blacksamuraifeat

Black Samurai

In June of 1995, legendary (some would counter with “infamous”) b-movie kingpin Al Adamson was murdered by a handyman he’d contracted to complete some work on his ranch. The body was discovered entombed beneath a newly poured concrete slab that occupied the space where Adamson’s hot tub once stood. The producer-director’s disappearance piqued the curiosity of friends, and one in particular became suspicious of the concrete slab, noting that Al loved his hot tub perhaps more than anything else he owned and never would have had it removed. And indeed that’s where they found his body. The handyman, Fred Fulford, was arrested and, in a trial that dragged on until March, 2000, finally convicted and sentenced to 25-to-life. Cult film fans and publications predictably noted how much like one of his movies Al’s death ended up being, and I can’t really claim not to be among them.

It was the final scene in a life and career that spanned decades and produced some of the crappiest, most boring, and most ubiquitous exploitation films of the 60s and 70s. Few are the cult films fans who haven’t seen at least one Al Adamson movie, be it Satan’s Sadists, The Female Bunch, Psycho A Go-Go, or any of the other numerous titles that Adamson produced and directed. Like the other great cinematic hucksters of his era (guys like Harry Novak and David Friedman), Adamson was a master of churning out movies that were low on budget, lower in quality, but never the less still managed to end up getting distributed across the drive-in circuits and turning a profit.

He pulled this off using a number of methods. Horror of the Blood Monsters, for example, was just a chintzy black and white Filipino film that Adamson bought for a song, tinted different colors, and sold as an entirely new movie — several times. By the time Adamson was done with the film, it had been released and released under at least six different titles, including Blood Creatures from the Prehistoric Planet, Creatures of the Prehistoric Planet, Creatures of the Red Planet, Space Mission to the Lost Planet, and Vampire Men of the Lost Planet. Imagine the consternation of theater patrons who paid multiple times for the movie, only to discover too late that this was the same movie they saw some time earlier, but with a new title. Luckily, most people went to see Al Adamson movies so they could fool around in the back seat at the drive-in, not because they wanted to pay attention to the movie.

I think it was under the title Vampire Men of the Lost Planet that I saw it, making it my first Al Adamson movie, at an age when I was too young to know who Al Adamson was but old enough to recognize an hilariously shoddy film when I saw one. It certainly wasn’t the last time I’d see an Al Adamson film. He had a knack for dreaming up titles that appealed directly to losers like me. Even after I’d learned my lesson and knew that “Directed By Al Adamson” was the opening credit’s polite way of saying, “Prepare to be Disappointed,” I still couldn’t help myself. Like a dog too stupid to learn not to stick its nose into the fire, I keep coming back. How can I not? Angel’s Wild Women. Blood of Ghastly Horror. Brain of Blood. Brain of Blood!!! I don’t even know what that means, but it’s awesome. Whether it was a Filipino movie he had bought, retitled, and filled with disconnected scenes of an aged John Carradine, or whether it was something Adamson had written, produced, and shot himself out in the desert, I ended up seeing almost all of them. Multiple times. Under their many multiple titles. It’s possible that Adamson paid for his beloved hot tub entirely with money he snookered out of me.

Around the same time I was acquainting myself with Al Adamson, but before I’d had a chance to see the movie we’re here to discuss, I started reading the Black Samurai novels written by Marc Olden. At the time, and before flea markets had been entirely decimated by eBay (modern flea markets are shadows of their former selves, stocked less with insane old junk from people’s basements and instead, stocked mostly with bought-in-bulk crap of the kind you find in Dollar General Stores or for sale on Canal Street), I was buying huge stacks of espionage novels from the 60s and 70s. Stuff like the Nick Carter books, Edward S. Aaron’s Sam Durrell adventures, and the Black Samurai.

