Boss Nigger (1975) / Western-Action
aka The Black Bounty Hunter
aka The Black Bounty Killer
MPAA Rated: PG for violence, sexuality, brief nudity and language (would likely be R today)
Running Time: 87 min.
Cast: Fred Williamson, D'Urville Martin, William Smith, R.G. Armstrong, Don 'Red' Barry, Barbara Leigh, Carmen Hayward
Director: Jack Arnold
Screenplay: Fred Williamson
Review published December 29, 2015
Fred Williamson (Hammer, The Inglorious Bastards) writes, co-produces and stars in this low-budget blaxploitation western, which isn't as subpar as you might expect from the provocative title, which Williamson has approved of in subsequent video releases by putting a disclaimer with the film stating that those who use the word in the slur context get their comeuppance in all of his films. With the exception of the racial politics and liberal use of the N-word throughout, this is, at its core, very familiar western formula film of an outsider who finds himself taking up the cause of the weak in order to break them free from the powerful overlord who are exploiting them.
Williamson stars as a black bounty hunter who ends up appointing himself the sheriff of a small (and quite racist) New Mexico town called San Miguel, run by the spineless mayor (Armstrong, My Name is Nobody) who can't find a way to stand up to a band of outlaws that have raped and pillaged the people of the town to submission. Boss and his sidekick Amos (Martin, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) have instituted 'Black Laws" as a way to keep the mostly white town in shape, including, among other things, a heavy fine or jail time for any of the town residents to use the N-word in public, which definitely seems to be filling the coffers in a hurry. A showdown between the black lawmakers and the outlaws is about to go down in this town that has little regard for either party.
It's better made than most of its ilk, with good general direction from veteran Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Incredible Shrinking Man), though not quite as stylish as some of the Spaghetti westerns that Williamson seems to be pulling inspiration from. Williamson is every bit as bad-ass as you'd expect, which should please fans of 'The Hammer' quite well, and he's surrounded by a good supporting cast of character actors in Dolemite director D'Urville Martin as the comic relief sidekick deputy Amos, plus the baddies played by William Smith (Conan the Barbarian, Any Which Way You Can) and R.G. Armstrong. The main weakness in the cast comes from actresses clearly hired on more for their looks than chops, with beauty Barbara Leigh especially out of form as a white woman in town who sees beyond the sheriff's color to admire him for the strength of his character.
Although clearly the hero, it's nice to see that Williamson doesn't write his character to have the upper hand at all costs, which makes the second half of the film, in which he is confronted by the posse of bad guys that have basically owned the city since the last sheriff was 'retired', somewhat tense, as we don't always know if he's going to survive the ordeal to live another day. Featuring a terrific title song, a blazing soul/disco jam (credited to Terrible Tom) which brilliantly blends into the score on occasion when the movie needs some added energy. It's a b-movie, through and through, with all of the benefits and flaws such a designation would imply.
It's probably best known due to its now-controversial title, given to it by Williamson himself, which makes it stand out from the crowd of also-ran blaxtploitation flicks, but also makes it hard to find in places that choose not to display the title as anything other than "Boss". It's worth a look for fans of the genre, especially those who love Williamson, and perhaps for Quentin Tarantino devotees who are looking for films that may have influenced his own 'black bounty hunter' westerns like Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, but it's not the kind of stuff one should undertake without the proper context of the reasons why such a film would be made to begin with.
©2015 Vince Leo