Cast and Crew: Gloria Hendry, D’Urville Martin, Julius Harris, Val Avery, Don Pedro Colley
What It’s About: Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson) works his way up from shining mobsters shoes to working as a contract killer for the mob to openly challenging the mob with his own organization…but can he stay on top forever?
Why Watch it Today?: James Brown was born on this date in 1933. Black Caesar was his first attempt at composing a score for a film; the story goes that AIP turned down Brown’s score for the quickie sequel Hell Up In Harlem (also released in 1973). The reason depends who tells the story;’ was it because they were too cheap to pay Brown’s price; did they say it wasn’t funky enough (director Larry Cohen denies this) or were they making a deal with Motown to have their artists score AIP films (in the end they did use Motown’s Edwin Starr)? Whatever the story, one listen to The Payback will have you scratching your head about why they didn’t use it for the film. Black Caesar is a true Larry Cohen film-made on the cheap (with some amazing New York City locations), willing to poke raw nerves in the American psyche (in this case they’re almost all race), with some fascinating ideas but ultimately a little uneven. Fred Williamson makes for an electrifying and confident lead, and the film, like many of the classic mobs films it references, makes him an anti-hero whose failings bring about his own downfall, not a common choice in the Blaxploitation era. Brown’s score does not disappoint, especially stand out tracks Down and Out in New York City, The Boss, and Make it Good to Yourself.
Other Choices: James Brown puts in an appearance in The Blues Brothers.