Black Samurai was the first book in what would become a pulp series that ran throughout the mid-1970s, telling the story of Robert Sand, an American G.I. on leave in Japan during the Vietnam War. While trying to help an elderly Japanese man who is being harassed by a couple of racist American soldiers, Sand is shot in the belly and left for dead, maintaining consciousness only long enough to see the frail, ancient man burst suddenly into a blur of action and decimate the attackers. After Sand recovers, he becomes a disciple of the old man, who is soon revealed to be one of the greatest martial arts and samurai trainers left in the world. Sand endures the grueling training to become a samurai, and soon wins the respect and admiration of his Japanese peers, even becoming the best of all the students.

Sand’s life is shattered one night when a gang of mercenaries invades the samurai training compound, slaughtering Sand’s samurai brothers and murdering his master — but not, of course, before the samurai do a healthy dose of damage to the invading forces. Sand manages to escape and soon learns the identity of the mercenaries. They are a cutthroat band of terrorists and war criminals led by a bloodthirsty ex-general named Tolstoy, the man responsible for, among other war atrocities, the Mei Lei massacre. Tolstoy wants revenge against the men who punished him for his proactive, initiative-taking go-getting, and he has assembled a force of like-minded individuals who all have a grudge against America. They attacked the samurai compound because the old master’s granddaughter happens to be married to the prince of Vietnam. Sand is contacted by a former US president named Clarke, who hires Sand to stop Tolstoy and protect the Presidential daughter. Sand accepts, not so much so he can help Clarke, but more so he can take revenge for the murder of his brothers and rescue his master’s granddaughter, with whom, in yet another plot complication, Sand is hopelessly in love. Damn, can Sand possibly have any more shit to deal with? How about the fact that Tolstoy’s entire plan is to recreate his biggest hit, the Mei Lei massacre, only by slaughtering an entire town’s population in America? And Sand has only a week to stop him.

So began Olden’s series of incredibly violent and increasingly bizarre stories about the efforts of Sand and Clarke to, in their own words, stick it to people who live with their foot on the throats of others. The first two books in the eight book series are fairly straight-forward action/espionage stories, with little about them that was overly sensational beyond the fabulous amounts of violence. Fascination with the martial arts in American had been around since World War II, coming to a head with the release of the James Bond film, You Only Live Twice and boiling over a couple of years later with the release of Enter the Dragon. These films were particularly popular among black audiences, coming as they did at a time when minorities — through martial arts films and blaxploitation — were finally seeing action heroes their own color. Marc Olden had a winner on his hands when he combined martial arts and blaxploitation with the pulp-style espionage novels that had surged in popularity during the 50s and 60s.

By the third book in the Black Samurai series, things started getting just a little bit more comic bookish. Sand has to fight, for example, a massive American Indian warrior who, true to goofy pulp sensibilities, still strides around in his rawhide vest and uses a tomahawk. But it was with book four, The Deadly Pearl, that the Black Samurai really started to go off the deep end of sensationalism. That one features Sand battling a New York super-pimp with a penchant for pearls, cane-swords, and selling little girls into sex slavery. Things got progressively weirder from there, peaking perhaps with the sixth book in the series, The Warlock.

The highly enjoyable ridiculousness of Olden’s sixth book in the series can’t be over-emphasized. On page one — hell, in paragraph one — Robert Sand is already locked in combat with a deformed, cackling dwarf in a bright red leather suit, armed with a whip and an army of dudes dressed up in leopard skin loin cloths and metal claws. Forget “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” or “Call me Ishmael.” This has got to be the single greatest opening to a book ever written. Things only get freakier from there, as Sand is pitted against the twisted, murderous leader of blood and sex cult whose specialty is cannibalistic orgies, rape, human sacrifice, heart eating, and using hypnotism and drugs to get powerful men into such situations so they can be filmed and blackmailed. In his employ, the Warlock has a gay albino gunman, a hulking man-wolf, leopard men, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of grinning, straight-razor wielding transvestite dwarfs. How he managed to even find, let alone recruit, such a huge number of willing and murderous cross-dressing little people with high-pitched helium voices is just a testament to his unspeakable occult powers.

