Ex-member of The Dirty Dozen and foot ball hall of famer, Jim Brown had a good run of flicks once the 1970’s came along turning the word blaxploitation into a genre of it’s own. One that is still referenced and enjoyed to this day.
Brown joins forces with producer Gene Corman (Tobruk), director Jonathan Kaplan (The Accused) and director of photography Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) for this gritty, violent prison crime drama that sees the incarcerated Brown as the central character that every one wants a piece of. Mainly because he’s rumored to have a million and a half dollars tucked away from a heist just waiting for him upon his release from a five year stretch.
“Why’d you do it Curtis? You know you can’t mess with the man.”
The opening segment of the film is a heist gone bad. Brown and a pair of hoods rob some local mobsters of the 1.5 million and a briefcase of drugs to go along with it. They also leave a handful of mob soldiers dead. Brown is the odd man out when his so called associates decide to leave him dead alongside the road. Brown is having none of it and kills them both but takes a bullet in the hip while doing it. Losing way too much blood, he hides the cash, dumps the drugs off a sea side dock and passes out at the wheel of his getaway vehicle prompting law enforcement to take him in.
A sharp eye might spot Robert Phillips as one of the double crossers Brown will leave for dead. He’s the same actor that tormented Brown in The Dirty Dozen as Corporal Morgan.
Brown is a marked man once turned lose in the prison population. He’ll have to contend with the chief guard, Roland Harris, who for a hefty price is willing to make Jim’s stay a cozy one and protect him from all harm. If not, he’ll turn the dogs lose on him to force him into telling where the money is hid. Then there is Frank De Kova representing the Cosa Nostra. He’s on the inside living a life of luxury and if Brown doesn’t come up with the cash, then De Kova won’t be putting a halt to the contract that’s been put out on Brown’s head.
Always one to connect the dots in movies, could De Kova be playing the same character he played the previous year in 1972’s The Mechanic? I say this because he’s not only a mobster, but a painter. In The Slams, he has an easel and paint in his cell to dabble with and in his scene opposite Charles Bronson in The Mechanic, he’s painting as he issues subtle warnings to Bronson outside his high class estate. Just a thought.
Back to the movie at hand. Not only are Harris and De Kova out to box Brown in but so is a mean spirited racist in the form of the behemoth, Ted Cassidy. Cassidy is downright cruel in this prison flick and is willing to inflict pain and torture on anyone who crosses him or those he’s hired to hurt. There’s a war between the blacks and whites going on in the prison and Brown wants no part of it despite overtures from “the brothers”. You dig?
Brown is content to quietly do his time but that’s a hard thing to do when he’s watching his back at every turn and the chief guard is on the outside bullying and manhandling his woman, Judy Pace. When a chance viewing of a newscast points to Brown’s hiding place for the money becoming the victim of a land developer, he’s going to have to act fast and make his way over the wall. Time to enlist his girl and a local pimp who owes him a favor to break out of ……. THE SLAMS!
Brutality reigns in this typically violent 1970’s effort that sees Jim Brown continue his assault on the box office in tough oriented roles. At this point he was in a string of action films following The Dirty Dozen including Dark of the Sun, 100 Rifles, another prison drama titled Riot and a pair of Slaughter films that played to his violent anti-hero movie persona. Sure movies are far more violent today but as far as the early 70’s go this one is a good example of how violence had changed from the 1960’s on screen. Brown’s career as an action hero/leading man would stall out in a few short years but he’d turn up regularly in films and TV into the VHS era and beyond.
Considering the name Corman is attached to the producer credit, one should expect to see character player Dick Miller turn up and indeed he does as a cab driver providing an alibi for Brown nearer the end of the film. I’m also quite sure the majority of my readers will know who the giant sized Ted Cassidy is best known as but just in case, you may recall him in the picture below from a cult favorite TV show.
As for The Slams, it’s available on DVD through the Warner Archive division and worth a look if you’re a fan of 1970’s gangland flicks and the titles associated with the blaxploitation genre. The movie poster? Not available through the Archive division but keep your eyes open at the flea markets, maybe you’ll find a copy like the one I keep here in the vault at Mike’s Take.