Having successfully made the transition from legendary football player to leading man status in the movies, Jim Brown’s timing couldn’t have been better with the rise in popularity of the blaxploitation craze. Brown was on a great run of superior action films heading into the 1970’s with films like The Dirty Dozen, Dark of the Sun and 100 Rifles on his resume. He’d shoehorn this violent tale of the Brothers vs. The Mob in between a pair of action-packed Slaughter movies.
A steady stream of gunplay over the course of 96 minutes begins when four men rob a Mob run bookie joint. Taking the cash is one thing but the group also steal a set of books listing names in the Mob’s operation of political payoffs. The Black Action Group are behind the theft led by Bernie Casey and Herbert Jefferson Jr. playing Brown’s brother. For his part, our iconic football star is playing the title character, Gunn, a well to do nightclub owner who drives about town in a Rolls Royce.
When his brother turns up at his door with the cash and the books, Brown expects a turf war to begin once mobster, Stephen McNally, unleashes Martin Landau and his goons led by a scene stealing Bruce Glover to hit the black community hard. Despite the fact that Glover is playing a despicable racist character it’s hard not to enjoy his every moment on camera. Coupled with his own sidekick, William Campbell, the pair are wonderfully photographed multiple times by director Robert Hartford-Davis with icy cold Campbell in the foreground and Glover doing the verbal threats in the rear. As we all know, the better the villain the better the film. I’m sure Hans Gruber would agree.
Glover and Campbell will begin their reign of terror by roughing up baseball player Vida Blue, for information but he isn’t talking. A star MLB pitcher, Blue, made his one and only film appearance here. How’s this for an amazing statistic when compared to modern day baseball. In 1971 Blue went 24-8 for the Oakland A’s. He had an ERA of 1.82 pitching a total of 312 innings. That inning count is unheard of these days. And yes, he did win the Cy Young award for those dominating stats.
Back to the movie. “Can you dig it.”
Glover next tries to muscle Brown for information about the robbery and more specifically his brother. Brown is about to get all the motivation he’ll need to get involved when his brother’s body turns up tortured and dead on his front doorstep. Cue the “Man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” theme.
Did I mention the ladies? Brown’s got his hands full between his dream gal, Brenda Sykes and the flirtatious Luciana Paluzzi who is fronting for Governor Gary Conway. Conway who you may recall from the cult series Land of the Giants is trying to keep the street violence from escalating.
Landau only gets nastier while Brown gets tougher as the film speeds towards its fiery finale in a bloody climax that had the F/X crew wiring multiple stuntmen with blood packs and squibs. Not quite Peckinpah numbers but plenty enough to paint the screen red.
Bruce Glover was an entertaining character player of the 70’s. He could be seen in films ranging from the Bond hit, Diamonds Are Forever to Chinatown to the violent themed Walking Tall to 1975’s underrated classic, Hard Times. In case you’re wondering, he is indeed the father of Crispin Glover. Onscreen partner in crime, William Campbell’s career dates back to the 1950’s where he alternated as a supporting player in well known films like The High and the Mighty or Man Without A Star to playing lead in lower budget B’s like Cell 2455, Death Row. You’ll also see him in some 60’s cult hits like Dementia 13, Blood Bath and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte.
Leading man Jim Brown would remain a man of action for the balance of the decade and over the course of his career would appear in a trio of films with his Gunn costar, Bernie Casey. The 1970 flick, tick … tick … tick and years later in the hilarious 1988 send-up of the blaxploitation genre I’m Gonna Get You Sucka. Genre veterans Isaac Hayes and Antonio Fargas also joined them in the fun and if you haven’t seen that one do your best to find a copy.
Martin Landau is one of those actors that could turn up in just about anything and did yet he did it well. Here he’s a volatile mobster with a penchant for racial slurs and in just a few short years he’d be leading the way in TV’s Space 1999. Then there is his warm, funny yet heartbreaking performance as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood that copped him a well-deserved Oscar.
A first time viewing for me, Black Gunn was released as a double bill on blu ray thanks to Mill Creek Entertainment along with another blaxploitation effort from director Robert Hartford-Davis, 1974’s The Take with Bill Dee Williams starring.