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The Black Six

a/k/a The Black 6

     "I had my war, and I didn't come back here to exchange it for another one. If people want to fight in the street? Cool. Let them stretch out and do their thing. But old Bubba, I'm not out to change the world. I just want to be left alone. That's all."

-- The Code of Bubba Daniels      




Gonzoid Cinema




Thanks, Mean Joe!


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The Black Six

Our film opens with a bang with the brutal murder of Eddie Daniels (Robert Howard), killed by his girlfriend Jenny's older brother, Moose. Why? Because Moose (John Isenberger), and the rest of his racist biker gang, didn't want his sister going out with Daniels because he's -- make that was, black.

We then switch to another gang of bikers, led by Eddie's brother, Bubba (Eugene Washington). But this is a different type of gang. These men -- Junior, Frenchie, Bookie, Kevin and Tommy -- are all veterans of the Vietnam War, who have taken to the open road to try and forget their past, and leave the hassles of "The Man" far, far behind them. So these free spirits ride.

And they ride...

And they ride...

... Aren't they there yet?

While roaming around the country -- indefinitely, apparently -- they sustain themselves with the occasional odd job, usually working for food, and we catch up with them just as word reaches Bubba about Eddie's death, via a letter from his mother back home. Angry that no suspects have been found, and how the investigation seems to be going nowhere, Bubba decides to return home to try and find out who killed him. When the others decide to go with him, they mount up and ride.

And they ride...

And they ride...

... Aren't they there yet?

Along the way, they stop at a ramshackle bar for a beer. Once inside, a surly waitress (Marilyn MacArthur) doesn't treat them very well because it's a Whites Only establishment. Things turn even uglier with the rest of the locals, but these six can handle themselves, and they're intimidating enough to scare everyone outside without throwing a single punch; after which, they proceed to demolish the joint. And while the waitress screams racial epitaphs at them, they mount up and ride on.

And they ride...

And they ride...

I think you're starting to get the general idea, here...

As a football fan growing up in the 1970s, it always seemed to me that every year the Dallas Cowboys played the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. And one of Pittsburgh's big stars of that era -- from the famed Steel Curtain defense -- was "Mean" Joe Greene. And the whole country was personally introduced to the giant defensive lineman in a fairly famous TV commercial; and, if you were around back then, I'm sure you'll remember it: a surly Greene, injured and limping toward the locker room, accepts a Coca-Cola from a young, big-eyed urchin, who winds up with a soiled jersey for this gesture, and then gives a hearty thanks for this mutual act of kindness. 

For those of you who can also remember the commercial's blooper reel, will also recall take after take of Greene burping and belching up a storm after guzzling bottle after bottle of soda before he could say his lines properly.

Thanks to that commercial, "Mean Joe" became a pop-culture icon and a bigger-than-life superstar, and helped the Steelers to four Super Bowl wins. Now, despite this mighty football pedigree, lurking in his closet is an enjoyable little turd-burger of a movie known as The Black Six -- a tale of six motorcycle riding Vietnam vets, who roamed the countryside and busted a few heads when the need presented itself. But Greene's skeleton has plenty of company in this particular closet, as his compatriots and co-stars consist of other NFL greats, including Gene Washington (San Francisco 49ers), Lem Barney (Detroit Lions), Willie Lanier (Kansas City Chiefs), Mercury Morris (Miami Dolphins) and Carl Eller (Minnesota Vikings).

Now, I've been obsessed with seeing The Black Six ever since I spied a poster for it years ago in one of my B-Movie compendiums -- I believe it was The Phantom's Ultimate Guide, and have been feverishly searching for it ever since. Front Row Features has a no-frills DVD of this production out there in circulation, and I finally stumbled upon one in the check-out line of my local grocery store. The feature is also available on a Diamond Entertainment double feature disc with another blaxploitation oddity, The Black Gestapo.

So, then. Was the film any good? Well, from what we've seen so far the pending verdict seems pretty inevitable, but we've still got a lot of evidence to sift through before passing final judgment as we catch up with the group when they finally reach Bubba's hometown, where they get to meet his mother, Flora (Marilyn McArthur), and his radically militant sister, Sissy (Lydia Dean). Hearing the investigation into Eddie's murder still hasn't turned up anything, Bubba isn't really surprised by this, and over his mother's protests, heads out alone to try and find out what happened to his brother. And as Bubba searches for the killer, the other five kind of disappear for awhile. First, he checks in at the police station, and when that proves fruitless, he heads to the old watering hole and hits up the local drunk, who turns out to be a fount of timely information. Coupling what he learns there with a visit to his old football coach, Bubba begins to piece together what really happened to Eddie, who killed him, and why. Needing to talk to Jenny before he confronts Moose, Bubba finds out where she works from the bartender. And before he leaves, when he inquires about Ceal, his old girlfriend, the bartender says where Bubba can find her, too -- but warns he's not gonna like what he finds.

But find her does, in a seedy hotel room with a *ahem* client. Refunding the John's money, Bubba then rousts him out. Reunited at last, Ceal (Rosalind Miles) is ashamed of her career choice, but Bubba isn't that judgmental. Still, she let's him have it for not coming back to her after the war -- and doesn't let up when she finds out why he finally did come back. But Bubba won't be stopped, even though he'll probably be killed if he goes up against Moose.

Leaving Ceal at his mother's house, Bubba heads to the juke-joint where Jenny (Cynthia Daly) works. She recognizes Bubba but is afraid to talk to him. Seems Moose and his gang are there, too, but they don't know who Bubba really is yet. When he presses the reluctant witness on what happened to Eddie, she starts to cry but still won't talk. Moose sees this, pulls her away, and threatens Bubba to leave her alone. Not intimidated, but outnumbered, Bubba stands his ground, and lucky for him, the rest of the Six take this opportunity to return to the film. (Ceal told them where he was going.) Since the cavalry has arrived, things are about to get ugly when the police intervene and break up the rumble before it can get started.

