If I had to sum up the 1974 Harry Novak-produced blaxploitation crime thriller “The Black Connection” in one word, that would be it. This movie is just plain grimy.
But there’s more to it than that, of course. From start to finish, this flick exudes an oppressive air of impending doom even at its most lighthearted (relatively speaking) moments. It’s beyond redemption from the get-go, and it’s taking you down with it.
I guess we might as well deal with its notorious alternate title right off the mark : as you can plainly see from the poster shown above, this film was also marketed under the title “Run Nigger Run,” which is offensive, to be sure, but in its defense — flimsy as that defense may be — this wasn’t the only 1970s-era film marketed to a black audience with the unfortunate “N word” in its title. “Boss Nigger” and “The Legend of Nigger Charlie” spring immediately to mind. So while I’m certainly not in any way, shape, or form condoning the use of said racial slur, it was a product of its time, and the times weren’t pretty.
And with that out of the way, we may as well take a look at the story itself, which, to be perfectly honest, takes a hell of a long time to get going. The first quarter (at least) of the movie features a lot of stock mobster-type characters coming and going, only some of whom really have anything to do with the actual thrust of the narrative itself. If you’re looking for a good example of plot discipline, look elsewhere.
Once things do get going, however, the story is a rather involving little crime yarn. John Harrison, a.k.a. The Graveyard Tramp, has described it as being a fusion of “Across 110th Street” and (the original) “Get Carter,” and that’s essentially an accurate summation.
Las Vegas hood Miles Carter (the wooden and uncharismatic Bobby Stevens — but we won’t hold that against him, all the acting in this flick is atrocious) is in it deep with the Italian mob over a hefty amount of missing cocaine. Hes’ tried every legit angle to get the money they want before they whack him, but when even his bank manager turns him down for an extension on the loan he owes them, he knows he’s going to have to resort to — ummm — less conventional methods of settling his scores with both the mob and the bank.
Carter’s girlfriend, Magda (Martha Washington) isn’t too keen on whatever course of action her man is taking, the white junkie chick he keeps on the side is jonesing for a fix, and his aforementioned bank manager has hired a notorious hitman named “Fats” Miller to take Carter out over the not-so-small-matter of his debt. All in all, our guy Carter looks like he’s fucked, and Vegas is getting to be a pretty hot place for him.
Then a chance encounter with Juanita, the widow of a former rival known only as “The Cuban,” offers a timely possibility — she can help him get his hands on a large quantity of premium-grade heroin, all they need to do is get down to Albuquerque to secure the smack. Carter has bigger plans, though — plans that involve setting up one last big deal to unload the heroin and then get the hell down to Mexico with Magda, leaving both his bank and the Mafia holding the bag. All is he has to do is stay alive long enough to get the smack, get it sold, and get across the border. With “Fats” hot on his trail, though, that easier said than done —
There’s nothing flashy or stylish about “The Black Connection,” to say the least. It was shot on the ultra-cheap and looks it. What’s even more important, though, is that it feels as cheap as it looks. The opening credits are simple title cards. The music, by an outfit you’ve never heard of before or since called The Checkmates, Ltd. is groovy enough, but definitely sub-standard soul fare. The acting, as mentioned earlier, is almost disconcertingly bland and straightforward. The Las Vegas and New Mexico locations are cool (as one commenter on the IMDB remarked, one of the most fun things to do when watching this film is to play “name the imploded hotel” in the scenes shot along the Vegas strip), but shot with no pretense toward giving them anything like a panoramic or even involving presentation by director Michael J. Finn ( by the way, this remains, understandably, his only directing credit). To refer once again to The Graveyard Tramp’s review of the film (featured on the back of the case for the DVD-R release of this movie from Something Weird Video) : “the film looks and even feels like one of those ugly, dirty XXX featurettes from the early 1970s which, much like a car wreck, you can’t help but be fascinated by.” I can’t put it much better than that, so I won’t even try.
As I mentioned in the previous review for “Massacre Mafia Style,” this movie makes a great double-bill with that Duke Mitchell classic. They each present a different side to a 1970s blacks-vs.-Italians crime story, both are dirty-ass cheap, and each offers a unique atmosphere all its own, with “Massacre Mafia Style” centered around, and anchored by, Mitchell’s charismatically unhinged performance and the possibility of positively anarchic violence thretening to erupt at any moment, and “The Black Connection” positively reeking of the kind of malevolent and oppressive sleaze that only the lowest of budgets can convey with any sense of authenticity. Watch them back to back and have yourself one heck of a fun night scraping the absolute bottom of the exploitation movie barrel.
“The Black Connection” is available from several online DVD-R dealers, but your host recommends the previously-mentioned Something Weird release. It’s a direct-from- VHS transfer struck from a ratherage-worn (but perfectly watchable) 35mm print, but seeing this thing remastered with a crisper, clearer picture would seriously defeat the whole purpose. In addition, the SWV release also includes the original theatrical trailer at the end, and given that they’re the licensed purveyors of the entire Harry Novak back catalogue, that makes this as close to an “official” DVD release as this movie is ever going to get — or, for that matter, should get. And that’s the beauty of it.