“Badass, huh? Well I hope you’re better with that knife than you were with that big black car. ‘Cause I’ma jam it up your ass.”
Jim Brown was a black action star before blaxploitation. He’d already done more than ten movies by the time SHAFT and SUPER FLY hit. He’d done westerns, he’d been one of the DIRTY DOZEN, he’d even played a version of Richard Stark’s Parker character in THE SPLIT. But I’ve always associated him with the blaxploitation era – I mean, he ended up in I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA and ORIGINAL GANGSTAS, didn’t he? – and that all started in 1972 with the movie SLAUGHTER, in which Jim Brown is SLAUGHTER.
In the opening scene a dressed-up older couple get into their Mercedes and it explodes. They were Slaughter’s parents. Dad “had underworld connections.” Slaughter was “a Green Beret hero.” He gets the name of a responsible party: Renaldi. Tries to confront him at an airport, ends up in a car vs. small plane chase, apparently screws up an investigation by the U.S. Treasury.
So Chief Inspector A.W. Price (Cameron Mitchell, ACTION U.S.A.) takes him into a room, calls him the n-word, makes him sign a confession, gets put into a headlock, and puts him on a secret mission to Mexico with two partners to take down the man responsible for blowing up his daddy.
One thing that’s funny about this mission: both of his partners surprise him, and both almost get killed by him. Kim (Marlene Clark, BEWARE! THE BLOB, GANJA & HESS), at first posing as a reporter for “Black Is Magazine,” hides in his bathroom and gets the whole room shot up. Harry (Don Gordon, BULLITT, THE EXORCIST III), waits in his hotel room and as soon as he says “Hi!” gets punched through some furniture, against a wall, out a window into a swimming pool and then gets punched a couple more times while in the swimming pool.
Slaughter goes to a private casino with a giraffe’s head on the wall, Harry sneaks around with a grappling hook, Kim mostly has to lounge around by the pool at the hotel. Undercover. The boss they’re going after is Mario Felice (Norman Alfe, his only movie credit), who’s kind of the trying-to-be-friendly-and-reasonable gangster having to contend with the less-disciplined-young-upstart-who-always-wants-to-kill-everybody-and-is-trying-to-take-over, Dominic (Rip Torn, THE BEASTMASTER, CITY HEAT).
Dominic is also a racist shitbag who calls Slaughter a “black ape” and worse. In classic blaxploitation fashion his main motivation is fear and disgust at the idea of a black man sleeping with “his” woman. That’s clear when he notices his girlfriend Ann (Stella Stevens, THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE) checking out Slaughter at the casino. When it does happen, he disobeys his boss to go after Slaughter. When that doesn’t work he gets her and almost rapes her and beats her up, a very unpleasant scene to say the least.
I think Ann is just supposed to be getting some information from Slaughter or something, but she immediately falls for him. They talk at the pool and it cuts right to them in bed. When he leaves he gets ambushed and has to dodge bullets and run away from a car trying to run him over. After some matador shit he leaves the car upside down to go confront Ann, convinced she set him up. She swears she didn’t and that she wants to be with him. Cut to them in bed again. Two hookups in one day!
I have to admit I know the name Stella Stevens but I’m not familiar with her work, and didn’t remember I’d seen her as the villain in CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD, so I didn’t know who this blond lead was. Still, she seems out of place in kind of an interesting way. Something about her look and her lopsided smile seem a little too grown up and square for these revealing polyester dresses and this sexpot role. They just treat her like generic hot chick, though. Like, maybe she has to be taking a shower when a henchman comes to grab her, to make her more vulnerable. But the scene doesn’t have to start as a closeup of her naked ass.
I guess it’s a good time to mention that if sexist stuff bothers you in movies this is gonna be a problem. When they occasionally yell at the women and shut them down for no reason it’s so over the top that it’s comical. But if you’ve just been reading about Brown’s long history of domestic violence incidents like I had it’s not fun to see him yell “Sit down, mama!” and grab Ann’s arm in a restaurant, causing everybody to turn and look.
There’s a crazy moment in the third act where they have to go to the casino to meet Felice. By that time Dominic has killed Felice, and is using the meeting as an ambush. Slaughter sees a silhouetted Felice at his desk and throws a henchman into him. You only see Felice for a second and it’s an obvious dummy, but there’s really no way to know whether it’s supposed to be a dummy or they did a bad job of making it look like a corpse until a later scene where there’s about a half second of Dominic tossing the dummy out of the chair. Even then you can’t be 100% sure.
There’s other weird stuff like that. Many times during the action there will be a quick shot of somebody getting hit with a bullet or thrown through a window or something that’s shot with a different lens so it’s stretched out. At first I thought it was an artistic choice to emphasize certain bits of action, sort of along the lines of how Spike Lee shot the grandma’s house section of CROOKLYN in a different format to show how everything seemed alien and weird away from home. But it keeps happening on normal things like shots of cars and stuff, so I am convinced that there was a miscommunication with the second unit about what format the movie was shooting in. I could be wrong.
This is pretty much the definition of exploitation. An exaggeratedly awesome hero with an exaggeratedly awesome name – nobody ever asks if he has a first name, even his new girlfriend – lots of shooting, pistol-whipping, punching, throwing off buildings, cars driving off small cliffs, a shirtless rooftop fist vs. knife fight, funky music by Luchi De Jesus (BLACK BELT JONES, FRIDAY FOSTER) and a lionizing theme song by Billy Preston (a few years after recording with the Beatles, around the time he was recording with the Rolling Stones). It’s all the standard blaxploitation elements, and since I tend to like those elements, I enjoy this one. But I also admit that it feels pretty generic. The following year director Jack Starrett (guy who falls out of helicopter in FIRST BLOOD) would direct CLEOPATRA JONES, a character even larger-than-Slaughter’s-larger-than-life, and a movie bursting with its own style and humor.