Friday 3 August 2007

Hell Up in Harlem (1973) Larry Cohen

This is the sequel to Black Caesar, made the same year by the same people, and it starts precisely how it means to go on, with a white DA molesting a black woman trying to atone for her part in the upcoming murder of her man by corrupt white cops. This is the end of the main flow of the plot in Black Caesar, not the actual end of the film which is ignored here completely. This one has Tommy Gibbs, the Black Caesar, played once more by Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson, managing to escape with the ledgers containing all that incriminating evidence identifying the corrupt cops and city officials who were trying to steal them back.

Not only does he escape with the ledgers but he still has a host of brothers to get him to Harlem Hospital at gunpoint to get medical treatment without anaesthetic because that's just how tough he is. In other words he's down but he's not out and he has help, not least from his father who gets thrust into the action against his will and ends up killing a couple of corrupt cops to save his own life. It ignores any real sense of continuity but you can hear that 1973 Harlem audience popping caps at the screen and that's precisely the point that returning director Larry Cohen was looking for. It helps that Julius Harris sucked as a good guy but kicks ass as a bad guy.

Cohen has fun here, ignoring any semblance of sense or logic but giving us plenty of bad white guys and badass black guys, along with gunfights, fistfights, everything fights. There aren't just shootings but there are plenty of those, there's death by asphyxiation, death by harpoon gun, death by flagpole even. We get black maids killing their Italian masters and throwing their racial stereotypes back at them. We get white women and Japanese drug smugglers doing bad kung fu but losing to the blacks. We only get one nude scene and I think there's only three instances of the word 'nigger', both of which are surprising but the violence makes up for it.

There's even a new hot chick, Sister Jennifer, who gets to show us a lot more than we'd expect from a holy woman, and she's played by a real actress too, Margaret Avery, who would go on to be Oscar nominated for The Color Purple twelve years later. However this is entirely Fred Williamson's show and he makes the most of it. Forget the sense, forget the bad acting and the bad wardrobes and the bad effects, just watch Fred the badass Hammer in action. That's what this is all about and while the film isn't up to the standards of its predecessor, I think Williamson is better here by far.

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