Despite finding the chapter dedicated to him in Kim Newman's Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s to be very interesting,I have somehow never got round to seeing a title from auteur film maker Larry Cohen.Talking to a fellow IMDber about the Blaxploitation genre,I found out that Cohen's second movie was in the genre,which led to me getting ready to hail Larry Cohen's Caesar.
After getting paid for helping out in a mob hit, Tommy Gibbs is sent to give corrupt cop McKinney his share. Claiming that he has been short changed and revealing himself to be deeply racist,McKinney beats Gibbs into a bloody pulp,and leaves him in hospital.
Ever since taking that beating,Gibbs has slowly built his presence on " the street." Learning that a "whites only" gang has put a wanted dead ad out for a rival gangster,Gibbs tracks down the mobster and kills him.Meeting up with the gang,Gibbs reveals that he killed their target due to their being no chance that the cops would suspect him working with a "whites only" mob. Pushing the gang to give him a reward for the killing,Gibbs is given 2 run-down streets to run.As he turns the broken streets around into money makers,Gibbs sets his sights on finally getting his revenge on McKinney.
View on the film:
Filmed on the streets of New York,writer/director Larry Cohen & cinematographer Fenton Hamilton give the title a grubby Film Noir appearance,as clipped whip-pans give the on-street violence a gripping,frantic mood,as Cohen's dashing camera moves catch the startled expressions of real New Yorkers finding themselves walking down Gibb's blood-ridden streets.Backed by a hip 'n funky James Brown score,Cohen blends Gibbs extravagant suits with a blunt force violent delivery,which go from leg breaking police beatings,to rival gangster being covered in burnt up gun wounds.
Spanning a period of more than 20 years,the screenplay by Cohen gives the first half a light-footed quickness,thanks to Gibbs taking on his battle to control the streets with a slick mix of harsh violence and alluring charisma.Whilst the change in atmosphere is pretty jarring,Cohen shows an impressive bravely in making his "hero" look as ugly as possible,with the haunting memory of Gibbs police beating leading to him rotting away in a Film Noir wasteland.
Smirking every time he sets his sights on Gibbs, Art Lund gives a great,gruff performance as McKinney,whose urge to kick Gibbs back down is always bubbling underneath.Taking on a role originally offered to Sammy Davis Jr, Fred Williamson gives a fantastic performance as Gibbs,thanks to Williamson giving Gibbs a firm swagger as he builds his empire,which starts to crumble as Williamson lights up Gibbs short-fuse,as rival gangs start setting their sights on seeing this "Little Caesar" fall.