Black Streetfighter (1975)
Continuing my Blaxploitation month at MMT, here we have another funky power-to-the-people gem from the mid '70s, though this one is more grindhousey violent and often downright nasty than a lot of them.
On to the show...
Wait, first off the title is an obvious rip-off of Chiba's The Streetfighter, but that's ok, they mine the same vein. But what's less ok is the film's original theatrical title of Bogard, which makes no damn sense at all. "Bogard" isn't even a name of anyone in the movie, nor a place name, nor a nickname for someone's schlong, or anything. The always helpful Urban Dictionary tells me that "bogard" is street-slang for "hogging a joint while others are waiting to take a hit off it", which, while amusing, doesn't mean jack to our movie's subject matter. Now, I'm all for unique, non-standard titles, but it works better for little Norwegian art house flicks than it does for swingin' 1970s Blaxploitation face-punchers, though that's just my opinion.
Anyway, we open in Los Angeles and straight away we meet our streetfightin' hero, LeRoy Fisk. LeRoy is played by Richard Dawson, known mostly for his quirky role on Hogan's Heroes and as the long time host of Family Feud. Here he a...wait, I've just been handed a note by my intern Jack. Oh, ok, my bad, that's not Richard Dawson, it's Richard Lawson. My mistake. I thought he was a bit tanned. But, who the hell is Richard Lawson?
After gaining some street cred as a good bare-knuckle fighter, LeRoy meets Logan, a kingpin who has a stable of streetfighters who make him money. All of this is highly illegal, of course, so it's kept on the down-low and all the fights take place in out of the way places. Lots of money changes hands in these fights, and the umbrella organization is some shadowy Sicilian dude who keeps everyone in line (including his kingpins) and keeps the money flowing.
Logan, hey, even kingpins need haircuts.
LeRoy signs up as he's broke. After a hackneyed training montage set to a toe-tapping disco beat (kind of a Parliament/Funkadelic vibe to it), LeRoy is ready for competition. He fights a few fights, wins big each time, and starts to make some serious money as the purses grow each time. The fights themselves, against a variety of ethnic types, are not well-staged and consist mostly of punching and jabbing (hardly any kicks or judo-type throws, which seem to be the defining hallmarks of the more modern streetfighting genre). They are more like random alley brawls, which is fine, but I guess I was expecting something different.
A diverse crowd watches these fights, including my grandma Nell there in the foreground.
So that we can sympathize with LeRoy, instead of spending his newfound fortune on hookers and blow and diamond-studded platform shoes, he gives it all to his wife to get them out of poverty (aawww...). These are some nice scenes, and the two actors do a good job of playing house in the few minutes we see them together. They have a little boy about five or so and we see a softer side of the arm-breaking machine that is LeRoy, which does help us feel good for his luck.
Noooo! Tighty-whiteys! My eyes, my precious eyes!
But luck is often fleeting. Once he starts to make a little money, LeRoy gets a visit from a crooked cop, looking to shake him down for a cut of his winnings. The deal is that the cop won't arrest LeRoy for illegal streetfighting if he gets a hefty percentage of his winnings. To my surprise, the cop is played by kid-friendly comedian Dabney Coleman (!!!), though you'd never know it from the way he cusses like a drunken sailor, drops N-bombs in every sentence, and enjoys raping women. It's like when Blue's Clue's Steve Burns played a child molester on Law & Order that one year, just totally ruined all my childhood memories.
Dabney gets his payoff.
LeRoy learns later that his boss Logan, rather than being on his side, is in fact in on the scam. It's a pretty good scam, actually. Let's say (for example) that Logan wins $5,000 on one of LeRoy's fights. He has to give $2,000 of that to LeRoy as his cut, but then has Dabney shake him down for a $1,000 of that, of which he then get's a $500 cut from Dabney, so in the end, Logan gets $3,500 of the total purse, plus has tacit police protection for his criminal endeavors. LeRoy is duly upset about being hosed this way, but he really can't do anything about it.
Dabney talks to Logan.
