Boss Nigger

Boss Nigger aka Boss (1975) ****  Or “Mr. Nigger to you,” as Black Man with No Name Fred “The Hammer” Williamson tells outlaw William Smith.  Terrible Tom’s earnest delivery of the rousing theme song (familiar to any devotee of Synapse’s 42nd Street Forever series) would alone be worth the price of admission, but Boss Nigger offers other pleasant diversions for fans of westerns and blaxploitation, of which this film is a capable hybrid.  Williamson and the comical D’Urville Martin, his sidekick from previous outings, are bounty hunters who set up shop as sheriff and deputy in a lawless western town and proceed to implement “Black Law”, under which such infractions as saying “nigger” in public incur a fine of $20.  Williamson is a large, commanding presence onscreen, but William Smith is more than equal to the task of providing him with a sufficiently scary opponent and can be believed when he threatens the hero, “Your death is gonna be slow and painful, nigger.”  R.G. Armstrong, reliable as the face of country corruption and pusillanimity in the 70s, lends Boss Nigger an added credibility as the town’s crooked mayor, who until now has let Smith and his gang run roughshod over the citizenry.  Mostly lighthearted, harmless fun, Boss Nigger sobers as vengeance is necessitated and ends on a somewhat bitter note.  An indispensable artifact of 70s exploitation cinema, the film was directed by genre veteran Jack Arnold, who had previously collaborated with Williamson on Black Eye but is more famously associated with such 1950s science fiction films as Tarantula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Incredible Shrinking Man.  4 out of 5 stars.

Adios Amigo

Adios Amigo (1975) ***1/2  Williamson is back in action in this sequel, which finds trailwise hustler Richard Pryor (who appears to be drunk or high much of the time) replacing D’Urville Martin as the comic relief companion.  The Hammer not only writes, but takes over in the director’s chair for Adios Amigo, a looser, lesser effort than its predecessor.  Episodic, anarchic, and hardly structured, Adios Amigo lacks both a principal antagonist and the expected narrative thread to pull the viewer neatly along, feeling consequently more like a succession of half-baked sketches than a finished cinematic product.  What plot there is amounts to Williamson’s repeated frustration with all the trouble that comes his way whenever ridiculous con man Pryor crosses his path.  Less serious and less preoccupied with race than Boss Nigger, Adios Amigo is an easygoing, casual, friendly film whose principal draw is the sense of wacky, uninhibited fun it generates.  Pryor in particular is fun to watch, with his best line being, “What’s it look like I’m doin’ here?  I’m stealin’ rocks.”  His funniest scene, however, is probably his card game with Blacula‘s Thalmus Rasulala, here bearded as an eccentric desert peddler with two horny daughters.  Adios Amigo‘s music may lack the funk power of Boss Nigger‘s, but Blue Infernal Machine’s theme song is an appropriately fun encapsulation of the movie’s attitude.  3.5 of 5 stars.

Joshua

Joshua (1976) ****1/2  One of the best films in which Fred Williamson has appeared, Joshua was directed by Larry Spangler, whose previous teamings with the star were The Legend of Nigger Charley and The Soul of Nigger Charley.  Dispensing with the comedy of Boss Nigger and Adios Amigo, thisis a straightforward revenge western with Civil War veteran Williamson tracking the outlaws who murdered his mother.  With fine cinematography making impressive use of majestic Monument Valley locations, and a distinctive, sometimes hypnotic score (credited to unknown Mike Irwin) that mixes acoustic and synthesized elements, unusual for a western, Joshua more than distinguishes itself within the genre.  The snowy expanses that eventually fill the screen recall another offbeat western, The Great Silence; and Williamson, who rides alone for most of his vengeance trail, establishes himself for all time as the black counterpart to Clint Eastwood, channeling something of the ghostly, single-minded revengefulness of High Plains Drifter or The Outlaw Josey Wales.  Apart from the hero’s committed performance, Brenda Venus and Isela Vega are noteworthy as eye candy, and Ralph Willingham, in his only known screen credit, creates one of westerndom’s great raspy old rascal characters in cowardly, constantly giggling second fiddle bad guy Weasle.  Recommended.  4.5 stars.

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