|Vintage Pulp||Jan 13 2021|
Steve Sandor draws first blood before Rambo arrives on the scene.
Above you see a low rent poster for The No Mercy Man, aka Bad Man, aka Trained to Kill: USA, which premiered this month in 1973 starring Steve Sandor and Rockne Tarkington, the latter last seen chilling with his pet lion in Black Samson. The No Mercy Man is a mash-up of a biker film, a High Noon-style western, and a blaxploitation film, done on the cheap. And of course with low budgets usually come bad acting, weak scripting, all thumbs in the technical departments, and a paucity of promo images (we found two). This film also has, as a special bonus, a deeply earnest theme song that sucks terribly:
And when he loves you, he loves as hard as he can.
You get no mercy, naw naw naw, from the no mercy man.
Love and lust are the same to him,
just like being raped by the Devil.
His kind of love can only bring you sin,
and his arms can only bring you evil... whooooa ohhh ohhh...
The “no mercy man” of the lyrics is the protagonist Olie Hand, played by Sandor, which means being raped by the Devil is about the hero. Incredibly, the closing theme is even worse, with the lyrics, “no one understands you ’cause you can't be understood.”
Well, let's give it a try. Olie Hand is a Vietnam veteran who did terrible things in the jungles of Southeast Asia, and has now returned to his Arizona hometown to find it plagued by amoral carnies and petty criminals. He's haunted by the war. The sight of violence sends him into a mental tailspin, as horrible memories of his time in action rise to the surface. Despite his aversion to violence, it isn't long before he's forced to take on the men who are turning his town upside down.
Hand is legitimately psychologically damaged, which makes him a clear precursor to Sylvester Stallone's disturbed John Rambo from First Blood. After that film became a runaway hit Stallone booted the mental imbalance of the Rambo character out of the franchise, thus dumping the subtext that violence is basically bad, which freed cinemagoers to revel in hyperviolence without guilt. Rambo became the type of archetypal tough guy many Americans imagine themselves to be—the basically solid guy who tries very hard to avoid trouble, but once he's pushed across the line, boy howdy, you better open wide for your just desserts.
The year after The No Mercy Man appeared Charles Bronson brought everyman architect Paul Kersey to the screen in Death Wish. Kersey wasn't tortured by previous violent acts; he was justified by current events to commit violence. Killing wasn't harmful but healing, and tookplace vigilante style because of the limits of the law. It was done reluctantly, but creatively, because the capacity for baroque forms of murder lurked beneath the surface all along. American action movies have largely resided in that space ever since: violence is a rarely used but well-oiled tool every real man has at the ready, tucked between his pliers and his socket wrench.
The No Mercy Man is exploitative schlock, but it's at least a bit more thoughtful than the average revenge flick. It suggests there's a price paid for violence beyond mere regret, or being turned into a taciturn curmudgeon whose warm side can eventually be teased out by the right woman or a precocious kid. The price is that you may be so altered that others are unable recognize you as human. If you've actually read your U.S. history—we mean the stuff they only gloss over in school—you know that violence has always been a first resort. The No Mercy Man acknowledges this, but of course in the end decides pacifism is for pussies. It is, after all, still an American movie.
VietnamArizonaThe No Mercy ManBad ManTrained To Kill: USAFirst BloodRockne TarkingtonSteve SandorSid HaigCarol LocatellSylvester Stalloneposter artcinemamovie review
|Vintage Pulp||Aug 14 2020|
Speak softly but carry a big stick. And possibly a gun or two.
Above you see a poster for the blaxploitation flick Black Samson, which starred Rockne Tarkington, William Smith, and Carol Speed. Because we hadn't heard of this movie we were expecting something super low rent, but it's actually on par with the better blaxploitation productions, with plenty of location shooting, large scale action, and an actual lion. But while Black Samson is competently made, there are no standout set pieces or comedic interludes, little eroticism, and not much in the way of incisve commentary. Probably its most notable quality is that the bad guys are uniquely cruel, at one point throwing a completely harmless woman out of a moving car, and mutilating another woman's breasts with a knife just for kicks.
The basic plot involves a syndicate of white crooks who want to peddle drugs in the ghetto, and the staff-wielding, lion-owning hero Samson who stands in their way. Conflict escalates, and in the end matters devolve into a full scale race riot, followed by a mano-a-mano between Samson and the head honky in charge to settle the issue once and for all. If Samson exchanged that wooden staff he totes around for a legit boom stick he could have solved his issues sooner, but probably less entertainingly. In the end Black Samson manages to press all the right buttons, which means that for fans of the blaxploitation genre, it's definitely worth a watch. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1974.
Black SamsonRockne TarkingtonCarol SpeedWilliam SmithConnie Stricklandposter artcinemamovie reviewblaxploitation