When you take a gander at this year’s new crop of shows on the major television networks, one surprising aspect to them is the high amount of programs that have black characters who are cops or special government agents – most of them cast against type.
From Blair Underwood as the titular Ironside in a remake of the 1960’s series; Nicole Beharie as the female lead in Sleepy Hollow, accompanied by Orlando Jones as her skeptical police captain boss (though the Black cop boss that doesn’t do much but be angry and skeptical is old to popular entertainment); the comedy Brooklyn Nine- Nine co-starring the always on-point Andre Braugher as a no–nonsense but humorous precinct captain (he has played a cop in three other television shows (Kojak (1990’s ver.), Homicide: Life on the Street, and Hack) along with Terry Crews as the sergeant of detectives; and the mid-season return of Hannibal, which co-stars Laurence Fishburne as FBI agent Jack Crawford. Add Shemar Moore in the long-running Criminal Minds, Rocky Carroll as the unit boss on NCIS, as well as Ice-T on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and you have a lot of high-profile Black folks as police figures on network TV.
The shame (or based on the casting of actor Brandon T. Jackson, the positive) of this all is that the proposed Beverly Hills Cop television show got a pilot made that CBS passed on.
With all that happening, I thought this would be the perfect time to have a YES, NO, WHY on trailers for unconventional police or detective types in Black or Black-themed movies. I choose all 1970’s films because most have never seen any or most of these films, so the perspective will be pretty fresh.
SUPER SPOOK (1975)
“If Shaft can’t and the Hammer won’t…then Super Spook will!”
That’s the tagline from Super Spook, a satire of early Blaxploitation era Black male action stars and the time-period itself. The title seems more controversial than the goofball movie itself which boasts ad-libbed dialogue, no script, no crew, borrowed equipment from NYU Film School and multiple NYC-based independent black filmmakers as its creators, only one of whom – Anthony Major – seems to still take main credit for. But there is a plot!
When a Harlem numbers lady (Virginia Fields – mother of director Major) is robbed in Central Park, her daughter (Marcella Lowery from TV’s The Cosby Show [Elvin’s mother] and the principal Ms. Noble from City Guys) hires Super Spook to solve the case before the mob and crooked cop (Tony King from Sparkle) come after her.
Leonard Jackson stars in the title role and prior to SS played the patriarch in Five on the Black Hand Side and Archie the Butler in the neo-vampire film Ganja & Hess, though some more modern audiences may recognize him from ‘90’s movies like Boomerang and A Rage in Harlem. The production took place for nine days in 1972 but was not released until July 9, 1975 by Levitt-Pinkman (and in 2012 on DVD by Scorpion Releasing) because the filmmakers couldn’t afford to get the film developed.
SS is the anti-Shaft in multiple ways – he’s short, old, a real square, lacks charisma and is a horrible detective. He’s more in the vein of Inspector Clouseau from The Pink Panther movies, except from the trailer one can surmise that he is not all that funny.
Decide for yourself by watching the trailer below. The movie is available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Based on the history of the film I give it a YES, but I must also maintain the integrity of this column so my overriding choice is a WHY?!?
Much like the earlier “Yes! No!! Why?!?” entry Black Shampoo, there is a small but loyal fanbase to SS.
HANGUP aka Super Dude (1974)
I’m about as unsure which title is worse as the distributors were.
If you are unaware, with Blaxploitation films of the 1970’s, production companies and distributors were so keen on attracting Black audiences that they released titles with names so obvious there were no mistaking who it was intended for I don’t have a final number, but there were so many titles with either the word or a variation of the word Black in it, it became a joke. Some of my favorites include obvious ones like Blacula, Black Caesar, and Black Mama, White Mama. But then there are the obscure ones like Blackenstein, Dr. Black & Mr. Hyde, The Black Bunch (aka Super Sisters), The Black Gestapo…you get the picture. Ultimately there were others that played up aspects of the Black aesthetic like Coffy, Cool Breeze, and yes Super Dude.
Starring William Elliott, best known as the cop friend/ potential love interest Carter in Pam Grier’s first starring role, the aforementioned Coffy, this was the last film from Henry Hathaway, who directed Kiss Of Death and True Grit, two Academy Award winning films. Known as being pretty unambitious, Hangup is the very violent story of Ken Ramsey, a rookie cop unable to keep his emotions out of his job, placing him in conflict with fellow officers and superiors. While working on a heroin case, Ramsey stumbles upon a young female junkie, the sexy and easily angered Marki Bey (Sugar Hill, 1974) a girl from his high school days. He tries to get her clean, but her boss Richards (Michael Lerner – Barton Fink, 1991 [among many others]) decides to execute her to keep her quiet, causing Ken to exact revenge upon him and his criminal enterprises.
The trailer shows a lot of gunplay, sex and mediocre acting as well as cameo from Herbert Jefferson Jr. of original Battlestar Galactica fame (he’s shooting a shotgun).
Because of the tired premise and reliance on over-sexualization of its female characters, I’m giving the Super Dude trailer a reluctant NO!!
THE SUPER COPS (1974)
Now while our third film doesn’t star any Black cops, it is directed by the man who put together the movie that introduced to the world, “the Black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks.” Yeah, I’m talking about Gordon Parks!
Taking place in ‘Black’ Brooklyn, most notably Bedford-Stuyvesant (you know a neighborhood is classic when many of the buildings and streets still look the same), The Super Cops is about a pair of rookie policeman (so a bit similar to Super Dude in that regard) similar in attitude in that they are over-dedicated to their jobs in seeing justice done – and to satisfy their own thrill-seeking ways. With that, these mavericks break all the rules to track down criminals in the ‘hood. The would come to be known as Batman & Robin.
A true-life story released the year after Serpico, Parks’ The Super Cops rode the urban ‘do things my own way’ cop biopic to a different level. The screenplay is written by Lorenzo Semple Jr., whose previous credits include many now classic films like Papillion and Three Days of the Condor, but for the sake of this film his most notable credit is the campy Batman television series, which I am sure helped him not make the script too serious, something seen from the performances of lead actors Ron Liebman and David Selby. The film also stars Blaxploitation darling Sheila Frazier (Supefly, Superfly T.N.T, Three The Hard Way) as Sara, a prostitute who ends up helping the two on their cases.
While I cannot find a trailer online, below is a great clip from the movie and you can even more on the Turner Classics Movie website. The film had a great DVD release a few years back courtesy of the Warner Brothers Archive.
While I do not marvel at two white cops running around the ‘hood attempting to arrest Black men and women, I was prepared to not be an advocate for this movie despite Gordon Parks’ direct involvement. But after watching numerous clips, and finding the direction, acting and humor to be quite good, I have to give The Super Cops a YES!
Feel free to let me know what you think of this column, my selections, and about Black film in general by tweeting me @MediaManWatch