As the partisan parties part, when Moose warns that this isn't over, Bubba says to name the time and place and they'll be there waiting to settle things. Promising to get back to him real soon, Moose and his gang leave and track down big Thor (Ben Davidson) and about 150 reinforcements. And while Moose conspires with Thor, the Six return to Bubba's house for some introspective folderol, as the film tries to find it's moral center with a lengthy speechifying scene between Bubba and Ceal. Borrowing heavily from several westerns, the screenplay robs the most from Tom Laughlin's philosophy in Billy Jack as Bubba makes it abundantly clear that he doesn't want to fight. All he really wants to do is be free and to mellow out. But outside forces are always interfering, and you can only ignore them for so long until it's time to kick somebody's head in.

After an envoy from Moose's gang arrives to palaver with the Six, the time and place for the rumble is set. And though Ceal, his mother, and Sissy beg them not to go, go they do. The opposing gangs converge in a valley, and after a brief stand-off and round of posturing, Moose admits to killing Eddie, triggering the final brawl. The Six wipe out Moose's gang in short order, but one escapes and signals Thor to unleash his hordes on them. And like the westerns of old, the Six circle up their bikes like covered wagons and fend off the circling bikers -- who use lit flares instead of flaming arrows. As the assault continues, the world seemingly catches on fire ... Bodies fly, bikes burn and explode, followed by a larger explosion when one idiot biker uses a flare for a gas cap. And then things get kind of ambiguous as the film just abruptly ends on a shot of the burning wreckage with the visages of the Six slowly superimposed over it.

The End?

I think there's a metaphor there, somewhere, in that final conflagration but damned if I can find it. Did The Black Six go out like Butch and Sundance? Who knows for sure, but the credits warn: "If [we] wrong a brother, the Black Six will return."

We're still waiting.

Again, the whole "reason-de-art" of The Black Six was the idea of using football players as action heroes. These men certainly weren't the first to make the transition: Woody Strode, Merlin Olson, Rosie Greer, Jim Brown and Fred Williamson, along with several others, paved the way. And as actors, these six NFL greats are -- well, pretty good football players. 

OK, that's not really fair. Washington actually shows some decent acting ability. And Eller also appears to have some potential but doesn't have a lot to do. Greene, believe it or not, was basically the silent comedy relief in this and only has about three lines. And I don't think Lanier had any lines at all, and what kind of kung-fu was Barney exactly trying to pull off there? Raging Chicken Fist? Davidson, another NFL veteran (Oakland Raiders), had a decent career in Hollywood, and has a great method performance as Thor, the leader of the bad bikers. But his greatest role came about a decade later as one of Thulsa Doom's thugs in Conan the Barbarian; he was the one who didn't gong people with that big hammer.

Director Matt Cimber, a/k/a Mateo Ottaviano, was no stranger to the exploitation film market. His films featured lurid titles, like He and She and The Sensuous Female, that were amongst the first explicit X-Rated films to receive national distribution after Alex de Renzy's documentary Censorship in Denmark knocked down the door and showed intercourse on screen. His most infamous feature was probably The Gemini Affair, where Marta Kristen -- light years away from being Judy Robinson in Lost in Space -- gets naked and has a lesbian affair with Kathy Kersh, or perhaps The Witch Who Came in from the Sea, an extremely effective piece about a female serial killer with tour de force performance by Millie Perkins and some outstanding camera work by Dean Cundey. However, the director's biggest claim to B-flick infamy was helming a certain notorious piece of cheese starring Pia Zadora, called Butterfly. (It could have been worse. It could have been The Lonely Lady.) Then Cimber switched exploitation genres when he teamed up with writer George Theakeos for a trio of blaxploitation features. The Black Six was first, and Washington and Greene returned with Lola Falana for Lady Cocoa -- a/k/a Pop Goes the Weasel. The third feature, Candy Tangerine Man -- featuring John Daniels as a family man by day and uber-pimp by night, who sticks it to the man -- has a growing cult following ever since Samuel L. Jackson proclaimed it to be one of his favorite films.

The Black Six came out in 1973 when the biker and the blaxploitation film were both fizzling-out at the box office. But the production team decided to try and squeeze out one more film by combining the two genres -- and more than a few western clichés. The film ultimately fails because it spends way too much time stuck in neutral. I swear, half the film is nothing but shots of the six riding in a V-formation down the highway. Beyond that, not a lot happens until the last fifteen minutes.

In the end, I've spent five bucks on much worse things that got me in the end. But, for the record, the over-stylized poster that lured me here in the first place is, indeed, very misleading -- I know, big shocker, right? I'm fully aware that expectations be a harsh mistress seldom satisfied, so fair warning that The Black Six isn't all that bad. Okay, sure, it's terribly plodding, but I'm still glad I found it and have happily crossed yet another film off the gotta see list. So, on behalf of everyone else whose sat through this thing, I would like to say: 

"Thanks, Mean Joe!"

The Black Six (1973) Cinemation Industries / P: Matt Cimber / AP: Michael Blowitz, Rafer Johnson / D: Matt Cimber / W: Matt Cimber, George Theakos / C: William Swenning / E: Robert Carlson / M: David Moscoe / S: Gene Washington, Rosalind Miles, Carl Eller, Lem Barney, Mercury Morris, Joe Greene, Willie Lanier, Ben Davidson

Originally Posted: 11/11/01 :: Rehashed: 04/20/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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