Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hammer (1972) review


Fred Williamson (B.J. Hammer), Bernie Hamilton (Davis), Vonetta McGee (Lois), William Smith (Brenner), Charles Lampkin (Big Sid), D'Urville Martin (Sonny), Stack Pierce (Roughhouse)

Directed by Bruce Clark

A former fighter and dockworker named B.J. Hammer gets back into the boxing ring after a mobster catches him in a fight against a racist co-worker. Seeing the chance to make it to the big time, Hammer signs with Big Sid, a shady promoter who deals in drugs and murder. Trouble ensues when Big Sid's backers demand that Hammer take the fall for an up and coming fighter. Only Hammer isn't going down for anybody.

Bruce Clark, the director of the infamous exploitation classic, GALAXY OF TERROR (1981), tackles this average blaxploitation flick that made Fred Williamson a movie star. The movie is competently shot and contains some nice characterizations. The good guys are good and the bad guys are especially bad. Compared with some others in the genre, it doesn't stand up very well. It's possibly due to some weak boxing choreography as these scenes are pretty much flat for the most part. There's also an overall lack of action aside from a small number of minor set pieces throughout.

The best things in HAMMER are the dialog and certain aspects of the script. What it lacks in action it more than makes up for in its themes and portrayals. A good blaxploitation movie needs some engaging action set pieces to reel in the audience to accentuate those dialog scenes. Even still, these scenes are well done and delve into the minds of the people. Williamson is less ego minded this time out. He's charismatic here, but far more laid back than in most all his other movies. His acting here is less forced and he comes off more natural. It's one of his better roles in my opinion.

The script also explores the seedier side of boxing and the cruel treatment afforded the fighters. They're just slabs of meat to be thrown in the garbage when they've gotten too old. Control is a major theme that runs through this movie. The promoter pulls the strings of the fighters and a bigger fish pulls the strings of the promoter. Also, there's quite a lot said about Hammer once he climbs the ladder to success. A lot of his neighborhood brothers and sisters look down on him once he's workin' for "the Man". However, we never really get a feel for how high up the ladder Hammer has gotten. We only hear about it through those that have turned their backs on him.

Nonetheless it is quite trashy in places which is to be expected of this genre. There's nudity, violence and a good pace, ingredients that categorize the more popular entries in this genre. Derogatory speech is also fairly prominent here. Having the white characters spout off inflammatory dialog really got the audience behind the heroes in these films.

HAMMER (1972) would be several tiers down were it not for the great William Smith as the maniac, Brenner. His overanxious propensity for violence makes for a scary persona. Nearly every scene he's in, Smith seems on the edge of pummeling everyone within camera range. He would later play an even more vicious and excitable mobster in BLACK SAMSON from 1974. Like so many of William Smith's bad guy roles, he's seldom given a believable send off due to his imposing frame and intense face. It's difficult to make the audience believe the hero could take Smith down. He's that intimidating.

Williamson once said that Smith was, "Probably the toughest guy in the 70's", the two worked again on Jack Arnold's black western, BOSS NIGGER (1975). Smith's exit here during the closing moments is rather disappointing after the picture, up to this point, carefully builds Brenner as a force to be reckoned with.

Vonetta McGee will also be remembered as Luva from BLACULA (1972) as well as her role in Sergio Corbucci's excessively bleak and violent THE GREAT SILENCE (1968). She was rather bland, but had an exotic beauty about her with some hypnotic Barbara Steele like eyes. She allegedly had an affair with Klaus Kinski whilst shooting THE GREAT SILENCE. There's also lots of other familiar faces here including "Judo" Gene LeBell, Bernie Hamilton (BUCKTOWN), charles Lampkin (WATERMELON MAN), Stack Pierce (PSYCHIC KILLER), John Quade (EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE) and D'Urville Martin (DOLEMITE), which helps aid in the films staying power.

HAMMER (1972) is one of the lesser blaxploitation movies, but one not without some merits. It's one of Fred Williamson's more laid back roles. Whereas in so many of his movies, Williamson is simply playing Fred Williamson, here, he lends B.J. Hammer some humble, yet confident traits that make him a likable character. While it's merely an average production, fans will want to see it anyway, but don't expect anything along the lines of BLACK CAESAR (1972), COFFY (1973) or TRUCK TURNER (1974).

This review is representative of the MGM DVD

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