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  Final Comedown, The Kept Down By The Man
Year: 1972
Director: Oscar Williams
Stars: Billy Dee Williams, D'Urville Martin, Celia Milius, Ed Cambridge, Billy Durkin, Morris D. Erby, Pamela Jones, Cal Wilson, John Johnson, Nate Esformes, Richard Francis, Sam Gilman, Jon Scott, Marlene Czernin, R.G. Armstrong, Raymond St Jacques, Maidie Norm
Genre: Drama, ActionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Johnny Johnson (Billy Dee Williams) has been shot! He got into an altercation with the police, and as his political consciousness has been raised he fought back, now there is trouble on the streets as he lies with a deep wound in his gut. As he tries to stay conscious, his memories swim through his mind, starting with his ex-girlfriend Renee (Celia Milius) who was white when he was black, and tried desperately to understand his anger at the racial situation in America today, but ultimately without actually being black was doomed to fail. Then he recalls his mother (Maidie Norman) who was dead against his activism, her words ringing in his ears...

In 1972, Williams was starring alongside Diana Ross as she played Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues, a prestigious picture and arguably the one which cemented his sophisticated image as the “black Clark Gable”, but that same year he was taking the lead in this tiny budget issue movie, partly funded by the American Film Institute. The Civil Rights battles of the nineteen-sixties were still fresh in the minds of many, and their casualties were still being mourned, which was why the Black Panthers were trying to energise African-American communities against the endemic racism of the system as they saw it, every day in most cases.

The Panthers were not mentioned by name here, though we see posters of Angela Davis and Huey P. Newton on Johnny's wall, and we can surmise he has joined up with a similar movement locally, the plot taking the fear of that organisation to extremes when it was posited if they had their way there would be war in the major cities in the United States between the black militants and the white cops and authorities. That didn't actually happen, and you could argue there was little progress in race relations from that day to this if you were being cynical, though then again you might have to put the blame less on the institutional bigotry and more on problems like poverty and lack of education.

The thing was, Johnny in this movie was not really poor, and he wasn't ignorant and/or uneducated either, but he still felt oppressed and wanted to do something about it. We do see him, for instance, get stopped by the police for driving what they believe is a stolen car when it's one he's just bought, all to illustrate the racism of the lawmen (they don't like the Jewish shop owner Johnny made his purchase from, either), but other than that he seems to have a pretty fine life, largely thanks to director Oscar Williams keenness to portray his star's success with the laydeez - once he breaks up with Renee, we get an extended love scene with his new belle, Luanna (Pamela Jones), which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie and everything to do with presenting Johnny as a black stud.

Were they swapping one stereotype for another? Another two: the blindly angry black man and the powerful black lover? It's reasons like that why The Final Comedown (a Roger Corman production!) is regarded as camp in some circles, only really good for a cheap laugh at its impoverished quality, yet while there are moments where you titter a little at what looked aware back then but come across as hackneyed now, there was a deeply felt sincerity to almost every scene, an attempt to grapple with the issues that were getting away from the world even that early into the seventies, that don't encourage the giggles. Alas, for all the good intentions, what you came away with was an endorsement of armed violence which is not a helpful suggestion, especially when your perceived opponent had you far outgunned. And besides, for the most part this film was dry as dust in its polemic, therefore its relevance was diluted by changing fashions and a subsequent low tolerance for entertainment-free thrillers. Music by Wade Marcus, which may be the most diverting aspect.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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