The Black Six (1973)
Yet another Blaxploitation movie today, number five of six that I'm reviewing this month (thanks, nameless makers of cheapass box sets!). This one is a little slower than most, but has some good action set-pieces to make up for all the talky stuff that tends to bog it down. Enjoy it for what it is, don't hate it for what it's not.
On to the show...
We open by meeting and getting to know the "Black Six", a group of black bikers riding around the West Coast. They are all ex-Vietnam vets, who, after leaving the Army, decided to just cruise around righting wrongs and sleeping in barns like the Seven Samurai in denim shirts and riding leathers. For those who care about such things, all their bikes are new-model Triumphs, donated by the company for the film (the closing credits say so).
The Black Six!
All six were famous-in-1973 NFL football players, each an All-Pro starter on their teams and legitimate Hall of Famers. The NFL surely gave at least tacit approval to them being in this movie, and in the opening credits each man has his NFL team listed below his name (never seen that before). It's odd, however, that the League would condone such a blatantly anti-white movie, considering that its fan (and revenue) base is overwhelmingly white. Perhaps they realized that no one would watch this movie outside of a select demographic.
2 of 6.
The clear headliner of the Black Six is Bubba, played by Gene Washington, the only semi-quasi-kinda-sorta-goodish actor in the bunch (for four out of the other five, this was their only acting gig). Washington was also in Lady Cocoa where he was just as stiff and lifeless as he is here, but at least his afro was bigger. He's by far the smallest of the six and maybe he's the hero because he's the only one of them whose speaking voice doesn't sound like Jaws from the James Bond movies (wimpy receiver, probably never went over the middle on blitzes).
Bubba (get his Topps card now!).
They go around working odd jobs, content to live each day one at a time like modern-day Keroac hobos. For example, we see them fix up a barn, throw some hay bales around, and help an old widow realize that apple pie goes best with ice cream. Their credo is the open road, the wind in their hair, and "no hassles". Not a bad way to live, I must say, as I look longingly out my window at the inviting highway past the cornfield.
On the farm, earning a bit of cash.
Not too many widows living alone would invite
six burly bikers into her house.
I question the whole "living on the road" thing though as none of them have any baggage (no saddlebags or packs or anything). No toothbrushes, no hairpicks, no cans of hair products, no food, nothing? In their defense, I should note that all six actors wear the exact same clothes the entire movie, so they might have filmed it all in a few days (heck, maybe just one long day). At one point they say they are getting $150 a month from the army in veteran's benefits, but where do they send the checks? Did they have debit cards in 1973? $150 a month, however, does not explain how they can maintain their bikes, tires and spare parts, for those things are not cheap.
He does have a goat, though.
Not all is easy, however, as at one point they go to "Flora's Truck and Beer" roadside bar and face the sort of racism that burns their biscuits. It's actually the black "heroes" who start the fight, even though they were egged on by some racist comments. In the end they destroy the place out of spite (and I mean totally bring down all four walls). It's all played for laughs, but it's not really that funny if you think about it, and it sets a dangerous precedent that violence against people is ok if you think they are racists. Now save your emails, I'm not saying racism should or should not be protected free speech or anything, but injuring or killing someone based solely upon their cultural and racial viewpoints is a slippery slope that no civil society wants to go down.
Ah, so this is where Samuel Jackson got his fashion sense.
Anyway, at some point Bubba gets a letter from home. To get it, he goes into a random post office and asks the clerk if there's anything for him, sent "general delivery" (huh, general delivery, how does that work?). [Editor Pam: I'm not sure, but I think you have to designate a post office where your mail is to be sent, then show up and pick it up. I don't think you can go into any old post office and get it.] It seems his younger brother Eddie was recently killed under mysterious circumstances back in their hometown. We actually saw this in a pre-credits sequence that I neglected to mention (few of my reviews are linear), as the young man was killed by white bikers for dating a white girl (gasp!). Oh, no, and he had a scholarship to "State"! There's some talk about the Six splitting up, but in the end they all decide to go with Bubba back to his hometown.
Letter from home.
All these scenes of the six talking are downright painful to watch. While Washington could at least hold up his end, the rest of them are epically lousy actors, good for a few lines on cue cards and the occasional over-coached reaction shot, but that's about all. It's hard to find good quality actors amongst NFL players. Fred Williamson, sure, and maybe Ed Marinaro, Bubba Smith, and Fred Dryer. But then again, all of those became actors after their playing days were over, our Black Six were all still stars in the primes of their careers. It's harder to find examples of NFL players who were good actors during their active playing careers (only Farve in There's Something About Mary comes to mind right now).
