Monday, May 3, 2010

Detroit 9000 (1973) review

DETROIT 9000 (1973)

Alex Rocco (Lieutenant Danny Bassett), Hari Rhodes (Sergeant Jesse Williams), Vonetta McGee (Ruby Harris), Scatman Crothers (Reverend Markham), Robert Phillips (Inspector Morgan Chalmers)

Directed by Arthur Marks

A group of thieves steal $400,000 from a number of supporters at a fund raising event for black congressman, Aubrey Hale Clayton. Tensions rise when racism is questioned as being a key component in the crime being committed as well as it being prevented. Lieutenant Danny Bassett is partnered with Sergeant Jesse Williams to solve the case. With anxieties already high, the strained partnership only adds to the problematic caper.

Arthur Marks strikes again this time delivering a vastly important topical crime thriller with some volatile ideas and performances. Easily one of the best black oriented motion pictures of the 1970's which imports some elements from the exploitation end of black cinema that became popular at the start of the decade. It's a thought provoking, sometimes ferocious, yet quality police procedural with controversial subject matter.

Mark's thought provokingly violent movie is a police thriller with attitude. Possessing an incredibly uncomfortable air of race hate on both white and black, the script is an ingenious concoction of infighting between black pride and white supremacy. But it's not confined to black and white. There's also discussion that the heist was a black on black crime. From start to finish, there are oodles of conversations and heated debates about racial discrimination and how it figures into society, the business world and also the political world.

All sides presented are positive and negative. For every good, honest cop, there's an equally crooked and seedy policeman. Ditto for the politicians. The only constant are the criminals, they're all bad. It's in a similar vein to the correspondingly gut punching, but even more violent police thriller, ACROSS 110TH STREET from the year prior. One of the finest aspects of this production is the amount of subterfuge especially the finale where everything is not as it seems leaving the audience to answer for themselves the question raised during the closing moments. The reason behind a dismembered corpse found inside a trunk in the river is another plot device that turns out to be not as it seems.

DETROIT 9000 (whose title refers to an officers distress call) is often lumped in with the blaxploitation genre of movies. That's not in any way being detrimental to the many mindless action films that propagated during that period, just that there's a lot more going on here than simple blood, guns and breasts that defined the more famous entries the genre was known for. There's still a good number of action scenes including a dynamite shoot out conclusion that's spread out all over Detroit from a railway to a cemetery with cops on foot, in cars and even on horseback!

"There you see'em...the ultimate product of your jive ass honky establishment, your house nigger."--Sgt. Williams is shocked that little has changed with some of the older generation in the way they interact with whitey

It does have some elements you'd expect from the films such as a handful of bloody shoot outs and chases and a risibly funkadelic soundtrack. Also the litany of racial slurs and innuendo are prevalent. In many cases, this is just an extension of the characters expressing their emotional state. One such sequence is when Bassett goes to visit his mentally unstable wife whose in a mental hospital. Needless to say, she has little respect for anyone other than the "right people".

Critical and carefree Lt. Danny Bassett sits in on a radio talk show called "Buzz the Fuzz" and answers a question regarding the heist at the black congressman fundraiser....

Caller: Was it whites rippin' off blacks, or brothers rippin' off brothers?

Lt. Bassett: I don't, uh...really give a damn.

Caller: You mean you a honky racist like the rest o' the pigs! You don't care what happens to black people looong as they keep their place, huh?

Lt. Bassett: No, what I mean is I don't care whether the bastards are black, brown, blue, yellow, or green. When an asshole commits a felony I'm gonna do my goddamndest to bust'em! That's what I mean!

Bassett tries to console his racist and mentally disturbed wife, Maddy, who now resides in an institution

The performances are good across the board with an occasional wooden line exchange here and there. Alex Rocco (THE GODFATHER, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH) is spot on as the begrudging, terminally frustrated Lieutenant with a chip on his shoulder. Foul mouthed and aching to be left alone, the character of Bassett is one of the best parts of the movie. Robert Phillips plays the chief Inspector and 70's action fans will recognize him from a slew of movies playing predominantly bad guys. It's a refreshing change of pace to see him play a good guy for a change.

"Go on, try it. Go for it, you bastard. Gimme an excuse to waste a goddamn cop killer!"

Hari Rhodes is also an imposing presence as the Sergeant assigned to partner with Bassett to crack the caper. His role as Williams is stoic and confident in his resolve. Rhodes was also one of the high marks in another film with racial subtext, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972) where he played the sympathetic human, MacDonald.

Ruby's services are required by the shady Aubrey Hale Clayton. Scatman Crothers (left) plays the not so holy Reverend Markham

Vonetta McGee plays a call girl with a lot of inside information. She's not in the movie much, but is integral to the solving of the big heist. McGee was the object of interest in BLACULA (1972) and also in the ultra violent Italian spaghetti western classic, THE GREAT SILENCE (1967). Bob Minor is on hand yet again in a bloody shootout chase sequence early in the movie.

Stuntman/actor extraordinaire Bob Minor

DETROIT 9000 (1973) is a thoroughly entertaining and stimulating action-police drama. It's subject matter is just as topical today as when the movie was released. It also has elements found in the best of the blaxploitation movies, but Arthur Mark's incendiary police procedural really doesn't belong there. Highly recommended.

