The Black Gestapo (1975)
Another Blaxploitation stinker today, I can't get enough of 'em! Our setting is the Watts neighborhood of LA, a name synonymous with racial violence, social tension, and abject poverty. It's also where Sanford and Son was set, but that's not really important right now. As we open, we learn about the newly-formed "People's Army", a group of black citizens of Watts who have formed a civic organization to work for good. Funded by a $10,000 a month grant from the Governor, they have set up free clinics and food banks and are doing what they can to help their brothers and sisters. They also wear these spiffy khaki uniforms with red berets. [Editor Pam: I'm not sure that buying snazzy uniforms is the best way to spend grant money, but they do look nice.]
The People's Army Detox Unit does the Lord's work with the homeless.
Some random Wattiagans (is that a word?).
The People's Army is led by the General, a tall, distinguished middle-aged man who has taken on the difficult task of lifting up his people.
Now Watts was a rough place to live, and the main troublemakers are a group of white gangsters (called the "syndicate") who run numbers, hookers, and "offer protection" to businesses. Oddly, they always dress in suits and ties, even when they are punching barbers and slapping hookers. Maybe the filmmakers were going all out with the stereotypes, whites only wear suits and black only wear hip urban street clothes.
The Man always wear suits, it's the rule.
They have quite an efficient organization.
As they are hustling in downtown Watts, in the People's Army's area of operations, there are bound to be some confrontations. We see one in particular as the General's freakishly hot on again/off again girlfriend is nearly raped in broad daylight by the white gangsters. Throughout this entire movie we don't see a single policeman, a deliberate decision that I'm sure was supposed to show how insular and isolated the minorities of Watts felt during the '70s. And they'd be right, most of what I can find online notes the near total un-governable anarchy in urban LA during this time.
Oh, she better walk faster!
The People's Army's second in command, the Colonel, wants a "security force" to "protect" PA assets. The General is wary but agrees to a small force of men, but insists they be used only for defensive purposes, not offensive actions.
The Colonel (hey, it's Mac from Night Court!).
The Colonel takes this tacit approval and runs with it far beyond his mandate. It's clear that he wants his own private army to stick it to the whiteys, and has never been a believer in the General's grandiose vision of non-violence and co-operation with the majority whites. The Colonel gets with an old military buddy, who looks like Lawrence Fishburne, and makes plans for a secret call-up of trained killers. Of course, all this has real-world parallels with the schisms in the Black Power movement in the mid 1970s, though the rise of the militant Black Panthers and the varied reactions to them are beyond the scope of this review.
Meeting with the guy.
Meanwhile, the white bad guys rape the Colonel's sister (the hot nurse). This movie HATES women, no doubt about it. Between the abuse this girl takes (twice now) and the assaulted white hooker from before, there is some serious misogyny going on in this movie. Not to mention all the nudity just for the sake of ogling nekkid chicks (including some surprising full-frontal stuff), and the fact that the single female character with any sort of meat to her role (the nurse) seems to exist solely to be raped and abused, and then exploited as a sex object by the "good guys". Considering some of the greatest Blaxploitation movies ever made had strong, competent female leads (Get Christie Love!, Cleopatra Jones, Foxy Brown, and Coffee as examples), it's a bit unsettling to see how badly the fairer sex is treated in The Black Gestapo.
The nurse has a shiner.
Mean white guy, pick on someone your own size.
The Colonel and his men go to the house of the guy who raped his sister and cut off his balls. This is a nasty, bloody, uncalled-for scene, but it does show us that the Security Force is serious about looking out for their own.
Now the race war is on, though even the white crime boss wants restraint as all this is bad for business. There are shootings and beatings as each side tries to get the upper hand. In the end, two white men are killed and another four are badly injured, for the cost of four dead black men. While the blacks have a huge pool of reinforcements to draw on, the whites cannot take those sorts of casualties and their side is pushed back.
Taking back the streets.
