Thursday, March 22, 2012

THE SLAMS

Former NFL superstar Jim Brown was not only a legendary football player, but a genuine movie star. What he may have lacked in classical training as an actor, he more than made up for with natural charisma, quiet dignity, conviction, good looks and a formidable screen presence. Several of his 70s features have just been issued as manufactured-on-demand discs from Warner Archive, including the 1973 prison drama, THE SLAMS.

Curtis Hook (Brown, TAKE A HARD RIDE, SLAUGHTER) and two accomplices rip off a mob drug deal for $1.5M before having a falling out among themselves, leaving Hook wounded and his partners dead. Hook hides the loot at an abandoned amusement pier, and then heads off to get medical attention. Unfortunately, he's losing a lot of blood, and is picked up by cops as he weaves all over the road in a stolen van. Although the cops suspect he was involved in the heist, they can't prove it without the money, so he's charged with possession of a illegal firearm and grand theft auto and sentenced to five years in "The Slams." There, Hook soon finds himself unwillingly caught up in the internal power struggle between the black convicts and the white (led by hulking Ted Cassidy of THE ADDAMS FAMILY) inmates and the target of a corrupt prison official with designs on his dough. But even with all that plus a mob contract out on his life, Hook's holding his own pretty well, until he discovers that the stash where he hid the cash is due for demolition. Obviously, now he's going to have to break out of prison and retrieve it - but it's not going to be easy.

Directed by Johnathan Kaplan (TRUCK TURNER, BAD GIRLS) and produced by Gene (brother of Roger) Corman for MGM, THE SLAMS is a enjoyably tough 70s crime melodrama with Blaxploitation elements. As Hook, Jim Brown is both emotionally taciturn and physically violent, and anchors the movie with his strong presence. Supporting Brown is a fine cast of talented character thesps (including Judy Pace of COTTON COMES TO HARLEM and Frank DeKova, THE MECHANIC), and the cinematography by a young Andrew Davis (director of CODE OF SILENCE, ABOVE THE LAW, and THE FUGITIVE) is suitably gritty. The script is fairly routine and predictable, but it moves at a good pace and is never boring.

Never before released on home video (not even on VHS), the Warner Archive MOD edition of THE SLAMS sports a solid, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sourced from a decent print. Colors and details are strong, and print damage/dirt is minimal. The 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is more than satisfactory. As a bonus, Warner Archive has included the original theatrical trailer at 1.33:1.

THE SLAMS is not necessarily a "lost" Seventies crime classic, nor is it the best example of Big Jim's action oeuvre. But it is a violent, well-made pro potboiler with plenty of lurid thrills and an effective lead performance. If you're a Jim Brown fan, it's definitely worth checking out.

BUYThe Slams