This review is representative of the Miramax DVD

J.D.'s Revenge (1976) review

J.D.'s REVENGE 1976

Glynn Turman (Ike Hendricks), Louis Gossett Jr. (Reverend Elija Bliss), Joan Pringle (Christella), Carl Crudup (Tony), James Watkins (Carl), Fred Pinkard (Theotis Bliss), Jo Anne Meredith (Sara Divine), Alice Jubert (Roberta Bliss) David McKnight (J.D. Walker)

Directed by Arthur Marks

Note the image of J.D. in the mirror behind Ike

During a hypnotism act on Bourbon Street, Ike Hendricks, a law student working as a cabbie, is unwittingly possessed by the spirit of a dead gangster named J.D. Walker. The violent racketeer wants revenge on those that killed both he and his sister over thirty years before. Former boxer turned preacher, Elija Bliss and his brother, Theotis are at the center of J.D.'s revenge.

This is a fascinating and intriguing blaxploitation horror movie/psychological thriller with two exemplary performances by two damn fine actors, Glynn Turman and Louis Gossett Jr. Some fans might be put off by the lesser amount of violence versus the care given to the characters. It's to the films advantage, but that's not to say the film is without its trashy merits. There's a misogynistic slant that some might find offensive, but J.D.'s REVENGE is one of the finest examples of the black oriented films of the 1970's.

Ike, under the influence of J.D. Walker, goes to meet his enemies

Director Arthur Marks helmed some excellent 70's trash including BONNIE'S KIDS (1973), the racially charged DETROIT 9000 (1973) and BUCKTOWN (1975). He also directed a couple of other late blooming, but playfully innocent blaxploitation flicks by the names of FRIDAY FOSTER (1975) and THE MONKEY HU$TLE (1976).

The real J.D. Walker during a flashback

All of Mark's blax flicks are different from one to the other. One is a mostly serious take on racism and the politically dangerous underbelly of a city in panic. Another is standard blaxploitation fare, one is a lighter toned Pam Grier vehicle that's a departure from the norm, another is an all out comedy and then we have J.D.'s REVENGE. It's one of a handful of black action movies with a horror thriller slant. But where other films like BLACULA (1972), SUGAR HILL (1974) and DR. BLACK & MR. HYDE (1976) which had a humorous touch to them, J.D.'s REVENGE is serious from start to finish.

"I think it's a good thing to go up side of a woman's head when she starts handin' you lip. I mean, believe it, or not, they like that! Hey, man...honest to God, you have GOT to go into your nigga' act on'em every once in a while. They gonna push ya' till you do!"

Christella is about to make the mistake of asking just what has happened to Ike's hair

Glynn Turman totally steals the show as Ike and the possessed soul brother of the damned, J.D. Walker. Actor, Turman is excellent utilizing his commanding presence whenever he's onscreen playing host to the dead gangster. It's an incredibly scary performance. Towards the end, the dead mobsters spirit takes over with Ike possessing (haha) a complete makeover. His hairstyle has changed as well as his dress. At this time, Ike ceases to exist leaving only J.D. Walker. It's an intensely terrifying portrayal.

Ike in full on J.D. Walker mode, "The craziest nigga' you ever did meet!"

There's a great scene where Ike/J.D. picks up a woman in a club and takes her back home for some bedroom gymnastics. The woman's husband comes home early and plans to bruise up Ike only to receive several bloody slashes from J.D.'s weapon of choice, a barber's razor. Playing the husband is notable stuntman, the great Bob Minor. Appearing in a plethora of movies, Minor has contributed stunt work do dozens upon dozens of great and grand movies from the 70's onward. Seeing Minor onscreen always brings a smile to my face and it's a shame he didn't get his own series of movies during this prosperous time period populated with the charismatic likes of Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Pam Grier.

"You're starting to believe your own jive sermons, brother. You're pimping God's consciousness like some kind of fat whore. You're just selling cheap feel good thrills to a bunch of sucka's looking for the second coming of Jesus, or some such shit. Just keep in mind what you really do, Elija...and I'll keep the show running...smoothly."

Louis Gossett Jr. is feelin' the spirit

Louis Gossett Jr. is likewise amazing as the excitable preacher, Elija Bliss. Both actors form the crux of the film and both are amazing at maintaining viewer interest although the bulk of that interest lies at the feet of Turman. Gossett gives it his all in capturing the spirit (haha). There's also some subtext that Bliss's Jesus fest is all a big scam. It's an added element that's welcome amongst the horror angle.

The violence is sporadic, but effective. The most vicious scenes are when Ike brutalizes his girlfriend, Christella after being taken over by J.D. Walker. There are two such scenes with the second one being the most severe. He berates her, attempts to rape her and finally when she gets away after hitting him with a vase and escaping to the bathroom, he threatens her with death.

The possession angle will no doubt bring to mind THE EXORCIST (1973), but J.D.'s REVENGE (1976) apparently was influential in itself. Curtis Harrington directed pretty much the same movie the following year with RUBY (1977), but with a stronger horror presence. I'm not sure if both movies were in production at the same time and AIP got their's out first, but it's interesting that both share pretty much the same storyline, but one it's a male whose possessed and in the other it's a female who is taken over by a vengeful spirit.

Wow, whatever happened to Alice Jubert?

J.D.'s REVENGE, while being an AIP effort, is lacking in the usual extreme violence found in their catalog of black themed movies. Mark's movie has a lot of sleaze appeal mostly with the abundant nudity and several dream sequences featuring a cow being slaughtered, but it doesn't have the level of violence found in so many other movies of the genre. This is predominantly a character study and all the better for it. It's one of the best, if not the best representations of blax-horror 'soul'ey (haha) due to the aggressive performance of Glynn Turman.

This review is representative of the MGM DVD

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