Olden was obviously following the trend of the day, which found the United States in a fit of Satanic cult panic (it would flare up again in the 1980s, and we’re probably due for it to return to the public consciousness sometime in the next year or two). Stories of ritualistic sex orgies, kidnapping, murder, and other reportedly ghoulish undertakings dominated headlines when headline writers didn’t have time to write another headline about Vietnam, nuclear war, economic collapse, crime, or terrorism. In times of extreme real-world crisis, we humans often seek the comfort of more outlandish and often wholly manufactured dangers. So the great Satanic scare began, and the creators of popular entertainment jumped on it voraciously. Olden, like pretty much all of them, just lumped every piece of fantastic shit he could into his cult, mixing devil worship, witchcraft, murder, cannibalism, voodoo, S&M, and whatever else made for something over-the-top and outrageous, then set it against a determined black guy with a katana.

The Warlock was published in 1975. The popularity of the series coupled with the pop culture popularity of martial arts and black action films seemed to guarantee that a movie would be made. And pretty much everyone agrees that Jim Kelly circa 1975 was born to play the Black Samurai. He had the look. He had the attitude. He had the skills. And he had a major supporting role in Enter the Dragon, not to mention pretty much all of that film’s most quotable lines. When I read the first Black Samurai book, I assumed independently of this film that Robert Sand looked like Jim Kelly. Other people must have felt the same way, because in 1977, Kelly stepped into the role.

Kelly’s acting career began almost by accident. After winning a major karate tournament, Kelly was hired to train actor Calvin Lockhart for the movie Melinda. The producers were so impressed by Kelly’s charisma and physical prowess that they gave him a small role in the film. About this first acting gig, Kelly himself is candid. He looked good on-screen, but there was no danger of an Academy Award in his future. Still, the man had an undeniable something, and Bruce Lee was always keen on casting people who were martial artists first, actors second, which is part of the reason Kelly found his way into a substantial role in Enter the Dragon. Kelly’s acting was still shaky, but the film was written and constructed in a way to play to his primary strength, which was being bad-ass. His natural charisma takes over, and in the end, he ends up being as memorable as Bruce Lee — not to mention the fact that his response to Mr. Han’s taunts about defeat are answered with the greatest comeback over: “When it comes, I won’t even notice, because I’ll be too busy lookin’ good.”

With Kelly having made such a splash in Enter the Dragon — and with Bruce Lee suddenly dead — Warner Bros. leaned on the man with the perfectly spherical afro to become a leading man. Black Belt Jones was the result, and it was a winner, even if Kelly’s ability to carry a film by himself was still suspect. Shortly thereafter, he found himself as part of an ensemble of bad-asses for his next, even better film. And then it all started to fall apart.

I’m not certain as to the exact details of the deal that brought Black Samurai to movie screens. I don’t know if Kelly was the rights owner, or if somehow the rights ended up in the hands of Al Adamson. What I do know is that by 1977, Jim Kelly’s star had faded. After Enter the Dragon, he was going to be the next big thing. Black Belt Jones and Three the Hard Way seemed to confirm his ascension. But then, all of a sudden, the gas started running out of the blaxploitation tank. If you didn’t have the instant charisma or business acumen of Fred Williamson or Pam Grier, time was running out on you to build your base before the 80s came along and ushered in the era of the great white action hero (plus Carl Weathers). Fred Williamson prevailed, mostly because he had enough cash saved up to produce his own movies. But as blaxploitation faded and white-washed Hollywood reasserted its control, Kelly found himself on the outside looking in. Any number factors may have contributed. Word got around that he had an ego, though I’d say he had the tools to back it up. And if it was the fact that he wasn’t a very good actor — well, as Kelly himself said, neither was Chuck Norris, but Hollywood seized on Chuck and forced him mercilessly down our throats until we accepted him as a mainstream superstar. Had Norris been black, Kelly claims (and rightfully so, I think), the situation for the man with the wicked spinning back kick might have been very different.