Bubba gives a speech about Vietnam while
the flag waves in the background.
Off to Bubba's childhood home now to meet his mamma (who might be an inside linebacker herself, wowza). As is typical with movie-moms, she's full of wise, sage advice and homespun common sense, all dispensed while whipping up a fabulous home-cooked meal. Just once I'd like to see a genre movie-mom who is actually like a normal mom (wheezing in her recliner, smoking her menthols and eating frozen dinners while yelling at Bob Barker on the TV).
Bubba's little sister Sissy is also here, and she sports the biggest afro I have ever seen in my entire life, a towering, Burj Khalifa orb of curls and hairspray that is too big to fit in-frame in most shots. She says she's leaving for college soon, but with that weather balloon hairdo, Rosie Perez hoop earrings, and birth control glasses, let's hope she's going to William and Mary *rimshot* (send all complaints to my editor Pam). She gives them all hell for not helping their fellow black brothers in these troubled time, and calls them "new Uncle Toms". Despite this berating, the Six stick to their guns about just wanting "peace and love".
One of the few color photographs taken of
the Hindenburg before it tragically exploded.
While the rest of the guys hang out with his mamma, Bubba goes investigating. He starts with Eddie's football coach, but gets nothing of value from him. The coach is your stereotypical sports-obsessed, tunnel-vision, chip on the shoulder high school coach, trying to live vicariously through his athletes. Oddly, he says Eddie was the best field goal kicker ever, but in that opening scene we saw Eddie kicking field goals with his girlfriend (on a date!) and he kicked like a 13-year old girl (straight on line, like in the 1940s).
With the coach.
All redneck towns have white Ford Econoline vans.
Bubba then goes to the local police force, which seems to consist of one toady desk sergeant and a lone detective. He gets nothing, though to be fair it sounds like the cop actually did the best he could, sometimes if you don't have any evidence or any witnesses willing to testify, you simply have no case. Bubba, typical of movie heroes, however, thinks that the cop should just go and arrest everyone without any proof just because he says so. How would he feel if the cops came and arrested him without any hard evidence?
Nice empty set.
Meanwhile, the other five hit up some local girls,
proving once again that all women are attracted to bikers.
Bubba gives up his quest for a minute to track down his ex-girlfriend Ceal (cool name), who he hasn't seen since he left for Vietnam four years ago. He goes to a pool hall to talk to her current boyfriend Copperhead, a druggie pimp who has Ceal turning tricks while he shoots nine-ball all day. Bubba breaks his cue stick, but he might have done that because Copperhead is a 745% better actor than him (he actually blinks and moves his arms when he talks!).
"Here's your stick back, stop acting."
One for the ladies, oh yeah.
Bubba finds Ceal in a crappy upstairs apartment with a john, giving The Black Six its requisite daily quota of boobies. Despite the fact that she turned hooker (allegedly) because Bubba left her years ago and took her heart and soul (her words), she instantly falls back in love with him and forgives him for everything. For his part, Bubba also seems pretty accepting of the fact that she's a prostitute. The actress playing Ceal is overacting like mad here, reading every line like it's Shakespeare at Carnegie, made all the more ridiculous by Gene Washington's staunch refusal to show any facial expressions other than "sleepy" or "mildly annoyed". It's like Richard Burton trying to lead an ensemble cast of psychiatric patients and three-year olds, you just don't know who to feel sorry for.
Ceal, the one with the boobs. No, the other one.
So, can I tell you something that bothers me? All movie long our heroes just jump on their bikes, kick the starter, and roar off. And they park them in all sorts of unsavory areas, often at night, and they are never stolen. Do motorcycles have some sort of ignition key system to prevent anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of how to start one from stealing your bike? You also see this a lot in movies with cars, no one ever seems to lock their doors and the keys are always in the ignition for easy driving. I'll add this to list of movie pet peeves, along with shooting from the hip, women falling down when running, finding parking spots directly by the front door, and Ann Curry not returning my letters.
See, he didn't have any keys to start it up and he
left it on the street outside in a skeevy ghetto.
Why are you looking at her boobs when I'm talking to you?
