson role and Xzibit in the Thalmus Rasulala role.