Things went downhill from Three the Hard Way (which was one of the best action films of the 70s), and before too long, Kelly was putting in token appearances in Hong Kong films or showing up in stuff like One Down, Two to Go — a half-hearted sequel to Three the Hard Way and in which Jim Kelly’s character disappears for almost the entire movie. Shortly thereafter, Kelly himself disappeared from the movie scene almost entirely, popping up from time to time in small television roles but basically staying off the radar despite the fact that so many fans were looking for him. The bell curve of 70s action stars and their relationship to fans and media can be best explained using the stars of Three the Hard Way: Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, and Jim Kelly. Williamson is always more than happy to sit down and toot his own horn, talk blaxploitation and cigarellos, and go on and on with great stories and a genial pride and talkativeness about what he did and continues to do. Jim Brown is a much more guarded individual. It’s hard to get an interview with him, and when you do, he’s apparently keen on testing the interviewer and making sure he isn’t about to waste his time with some idiot (the most famous example to me being when one of the guys from Bad-Azz Mofo scored an interview with Brown, but Brown wouldn’t answer anything until the interviewer himself answered a question to Brown’s satisfaction: what does it mean to be black). But he will talk on occasion, just as on occasion he’ll show up in a good-natured ribbing of his persona, as we got in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.

And then there’s Jim Kelly, who vanished and didn’t speak with anyone about his movies for years. When interest in the films was revived in the 1990s, Kelly remained M.I.A. even when Jim Brown willingly dusted off the foot and put it to ass in Original Gangstas. Even after tracking him down, both Bad-Azz Mofo and Giant Robot magazines failed to get him to agree to an interview. Part of it had to do with Kelly devoting himself to martial arts and tennis, his two physical pursuits of choice. Part of it came from Kelly not wanting to have his work taken as a joke, even a well-intentioned one. And part of it was probably just not wanting to deal with annoying idiots like me asking him about John Saxon’s kicking technique. Weirdly enough, when Kelly finally did resurface, it was for a token appearance in a cheap “Rudy Ray More Hip Hop Party” music video tacked on to the end of a Something Weird Video collection of blaxploitation trailers. And in 2009, he appeared in a small role in a movie called Afro Ninja: Destiny, a movie starring and somehow inspired by a stuntman who became an internet sensation when his (supposed) audition tape of a flubbed stunt got posted to YouTube.

Not knowing beforehand what one was in for, a person can’t help but get a little excited about the prospect of Jim Kelly starring as the Black Samurai. If only someone besides Al Adamson had made this movie! But Al Adamson did make the movie, so we have to deal with what we have. And what we have is a wildly uneven, completely bizarre, generally sloppy adaptation of The Warlock, and had I not read The Warlock, I wouldn’t have known that so much of this movie’s ultra-bizarre nonsense is present in the source material. The devil worship and voodoo, the sex cult, the killer midgets — everything but the attack vulture, which was Al Adamson’s primary contribution to the proceedings, and one I assume must have made Marc Olden slap himself on the forehead for not having thought of it when he was writing the book. Al Adamson was better known for cheap, boring horror films than he was for either martial arts or black action films, but the inclusion of devil worshipers and killer midgets must have made him feel in more familiar territory. The movie plays with some chronology and motivations and changes up the finale, but for the most part, this is a pretty straight-forward, if lazily executed, recreation of the book.

Things start out with some establishing shots of Hong Kong. Of course, the lavish (well, relatively speaking) inclusion of what looks to be a mixture of stock footage and stuff Adamson actually shot for the movie doesn’t change the fact that this is just a lot of footage of Toki (Hong Kong film regular Essie Lin Chia) walking down streets, with occasional shots of some dudes with skeevy mustaches looking around corners. They wait until she’s properly attired in a bikini and lounging poolside to make their move. After gunning down a few of those white jacket-clad servants who always get gunned down in these kinds of movies (and inevitably fall into a pool), the men led by the dastardly Chavez (Roberto Contreras) kidnap Toki, causing the pretty awesome cut-rate Black Samurai version of the Foxy Brown credits to roll.

