Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Richard Fleischer|
|Produced by||Dino De Laurentiis|
|Screenplay by||Norman Wexler|
|Based on||Mandingo by
|Music by||Maurice Jarre
Hi Tide Harris
|Cinematography||Richard H. Kline|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
Mandingo is an American motion picture released by Paramount Pictures in 1975. It is based on the novel Mandingo by Kyle Onstott, and on the play Mandingo by Jack Kirkland (which is derived from the novel). The film was directed by Richard Fleischer and starred James Mason, Susan George, Perry King, and boxer-turned-actor Ken Norton. It was widely derided when released, although some reviews are positive.
The movie is set in the Deep South of the United States prior to the American Civil War. Falconhurst is a run-down plantation owned by widower Warren Maxwell (James Mason) and largely run by his son, Hammond (Perry King). Hammond and a friend go to a brothel where both men choose to have sex with virgin black women. Hammond chooses Ellen (Brenda Sykes). Hammond and Ellen watch as Hammond's friend abuses and rapes his choice, claiming that she likes it. Hammond asks Ellen if this is true, and she says no. Hammond then gently has sexual intercourse with Ellen.
Warren Maxwell pressures him to marry, so Hammond chooses Blanche (Susan George). A social climber and sexually promiscuous, Blanche had been having an affair with her cousin. On their wedding night, Blanche's sexual skill and enjoyment of recreational sex convinces Hammond that she is not a virgin—a claim Blanche denies. Hammond returns to the brothel and purchases Ellen as his slave. Hammond makes Ellen a house slave (one of those who do less physically demanding work) and takes her on trips with him. He also has sexual relations with Ellen, and in time comes to care for her.
Meanwhile, Hammond purchases a Mandingo slave named Ganymede (Ken Norton). Nicknamed "Mede", the slave works for Hammond as a prize-fighter. He's trained in a large cauldron, which is heated to boiling as he and another slave box inside it. Mede is taught to fight hard and fast so that he can escape the soon-to-be-boiling water. Hammond also breeds Mede with female slaves on his plantation. Hammond makes a great deal of money betting on Mede's fights, while Mede fathers many healthy babies with the slave women he's told to have sex with.
Rejected by Hammond, Blanche becomes a slovenly alcoholic who does nothing all day long. While Hammond is on a business trip alone, Blanche discovers Ellen is pregnant. Correctly assuming the baby is Hammond's, Blanche beats Ellen. Ellen flees, falls down some stairs, and miscarries. Hammond (who had promised Ellen that her baby would be freed), returns to Falconhurst and discovers Ellen lost the baby. Ellen does not tell him how she miscarried, fearful that she will be beaten again by Blanche if she tells Hammond about her beating and fall. A grieving Hammond gives Ellen a pair of ruby and diamond earrings, which she wears while serving an evening meal. Hammond gave the matching necklace to Blanche, who becomes enraged to find Ellen publicly favored by Hammond.
Hammond leaves on another business trip alone. A drunken Blanche demands that Mede come to her bedroom. Although the other slaves attempt to stop him, Mede does as he is ordered. Blanche demands that Mede have sex with her, but he refuses. Blanche then says she will accuse Mede of rape if he does not have sex with her, so he spends the night making love to her. Blanche's sexuality is re-awakened by Mede, whom she finds exceptionally well-endowed, and she has sex with him several more times.
Hammond returns to the plantation. A great deal of time has passed since Hammond and Blanche's marriage, and Warren Maxwell is eager for a grandchild. Sensing that the marriage is troubled, Warren locks Hammond and Blanche in a room together and refuses to let them out until they reconcile. They appear to do so. A short time later, Blanche announces she is pregnant. But when the baby is born, it is clear the child is a mulatto. To avoid a scandal, the doctor kills the child on Warren Maxwell's orders. Sickened at Blanche's sexual indiscretion, Warren privately discusses with other plantation owners what he should do. They agree that Blanche must die, and Warren poisons his daughter-in-law. An outraged Hammond seeks out Mede, intending to kill him for raping his wife. As Hammond chases Mede across the plantation grounds, Mede tries to tell him that Blanche blackmailed him into having sex. Hammond forces Mede into the boiling cauldron of water, and uses a pitchfork to repeatedly stab him until Mede dies. In a fit of fury, one of Warren's slaves picks up a shotgun and aims it to Hammond. When Warren calls him a "crazy nigger" and demands that he put the gun down, the slave aims at, shoots, and kills Warren. As the man runs away, Hammond kneels helpless next to Warren's lifeless body.
Upon its release in 1975, critical response was mixed although box office was strong. Roger Ebert despised the film, calling it "racist trash", and gave it a "zero star" rating. Richard Schickel of TIME found the film boring and cliché-ridden. Movie critic Robin Wood was enthusiastic about the film, calling it “the greatest film about race ever made in Hollywood.” In Leonard Maltin's annual publication Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide the film is ranked as a "BOMB" and dismissed with the word "Stinko!"
Some prominent critics hail the film, including the New York Times columnist Dave Kehr, who called it "a thinly veiled Holocaust film that spares none of its protagonists," further describing it as "Fleischer’s last great crime film, in which the role of the faceless killer is played by an entire social system."
Director Quentin Tarantino has cited Mandingo as one of only two instances "in the last twenty years [that] a major studio made a full-on, gigantic, big-budget exploitation movie," comparing it to Showgirls. In Django Unchained, Tarantino took the non-historical terminology of "Mandingo fighting" from the use of "a Mandingo" being a fine slave for breeding in the film.
Paramount Pictures licensed the film to Legend Films for its first official DVD release. The DVD was released on June 3, 2008, in 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen version without any extras.
- "Mandingo Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2010-11-17.
- "Mandingo :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved 2010-11-17.
- Schickel, Richard."Cinema: Cold, Cold Ground", TIME, May 12, 1975.
- Wood, Robin (1998). Sexual Politics and Narrative Film: Hollywood and Beyond. Columbia University Press. p. 256. ISBN 0-231-07605-3.
- Kehr, Dave (February 17, 2008). "In a Corrupt World Where the Violent Bear It Away". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-06-10.
- Udovitch, Mim (1998). "Mim Udovitch/1996". In Peary, Gerald. Quentin Tarantino: Interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi. pp. 172–173. ISBN 1-57806-051-6.
- Daniel Bernardi The Persistence of Whiteness: Race and Contemporary ... - 2013 "For the purposes of breeding chattel, he must also buy a “Mandingo” buck, a male slave. In the film, a “Mandingo” represents the finest stock of slaves deemed most suitable for fighting and breeding."