Black Caesar (Blu-ray Review)

Black-CaesarThe brutal assault at the hands of a racist cop will inform the life of Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson, Hammer), who will grow up to become the reigning head of Harlem’s black mafia in Black Caesar.  Fred Williamson held the reigns as the prominent male lead in several of the blaxploitation era’s most popular films including Hammer, Legend of Nigger Charley, Three The Hard Way and Hell Up In Harlem.  Larry Cohen (Hell Up In Harlem), working from his own script, directs the blaxploitation film Black Caesar that co-stars Art Lund (Bucktown), Val Avery (Donnie Brasco) and D’Urville Martin (Sheba, Baby), featuring a score by James Brown.

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Establishing a mob empire that challenges the New York mafia’s stronghold on the city, Tommy Gibbs will prove himself a worthy opponent and a natural born enemy. His volatile romance with chanteuse Helen will set in motion a series of deadly events that the self-proclaimed criminal kingpin, the Black Caesar, may not escape.

I dig Black Caesar quite a bit.  Our protagonist is a man who’s pretty despicable in his own right, but the crazy thing is that there are far worse people besides him.  In this film we watch our “hero” murder in cold blood, double cross those who trusted him and did him good and also treat his significant other like crap, both physically and sexually abusing her.

While none of his actions should be made excuses for, the film does show what kind of environment he became the product of.  Tommy Gibbs was a man who always wanted in with the mob (We see him at a young age assist in a hit), but he’s a black man in America at the wrong time.  Racism and hate against him by those he’s wanting to grow up to do business with form who he is.  He sets a trail of climbing the ranks only to destroy these guys from inside.  But, along the way his power and his hatred overcome him and he’s pretty much just as much a lowlife as those he’s set his life on taking down.

Fred Williamson is at his 1970s peak here in Black Caesar and its easily a top 5 all time role for him.  There’s a terrific scene where his long lost father returns into his life after some success and they have confrontation that is a good scene on paper and Williamson executes it to deliver it home.  We all know the man can handle the action well, but here he’s boasting some chops with it.  The man can command the screen and looks so comfortable in front of the camera you would never ever suspect he’s one of those ex-athletes turned actors.

There is also some terrific filmmaking on display too.  Larry Cohen directs the film.  Actions scenes get some good loving as they are shot quite well, but its the editing of the film that I think brings some new unique elements to the table.  In particular there is a scene where Tommy is beating someone up and its making these seamless, rhythmic cuts to a younger Tommy in a similar situation.  It doesn’t feel abrupt or too heavy handed, it just flows very well.

Hopefully, Olive Films can release the sequel, Hell Up In Harlem, so both Tommy Gibbs movies can be enjoyed on Blu-ray.  Black Caesar is a film that has a lot of the goods and similar story points to some of the bigger mob movies on display like The Godfather and Scarface, but also has its own nitch to carve, and successfully makes a stamp of its own.  Some of the language and racism may be hard for some to stomach, but this movie is unafraid to candy coat or hide it.  And its part of what makes its moments work.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail:  Black Caesar looks really nice here on Blu-ray.  The print appears to be well kept.  A lot of the detail, from fine wood paneling, to the abandoned projects grounds, looks quite fine and discernible.  For what this film is its very nice.  The clothing attire, all feature visible texture and patterns.

Depth:  Decent amount of free feeling work done here.  Movements are cinematic and at times can have some very minimal blurr during quick struggles. There’s a stairwell beat down at the opening of the film which I’ll use as reference in the other sections.

Black Levels:  Blacks are deep and lesser lit scenes bring more grain and hidden detail.  Hair and clothing still show through with impressive detail.  The hair you can see sweat glisten off of.

Color Reproduction: Colors present themselves with a bolder but lifelike appearance.  Reds and blues are particularly strong.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and hold consistently throughout.  Sweat beads, wrinkles, freckles, knuckle hair, scuffs and scrapes all show through well in medium and close-ups.

Noise/Artifacts: Some grain and very very light specs/dirt.  There are some moments dark corridors when some halo’ing can happen during some faster movements.

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Audio Format(s): English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: N/A

Dynamics:  Black Caesar delivers a very good 2.0 mix.  The film consists of a lot of talking scenes, but when the gun fire comes, this mix does not let down.  Gunshots take a nice loud stand here.  Things aren’t as loose as and free sounding at all times, but the music/effects/vocals never really get in one another’s way.

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is clear and at an ideal volume.  There is an analog feel to it, but that’s how it works and gives it a more genuine to its nature kind of sound.

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Trailer (HD, 2:20) 

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Black Caesar proves to be more than just a throwback blaxploitation film, its actually a really solid mafia film, anti-hero study and a film with something to say about racism.  Fred Williamson once again shows his chops, stretching them to more dramatics.  This Blu-ray has a very nice presentation, courtesy of Olive Films.  The film here is strong enough for me to call this good release even if there aren’t extras.



Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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