Jim Kelly, of course stars as Robert Sand, the black samurai — though when we first meet him, he’s indulging in Kelly’s other physical culture passion: tennis. The samurai is contracted to hunt down a criminal mastermind known as Janicot — The Warlock — who uses a voodoo cult as his army. Sand is uninterested in interrupting his vacation to chase after some goofy wizard, until he learns that Janicot has kidnapped Toki, the grand-daughter of Sand’s samurai master (in the book, she and Sand are in love, but she remains loyal to her husband, who is a decent man). Which means that before too long, Sand is up to his…well, basically his waist…in bullwhip-wielding midget hitmen and dudes dressed up as leopards.

In more capable hands, even with a modest budget, this could have been one of the great action films of the 1970s, even when relying on a book as batty as The Warlock instead of something more straight-forward. But Adamson botches it almost every step of the way, resulting in one of those films that sounds incredible when described but ends up being a bit of a chore to actually watch. Front and center for the reasons this is such a crummy film is Adamson’s direction. The man never met a shot he couldn’t frame poorly. Martial arts films rely heavily on a director and cinematographer who know how to shoot martial arts action. In 1977, the United States was still feeling things out, and many would say they’ve yet to get the hang of it. The best martial arts cinematography lingers far enough away from the action so that you can actually see the action. They alternate between rapidly edited close-up shots to generate an adrenaline rush, and longer shots that are less edited, allowing the combatants/stuntmen to show off complexly choreographed fight sequences uninterrupted by editing.

American (among others) martial arts fight filming instead relies much more heavily on quick edits and lots of close-ups — ostensibly to cover up the lack of choreography talent on the part of the American stars and stuntmen. This ends up meaning you have a lot of herky-jerky scenes and way too many shots of someone punching into the camera as if it was the point of view of one of the combatants. While this is sometimes used to cover the lack of talent possessed by the stars, that’s not always the case. It’s certainly not the case with a guy like Jim Kelly, whose martial arts skills are impeccable. Instead, it represents a fundamental difference in philosophy between the U.S. and Hong Kong. Although intricate and graceful, Hong Kong kungfu scenes are rarely “realistic.” American fight scenes like to think they take the more realistic approach, presenting fights more in line with how fights are in the real world. The problem, of course, is that fights in the real world are usually sloppy, clumsy, and boring. Additionally, there are insurance risks Hong Kong filmmakers can take with their stars and stuntmen that simply would not fly in the United States. All this means that for decades, fight choreography here lagged behind Hong Kong, a situation that was only rectified when everyone in Hong Kong who could actually fight in a movie got too old and was replaced by boy band idols with no skills, thus dragging Hong Kong down to our level rather than ever forcing the United States to elevate its game. And then CG came into effect.

Anyway, my point is this: imagine how bad American martial arts camera work is even in the hands of a good director. Now imagine a bad director doing a bad copy of bad direction, and you’re beginning to approach the level of plodding blandness that Al Adamson manages to conjure up. His camera never seems to be looking in the right place, never seems able to keep up with Jim Kelly — and Jim isn’t even pulling out all the stops. Most of the fight scenes fall into the category of “hero runs away for a little bit, then kicks like a dozen guys who can’t fight.” On occasion, we’re promised a longer, more involved fight between Kelly and someone else who knows martial arts, but they never make good on the promise. That’s always been another big problem with American martial arts films. One guy with kungfu beats up a hundred guys with no kungfu is a lot less fun than just watching one guy with kungfu fight another guy with kungfu. Kelly’s longest fight here goes a couple of minutes, but 99% of that is Kelly and his opponent standing opposite each other while awkwardly looped in post-production dialogue plays. It becomes positively surreal at various points, as the soundtrack goes silent and is replaced by post-production dialogue of Kelly saying stuff like, “Come on, faggot. Faggot. Show me what you got, faggot” like it’s coming from some disembodied voice of God that hates gay people as much as nutjob fundies assume God hates gay people.

