Director: Charles Martin
Code Red Releasing

Code Red Releasing presents the premiere DVD release of IF HE HOLLERS, LET HIM GO!, a film “Made with muscle, nerve... shock!”

Wrongly accused of the rape and murder of a white woman and railroaded through his trial and into prison, James Lake (Raymond St. Jacques, THEY LIVE) escapes from prison after three attempts on his life to take vengeance on the real killer. Having twisted his knee jumping down from the prison wall, Lake stumbles upon seemingly hapless motorist Leslie Whitlock (Kevin McCarthy, PIRANHA) and receives a lift in exchange for a little automotive repair. Despite hearing about the escape and seeing Lake’s picture in the newspaper, Whitlock invites the man into his home and offers him a room for the night. Whitlock soon makes his intentions clear: he wants Lake to murder his high society wife Ellen (McCarthy’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS co-star Dana Wynter). Whitlock lays out the advantages: Lake has already received a life sentence (and there’s no death penalty in the state), and he’ll give him ten thousand dollars and have his private pilot fly him to freedom in Mexico. Lake is reluctant, but Whitlock calls the police claiming to have sited the escaped killer in the area; and the situation gets more desperate when Ellen recognizes Lake from his photograph on the front page of the newspaper. Lake tries to warn Ellen about her husband, but she is too hysterical to listen to him and he accidentally smothers her while trying to calm her down. Whitlock proves good on his word and gives him the money and the means of escape before wrecking the house and tying himself up, only for Ellen to come down the stairs explaining that she fainted when Lake attacked her. Ellen believes Whitlock’s version of the events, as do the police, and the couple decide to get away after their ordeal. Roadblocks prevent Lake from getting too far and he doubles back with leverage against Whitlock (as well as the couple as two hostages) to get him past the roadblocks and back on his quest for justice.

Based on a novel by Chester Himes, an African American who served time in prison for armed robbery and began writing during that period (his other novels “Cotton Comes to Harlem” and its sequel would be adapted into films in the seventies), IF HE HOLLERS, LET HIM GO! is in no way a Blaxploitation film. Although independently made and released by grindhousers Cinerama Releasing, the film has all the Technicolor gloss of a major studio picture (cinematographer William W. Spencer was mainly known for television projects like 12 O’CLOCK HIGH and PETER GUNN, and only shot a handful of features) from an earlier period; and it probably would have been a monochrome noir if it had been. The film opens with a classic jailbreak sequence: the siren, the spotlight trailing the escapee along the walls, the escapee dodging bullets while scaling over the wall, and then being hunted by dogs. Then the film switches to another familiar situation: the hitchhiker and the equally suspicious motorist. At this point, it may even be a pre-arranged getaway car. The film then catapults us into another familiar genre situation when McCarthy reveals the hand he is playing, yet the twists continue; although some seem to exist merely to pad the film in between plot points of what could have been a more modest effort. That is not to the film’s detriment since it also showcases a wonderfully played sequence between St. Jacques and Ann Prentiss (sister of Paula) as a shotgun-happy country girl who seems to be hoping to be ravished when the gun changes hands (and deservedly rebuffed). St. Jacques and Wynter are good, but McCarthy is marvelously nutty here (and particularly expressive with tons of tiny facial and mouth twitches that are fascinating to watch)

The film stumbles in its periodic flashbacks to Lake’s arrest and trial which disrupt not only the suspense but cause him to pause for minutes at a time while trying to elude the police and trigger-happy deputized rednecks. That said, the flashbacks do feature VENUS IN FURS’ Barbara McNair (in her introductory performance and doing a nude scene) as Lake’s love interest (she also sings on camera as well as the film’s opening credits theme song), DAYS OF OUR LIVES’ Susan Seaforth Hayes as the dead girl, ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE’s Royal Dano as her aggrieved father, Steve Sandor (BONNIE’S KIDS) as a racist bartender, James McEachin (PLAY MISTY FOR ME) as Lake’s attorney, Arthur O'Connell (BEN) as the grandstanding prosecutor, and Pepper Martin (SUPERMAN II) as a racist guard. It also lets a couple characters off the hook a little too easily (simply by killing them, and also redeeming one that wasn’t particularly deserving of it) when the filmmakers would not have needed to bother laboriously dramatizing a satisfactory wrap-up beyond what’s already here. John Russell (THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES) plays the by-the-book sheriff while James Craig (THE DEVIL’S BRIGADE) plays a blatantly bigoted police chief from a neighboring county.

Code Red’s single-layer, progressive, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) HD-mastered transfer looks simply gorgeous (it may also be the best-looking of transfer of both Code Red’s and Scorpion Releasing’s Cinerama titles so far). The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono is also in great condition. Since there are no extras, Code Red has not given this title a menu. The disc opens up with a start-up trailer for FAMILY HONOR and then goes directly to the main feature, which is then automatically followed by the feature’s trailer (2:28). (Eric Cotenas)