Ceal tells Bubba about his brother Eddie's white girlfriend and her bad-news biker brother. While no one in town can prove it, everyone is sure that their scandalous interracial relationship is what got him killed. The white girl is a waitress at a skuzzy biker bar in the Old Milwaukee-and-Marlboro part of town that the local blacks are encouraged to avoid. Bubba goes right there, of course, and gets into a confrontation with Moose, the biker brother. Moose is about as racist as they come and is a walking, spitting stereotype of every mullet-hair, cut-off jean jacket, shit-kicking boots, NASCAR-watching, Ford-driving, white trash redneck known to man. On the plus side, Moose has what is quite possibly the most awesome 'stache ever seen on film.
Wow, nice to see that high school diploma is being put to use.
The other five show up to balance the odds, but before a fight can develop, the (lone) cop arrives. The rest of the Black Six really don't want to fight, they prefer "peace and love" and the calmness of the open road, but it's Bubba who keeps trying to start stuff. Ok, yes, I see how Bubba has a revenge complex, that's fine, but all movie long his rash and impulsive actions drag his friends into situations where they have to risk their own lives to save his. I guess that's what friends are for and all, but at some point the rest of them should pull Bubba aside and admonish him for writing checks that his ass can't cash, so to speak.
He just looks like a biker, doesn't he?
Moose goes to see Thor (also played by a slumming NFL player) and asks for help with the "spooks". Thor runs a big biker gang of maybe 100 dudes, who seem to do little else but hang around in an old abandoned building, smoke dope, and pontificate about how much they hate black people. Moose's speech about how black men shouldn't date white women is especially pointed and it gets the masses riled up. Thor agrees to throw the full weight of his gang behind Moose's plan to kill off the Black Six.
Thor, who, of course, is dressed like Thor.
They arrange a meet-up out in the empty country late at night to "talk things out". The Black Six unwisely agree and ride out to meet Moose and his small crew of bikers, and a vicious fight erupts quickly (Bubba throws the first punch, unprovoked, of course). All the whites are killed, having little chance against these six monstrously muscled bruisers. Bubba finishes off Moose by stomping on his head until he is a bloody pulp, which must have made NFL fans all across the South proud.
It's hard not to notice that these NFL players are actually doing their own stunts, even if it just involves throwing some guy over a wall or ducking a flailing roundhouse punch. That sort of thing would never happen with today's NFL players because of the enormous amounts of money invested in them. Most NFL contracts have strict clauses against doing anything even remotely dangerous, during the season or off, for fear that they would be injured and miss games. That's totally understandable, if you are a team paying a running back $5.25 million dollars a year, you sure as hell don't want him racing motorbikes and baseball bat-fighting in some crappy b-movie. Sure, Howie Long threw his own axe in Firestorm and Brian Bosworth aimed his own sawed-off shotgun in Stone Cold, but they were retired and out of the game by then (and those movies sucked). You're just never going to see a professional athlete (of any sport) doing his own stunts in a movie while he's still under contract (to go back to my Brett Farve analogy, the hardest stunt he had to do in There's Something About Mary was keep his erection down around Cameron Diaz).
Don't hurt yourself, we need you for the playoffs!
Anyway, our heroes win the first fight, but it took place in a bowl valley and the high ground is ringed with Thor's hundred-plus bikers. The headlamps of all those bikes illuminate the battlefield in an eerie glow, which is a pretty nice effect. Instead of trying to escape the trap on their bikes, the Black Six instead stack all the bikes and bodies up to make a tight defensive circle, apparently having learned nothing from the French in Indochina.
Circle the wagons!
The bikers roar down the hill like the Sioux at Little Big Horn, waving their knives and chains and tossing highway road flares while shouting racist vulgarities that would make Jefferson Davis blush. It goes without saying that no one has a gun (that wouldn't be sporting...), but there's blood and fire and gurgling screams, and there's kicking and punching and stabbing with sharp things. One biker yells, "Black meat!", and another shouts, "Burn, baby, burn!", a classic line from the Watts Riots, here used terribly out of context.
And...bam, closing credits. What? What just happened? It just ends ambiguously right there in the middle of the fight scene. Did they die? Did they live? Did they just set us up for a sequel, perhaps one that adds a plucky female reporter and a wise-cracking kid? God, I hope not. [Editor Pam: In the Imdb listing for this movie, there's a comment that this movie has a great ending. Is it possible some of the movie was left off of the version you have? I guess it's also possible the reviewer had a peculiar opinion about what a great ending was.]
Written in January 2010 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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