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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: Gordon's War (1973) review


Paul Winfield (Gordon Hudson), Carl Lee (Bee Bishop), David Downing (Otis Russell), Tony King (Roy Green), Gilbert Lewis (Spanish Harry), Carl Gordon (Luther the Pimp), Nathan C. Heard (Big Pink), Grace Jones (Mary)

Directed by Ossie Davis

"...One junkie will bring down everyone around him. He will steal his mothers rent, sell his sisters ass and spread the cancer to little kids. The pusher and the junkie are an invading army and they've turned Harlem into a battlefield. Well, okay...we've been in a war before, now the only ones who can make a difference are men like us. I'm gonna do this just like we did in 'Nam, cause if we don't do it, we're gonna lose a whole generation of kids to dope!"

The Short Version: A fine action movie that straddles the line between being a serious movie about a man having fought one war overseas only to return home and fight another and a typical blaxploitation film of the day. As good as some of those movies are, GORDON'S WAR has a bit more to say about urban squalor and social issues as opposed to endless scenes of Gordon and crew 'sticking it to the man' and the establishment. An overlooked gem, fans should go to war to get this on DVD.

Gordon Hudson returns home from Vietnam to discover his wife has become a victim of drug addiction. Disgusted at the form his neighborhood has taken, Gordon entices three of his military colleagues to aid him in waging a private war on the violence and drug-riddled streets of Harlem.

Check out those Pimp-edelic boots! Bee gives one of Gordon's targets the shine of his life.

Like a handful of other black themed action films, GORDON'S WAR is difficult to label as a 'blaxploitation' movie. It has oodles of violence, graphic at times, but takes a less comic book approach to the material as many other similar movies did back then. Ossie Davis (he also helmed the classic COTTON COMES TO HARLEM and played Jack in 2002's BUBBA HO-TEP) brings a gritty edge and unrelenting candor in depicting the crime addled streets in New York's Harlem section. The script seems more focused on reiterating just how damaging pimps and drug pushers are to the good people living in a dangerous part of the city.

Grace Jones (right) as Mary

Mary: "You black bastards are dead!"

Gordon: (plunging an axe into a chair)"You tell that to Spanish Harry, bitch!!"

Gordon and his gang lay the "smack" down on Luther the Pimp

Most films in the genre would concentrate more on the brutality and less on the reality of the problem. GORDON'S WAR has an abundance of action and violence, but has an added layer of seriousness about it that enables it to stand out among dozens of similar action pictures whose "soul" selling point are its sex and violence quotient. This accent towards a more focused plot was apparently attractive to 20th Century Fox as they acquired the movie for distribution from Palomar Pictures. Still, that's not to say GORDON'S WAR doesn't have its share of bloody thrills for the undiscriminating audience seeking a quick fix.

"Hey, toy soldier...did you really think you were gonna pull this deal off? You know you're outa' your league."

The cruel and calculating Spanish Harry Martinez (right)

All performances in Ossie Davis' picture are notable and each of Gordon's brigade get their own chance to showcase their skills with these grounded and quite dangerous characters. Most of these movies had the heroes go out guns blazing, but here, the good guys carefully plan their every move as if they're playing an elaborate game of chess on the streets of New York. Eventually, Gordon and his friends push too hard believing it's only Spanish Harry Martinez, the leader of the drug syndicate, who is the big man. However, an even bigger fish has Harry on the hook and the good guys are in for one helluva fight. The tables are turned and the playing field is evened out as the bad guys can play a mean game of chess, too. A damn fine car/motorcycle chase in, around and below New York City brings the film to a close.

"That's what you came here all you have to do is write a letter to his mother. The question is who's gonna write a letter to YOUR mother. You didn't really think I was gonna deal with you, did ya', soldier boy? In a pig's ass!"--Spanish Harry hands over Roy's remains.

Emmy winning actor, Paul Winfield has a good deal of presence onscreen as the tortured soul, Gordon Hudson; he returns from Vietnam a changed man having suffered a terrible ordeal in the Vietnamese jungle and suffers more torment upon the realization his wife has succumbed to drugs amidst the concrete jungles of New York City. You'll recognize him from such fantasy fare as STAR TREK 2 (1982) and THE TERMINATOR (1984). Other than his stern and serious role in GORDON'S WAR, Winfield co-starred as a pimp the year prior in the violent blaxploitation favorite, TROUBLE MAN (1972).

Tony King stands out in his portrayal of Roy Green. He's the most loud and abrasive of Gordon's group and gets some of the best scenes. He's the most "blaxploitation" of the bunch and his performance adds a lot to the viewing experience. King was in a number of other black action films such as HELL UP IN HARLEM (1973), the lesser sequel to BLACK CAESAR (1972), BUCKTOWN (1975), SUPER SPOOK (1975) and Italian exploitation fare such as CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE and THE LAST HUNTER (both 1980). Grace Jones also has a small role as Mary, one of Spanish Harry's drug running whores.

In addition to a strong script, this movie contains a driving score by Andy Badale and Al Elias, the film also benefits from some soulful tunes by that duo arranged and conducted by Horace Ott and sung by both Barbara Mason and New Birth. One of the true unsung classics of black action pictures that thrived during the 1970s, this movie deserves a legit DVD release especially considering lesser entries have had been released in remastered versions. GORDON'S WAR is worth fighting for.

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