Somewhere the Colonel gets ahold of dozens and dozens of US Army surplus M-14 carbines to outfit his troops (ok, sure).
Eventually there's just too much heat for the white gangsters to stay in the kitchen and they disband and go into hiding. The boss longs for the simpler days in Harlem, where it seems he had an easier go at the organized crime business. For some reason that only this movie can explain, whenever we see the boss, we also see his perpetually-topless girlfriend hanging around in the background, lounging in a variety of poses designed to show off her rack. You can never have enough boobs, apparently.
The boss loves his puppy.
So the Colonel's strong-arm tactics seem to have worked. Unfortunately, as the old maxim foretells, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once the white gangsters are out of the picture, the Colonel simply takes over their operations. He justifies his running numbers and drugs and hookers as a way to get funds to create a private army to obstinately "protect" the local black citizens. He is, of course, really just bent on exploiting them to line his own pockets, despite whatever Pan-African Unity rhetoric he might spout. Again, all of this echoes the real-world 1970s and what many felt was the dangerous growth of radical militant black organizations, who often ended up doing more harm than good.
The Colonel takes his cut.
With the cash flowing in, the Colonel buys a secluded gated mansion and fortifies it as his personal compound (all legitimate supervillains have to have one). He gathers up scores of loyal foot soldiers and a dozen or so inner-circle officers and sets about creating a twisted mirror image of the white gangster's operation. It's not long before they are living the high life, Saddam Hussein-style, at their compound, surrounded by willing and nekkid white (exclusively) girls. Since they make a point of having the camera linger on the pale, Caucasian bodies of the harem girls, I can only assume that they were deliberately trying to make some sort of statement. And what might that be? That black men like white women? That white men are evil but white women are fine? That black women are better than this and wouldn't be caught dead being hos for these black men? Or is it all just a reflection of the movie's producer's own personal preference in women?
Young conscript soldiers.
The Colonel changes his unit's uniforms, switching to flat black and leather, just like Hitler's dreaded Gestapo (though that term is never used except in the film's title). To hammer this point home we get a few seconds of stock footage Nazis goosestepping along in front of a smiling Adolf. Powerful analogy, but what point exactly are they trying to make? Why would a militantly anti-white group take the colors and trappings of the gold standard in white supremacy groups? True, the Gestapo were involved in a lot of shady dealings in the years before WWII, only some of it racial in nature, but they would never have found common-cause with the Colonel and his men due to the Nazis' opinions on Africans. Sometimes this movie is virulently anti-white, and other times it is just as strongly anti-black, rare for this genre. [Editor Pam: Maybe the Colonel is trying to show how tough and bad his troops are, but them choosing to wear Nazi uniforms is just stupid. And why "Gestapo," anyway? The original Gestapo was a security organization, not fighting troops. Shouldn't it be "Black SS?"]
Never invoke the unholy ghost of Hitler unless you really have something important to say (and this isn't it).
Meanwhile, the local black citizens of Watts are pushing back against the oppression of the Gestapo, though they aren't astute enough to make the distinction between the Gestapo and the People's Army. Someone firebombs a People's Army clinic and there's some shooting in the streets. The General finally hears about the Gestapo (huh?) when the clinic is bombed and he's flabbergasted. It's hard to fault the General for being out of touch because he's been distracted by the nurse, who is insanely hot and is nekkid more than usual lately.
The nurse is pissed, but she's still in love.
The General goes to the mansion to talk to the Colonel, after tailing him out there. Secure in his powerbase, the Colonel is happy to talk to him about the Gestapo and the new world order on the streets of Watts, free admitting to the drugs and the rackets and all that. The General is steamed and storms off, their friendship officially over.
It's not a good chat.
The local media swarms the General.
Seemingly unaware (or just not caring) that he's now completely outgunned by the Gestapo, the General has his men rob some of their drug shipments. In one scene they beat up a pusher and take his stash, and then swipe his dealer's briefcase full of cash and break the trunk on his fancy Cadillac. Violence against cars is uncalled for in any situation, and I for one am offended.
