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  Bucktown Hammer To Call
Year: 1975
Director: Arthur Marks
Stars: Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, Tony King, Bernie Hamilton, Art Lund, Tierre Turner, Morgan Upton, Carl Weathers, Jim Bohan, Robert Burton, Gene Simms, Bruce Watson, Jody Maxwell
Genre: Drama, Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Duke Johnson (Fred Williamson) has arrived in Bucktown tonight, because he received word that his bar-owning brother who lived there has died, and he felt he had to be present for the funeral. On stepping off the train, the first thing he sees is a white cop beating up a black guy, which doesn't give him much optimism about the place, then the taxi driver he hires to take himself to the bar neglects to mention that it's been closed since his brother passed away a couple of days ago. Duke decides to set off for the nearby hotel alone, and when he gets there and checks in he finds himself offered the services of the local prostitutes. No, it's not a great town, but Duke will be drawn into it further than he ever expected...

By 1975 the Blaxploitation phenomenon was winding down, but it had created some stars who would continue to bring in audiences no matter that the idea of films created for African American audiences was beginning to evolve, or run out of steam, depending on your perspective on the whole genre (if a large group of films with such diverse examples could be termed a genre). It would find a new lease of life as hip hop culture began to establish itself in the nineteen-eighties, but leading men like Fred Williamson were not going to roll over just because popular tastes were changing, and he carried on his career wherever he was wanted, which included Europe where he was a fairly substantial exploitation star.

Bucktown showed up just at the point where Williamson was finding his American movies were not the moneyspinners they once were, and accompanying him was perhaps the most admired Blaxploitation celebrity of the era, Pam Grier, who played Aretha (thus making her... the actual Queen of Soul Cinema?), single mother widow of his brother. She was well appreciated for taking what could be stock roles and making a little something special out of them, and so it was here as she could have been the regulation love interest and left it at that, but instead provided a genuine, righteous anger to her performance that assisted in keeping it clear why Duke should hang around in this hellhole and try to clean the town up, almost solo as it turned out.

He did have the backing of Aretha, her young son Steve (Tierre Turner) and in a part that may surprise fans of cop show Starsky and Hutch, Bernie Hamilton as local drunk Harley. He would make his name ordering Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul about on TV, but this demonstrated he had more range than that would indicate as he played a rather pathetic, put upon character who was intended to elicit sympathy as the representative of the townfolk who were being oppressed and taken advantage of without seeing any way out of it, so they just keep gambling, drinking and whoring to keep the reality of their situation at bay. Initially, it is the Sheriff's department that is responsible for this prevalence of crime, and when Duke twigs that it was they who murdered his brother (he was told he died after falling ill) he is on the vengeance trail.

What was interesting was that Bucktown was not content to leave it as a Western in Blaxploitation dress and spend the rest of the film seeing Duke get the better of the corrupt police, for he brought in his big city chums to help him. Led by Thalmus Rasulala as Roy (and including a young Carl Weathers among their number, the year before Rocky), they seem like decent chaps until one of them disrespects Aretha, at which point your ears may prick up and you can see where this was heading. Basically, once Duke's associates take over the town they are just as bad as the cops were, and he must contend with the knowledge he has unleashed a monster of his own making, leaving him as the last good man who can actually make a difference as opposed to joining the bad guys or allowing them to do as they will. This culminated in a lot of violence as you might expect, with an armoured car coming in handy for memorable scenes and a huge man on man brawl to finish things off with a flourish. As a Blaxploitation Animal Farm, it was more intelligent than some of its lowest common denominator contemporaries, and delivered with the over the top action too. Music by Johnny Pate.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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