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  Black Samson So StickBuy this film here.
Year: 1974
Director: Chuck Bail
Stars: Rockne Tarkington, William Smith, Connie Strickland, Carol Speed, Michael Payne, Joe Tornatore, Titos Vandis, Napoleon Whiting, John Alderman, Fred Schweiwiller, Ernest Robinson, Nick Dimitri, Ken Bell, Junero Jennings, Marvin Walters
Genre: Thriller
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Samson (Rockne Tarkington) owns a bar, and that's not all as he is the overseer of this whole Los Angeles neighbourhood, making sure that nothing too terrible happens to the inhabitants and keeping the streets clean from drugs. However, the Mob have noticed this enclave of low crime rates and decide to move in, seeking fresh profits and a foothold in the entire city's African-American population as far as their illegality will go. Samson is not impressed, but he has daunting adversary Johnny Nappa (William Smith) to contend with...

One of the lower tier of blaxploitation movies, Black Samson may not have been one of the more celebrated of the style, but it did set its director Chuck Bail on the road to directing genuine cult favourite The Gumball Rally thanks to his way with an action scene in evidence here. Thereafter many episodes of car chase TV followed, but you can tell even from here that he was more comfortable when things were moving at high velocity or people were being thrown about, rather than the dialogue scenes which were strictly of the serviceable variety and unlikely to get anyone's pulse racing.

Still, he had a top hissable villiain in Smith, here presented as such a ghastly, woman-beating racist that not many will be of the opinion that he didn't deserve the ultimate fate dished out to him by Samson. The trouble was, such was the venom Smith infused this reading with that he overbalanced the whole movie, and Tarkington's stoic take on his character's personality didn't amount to much more than being the major barrier to the gangsters' plans - he's more of a brick wall than the man of action his Biblical namesake suggested, impossible to get past but could have used a few oneliners to bring out some quirks.

He did get his own theme song, which if anything would remind modern viewers of the twenty-first century spoof Black Dynamite; along with the other, more camp to our eyes examples here, that only went to show that Michael Jai White had picked and chosen the more entertaining aspects and ignored the less engaging parts which tended to make up too much of the bog standard flicks the craze was bulked out with. Still, Tarkington was a striking figure, not quite the Black Superman but getting there with his towering stature and ever-present staff - not the people who worked at his bar, but the big stick of wood that he carried Walking Tall fashion.

Not only that but Samson had a pet lion which sadly did not get a chance to maul any of the baddies, and his girlfriend was Abby herself, Carol Speed, who is predictably placed in danger for him to rescue, except you might have thought he could have done a better job of it because she is cut up (offscreen) before Samson can reach her. It's those bits of nastiness that perhaps made the film less enjoyable than it should have been, bringing down the tone to a sleazy level instead of rendering it more over the top lurid. Aiming for grit and making the bad guys, specifically Johnny, as bad as they possibly could be may have us welcoming their comeuppance, but for every ridiculous scene, such as Samson's undertaker friend (Michael Payne) gloating over the widows he gets to chat up, there was an unpleasant one where Johnny beats up his girlfriend (Connie Strickland) for having the audacity to quite like Samson. The action-packed climax was worth hanging around for, however. Music by Allen Toussaint.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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