In Jim’s defense, though, it was the 1970s, and the guy he was fighting was a lean black guy with a tight polyester shirt knotted up across his chest like Daisy Duke or that gay film critic character Damon Wayans used to portray on In Living Color.

The rest of the film is directed with the same level of disinterest. There’s absolutely no excuse for a film full of karate guys, killer midgets, and devil worshipers to be boring, but Adamson’s lazy direction serves only to enhance the faults of the film that could have otherwise been overlooked. There was a way to make this film look better, more polished, and more exciting, but Adamson was interested in nothing beyond cranking out a film fast enough to capitalize on the Black Samurai books and Kelly’s fading name recognition. The director’s “don’t give a damn” attitude comes through in the film, making it hard to really drum up much enthusiasm even when Jim Kelly breaks a jet pack out of the trunk of his purple sportscar.

Yeah, there’s some jet pack action — and we’re talking real jet pack action, not just Jim Kelly dangling from a crane. My assumption is that whatever budget Al Adamson drummed up for this movie was spent entirely in three places: blowing up an old car, renting out the villa they use as Janicot’s lair, and hiring the jet pack. I don’t suppose I can fault him for spending all his money on the jet pack, even if it makes no sense in the context of the movie. Roaring in on a jet pack while wearing a bright orange jumpsuit, then fluttering around the place like a moth for several minutes is, even to my untrained eye, a poor choice of ways to go about covert surveillance. Poor, but awesome, that is, and if I had a jet pack and a secret mission, I’d probably find a way to shoehorn it in as well, no matter how gratuitous its application. If having to fight a cowboy midget and a couple of guys in leopard print loin cloths is the price I have to pay, so be it.

The whole jet pack sequence reminded me of the “Little Nellie” sequence in You Only Live Twice. Apparently famed Bond art director Ken Adams heard a radio interview with the inventor of this little gyrocopter thing and thought it was so awesome that he sold producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman on jamming it into the movie (Saltzman, in particular, seems to have reacted to everything in the world like a kid in a candy store; as soon as he saw something he liked, he’d insist that it be shoved into whatever Bond film was in production). So you get several minutes of Sean Connery flying around in a gyrocopter, looking for a secret base. There’s a shoot-out with some helicopters, then Bond lands and announces that he didn’t find anything but there must be something there the helicopters didn’t want him to find. The whole sequence is pretty superfluous to the plot, and the jet pack scene in Black Samurai is pretty much the same: Robert Sand (or at least the owner of the jet pack) flies around (with occasional close-ups of Jim Kelly standing there pretending to be flying a jet pack), there’s a fight, and then Sand flies back and announces that he didn’t find anything.

Still, in a movie like Black Samurai, you take what you can get, and if nothing else, Al Adamson gave us a guy flying around with a jet pack for a few minutes.

Listless acting is turned in to match Adamson’s listless direction. As I said earlier, Jim Kelly was not a great actor. He, like many stars, relied more on-screen presence and charisma to gloss over his wooden line delivery. And presence and charisma he has in spades — but not in enough abundance this time to gloss over the rest of the movie. Still, as always, he looks in top shape and moves quick and gracefully. Even though Adamson had no idea how to effectively film the fights and stunts choreographed by Kelly and his stunt team, it’s still fun to watch the man in action. Jim was right — there are worse actors who look worse in action and became bigger stars. This man, like Marc Olden’s books, deserved more than was given to him.

Essie Lin Chai was a veteran actress with a number of quality films to her name, including work in a number of Shaw Brothers films like The Singing Thief, Return of the One-Armed Swordsman, and The Jade-Faced Assassin. One would hope that she would bring some of that Shaw Bros. skill to her role here, but one would be disappointed. Adamson really gives her nothing to do other than wear a bikini and sit in a prison cell (which she does well, although she looks pretty bored). When she finally gets a fight scene (she is, after all, supposed to be the daughter of a samurai master), against Janicot’s main moll, Synne (Marilyn Joi), it’s horribly awkward, slow, and just a tad embarrassing. Essie’s unsteady English means the few lines she does get to deliver are equally awkward, though they are at least delivered with conviction. The film’s other main female character, Marilyn Joi, had previous experience in Al Adamson movies, as well as small roles in a number of better films, like Coffy and Detroit 9000, though folks might be most likely to recognize her as the titular character from The Kentucky Fried Movie‘s “Cleopatra Schwartz” segment. She fares better than many in this film, but as with Chai, she’s given very little to do other than attempt to seduce the Black Samurai and, upon failing, hiss at him and prod him with a sword.

