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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Black Gunn (1972)

"Man, what are you, some kind of jive-ass revolutionary?"
- Gunn (Jim Brown)

Review By: Matt Peterson   
Published: January 19, 2004

Stars: Jim Brown, Martin Landau
Other Stars: Brenda Sykes, Liciana Paluzzi, Bernie Casey, Bruce Glover, Vida Blue, William Campbell
Director: Robert Hartford-Davis

MPAA Rating: R for language, sexuality, some drug use, violent images
Run Time: 01h:36m:41s
Release Date: January 20, 2004
UPC: 043396106376
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

When the decade that was the 1970s reared its disco-drenched head, films were becoming more and more expensive to produce. As people turned to TV for entertainment, studios were on the brink of financial meltdown. Necessity is the mother of invention. When films such as Shaft came along, a new genre was born. These "blaxploitation" films could be made cheaply and could target individual audiences; in this case, studios were ready to gobble up the minority dollar by placing African Americans in "heroic" leading roles. Unfortunately, these films did little to further civil rights, perpetuating the very stereotypes that many were trying to break in the wake of the '60s. Protagonists were frequently criminals who were fighting against the obligatory "man" (overtly racist whites bent on their destruction). There is no doubt these films were influential, most notably influencing the work of Quentin Tarantino (see Jackie Brown).

Black Gunn does not sway too far from this all-too-familiar formula. Gunn (Jim Brown) lives in a swanky Victorian mansion that doubles as a night club. He tries to live a decent, upright businessman's life, serving drinks, enjoying women, attempting to make his fellow "brothers" and "sisters" happy (whites rarely dare to attend his club). Gunn, whose ancestor was named after his slave master's weapon, does not actively hate whites, but distrusts them. His brother Scotty holds a radically different view and joins the BAG (Black Action Group), an organization bent on bringing violence to "the man." After stealing from Mr. Capelli (Martin Landau, in a very odd role), a racist, mob-aligned car salesman, Scotty's rebellion comes to an end. Retribution is swift and Scott is murdered by Capelli's goons (one of which is played by William Campbell, who was Captain Koloth on the originalStar Trek!). Gunn is forced from his life of comfort, and takes to the streets to find revenge. In the process, he must deal with white politicians, the cops, and Scotty's revolutionary friends. Alliances are forged, and a final showdown is arranged between Gunn's forces and Capelli's mobsters.

This is standard 1970s blaxploitation fare. The plot is little more than a string of violent action set pieces riddled with plot holes large enough to accommodate Gunn's white, shiny Rolls Royce. What I find disturbing about the whole film is the fact that little is said to squelch the racism so rampant in the plot. This would seem like a prime opportunity (but would make for less violence and lower ticket sales). I understand racist overtones tend to define this genre, but that makes it no easier to swallow. Racial slurs fly freely in casual conversations, while characters perpetuate a clear "us vs. them" mentality, even after hinting at a desire for equality and cooperation. There is a conversation between Gunn and a white politician, during which Gunn proclaims the whites have a long way to go in regard to promoting equality. The politician agrees. Seconds before, Gunn reluctantly admitted the politician and his entourage, due to their "whitey" status. I'll just let that one sink in for a minute.

Performances are a mixed bag. Jim Brown (I'm Gonna Git You Sucka) is passable as the occasionally tolerant Gunn, but barely so. Secondary characters appear and disappear at random, and the main nemesis of the film, the oddly cast Martin Landau (how in the world did he end up in this film?), has very little screen time. Most performances are induce involuntary cringes, though Bruce Glover is effectively cold and calculating as Kriley, Capelli's lead racist goon. Other actors include Brenda Sykes (Cleopatra Jones), Liciana Paluzzi (Thunderball), Bernie Casey and football star Vida Blue. Don't look for any fashion tips, though; there are enough polyester and ruffled tuxedo shirts to put Austin Powers to shame.

The filmmaking here is less than stellar. Clumsy jump cuts, odd zooms, shaky camera work, and gratuitous violence in the form of copious amounts of red-orange paint scream of the film's budget limitations. There are some attempts to be creative. One major fight scene was shot primarily with fisheye, wide-angle lenses, giving an odd yet visually interesting effect. Admittedly, I've seen worse films from this era, but this one is by no means a standout piece of '70s cinema.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The picture looks about as good as it can for a low-budget film of the period. Slight grain is evident in just about every shot, and the picture has a hazy softness to it, giving the colors a muted appearance. The film-like image has no signs of edge enhancement or major print blemishes. Overall, a clean transfer for a dated film.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The provided monaural Dolby 2.0 track sounds rather thin. It is free of hiss, but lacks great fidelity. Bass is minimal, and the "hot soul soundtrack" sounds harsh at times, as do the exaggerated sound effects. Dialogue is clear, but the soundtrack is clearly indicative of the period and the low budget at hand.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Returner, Ride or Die, Snipes, So Close
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Aside from the four additional trailers (none of which are for Black Gunn), there are no extras to be found.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A standard blaxploitation film, Black Gunn is only recommended for fans of the genre, or those who would like to see disturbingly racist overtones drenched in paint-like blood. In short, don't play with Gunns.


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