By 1977 blaxploitation was on the wane. The classics of the genre – Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), Shaft (1972) and Foxy Brown (1974) – were all in the past. However nobody seems to have mentioned this to the producers of ‘The Guy From Harlem
Al Connor is a private eye who left New York for the tropical life in Miami. But trouble seems to follow him around, especially when an old friend asks him to act as bodyguard for the beautiful wife of an African head of state.
Personally I like to live by my family’s ancient motto, “Never do anything suggested by a man in a lilac suit”, but since Al doesn’t have my proud lineage he takes the job.
He soon gets to meet Mrs Ashanti. Never mind that, judging by the accent, Mrs Ashanti is about as African as Conan O’Brien. She has everything that a female blaxploitation character needs – huge hair and an ability to take her clothes off.
Oh no! It’s almost as if the director didn’t realize that the mirror was ruining the whole point of the actress disrobing with her back to the camera!
Ahem. Despite the fact that she’s married, Mrs Ashanti soon succumbs to Al’s smooth lines. A little while later they leave her hotel room and head back to his place.
Mrs Ashanti admires Al’s Gay Pride bedspread and wallpaper stolen from a 10 year old girl’s bedroom, then she changes into a white burqua and prepares for the greatest 48 seconds of her life.
Ah the 70s: when a man could wear enormous blue satin Y-fronts and still get laid.
Afterwards, in the manner of all good one night stands, Mrs Ashanti VANISHES FROM THE MOVIE ENTIRELY. Apparently there is a deeper plot afoot than the threat to an African chieftan’s wife. The next day Al’s office is invaded by some loud, angry men in loud, angry suits.
This screengrab presented without comment. Other than SWEET MERCIFUL CRAP!
One of the men, Harry de Bauld, has learned that his daughter Wanda has been kidnapped by a local crime lord named Big Daddy. This seems to have occurred because Harry has been trying to muscle in on Big Daddy’s cocaine trafficking game. Rather than viewing this as an opportunity to give up drug trafficking, Harry hires Al to make the drop with the ransom, or, if possible, to rescue Wanda.
Al takes the job, mostly because Wanda is hot. After leaning on some sources, he follows one of the kidnappers back to his hideout, fights a number of bad guys, and rescues Wanda. Then they head back to his place to have sex.
You’d think that following a kidnapping ordeal featuring multiple attempted rapes Wanda wouldn’t really be in the mood. But it seems that 70s women were made of sterner stuff than the ladies of today. Or maybe she was just stunned into submission by Al’s décor.
Wanda: Nice place you got here.
Me: Yeah, nothing says class like gold velour.
The next day Harry and his men return to Al’s office to collect Wanda and the ransom of money and cocaine. But Al decides to lay down the law. He returns the money, but he tells Harry that he’s turned the coke over to the cops, and that he’s banged Wanda. Harry is understandably upset… about the drugs. His reaction to Al taking advantage of his little girl is one of, “Oh well, you earned it. To the victor goes the spoils, eh! Well done old son!”
My viewing buddy: I don’t think that I could wear that pink suit to work.
Me: I don’t think that Barbie
could wear that pink suit to work.
There’s just one loose end to clear up (other than the complete and utter disappearance of Mrs Ashanti). Big Daddy wants revenge on Harry and Al, and to that end he sets up a rendezvous. He has a sniper waiting in the trees ready to blow all of our heroes away.
However, possibly because the sniper is dressed in an aqua leisure suit with a yellow shirt, he’s discovered by Harry’s men and disarmed. Infuriated, Big Daddy challenges Al to go mano-a-mano
Big Daddy: I want a piece of your black ass!
Me (as Al): Well, that not usually my thing, but… oh, wait, you mean a fight
So Al and Big Daddy fight, and righteous blackness beats evil whiteness. It’s not entirely clear if Al kills Big Daddy or just incapacitates him, but everyone seems satisfied that he is vanquished. The film ends with Al and Wanda going off to have more celebratory sex, while her father and brother laugh about it.
As I said at the start of this review, ‘The Guy From Harlem’ comes from the tail end of the blaxploitation era, and it's one of the genre’s lesser examples. Our hero, while charismatic, lacks the physical presence of a Richard Roundtree or a William H. Marshall. The rest of the cast range between “competent” and “more wooden than a sequoia”. Most of the dialogue appears to have been ad libbed, as if the script were just a few helpful ideas jotted down on a McDonald’s napkin and circulated amongst the cast. The sound was patchy and the fight scenes were choreographed by someone who’d never seen a fist raised in anger.
It did, however, have some truly awesome costume and set design:
Did I say awesome? Is that the word I want? Or can you think of a better one?