But the biggest disappointment is probably Janicot as played by Bill Roy, a guy whose only notable acting credits are this and another Al Adamson film, Nurse Sherri (also starring Marilyn Joi). Even in the book, the Warlock is a ludicrous, comic book bad guy — every cult leader/Bond villain character all crammed into one guy with an army of transvestite dwarfs. Such a character really, I think, calls for scenery chewing. You have to believe that this dude is crazy, and you have to believe that people would follow him. Roy plays him like an unsuccessful used car salesman. Completely bland. No fun at all. You want the Warlock? Someone should have shelled out enough money to put the character in the hands of Jack Palance. I’d even trade in gratuitous jet pack action if it meant seeing Jack Palance in the role of Janicot/Warlock. In the hands of Bill Roy, there’s never any sense of threat, never any interest in the character. I don’t think Roy is being lazy about it, and I don’t even think he turns in a necessarily bad performance: it’s just the wrong performance.

And though I don’t usually comment on the quality of a DVD release, I feel I should bring up a couple of points in regards to the commonly available Brentwood edition of this movie. It looks like it has been edited — mainly to remove nudity. I don’t know if this is actually the case, or if this is simply an example of terrible editing. Al Adamson movies were not as reliant on nudity as many other drive-in exploitation films (depending instead on capitalizing off popular trends — bikers, blaxploitation, monsters, etc). So it could be that this was simply a blunt instrument style of editing that allowed Adamson to titillate (considering you find any of this garbage titillating) without actually showing the goods. Crappy editing could give the impression that the film has been “edited for content” instead of just poorly edited. I’m not really sure, as this is the only version of the film I’ve seen. It was also common back in the day to have multiple versions of the same film, some with spicier scenes meant for more liberal markets. In the end, it hardly matters. A glimpse of bare breast or butt is hardly enough to salvage this film.

It’s not terribly surprising that when he saw the film, Marc Olden was displeased with what had been done with the character. Even a book as absurd as The Warlock had plenty of entertainment potential in cinematic form, and Adamson captured none of that. For Olden, who put a lot of his heart and soul into the character of Robert Sand, it must have been a bitter experience indeed to watch this movie unfold — especially if, like me, he believed that there was no one in the world more perfect for the role of the Black Samurai than Jim Kelly. But there just wasn’t any real effort put into most of the film, and that saps it, for the most part, of any entertainment value.

I am, as you know, a forgiving and easily entertained man, so while I have little to say that is good about Black Samurai, I also can’t say that I hate the movie. Bad-ass kungfu guy versus midgets and leopard men, with a jet pack and a purple sportscar and a cool looking track suit thrown in for good measure, is going to provide at least some modicum of entertainment, even if it ends up being cold comfort for the overall experience. In the end, though, even if you think the description makes the movie sound like loads of fun, the only truly positive thing I can find to say about Black Samurai is this: it’s better than Hot Potato and One Down, Two to Go.

Release Year: 1977 | Country: United States | Starring: Jim Kelly, Bill Roy, Roberto Contreras, Marilyn Joi, Essie Lin Chia, Biff Yeager, Charles Grant, Jace Khan, Felix Silla, Cowboy Lang, Little Tokyo, Jerry Marin, Alfonso Walters, Charles Walter Johnson, Regina Carrol, D’Urville Martin, Aldo Ray | Writer: Al Adamson | Director: Al Adamson | Cinematographer: Louis Horvath | Producer: Barbara Holden | Alternate Titles: Black Terminator, The Freeze Bomb

7 thoughts on “Black Samurai”

  1. When the title popped up, my first thought was, “Hey, didn’t I read his review of this before?” Then the ugly truth was revealed.

