The 1970s were the golden age of exploitation movies. The demand from drive-ins for triple features (dusk till dawn shows) meant distributors were willing to try all manner of films from other countries and often led to small scale filmmakers given a bankroll to make their own features. This created a ripe atmosphere for African American actors who were, for a short time, granted tons of work as long as the films delivered plenty of thrills.
This effort was made at the height of that period and offered director Lee Frost a respite from making soft core movies (which were also a staple of the drive-in and filled his resume with titles like "Love Camp 7" and "House on Bare Mountain"). It was a good gamble, which didn't cost them much, and turned out to be a thoughtful, though still violent and sexy, expose on the corrupting influence that comes with authority.
The setting is Los Angeles where the government tries a new idea with regard to policing the troubled ghetto of Watts, which had erupted in riots in the early 1970s. They create "The People's Army," which attempts to bridge social gaps by creating an all-black police force composed of ex-military men from the neighborhood. Command of the group is given to General Ahmed, who begins to make a difference with his well-disciplined men, until the mob moves in and transforms the area into a cesspool of vice.
Things come to a head when a nurse is assaulted in broad daylight, which prompts Ahmed to reluctantly create a subgroup aimed at beating back the mafia influence.
His second in command, Kojah, gets the duty and begins training a cadre of police using military methods picked up during his stint in Vietnam. The paramilitary training stands the group well and they flush out the mob and scare them back to New York (the film implies that there are no homegrown mobsters in California - hah).
This earns the new group a ton of street cred, which quickly goes to their heads. Pretty soon they have picked up all of the mob's tricks and it's time to quote The Who, who sang, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." It's left to Ahmed to undo the monster he's created, and he eventually must invade the group's headquarters and single-handedly go Rambo on them till they say uncle.
This is pretty good stuff that delivers on all of the staples of drive-in fare and even manages to sneak in a message about power being a corrupting influence. It is no "Animal Farm," but it tries and mostly succeeds despite an obviously low budget.
The main problem is that Ahmed is rather dully interpreted by actor Rod Perry, who comes off as a listless doofus who wouldn't know a vice if he had his head in one. Charles P. Robinson (the bailiff on TV's "Night Court") fares much better as the power-hungry Kojah. Director Frost also helps his cause by stepping in as the follically challenged head mafioso.
Unfortunately, their is no room this week for a best line, since this film uses a script that punctuates every line of dialogue with the F-bomb. The good news is that the DVD is available at Amazon.com for under $3 and includes a bonus feature called "The Black Six," in which six football players (including Mean Joe Greene) star as a biker gang called in to avenge the death of a young black man at the hands of a racist mob when they discover he has fallen in love with a white girl. Watching these gridiron greats fumble their dialogue is priceless. It's not Shakespeare but it does lift themes from, of all things, "Romeo and Juliet." Lots of yuks for just a few bucks.
1975, rated R.