After the enormous success of SHAFT in the early 70s, every major studio was leaping into the blaxploitation phenomenon, while independents like American International were making the genre their own. Around the same time that ex-football-player-turned-thesp Jim Brown was making his SLAUGHTER films for AIP, Columbia Pictures released the similar BLACK GUNN. Now some 30 years after the fact, Columbia TriStar has released the rarely-seen title on DVD in celebration of "Black History Month," while surprisingly ditching Godfrey Cambridge in the quintessential THE WATERMELON MAN.
The thin plot involves Brown as Gunn (the "Black" was apparently added to boost an urban sell), a slick nightclub owner whose LA hot spot is embodied in his fancy mansion. Gunn's little brother Scott (Herb Jefferson Jr.) is a Vietnam vet involved with the militant Black Action Group (BAG), who have just robbed some mob money and important ledgers. Gunn's brother is murdered, and he sets out to bring down the killers, even teaming up with the BAG members and a police lieutenant, while maintaining a romance with girlfriend Brenda Sykes.
You can imagine what occurs in between: car chases, explosions, torturous acts, fights with obvious stunt doubles, and overly bloody shoot-outs. Apart from the always smooth Brown, the film's casting acts in its favor, even though the racist villains (the kind that use every negative ethnic slur known, and think that all black man crave watermelon) are a bit underdeveloped in their characterizations. Martin Landau (yes, he used to be in lots of exploitation films) is mob boss Capelli who sells used cars on TV when he's not busy screaming and bossing people around. Landau hams it up and chatters as if he's in a 1930s Warner Bros. gangster flick. His main man is portrayed by the incredible Bruce Glover who plays the sleazy Ray Kelley to the unpredictably max, grimacing and stealing every scene that he's in.
Roger Corman favorite William Campbell (BLOOD BATH) and Tony Young (CHROME AND HOT LEATHER) are additional thugs, while the "Teenage Frankenstein" himself, Gary Conway, plays a semi-corrupt politician and luscious Luciana Paluzzi is a heavy-accented socialite. There are also a number of athletes in small roles including Vida Blue, Timothy Brown (Al Adamson's blaxploitation star), and Deacon Jones' cameo is so badly improvised that it's amusing. Not the best of its type, this routine but action-filled time waster was directed by British native Robert Hartford-Davis, known for helming a number of U.K. horror thrillers of the 60s and 70s (including THE BLACK TORMENT and CORRUPTION). Anyone who digs the AIP black action films of the 70s will probably want to add this one to their DVD shelf.
Columbia TriStar presents BLACK GUNN on DVD in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Image quality is very clean, though the colors are sometimes dull and not as vibrant as you would expect. There is a bit of grain present, but mostly in darker scenes. Otherwise, this transfer is acceptable with very few blemishes. The audio is mono, and though it sounds rather flat, is still rendered well. The only extras are trailers for other Columbia TriStar DVD titles. (George R. Reis)
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