1972 was really the year when Blaxploitation started to blow up with a slew of great films, so it’s really not much of a surprise that Black Gunn is a little less known as it isn’t quite on par with some of the other films that came out that year. Staring football and film legend, Jim Brown (who also stared in the better-known Blaxploitation film, Slaughter that same year), Black Gunn is a basic Blaxploitation movie in almost every way, but one that is certainly solid and makes for an enjoyable watch.
Brown plays a character simply known as, Mr. Gunn, or Gunn if you’re cool enough for him to allow you to leave out the Mr. part (and I am, for the record). Gunn is a successful black nightclub owner that has worked hard to get where he is, but did so on his own terms. Gunn’s younger brother Scott (Herb Jefferson Jr.), who is involved with a black militant group, finds himself in a heap of trouble when the group knocks off the mob for some cash. The cash isn’t really the problem for the mob, so much as Scott got away with some very important notebooks that contained names of various politicians that are in bed with the mob behind the scenes.
This brings a lot of attention to the well-know and respected Gunn as the mob is now on the lookout for Scott, hoping to get the ledgers back, as well as the police wanting to question Scott about the robbery. Gunn protects Scott, pretending as if he has no clue where his brother is, but that protection can only last so long before the wrong people catch, and then murder him. As you can probably guess, Gunn doesn’t take well to dead brothers and decides to exact his own brand of justice on those that killed Scott.
Simple premise, but as I said, Black Gunn is a very standard Blaxploitation movie filled with many of the clichés that genre has to offer. The mob is made up of all overly racist white dudes that go that extra mile to insult any black person with every ethnic slur known to man. It is often over done, but it also makes it more fun when these characters get it in the end, cause you know they will! There are many people involved with the crime/mob aspect of Black Gunn, with politicians at the top, down to the mob boss himself, who doubles as a used car salesman named Capelli, who is played by Slither mouth himself, Martin Landau.
Under Capelli, are his lower level thug’s, most notable would be loose cannon, Ray Kelley. Kelly is played by super creep, Bruce Glover and he actually puts forth one of the better performances as the intimidating and sleazy mob minion. The king of the proverbial castle in Black Gunn, is of course, Jim Brown who while not being the most charismatic actor ever, certainly has a copious amount of presence when on screen. I actually think Brown is a great actor more so in his later years, but he is still solid as the soft-spoken, yet tough as nails, Mr. Gunn.
Filming wise, Black Gunn looks like the typical low-budget Blaxploitation film with a style that changes erratically depending on what is happening on screen. Directed by Robert Hartford-Davis, most of the movie is very standard, but there are moments when things kick up and the action starts, and that where the film shines a little brighter. Some of the fight scenes are shot with a more panoramic fish eye lens, that while not necessarily amazing, looked fun and changed the pace of things. There are a few spots where some well done following shots are used, mostly in moments leading up to the action. As stand out as these aspects where, I wish there was a bit more of these techniques used in the film.
This is also the case with the music and setting in the film also. Music and setting are some of the most important things in film’s of this genre and Black Gunn could have expanded upon these things a little more. There are a few scenes where you get to see the awesome 70’s Los Angles setting, which isn’t nearly as great as 70’s New York, but has a great look all it’s own. And the music is very good, with some head bobbing funky beats that when utilized (mostly during driving scenes), really caught my attention and brought a cool smile to my face. However, the setting and even more so, the music are in the backseat and a little too secondary, which is unfortunate.
Black Gunn has a decent pace to it though, and there are a few slowish moments, but there are enough action scenes sprinkled in to keep the ball rolling. I loved the crazy shootouts that seem to just explode from out of nowhere (with even a few machine guns!), resulting in some fantastic tempura red blood, exploding from tacky tweed blazers. There’s even a hand grenade used right out in the middle of a city street, which gave me a “Holy Shit! A grenade!” boner. Gunn provides a few choice moments himself where body slams are performed, the use of a coffee table as a weapon, instead of a place for you feet is acceptable, and my favorite, when Gunn literally bowls a strike. With a guy. In a bowling alley. Fan-tastic.
There are a ton of cameos by actors of genre and non-genre note, almost too many to even mention, but I did recognize the beautiful Italian actress Luciana Paluzzi, who has a small role as a wealthy women with political connections, and a thirst for some of Gunn’s baby juice (that’s so gross, I know!). Another very notable supporting actor in Black Gunn, comes from yet another one time NFL football player and former principle of San Dimas high school, Bernie Casey, who plays one of the black militant leaders.
The film’s clear weakness is not going all the way, leaving empty spaces that kept it from being up there with the better films of the genre. While it isn’t the best of the bunch, Black Gunn is still an adequate Blaxploitation movie, with enough positive things in its favor to warrant a watch or two from the casual fan that has seen and enjoyed other films of the genre.