5.19.2011

Three Honkies: That Man Bolt (Levin & Rich, 1973)

If one were to pick a sole male figure to signify the blaxploitation wave, chances are so good they can hardly be called "chances" that Fred Williamson would come out on top every time, if not for his reliability as a badass at least for the great quantity of films he headlined. "That Man Bolt" is one that gets by largely on Williamson badassery. Were there a less charismatic star here there'd be very little worth watching. The eclectic Henry Levin, whose directorial filmography charts back to the '40s and includes "Journey to the Center of the Earth", helmed "Bolt" in 1973 with television veteran David Lowell Rich, though it wouldn't seem either gentleman brought much beyond your average, serviceable exploitation direction. Boiled down, title character Jefferson Bolt (mistakenly and humorously called "Lincoln Bolt" in IMDb's synopsis) is the black James Bond, a charming mother with an affinity for hi jump kicks and a knack for getting out of traps and enduring torture. His best "gadget" is his mean attitude, which he frequently launches in the droopy faces of his staunch, British bosses who do condescendingly and obligatorily rib him for his blackness. The character has little to no reason or backing from his surrounding, unengaging picture, the only technically interesting aspect of which is the repeated use of a certain editing technique that I believe was somewhat forward for its time (the commencement of a scene, while a character's plan for said scene is still unfolding, carried over from the previous scene as a voiceover segue... for all I know this has been used since the '30s, but I don't think it came into prominence until the early 2000s).

One occasional feature of these films is a non-narrative musical interlude, typically set in a club, highlighting an up-and-coming artist performing a song or two. "Blacula", for example, features The Hues Corporation (of "Rock the Boat" notoriety and whose Bernard St. Clair Lee died last month) enthusiastically belting one of their three songs from the film's soundtrack, the invigorating "There He Is Again". Some may also be familiar with Hammer's decidedly funky early '70s entry in their Dracula franchise, "Dracula AD 1972", and its opening party sequence featuring The Stoneground, who offer up "You Better Come Through" and "Alligator Man". "That Man Bolt" takes the cameo nature of these appearances a bit further as Bolt's arrival in a club and subsequent recognition by the performer, here Teresa Graves of the Doodletown Pipers (who also appeared in "Black Eye" with Williamson the following year), decides the next song (lyrics of which declare "I'm so glad to see you here in my part of town") before the performer actually becomes a short-lived love-interest-with-a-history character.

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