See, I told you, all white 1970s Ford Econoline vans are owned by criminals.
These pinprick raids cannot help but incur the holy wrath of the Colonel, who is well aware of who is behind them. He orders the General whacked. Echoing the white crime boss he replaced, whenever we see the Colonel lately he's accompanied by a buck-nekkid chick, in this case some nearly-famous buxom Scandinavian model who might have been underage at the time (look away, look away!).
Why are you still looking?
A squad of Gestapo soldiers come to get the General at gunpoint and take him into the desert. They shoot him in the stomach but he manages to run off and hide (proof that stomach wounds are only instantly fatal for bad guys and ancillary characters with no spoken lines, not for heroes). He's found by his men and taken to his girlfriend the nurse and nursed (what other word is there?) back to health.
Nice camera angle, shame such style can't be found in the rest of the movie.
The nurse doesn't want him to go.
In his absence, the Gestapo is doing all the same stuff the white guys were doing before, only with an even harder edge. They are shaking down the same businesses and gangraping the same hookers, being no better than the group they replaced. It's made all the worse by the fact that it's mostly black-on-black violence, which is what people have been saying all along was/is the problem in the urban innercities.
All the pimps and pushers are rightfully scared of the Gestapo.
Finally healthy (must have taken months!), the General stages a one-man commando raid on the Colonel's compound. In the blink of an eye, he goes from a pussy cat to a tiger with absolutely no set up as to how or why. Was he a former soldier? Did he have military training? Why/how did he flip from being a pacifist to a cold-blooded killer so quickly? Armed only with his wits and a duffel bag full of ropes and tricks, the General penetrates the tissue-thin perimeter security after sneaking across an open field and hiding behind trees barely as wide as his arm. Taking a Gestapo uniform from a fallen guard, he brazenly walks into the camp. [Editor Pam: That old trick! Just once I'd like to see somebody knock a guy out and steal his uniform, only to find it doesn't fit.]
Bag of tricks.
This movie seems to go a long way towards proving the thesis (first proposed by Harvard in 1937) that black people can't hear and have zero peripheral vision. At least five separate times in this movie, someone sneaks up behind a black man, often one standing vigilant guard, and assaults them. Several other times, people walk right next to a black man, or dangle a bag on a rope two feet from him, and are not seen. It's like they have blinders on, or maybe it's all that funky disco music, causes hearing loss. Someone call the Ignoble Committee.
Be vewy quiet, I'm huntwing sentries...
Crikey, is that a water-cooled M1919 belt-fed tripod machinegun? Where the heck did the Colonel get that?
The General goes all Rambo on us now and rigs up several elaborate black powder homemade shotguns traps (by the way, this is the sort of Rube Goldberg invention that Kevin rigged up in the original, as-yet unreleased NC-17-rated version of Home Alone that ended in a river of blood). The General's traps kill off a whole mess of Gestapo foot soldiers and more than a few of the officers, leaving the way to the Colonel open.
Musta learned that in 'Nam.
Arrgg, my pet peeve again, shooting accurately from the hip (this time with rifles, no less).
The final showdown with the Colonel is an awesome one-on-one bloodfight with waving straight razors, dueling rifles, and thrown broken wicker chairs, everything that Black Streetfighter should have been like. It ends up at the bottom of a swimming pool with the Colonel dead and the General sopping wet but triumphant. As is usually the case in genre films, the instant the enemy leader is dead, all his remaining loyal officers and troops instantly disappear into thin air.
Unique, me likes.
Of course, what he should have done was just called the FBI. They'd be happy to bust up a bunch of militant young black men with machineguns in the center of Los Angeles, especially in 1975. For that matter, it boggles the mind that the Colonel was able to run his operation for so long without attracting attention from the police anyway.
Written in January 2010 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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