The Final Comedown (1972)
I am not black. Just wanted to get that out in the beginning. I am, in fact, a middleclass white guy from Indiana. Thus, I cannot by any means "understand" the problems of being a young black man in the inner city. Our movie was made in 1972, but judging by every episode of Cops and CSI: New York I've ever seen, I'd guess that things haven't really changed much in the last 35 years for young black men in our big cities. The clothes have changed, the music is different, and the cops drive better cars, but overall the same cycles of poverty and racism still exist.
Ok, this movie has been edited with some considerable skill, even though I myself don't care for the end results. They shot the entire movie like regular, and then snipped and spliced it to make frequent (like every two minutes) flashbacks. The result is a very disjointed film that you really have to pay attention to every minute to keep up with what's happened. This style also makes writing a review damn near impossible, so I will just tell the story in "real time" without the flashbacks, ok?
And now on to our show...
Our movie concerns a young black man named Johnny Johnson, played by 35-year old Billy Dee Williams, an established a-list actor in Hollywood. Williams had (still does, I assume) a strong social conscience about black issues and this movie was his brainchild. This entire movie is filmed in the poor neighborhoods of Los Angeles, which probably haven't changed much since this movie was made.
To the movie's credit, his character of Johnny is a bit of an enigma, and not just your standard stereotypical Angry Black Man. He's college educated and very bright for one, despite being so virulently anti-establishment. He also has a white girlfriend at one point, despite being about as radically anti-white as you can get (I find humor in the old Saturday Night Live Eddie Murphy quote, "I hate all white people, but I love white women.").
"I tell you woman, once you go black..."
Johnny is angry, bitter and resentful of both the fact that he's black and that he's not white, if that makes any sense. He blames all his problems (and by extension all the problems of his entire race) on anyone who is white, and yet covets the very things that white people have that he doesn't. All around him he sees (or chooses to see, a big distinction) racism and inequality and oppression, problems that are totally out of his control (or so he thinks).
Johnny's oft-stated solution to this problem is to bring the fight to the white man, so to speak. The line he uses is that they won't understand until "white kids are being shot in the streets". Johnny has embraced the black militant manifesto of violence being the only way to get the point across.
In the first third of the movie we get to know Johnny. We see him with his mom and dad (who don't share his young angry militancy), with his church group (where he's a good role model to the kids), out on the job hunt (where his skin color is a disadvantage), and with his friends (some of whom are the type that will encourage him to go get himself killed). We see him getting hassled by the cops and raging about the injustice of inner city life. We see him meet a sage homeless dude (the most lucid character in the whole movie). We learn that the cops don't like Jews, either, and we learn that McDonald Douglass Aircraft Incorporated is racist in their employment practices (I'd sue).
We also see him in love with a very beautiful young dance instructor named Luann. They really do seem in love, and the two actors do a great job of "acting in love", which is much harder to do than you might imagine. Luann is a tall and slim woman, with the strong lithe legs of a dancer and a pretty face, topped with a 1970s afro. As a note, it also seems like Johnny is banging the white girl on the side, unbeknownst to Luann.
This movie has an "important message" to present. Racism is endemic and bad and we should all get our heads out of the sand and take notice, good message, valid for us all. The problem is that this message is pounded into the viewer with a jackhammer, 80 straight minutes of unrelenting social cudgeling by every character. Johnny especially has about eight or nine extended monologues (bitter diatribes, really) about the plight of the black man and the abuse of the white man. I feel like I'm watching An Inconvenient Truth while Al Gore sits in my lap giving me a personal audio commentary track.
Johnny's road to an early grave begins with him getting involved with some Black Panther-esque underground warrior types. These men are even more violent and bloodthirsty than Johnny, and suck him into their world. These men recognize a certain quality in Johnny, a natural innate leadership ability that they hope will be used to further their radical black power agenda. This same leadership quality could also be used to help the community, of course, but not in this movie.
Johnny's band of brothas.
The plan is for a group of sympathetic white kids, the kind of liberal, educated kids who often look in the mirror and feel ashamed for being rich and white, to help them fight the cops. The white kids will meet up with Johnny's band and fight together in the streets to get the point across to America that racism is bad. A bunch of black people with guns is a "criminal gang", but an armed band of black and white people is a "social statement".
Some white boy showing Johnny how to do that lameass "Good to go" Taco Bell hand swerve thing.
Johnny gathers up about 15 to 20 brothahs and sistahs, all armed with a variety of weapons including revolvers, pump shotguns and a small number of M-14 carbines (unknown where they got all this firepower, unless they raided police stocks). They are going into the streets and start a riot. The actual plan of attack is not laid out, we just jump into the action. It seems that the white kids got scared and bailed on the black kids at the last minute, leaving them alone to face the cops. And maybe somebody tipped off the cops, because we hear that "five busloads" of cops are against them now.
Things go from bad to worse as the black fighters are swarmed by the vastly more numerous cops and forced into a series of running gun battles in the cramped alleys and crumbling apartment blocks of the urban landscape. The cops are all wearing standard LAPD dark blue uniforms with white helmets, and are armed with tear gas grenades, .38 revolvers, pump shotguns and M-14s (all from the same prop supply as the black fighters used).
During the fighting, Johnny takes a bullet wound to the stomach and his men know he needs some medical attention or he will die. Going to a hospital is out of the question at the moment, so they take the hospital to Johnny, so to speak. They run to the house of a local black doctor and force him at gunpoint to go back with them to where Johnny is hiding. The doctor is a good man, and not comfortable with all the guns and the shooting, but he does what he can for Johnny. Which is not much as he only has a hastily-packed medical kit and Johnny's wound is pretty bad. The doctor represents all the blacks who just go along with the system, tolerate the racism and just try and get by. We are made to feel hatred for his type, though it's hard to do so at times. The doctor gets shot dead in a bit, running back to get some more medicine.
Johnny's mom also shows up, and she and her son spend some time yelling at each other. Johnny is the defiant young man and she is the worried mother, and neither see eye to eye. Sadly, his mom takes a few bullets and dies in front of him at the end.
Johnny's mom berates him for not doing his chores before going out and inciting a race riot.
The final thirty minutes of the movie are pretty much a sustained firefight. Casualties on both sides are heavy. On one side, Johnny, his mom, both his girlfriends (Luann and the white girl), one sympathetic white kid, one innocent black doctor, and 17 young black men are shot down dead in the street by movie's end. On the other side, all that firepower in the hands of our "heroes" takes a toll on the police (who don't wear bullet proof vests, pre-Hollywood bank robbery days). 21 cops are killed and another 3 wounded before the final shots are fired.
The movie ends with everyone dead and the impression that all this bloodshed will change nothing. And that's probably right.
The absolute closest you get to nekkidness in this movie, sorry.
Bonus! Some statistics for you:
6: N-Words dropped.
9: F-Bombs dropped.
7: Times cops are called "Pigs".
20: Times you hear the word "man" used as slang in a sentence, as in "You got no style, man!".
4: Cigarettes smoked.
3: VW Beatles seen.
0: Naughty girly nipples seen
44: People killed in this movie.
Written in March 2007 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...