LeRoy expresses his displeasure to a friend.
LeRoy has one friend named Fletch, a perpetually drunk layabout who is a streetfighting groupie. Fletch is played by Philip Michael Thomas, long before he slipped on the pastel linen suits and sockless loafers. In one scene Fletch even sings a tune off-key, presaging the Eleventh Cultural Plague, Thomas' ill-timed 1985 album of over-produced, sickly-smooth power ballads, which many scholars claim made the streets run red with blood.
Fletch! Or is it Tubbs undercover...?
A drunk man walking next to a pond, oh that is Darwinism at its finest...
After worming his way into LeRoy's heart (don't ask), Fletch unwisely messes with Logan and Dabney and gets himself killed. In a major switch for his character, LeRoy now wants out of the streetfighting game, the very game that has given him so much prosperity and respect lately (though it's only a 90 minute movie, so we do have to move fast). Logan, of course, says no, but LeRoy now has the stones to stand up and say yes.
Fletch makes a stylish corpse.
LeRoy agrees to fight one last streetfight, this one for a huge payday nearing $70k, and it's clear that with so much at stake he either has to win it or die trying. His opponent is Moose, who looks like Mister Clean and fights like a cornered mongoose. LeRoy wins with some difficulty, finishing him off by ramming his head through the windshield of a Toyota after he was distracted by random bouncing white girl boobs in the audience (this is a crazy movie at times). LeRoy then rubs Logan's face in Moose's blood, totally embarrassing him in front of his homeys, which in retrospect, might not have been the best idea LeRoy has ever had.
They fight in an old car salvage yard, which is awesome.
Dude, you got to learn when to just take your money and walk away.
With his stacks of Benjamins, LeRoy buys a downtown LA disco club called the "Total Experience" (how 1975...) and starts living well. The dance floor is hopping, the polyester is swishing, and the Jheri curl is glistening by the light of the disco ball and all is good. For once in his life, LeRoy can relax and enjoy the life he has always wanted.
At the club.
But, as mentioned before, LeRoy disrespected his former boss Logan on his way out the door, and now that chicken has come home to roost. A bomb placed in LeRoy's car instead claims the life of his wife and unborn child (their first child is totally forgotten about after this scene) and his life is shattered.
Not too many movies, even grindhouse ones, have the balls to blow up pregnant women, one of the few remaining taboo subjects on film.
Fearing for his life LeRoy goes into hiding with some skinny chick named Flo (for a big, bad, mean streetfighter, LeRoy sure runs and hides pretty quick). Flo was LeRoy's girlfriend some time ago and is still his confidant, so she takes him in and gives him a place to stay while he figures out his next move.
Talking with Flo, who really needs a cheeseburger.
Sadly, instead of building on what momentum the movie has revved up so far, Black Streetfighter now slowly grinds to a halt, stuck in the soupy morass of people talking way too much. In a movie with such an explosive title (and a genre pedigree), you are best to keep the chatting down to a minimum as not to get in the way of the blackness and the streetfightingness. In fact, much to my horror, after LeRoy's last fight up there a few paragraphs ago, there's no more streetfighting in the whole movie. Inexcusable.
LeRoy trades some poetry.
Yes, that's really the "Institute of Oral Love", a classic LA landmark in the '70s.
I am so looking forward to the surely-fantastic final showdown between LeRoy and Logan. If we are lucky it will be like the climax of Star Trek II, with LeRoy standing above Logan's mangled body screaming his name into a microphone held with shaking hand, spittle and venom flying everywhere. Let it all out, LeRoy, let it all hang out! That would be an awesome ending.
LeRoy-style pastel lapels and afro effects provided by Multi-Media Intern Kelby (not his best work, but he just got out of rehab again so I'll cut him some slack).
