Mean Johnny Barrows (1976)
Directed by Fred Williamson
Starring: Fred Williamson, Roddy McDowall, Elliot Gould
This directiorial debut of legendary blaxploitation actor Fred Williamson is something of a slow mover. Williamson was a professional footballer who rose to fame as one of the first black action stars in films like “Black Caesar” and “Hammer”. In 1974 he set up his own production company Po’ Boy Productions, which has produced over 40 films and is still operating today. Williamson still acts and has recently appeared in movies like “Starsky & Hutch” and “From Dusk Til Dawn”. I had yet to see a film he directed himself and was admittedly a little wary.
This is an extremely low budget flick, one of the cheapest I’ve seen in a while. One wonders how Williamson roped famous actors like Elliot Gould (Capricorn One) and Roddy McDowall (Planet Of The Apes) into this mess.
After serving with the military in the Vietnam War, Johnny Barrows is dishonourably discharged for striking an officer. Who wouldn’t flatten a guy who tricked them into stepping on a landmine? When he arrives back in the city Johnny has no home, no dough, no job prospects and is forced to live on the street. He is a shadow of his former self, a celebrated footballer and war hero now eating mouldy frankfurts out of garbage bins. By chance he meets Mario Racconi and the beautiful Nancy, who are involved in organised crime. Mario offers him a job as a hitman, but Johnny is honest and declines the position.
Eventually Johnny finds a job in a gas station where he is exploited and forced to endlessly scrub restrooms for less than 30 bucks a month. A scuffle with the gas station’s owner lands Johnny in gaol. Nancy bails him out but still he is reluctant to join the mob.
Things aren’t looking hot for the Racconi family business as a new mafia syndicate headed by the DaVinci family moves in on it’s turf. The DaVinci’s want to import some crack into the neighbourhood and market it to the Black and Hispanic communities. The Racconi’s are mobsters with hearts of gold and are opposed to the introduction of drugs in their city, this leads to Don Racconi’s death and Mario bullet ridden and hospitalised.
Mario offers Johnny $100,000 to wipe out the entire DaVinci clan but Johnny is still reluctant to take the offer. That is until he receives a call from Nancy claiming that the DaVinci’s had kidnapped and raped her. Johnny accepts the money, buys himself some funky white suits, lots of big arsed guns and sets out to prove he is one bad motherfucker.
A slow movie to say the least and the theme of the Vietnam Vet’s plight is a little too forced. It takes a while but when the action finally kicks in it aint so bad, it’s pretty bad but I’ve seen much worse. Unfortunately the big kung-fu fight-scene finale is a little embarrassing in comparison to the choreography and skill in most Hong Kong films and lacks any sort of tension. The finale is almost a surprise ending but doesn’t really make much sense and is slightly confusing. I mean what’s with Fred and his obsession with landmines?