The Mack (1973) / Drama-Action
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, drug content, nudity and language
Running time: 110 min.
Cast: Max Julien, Richard Pryor, Don Gordon, Roger E. Mosley, George Murdock, Dick Anthony Williams, Juanita Moore, Carol Speed, Annazette Chase
Director: Michael Campus
Screenplay: Robert J. Poole
Review published July 10, 2011
Though often lumped in with the plethora of Blaxploitation flicks to come out in the 1970s, The Mack is somewhat separated from the subgenre due to its more serious plotline and profound social commentary. It is also more of a character study, depicting the fall, rise and fall again of a two-bit hood fresh out of years in jail, who makes himself into one of the biggest pimps in the Bay Area -- a blueprint Oliver Stone would follow a decade later with Scarface. A highly successful film in its time, it lacks some of the production values of MGM's Shaft or the dramatic impact of Superfly, but its many unique insights on Black empowerment and rougher film techniques has elevated the film into cult status, championed by a number of respected sources as among he best of its ilk.
Former documentarian Michael Campus (Christmas Cottage, Z.P.G.) takes a more personal approach to Robert J. Poole's oft-revised, oft-improvised-off-of script, showing these characters as fully realized people, each with his or her own strengths and weaknesses, all a bunch of gray areas instead of the black and white, both figuratively and literally, of other Black cast films to come out at the same time. That is thanks in large part to Max Julien's (Thomasine & Bushrod, How to Be a Player) nuanced performance as Goldie, who brings the right mix of intelligence and perceptiveness to believe that he could do whatever he wanted to if he just put his mind to it, but he's just not given many options in life.
A good supporting cast also helps, with Roger Mosley (Semi-Tough, Heart Condition) particular strong as Goldie's outspoken brother, a pro-Black militant leader (a la Huey P. Newton, to whom the speeches borrow from liberally) in the making, and George Murdock (Willie Dynamite, Breaker Breaker) is also very strong as Goldie's former boss, Fat Man, who wants to nip his success in the bud when he gets too big and too powerful to control, Also menacing are the local cops who come around harassing Goldie and many of the other pimps, especially Don Gordon (Bullitt, Papillon) as the detective who frequently finds himself overstepping his bounds and becoming just as much a hustler as those he seeks to keep in line. If there is a major downside in the acting department, it with Richard Pryor (Car Wash, Silver Streak), one of the film's biggest selling points, whose unfunny, scarcely coherent ad-libs aren't in keeping with the nature of his character, reportedly done (and it shows) while coked out on the set, much to the consternation of the director.
Much of the dialogue, which was constantly being re-written by Julien and Pryor, will be well-known to scores of hip hop aficionados, as audio bytes of the movie have found their way into tracks by such artists as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Outkast, Dru Down, and others who glamorize the pimp lifestyle in their personas, including the now infamous "Players Ball", a staple of pimp rapper music videos for years. There is some good music of its own on the soundtrack, particularly in the memorably funky score by soulster Willie Hutch (Foxy Brown, The Last Dragon).
In an era where so many films are merely stealing elements from each other, The Mack emerges as one of the most unique, and even if it lacks the focus and jointed structure to call it a great film for mainstream viewers, it is well worth seeking out for fans of not only Blaxploitation films, but gritty crime dramas in general.
©2011 Vince Leo