    The collapse of blaxploitation is a disappointment unto itself, but specific incidents like Jim Kelly being forced into dreck like this are pretty depressing. It’s akin to what happened to Bernie Casey: good actor, loads of charisma, but not quite big enough to weather the transition and too black for mainstream success.

  2. Wait… who was D’Urville Martin in this? Was there just some unspoken rule that D’Urville Martin had to be in every blaxploitation movie ever made?

  3. I’ve seen this, and to be honest, it’s one of Kelly’s better movies.

    I think the arc of his career is more the fault of Kelly himself than anyone else. He could have made films in Europe and the Phillipines like Da Hamma, but chose otherwise. I’m sure Williamson asked him to appear in Original Gangstas, but didn’t.

    Our loss, and his.

  4. As far as I remember, Kelly was offered a roll in both I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and Original Gangstas. The former, as we all know, eventually went to Steve James, which I’m actually pretty happy with, as Steve James was awesome. But you’re right — ultimately, Kelly chose his own path into the shadows, and I’m not sure he regrets it.

  5. Oh, man, BLACK SAMURAI…

    Having been a kid when ENTER THE DRAGON came out, I can honestly state that it was virtually impossible, if you were a black male, not to be inspired by Jim Kelly, both in terms of his martial skills and his godlike Afro. The second I was allowed to wear my hair however I pleased, I immediately let it go wild and allowed it to expand like ebony Jiffy Pop for four years before it reached Kellyesque levels.

    ENTER THE DRAGON still pisses me off for killing off Kelll’s Williams character while allowing John Saxon’s waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out of his league Roper to not only survive but also kick Bolo’s ass (yeah, like THAT was gonna happen), but when you have a film featuring so many classic fights scenes I guess I should just shut the hell up and be happy that the film is nonetheless quite awesome. BLACK BELT JONES has its moments but overall it left me cold; that ridiculous bit of choreography with those weird kicks during the fight in the soap suds…What was up with that? THREE THE HARD WAY was very good and I’d also make a case for TAKE A HARD RIDE, in which Jim Kelly plays a silent American Indian (?).

    Then there’s BLACK SAMURAI.

    I got to see it when one of my best friends worked in a crappy video rental store in Norwalk, CT during the late-1980′s — the place was a haven for every cheesy kung fu, exploitation and horror title you could think of — and I was stunned by what a bad movie and missed opportunity it was. I had not read read any of the source books — your description of them has gotten me interested enough to check them out via eBay, so thanks for the tip — but I knew Al Adamson, so I was curious to see how he’d handle both a martial arts film and Jim Kelly. Your statement that the credit “Directed by Al Adamson” translates to “Prepare to be disappointed” could not possibly be more accurate and despite my famous capacity for being able to sit through damned near anything, no matter how bad it may be, I made it about forty-five minutes through BLACK SAMURAI before I unceremoniously tore it from VCR and returned it to the video store where, according to my friend who worked there, it was stolen about three weeks later. Never before have I felt such sadness and empathy for common crooks who no doubt stole it in hope of selling it to finance that evening’s crack cocaine binge.

  6. I wished that there was a much better DVD of this Al Adamson/Jim Kelly film,since most of the DVDs are the heavily cut TV print and it’s ironic that one of its alternate release titles was THE FREEZE BOMB,since that’s also one of the many alternate titles of the second(and final) Adamson/Kelly action cinema collaboration DEATH DIMENSION.

    And ironically enough(since MartialHorror mentioned Steven Seagal’s name),there was talk a few years ago on the Ain’t It Cool site that Jim Kelly was in talks of co-starring in one of Seagal’s Straight-To-DVD/Blu Ray actioneers,which(of course) never did happen(and it would have been hard to picture a fight sequence between Kelly and Seagal [or Seagal's possible{and slightly slimmer} fight double]).

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