Saturday 8 December 2007

Death of a Snowman (1978) Christopher Rowley

December sees Midnite Movie Mamacita showing a bunch of blaxploitation pictures, especially Dr Black Mr Hyde, which I'm really looking forward to. Black Christmas sounds like one but isn't, and Death of a Snowman is a curious mix of blaxploitation and other genres. It's a South African crime film that starts off with the bizarre concept of having the good guys be a white cop and a black journalist. In the South Africa of 1978?! Wow, talk about fantasy. They're played by Nigel Davenport and Ken Gampu respectively and while both try very much, neither are believable.

Someone called War on Crime is killing leading criminals on the streets of Johannesburg and naturally the cops want to catch him. Gampu's character, Steve Chaka, hardly a politically correct name for a black South African, wants to catch him too but does have sympathy with the ends if not the means. Of course not all is as it seems and War on Crime is doing his work for a reason that doesn't match the high morals that he pretends to.

Most of the problem is the dialogue, which may just be the worst dialogue I've ever heard on film. Davenport looks completely believable as a South African, even though he was born in England, but he totally fails to be believable as a tough action cop moving around like he was Rambo. Saddled with the dialogue he's given and suddenly this tough and gritty crime drama becomes a comedy. Plus there's the amazing fact that even though he's the lead, he almost disappears from the film entirely halfway through. Apparently he can't trust his friend Chaka, so they have to investigate separately.

Gampu doesn't get any better dialogue as Chaka than Davenport gets as Lt Ben Deel, but presumably because he's black and there's a definite lean towards blaxploitation here, gets some more outrageous lines on top of everything else. The film is pretty inept, all told, with little on the positive side. There are some gritty shootouts but beyond that, we're down to the level of the Snowman having a cool set of executive toys, his wild assistant getting all metaphysical with his excessive violence and the New York secretary being so obviously in the picture purely because of her highly impressive bust. Good fun for the comedic value but hardly conducive to a good film.

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