Driven by revenge bloodlust, LeRoy starts looking for those responsible for his wife's death. By conning hustlers and slapping hookers around, he finds a man named Boom-Boom, a bomb-maker who Logan hired to rig the bomb in his car. In an odd bit of double-casting, Boom-Boom is also played by Philip Michael Thomas, though disguised by an outrageous pimp outfit and fifteen-pound winged afro wig. LeRoy gives Boom-Boom a horrible beating in a grungy bathroom stall, culminating in a gross swirly. He does leave him alive for some reason.
Boom-Boom takes a lickin'.
Oh, oh, oh, maybe the final showdown with Logan will be like in Commando, the ultimate '80s action bloodfest. Maybe LeRoy will don camos, paint his face up like he's in Cambodia, and machinegun and bazooka everyone to death while ripping off quippy one-liners. Maybe he'll even do some streetfighting when he runs out of rockets and grenades and finish Logan off with some Arnold-esque spine-ripping, pancreas-mauling power move, all the while chomping on a cigar and waving an American flag. God, I miss the '80s!
"Why don't they just call him Girl George?"
Striking closer to Logan's inner circle now, LeRoy murders one of his trusted henchmen in a car fire, echoing his own wife's crispy demise from before. A Biblical eye-for-an-eye hit-back, to be sure, but LeRoy doesn't earn any sympathy points for killing an unarmed man begging for his life, especially when that guy had only a tertiary role in the whole mess to begin with. Real classy.
Poster shot there.
LeRoy will give you the kiss of death.
Hey, maybe LeRoy's final showdown with Logan will be like the end of Carrie, he could wade into Logan's house and start exploding people with his mind, ending up standing there drenched in blood and bone fragments, eyes open and tweaker wild. Then the whole world will know that you don't mess with LeRoy Fisk!!!
"And the first sin was intercourse!"
Crooked cop Dabney is hot on LeRoy's trail by now, trying to save his own skin mostly. He discovers that Flo is hiding him and attempts to rape her at her apartment. Again, it's unsettling to see Mister Drysdale rip a woman's shirt off, slap her around, and call her a bitch several dozen times. I also feel bad for the poor actress playing Flo, as she really gets roughed up here by Coleman, who seemed determined to make this scene as "real" as possible.
That's what they make liability waivers for.
LeRoy breaks it up by coming home early and Dabney's time is up. Fancying himself a bit of a Bond villain, LeRoy comes up with a wickedly elaborate plan to freeze Dabney to death in a meatpacking plant. Hey, you know, so far LeRoy has killed with fire and ice, maybe he's doing some sort of Airbender/Fifth Element alien thing here. Maybe his next two kills with be with dirt and air, to complete the natural elements, that would be awesome.
Ok, now I seriously can not wait for the final showdown with Logan! After all this build-up it just has to be epic, like at the end of Straw Dogs when milquetoast Dustin Hoffman finally gets his revenge on his wife's attackers with a double-barrel explosion of brain matter and viscera and rage that even made Peckinpah a bit squeamish.
"I freak out for eight-year olds!"
Huh? Some other random one-line scale-earning henchman just killed Logan off-screen? And then that guy goes to the Italian boss, who then kills the henchman and then calls an end to all this? Whoa, wait a minute, oh hell no. There won't be a final showdown between LeRoy and Logan? But you've been building up to it all movie, it's the essential culmination of any revenge story arc. Logan killed his family, he has to be the one to exact his revenge in the end, not some flunky off-screen. Didn't any of you go to film school? Didn't any of you ever see Pale Rider? I've sat through 90 minutes of this fetid colon blockage of a movie and I demand a showdown! No? Fine, that's it, we're done here. There's nothing left but for me to summon the Old Ones to come and take this horrid movie back to their stone houses in R'lyeh, where it will sleep but not dream and die but not live...
Ph'nglui mglw' nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah' nagl fhtagn! Ph'nglui mglw' nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah' nagl fhtagn! Ph'nglui mglw' nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah' nagl fhtagn! Ph'nglui mglw' nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah' nagl fhtagn! Ph'nglui mglw' nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah' nagl fhtagn! Ph'nglui mglw' nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah' nagl fhtagn!!!
Written in January 2010 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...