Sunday, December 10, 2017
Hell Up in Harlem (Larry Cohen, 1973)
Larry Cohen's Black Caesar is one of my all-time favorite blaxploitation films, and its sequel is just as excellent. Director Larry Cohen's script manages to inject the occasional bit of humor into a fairly heavy plot, like when Tommy has some Mafia guys he's holding hostage served soul food, including pork butts, collard greens, and for dessert, watermelon. There's also the amazing scene where Tommy kills one of DiAngelo's men at the beach by ramming a sharpened umbrella stick through his chest, although considering he was lying on a towel with the Confederate flag on it at the time, it's hard for me to feel bad for the guy. Fred Williamson, as ever, is the definition of cool, and wears some truly stylish outfits. Julius W. Harris does pretty well in that department as well, and his struggle to reconnect with his son is touching in a way, making his final fate all the more tragic. Gloria Hendry's Helen is not the asskicker Sydney in Black Belt Jones was, but she is a well-rounded character, torn between her feelings for Tommy and her disgust with his actions and the way he treats her, even wanting to die. DiAngelo is another of the genre's many slimy racist white politicians (art imitating life?), and Gerald Gordon does a great job conveying what a piece of shit he is. Tony King portrays the power-hungry and arrogant Zach with aplomb. The soundtrack by Edwin Starr of "War" fame for Motown is awesome, in its own way even better than James Brown's work on the first film in my opinion, and that's no small praise. And of course there's also lots of great action scenes and bloodshed, from Tommy's gunshot to his ironic punishment for DiAngelo. A must-view!