Friday, May 26, 2017

174. Black Fist

174. Black Fist aka Bogard (1974)
Directors: Timothy Galfas and Richard Kaye
Writers: Tim Kelly with additional sequences by Andrew Maisner and Richard Kaye
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org
A black street fighter signs on with the mob but has to go on a revenge rampage once they betray him.
I feel like I’ve been saying “Not much happens” about movies for the past few weeks and that feels like a cop-out. The reality with a lot of these exploitation flicks, though, is that they can tend to lack invention or vigor or even fail to rise to the level of following basic generic conventions. What makes Black Fist interesting is how it fails to meet expectations but still manages to be an enjoyable experience.

Just from the title and one-line synopsis, you would imagine that the main character is or becomes the titular “Black Fist” and rallies the community against both “the man” and the mob to restore dignity and independence to the neighborhood. There’s a bit of that in The Black Godfather where the main character is a player in the crime scene trying to remove heroin from the neighborhood. None of that happens here.

What does happen is we open with Leroy Fisk—who is never referred to as the “Black Fist,” to my ever-lasting disappointment—being introduced to Logan, a mid-level mafioso who runs a street fighting ring. Fisk wants to earn money to take care of his wife and child and, after an exhausting amount of “boy” and the n-word, joins up as a fighter where things get more uncomfortable. The mafioso and his peers keep referring to their fighters as livestock bred for sport. I mean, this is Blaxploitation so there’s an expected level of racism from the villains, but this enters into the realm of the really uncomfortable in that it’s both novel and plausible. The situation doesn’t seem invented and it makes you feel dirty to be a human being.

While Fisk is becoming a great street fighter, crooked cop Dabney Coleman shows up asking for a cut. Fisk learns that Coleman is working with Logan to put the squeeze on the fighters to keep them in their place. Foolishly, Coleman keeps a record of all his crooked dealings in a little black book that Fisk’s friend gets a hold of and passes off to Fisk. That friend is murdered and Fisk decides he wants out. He’ll do 1 more fight for an additional $25,000 and use that money to by a club that, apparently, is now a plot point and one of his goals.

Logan’s boss puts $50,000 on Fisk to win, but Logan sets Fisk up to be killed in the fight. Unfortunately for Logan, Fisk wins. Now Fisk is out from under his thumb and the big boss is leaning on Logan for that money. End part 1.

Part 2 starts with Logan’s goons blowing up Fisk’s car when it has Fisk’s newly-introduced brother-in-law and Fisk’s newly-pregnant wife in it. The movie proceeds largely as you’d expect from there with Fisk going to ground and working to get revenge. In this scenario, the climax should be Fisk facing off against Logan and ultimately killing him. Instead, Logan’s surviving goon shows up at the house of the big boss to say he’s killed Logan (off-screen) and that he wants to be number 1 now. The big boss invites Fisk over to his house, shows him the body of the goon, and tells Fisk that Fisk himself is now number 1. Except that was never one of Fisk’s priorities and he kills the big boss. Then, as Fisk’s earlier lines about how he was going to make big money and take care of his wife echo through his mind, he stumbles into a mirror room and starts punching his reflections, implying that his avarice was the root of all the terror? Maybe? THE END.

I’m not trying to win the favor of Marvel fans when I ask, How do you deny us Fisk vs. Logan? That’s what the movie’s driving towards and Logan is the villain. To have him die, off-screen, without even seeing his body, completely changes the focus. Suddenly it’s not Logan’s mendacity and pride at the root of all the conflict, it’s… what? The organization? The big boss? Fisk himself? It honestly feels like they lost access to the actor playing Logan at the last minute so shot this alternate ending instead. Even the logic of it doesn’t work—how does the big boss know how to contact Fisk? Why would Fisk trust him enough to visit? How do they even know each other at all?

Suffice it to say, the movie has issues. There were expected pleasures that I was denied and missteps that added unnecessary levels of confusion. That said, it moves along well enough and has its share of campy pleasures. Fisk going to ground and putting together the details on who was responsible for the deaths is pretty satisfying as are his acts of vengeance. My copy ends with an MPAA rating card designating this an R, although IMDB says it was initially an X. That said, there’s only one scene with brief nudity. Everything else is language and violence, and the violence isn’t anything that couldn’t be shown on TV today.

In the end, I kind of liked it. There’s enough going on to keep things moving and enough industrial elements—the narrative choices, the shifting rating—to keep it interesting. On top of that, it’s in the public domain so I added an MPEG-2 copy to archive.org here. It’s fun enough. I wouldn’t recommend it as a must-see or anything like that, but it’s nice enough to add to your bad-movie rotation when hanging with friends.

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