Black Caesar (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Larry Cohen|
|Produced by||Larry Cohen
|Written by||Larry Cohen|
|Music by||James Brown|
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
|February 7, 1973|
|Box office||$2 million (US/ Canada rentals)|
Black Caesar (released theatrically in the UK as Godfather of Harlem) is a 1973 American blaxploitation crime drama film, starring Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry and Julius Harris. The film was written and directed by Larry Cohen. Black Caesar is a remake of the 1931 film Little Caesar. It features a notable musical score (Black Caesar) by James Brown (with heavy input from his bandleader Fred Wesley), his first experience with writing music for film. A sequel titled Hell Up in Harlem was released in late 1973.
Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson) is an African-American who grew up in Harlem, New York City. As a kid, he was brutally assaulted by racist white cop McKinney. The incident led him to a life of crime. As an adult, he joins New York mafia and becomes the head of a black crime syndicate in Harlem. He wages a gang war with the Italian mobsters of New York City and begins to establish a criminal empire, keeping a ledger book of all his dealings as leverage over his business associates, including McKinney.
He meets and falls in love with a singer named Helen (Gloria Hendry) and marries her. She is unhappy as he is violent and rapes her. Eventually his enemies conspire with her, leading to an attempt on his life that leaves him shot and wounded. Killing his would-be assassins, he returns to his office to retrieve the ledger book. McKinney meets him there, and attempts to humiliate him before killing him. Tommy overpowers McKinney and beats him to death. Retrieving the ledger, a badly wounded Tommy returns to the house where he grew up, but a street gang attacks, robs and, presumably, kills him.
- Fred Williamson – Tommy Gibbs
- Gloria Hendry – Helen Bradley
- Art Lund – McKinney
- D'Urville Martin – Reverend Rufus
- Julius Harris – Mr. Gibbs
- Minnie Gentry – Mama Gibbs
- Philip Roye – Joe Washington
- William Wellman Jr. – Alfred Coleman
- James Dixon – Bryant
- Val Avery – Cardoza
- Patrick McAllister – Grossfield
- Don Pedro Colley – Crawdaddy
- Myrna Hansen –Virginia Coleman
- Omer Jeffrey – Tommy as a boy
- Michael Jeffrey – Joe as a boy
The Harlem film sequence was directed by James Signorelli, later to go on to producing films on Saturday Night Live. Some of James Brown's songs used in the film were sampled by prominent rap musicians - Das EFX and Ice-T ("The Boss" which is the background music where Tommy Gibbs is shot while crossing a street corner was sampled for Ice-T's "You Played Yourself", and also for Trick Daddy's "Take It To Da House"). More recently, by The Alchemist for Prodigy's album Return of the Mac. The song is also sampled on Nas' album God's Son on "Get Down".
The film is name-checked in Public Enemy's song "Burn Hollywood Burn"; when the cinema announces the movie to be Driving Miss Daisy, guest rapper Big Daddy Kane suggests leaving, saying "I got Black Caesar back at the crib." Kane makes another reference to the movie in his song "How U Get A Record Deal". Kool Keith references the main character in the song "Keith Turbo" from Black Elvis/Lost in Space: "Take off your shirt; I can see your ribs; Fakin' like Tommy Gibbs."
Release on DVD & HD
- In 2001 it was released on DVD.
- In 2010 it was digitized in High Definition (1080i) and broadcast on MGM HD.
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
- Samuel Z Arkoff & Richard Turbo, Flying Through Hollywood By the Seat of My Pants, Birch Lane Press, 1992 p 203
- Gary A. Smith, The American International Pictures Video Guide, McFarland 2009 p 25
- "A Bluffer's Guide To Blaxploitation". Empire. Retrieved 2012-05-18.
- "'Black Caesar' Cues on Crime Lord:The Cast". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-05-18.