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New Line Home Cinema presents
The Mack (1973)

"Mama, I'm tired of praying in church. I spent five years in prison. I gotta go out there and fight The Man the only way I know how."
- Goldie (Max Julien)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: October 21, 2002

Stars: Max Julien, Don Gordon, Richard Pryor
Other Stars: Roger E. Mosley, George Murdock, Juanita Moore, Annazette Chase, Carol Speed
Director: Michael Campus

Manufacturer: CVC
MPAA Rating: R for (violence, language)
Run Time: 01h:49m:27s
Release Date: September 03, 2002
UPC: 794043556623
Genre: crime


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B C+B-B- B+

DVD Review

In the early 1970s there was an abundance of wildly bizarre, violent exploitation films, and then there was the more finite, though equally surreal, category of blaxploitation films, which not surprisingly, featured largely black casts. The influence of these gritty, low-budget films inspired a number of future filmmakers, most notably the work of Quentin Tarantino, whose highly-touted Jackie Brown was an outright reverential tribute to the style. The Mack oozes the future influence of Tarantino from each painfully dated frame, and this 1973 genre landmark from director Michael Campus straddles the line between what seems now like outrageous parody and dramatic inner-city turmoil.

Max Julien, who co-wrote the 1973 blaxploitation classic Cleopatra Jones, stars in The Mack as the title character, a two-bit criminal named John "Goldie" Mickens. After serving a five-year stint in prison, Goldie returns home to Oakland, where almost immediately he is drawn into the nefarious world and apparent easy money of pimping, or "macking" (if you want to use the proper 1973 street lingo). Goldie quickly sets his seemingly noble goals high on becoming the very best mack he can, even when his semi-touching romantic relationship with Lulu (Carol Speed), and more dramatically his doting care for his straight-laced mother (Juanita Moore), appears to be in direct contradiction to his grand plan.

Of course, this wouldn't be a true blaxploitation film if the main character wasn't perpetually "hassled by The Man," and in this case it is a pair of vile, racist white cops, led by the great Don Gordon as Hank. Even though Goldie is leading an obvious life of crime, the strongarm tactics of Hank and his partner borders on the ridiculous, and this is where a film like The Mack juggles the traditional role of what makes up a heroic lead character. The idea of making a black criminal the sympathetic lead may not seem so unconventional or volatile today, but in 1973 that was tantamount to juggling bottles of nitroglycerine while blindfolded.

It is really a testament to Julien's easy-going, likeable performance as Goldie that truly holds The Mack together, even with much of the laughably dated plot contrivances. Even when he's plotting how to handle his "bitches" with his pal Slim (Richard Pryor in a very small role, despite his billing on the DVD artwork), Goldie somehow manages to come across less like an outright anti-hero, and is certainly one of the least repulsive, hence most identifiable, characters in the film. Goldie's activist brother Olinga (Roger E. Mosley), who ironically preaches his own brand of anti-drug/anti-crime banter, at times seems to be spreading a more derisive message than does his criminal brother.

The Mack was as much of a daring (for the time) political statement by Campus and screenwriter Bob Poole, as it was meant to be simple exploitation entertainment. The years since its release have may have softened the message a bit, and films like Tarantino's Jackie Brown have really refined the polyester gaudiness to new, more acceptable mainstream heights. In 1973, however, this was edgy stuff that likely made white filmgoers more than a little uncomfortable.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Though this is part of New Line's coveted Platinum Series, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is hindered by what was likely severe quality issues with the source print. It's not physical blemishes that mar this disc, but rather copious grain. This is a darkly lit film throughout, and shadow depth is nil, at best. Colors look sorely faded, and sadly scream "1973!" in practically every frame. Image detail is a little off, and this isn't the sharpest looking disc I've ever seen, but New Line's treatment represents probably the best The Mack will look. To some degree, the dated look of this film matches the tacky blaxploitation genre decently.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: It's all about the effort put forth by New Line in the sound department, as this release sports a whopping four audio mixes. Aside from the film's original mono, and a 2.0 surround track, The Mack features 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, as well. It's unfortunate that there is literally no significant difference at all between any of the mixes, and when all is said and done it seems that this disc could have survived with just the original mono; the soundtrack displays all of the expected harshness that only low-budget, early-1970s mono can offer. While the 5.1 and DTS expand the soundstage slightly, that effect is marginal. Rear channels are silent for the duration, as is the presence of any noticeable low-end frequencies.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Max Julien, Michael Campus, Harvey Bernhard, Don Gordon, Annazette Chase, Dick Williams, George Murdock
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Fans of The Mack will want to high five the pimp hand of New Line, because as usual their Platinum Series extras section is quality stuff, though not overloaded. The watermark is an engaging new documentary entitled Mackin' Ain't Easy (38m:40s), which gathers up all of the principal cast and crew for a history of the film's conception, on through its rightful place as a landmark in the blaxploitation genre. Max Julien, Michael Campus, Harvey Bernhard, Don Gordon, Annazette Chase, Willie Hutch and Dick Williams are among the contributors here, and even the Hughes Brothers chime in with how The Mack influenced their filmmaking style.

A full-length commentary featuring Campus, Julien, Chase, Gordon, Bernhard, Williams, and George Murdock is of the non-scene-specific variety, with a series of edited together comments from the large group of participants. These type of tracks are often unwieldy and disjointed, due to the number of speakers, but New Line has edited things efficiently here, and the final product is an interesting blend of stories and recollections, of which Campus and Julien supply the most entertaining content of the bunch. A lot of the subject matter discussed is covered in the accompanying documentary, however.

The disc is divided into 28 chapters, and also includes a theatrical trailer and English subtitles.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

New Line has resurrected one of the better entries of the blaxploitation genre as part of their Platinum Series, and though the image and audio transfers are a little less than perfect, the disc itself contains a terrific documentary and equally informative commentary track from Julien, Campus, Gordon and a number of others.

Historically, a film like The Mack wears its daring adoration of the violent pimp world proudly on its (fur-covered) sleeve, though it may not pack the dramatic punch it did in 1973.

 


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