A tired old tale retold

Body counting one way to stay awake

Published: Jun 14 2019, 01:01:am

Wednesday, September 27, 1972

SLAUGHTER. Written by Mark Hanna and Don Williams. Music by Luchi De Jesús. Directed by Jack Starrett. Running time: 92 minutes. Restricted  entertainment with the B.C. Classifier's warning: Brutality and coarse language.
IT BEGINS WITH A distinguished-looking couple climbing into their car. The man turns the ignition key and . . . KA-BOOM!
    The scene shifts to a hospital waiting room. Waiting for news of his parents is a big, grim-looking man (Jim Brown). If he has a first name, he doesn't like it, and nobody ever uses it. His last name is Slaughter.
    His parents are dead. Slaughter takes the news impassively. He begins to leave but is stopped by a pert, floppy-hatted female (Marlene Clark).
    She identifies herself as Kim, a reporter. Slaughter isn't interested.
    "You're a Green Beret hero, and you're black," she says. "That's a good story."
    No, it's not. Anybody who goes to the movies knows that all Green Beret  heroes (with the exception of John Wayne and some ecologically-minded Indians) are black. Slaughter is going to have to have better credentials than that to make it a good story.
    Unfortunately, he doesn't. His father was mixed up with the rackets and was rubbed out. So, Slaughter declares a one-man war on The Mob.
     But that's no story, either. Lee Marvin has been sneerfully mauling The Mob for years, and doing it with considerably more style.
    The trouble starts with the screenplay — a Mark Hanna/Don Williamson collaboration that sounds as if it were knocked out between Bloody Marys on the morning after a night before. Their story has Slaughter grudgingly (and unofficially) deputized by the U.S. Treasury Department and sent winging off to an unnamed Latin American country to continue his pursuit.
    For comic relief the government provides him with an inept partner named Harry (Don Gordon), who informs him that there is a power struggle within the local syndicate's upper echelons. A ruthless up-and-comer named Dominick Hoffo (Rip Torn) is seeking to depose Mario Felice (Norman Alfe), the old don.
    The one thing that can keep a tired old tale like that alive is sharp, witty dialogue, combined with some sharp, with-it delivery. Here, though, the script lacks the lines and the actors — with the exception of Torn, who looks like he's auditioning for the part of the mad doctor's assistant — are completely lacklustre.
    The entire exercise seems to have been contrived to provide an excuse for some location shooting in Mexico.
    About the only thing left to keep an audience awake is keeping track of the body count: a statistical survey that includes bodies dead (33); bodies nude, female (2); bodies auto, wrecked (3) and bodies aircraft, wrecked (1).
    Says little Harry of his big buddy: “I like his style." So would a school of pirañas.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1972. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Jim Brown, often called "the first black action star,” was a professional football player in 1964, a fullback on the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. He made his screen debut that year playing Sgt. Franklyn, a “buffalo soldier” in director Gordon Douglas’s western Rio Conchos. Then he was part of the ensemble cast that Robert Aldrich assembled for 1967’s The Dirty Dozen, and made the switch to full-time acting during its filming. A champion rusher, Brown moved from supporting player to star with The Split, a 1968 crime drama (and the first theatrical feature to receive an R [for Restricted] rating from the Motion Picture Association of America).
    By the time he played the title role in Slaughter, he’d been top-billed in six feature films, including Tom Gries’s 1969 western 100 Rifles, one of the first Hollywood movies to include an interracial love scene (featuring Brown and co-star Raquel Welch). In 1973, Brown reunited with his first director, Gordon Douglas, to reprise his Vietnam veteran role in Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off. Though Blaxploitation roles continued for Brown — he had the title role in 1972’s Black Gunn, directed by Robert Hartford-Davis, and starred in director Jonathan Kaplan’s The Slams (1973), and Gordon Parks Junior’s Three the Hard Way (1974) — his career hardly depended on the new genre. He continued to find work well into the new century, bringing it all full circle in director Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day, the 2014 sports drama about the Cleveland Browns in which the 77-year-old Jim Brown plays himself.

Black Friday: The four Blaxploitation features recalled in this Reeling Back package are the 1972 features Cool Breeze, Slaughter; and Super Fly along with 1974’s Together Brothers. Other Blaxploitation classics already in the archive: The Legend of Nigger Charley (1972) and Blacula (1972).