Black Gunn was made during the incredibly prolific Blaxploitation boom time of the early ‘70s. It’s a retooled noir-crime film given the scene’s window dressing (including much dirty, venomous racism) to fit in with what was popular at the time. It stars icon Jim Brown as Gunn, a nightclub owner in L.A. who is keeping himself busy as a successful businessman. His younger brother Scott (played by first-incarnation Battlestar Galactica’s Boomer, Herbert Jefferson Jr.) is not long back from Vietnam and consumed by thoughts of revenge and sticking it to ‘the man’ using violence.
To this end, Scott is leader of a militant black action group who rip off an Italian mob bookie’s shop to get the funds to buy weapons. Outraged, the mob directs West Coast head honcho Capelli (Martin Landau) to track down and punish those responsible. He’s helped out in this by barely-hinged psycho right-hand man Kriley (Diamonds Are Forever’s Bruce Glover). As the mob hunts for Scott and his accomplices, things start to escalate out of control and notwithstanding Gunn’s best efforts, when his brother turns up tortured and dying, the stage is set for revenge.
It’s not a particularly great thriller and even at 96 minutes is too long. But there are a few things that save it from being a bust. First, Brown is a solid lead; sure, he’s no Fred Williamson, but he’s still pretty compelling as the proud, tough Gunn. Next up is director Robert Hartford-Davis, from whom also came the original story for the film. Hartford-Davis was an English director who worked in TV and film (notably exploitative horrors The Black Torment and Corruption) before making the move to the US. A very interesting director, he often added a definite style to his films and this one is no different. What could have been a very workmanlike movie is enriched by this approach, including some great location shooting and moments of levity and sweetness not usually found in these films. Landau might be in it for about 10 minutes total, but he’s reliably good. As for Glover, he did sweaty, nervy psychotics better than most. Despite all these good points, it’s still not an essential film and likely only going to be of interest to those who really must catch every entry in the subgenre.
The release here from Fabulous Films is bereft of any extras too, which is a shame, though it does boast a fine transfer that’s sharp for DVD and helps shows off that style of Hartford-Davis. If you really want to own this film, it’s certainly decent and comes recommended but the film in good shape is all you get.
BLACK GUNN / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: ROBERT HARTFORD-DAVIS / SCREENPLAY: FRANKLIN COEN, ROBERT SHEARER / STARRING: JIM BROWN, MARTIN LANDAU, BERNIE CASEY, HERBERT JEFFERSON JR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW