Wednesday, March 14, 2007

THAT MAN BOLT

When I was in high school, the A-V department used to get these thick, phone book-sized catalogs for 16mm rental films. Along with the expected "educational" variety of cinema, there were hundreds of entertainment features included; many of the listings illustrated with the original newspaper ad slicks. Since the school usually discarded these catalogs, I snagged them whenever I could.

For an embryonic film buff in the pre-video era, these catalogs were far more educational and exhaustive than most available reference books, listing movies across the broad spectrum of cinema – everything from foreign art house fare to Hollywood "classics" to the most obscure drive-in programmers. It was in one of these catalogs that I first saw the listing for THAT MAN BOLT, and became obsessed with seeing it.

It only took me nearly thirty years…!

THAT MAN BOLT (1973) begins with international freelance courier Jefferson Bolt (Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, HELL UP IN HARLEM, BUCKTOWN, THREE THE HARD WAY) practicing martial arts in a Macao prison cell. Soon, he’s visited by a "government" operative (the nation involved is never named, but the agent certainly appears to be British), who offers him a job carrying a cool million in American currency from Hong Kong to Mexico City, via Los Angeles.

The suave, well-dressed Bolt never makes it to Mexico, though, as he’s waylaid in L.A. by mobsters that seem intent on snagging his briefcase full of cash. Soon, neither Bolt nor the audience is sure whether the money is real or counterfeit (and you know, I’m still not quite sure how it turned out), people are dying left and right, and Bolt’s on his way back to the orient for a kung fu confrontation in Hong Kong.

I love this movie. Can’t even begin to figure out the story, but I love the movie anyway. Fred Williamson’s always been my favorite Blaxploitation lead, and Jefferson Bolt is clearly his attempt at creating a more general-audience, mass-market hero along the lines of James Bond. Bolt is a former captain of U.S. Special Forces, graduate of Cal Tech and MIT with a master’s degree in physics, and a black belt in karate. He wears expensive suits, has several cool apartments around the world, uses telescopic sunglasses, and possesses an upscale persona right out of the Ian Fleming playbook. Even the sex scenes are handled tastefully off-screen, as in the early Bond films.

The pacing is fast, the Hong Kong photography is beautiful, the funky score is great, and the unbeatable combination of Williamson’s sideburns, Alpha male machismo and cigar-chewing charisma carry the film, even as the plot continues to deteriorate with each additional minute of running time.

THAT MAN BOLT is available on a "Soul Showcase" DVD from Universal, which presents the film in a beautiful, crisp 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with clear, Dolby Stereo sound. There are no extras included.

A great Saturday afternoon time-killer and a must-see for fans of "The Hammer."

BUY: That Man Bolt (Soul Showcase)