The Black Gestapo

Certificate: 18
Running time: 88 mins
Director: Lee Frost
Starring: Rod Perry, Charles Robinson, Phil Hoover
Genre: Drama, Blaxploitation
Country: USA

When the good citizens of Watts are beaten down and drugged up by the white man General Ahmed and his second in command Colonel Kojah take it upon themselves on forming a People’s Army to clean up the problem and take some of the power back. With absolute power corrupting absolutely how long will it take before the militant solution is part of the overall problem?

Writer/director Lee Frost has, whether you know it or not, serious Exploitation form having performed both tasks on The Thing with Two Heads and Dixie Dynamite – and that’s without mentioning the fact that Frost is responsible for the screenplay for the eternally popular and entertaining Race with the DevilThe Black Gestapo like so many of his cinematic offerings trades on something of a sensationalist title when in actual fact the “Black Gestapo” the film speaks of are closer to the Panther movement with the armband and knee boot stylings of Hitler’s secret service.  The look of Frost’s film is minimalist, as a director on a budget he’s one of talent when it comes to masking off a films potential problems and showcasing the best that could possibly come out of it.  Similarly the screenplay is straight forward and deals, almost exclusively, in the key ingredients of what makes a good Blaxploitation film – unwarranted assaults, oppression and white people being bastards (which we’ve been known to be).  Rule of thumb is that only the amazing and the terrible stray from this formula, Frost is all too aware of this and is happy to shoot for something less than a redefining piece of fiction.  Frost deals with both aspects of his creative delivery extremely well as he often frames a shot conservatively but does his best work in the construction, large thanks to his editor Joanna Bush.

The scoring of The Black Gestapo is unsurprisingly extremely cool and indicative of the cinematic and cultural climate of the time.  What is surprising though is Allan Alper’s dark and suspense filled punctuations that hint towards a darker, less soulful realm than perhaps you would be expecting from Lee Frost.  It certainly pays off during the bath tub castration amongst other scenes as black and white go to war.

Phil Hoover and Edward Cross are great in the thankless tasks of the white gangsters you love to hate.  They’re a little pantomime in delivery but they are meant to be, the world of Blaxploitation is a hyper-alert, hyper-masculine realm and as such relies on having a villain, or villains in many cases that are larger and meaner than life.  The men are pros, performances in Chain Gang Women and Foxy Brown should suffice to tell you that.  There are a few tricky performances, Charles Howerton is a little risky at points and Uschi Digard is more welcoming to watch than listen to but thankfully the film she has zero lines and we have Charles Robinson.  By the time many of us were teens we had familiarised ourselves with Charles thanks to TV performances in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Night Court and Home Improvement but that’s not the real Charles Robinson.  The Robinson of The Black Gestapo is on screen dominating, physically intimidating and eternally watchable performer.  A man of minimal movement, allowing Frost’s camera to guide us close to the masterclass in controlled menace.  He is a phenomenon and has peaked by The Black Gestapo, it’s actually mind blowing how he didn’t just explode everywhere and appear in everything.  The man is simply too good.

There are some problems with the film, the pacing is clunky in large parts making it more of a challenge to watch than it should be and the evolution of the Black Gestapo is a little rushed so it always feels like something of an overreaction.  All is almost forgiven though with the corruption of power as Frost offers up a morally taut cautionary tale about the danger of power as our "heroes" slowly become the villains of the piece.  It's wonderfully done, a gradual shift, a balanced loss of both the moral compass and the audience.  It's quite unlike anything offered up in Blaxploitation cinema.  This point which Frost is trying to get across is appreciated but the film losses some of it’s steam at this point and it’s steam that the film races to regain quite quickly, achieving it just when you think all is lost. An extremely confident and entertaining offering.


Elliott said...

Love this film, great review

John Baxter said...

Cheers man, I've been meaning to rewatch and review this for months now.

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