Monday, March 6, 2017
BLAXPLOITATION MONTH: Hammer (1972)
Fred Williamson. Like Brown, Williamson got his start in football before taking a shot at acting. Also like Brown, Williamson would become a permanent fixture in the blaxploitation genre, acting in different genres and decades, but always associated with soul cinema of the seventies. As a football player, his nickname was “The Hammer.” Perhaps not coincidentally, his first starring role was in a film about someone also nicknamed “Hammer.” Go figure. While many of Williamson's other starring roles are regarded as cult classics, “Hammer” has slipped a little to the wayside. Let's see if that's deserved.
B.J. Hammer is not a football player but a boxer. Actually, he's not even that at first. After beating up an attacker at his job as a dock worker, Hammer is recruited by a trainer to become a boxer. What B.J. doesn't realize is that his agents and trainers are associated with the Mafia. Each fight he wins was planned that way. He attracts a certain level of fame, enjoying the life of a minor celebrity and falling in love with a woman named Lois. After discovering that he's been in the mob's pocket all along, Hammer's new friends are endangered. Soon, the Hammer has to survive the greatest fight of his life.
At least, he does great when the action is conveyed clearly. Weirdly, the boxing scenes in “Hammer” are very poorly shot. Compared to the dynamic boxing sequences in the “Rocky” films or “Raging Bull,” the fights in “Hammer” come off as incredibly stiff. The boxers awkwardly mill around the ring until one falls over. What makes this even odder is the other action scenes in “Hammer” are quite good. A car chase between the cops and a drug dealer is extremely kinetic, the camera frequently mounted to the top of the vehicles. A fight with some thugs ends with the dramatic sight of a bottle being smashed over a goon's head in slow motion. Even stranger is that Williamson is not present in either of these scenes. Which suggests “Hammer's” director - "Galaxy of Terror" helmer Bruce D. Clark – wasn't quite sure what to do with his leading man.
William Smith as Brenner. Sporting a smooth mane of hair, Smith plays the villain as a sadistic psychopath, a clearly unhinged mad man who enjoys hurting people. Just for extra mileage, “Hammer” also throws in a mostly unimportant subplot about the drug trade. There's very few expected elements this one doesn't hit.
“Hammer” seems unsure about what to do with its star, sticking him in a part that doesn't quite suit him and only utilizing Williamson's natural strength for ass-kicking a few times. It's awkward balance between crime flick, boxing movie, and ghetto drama doesn't lead to the most satisfying mixture. Having said that, a few scenes make me like the movie anyway. Like Smith's amusingly over-the-top performance, that car chase, and the hilarious love scene. The unsteadiness explains why “Hammer” is not the most highly regarded Fred Williamson feature. Nevertheless, the Hammer would become a black box office star, even if the film sporting his nickname could have been a lot better. [6/10]
[THE BLAXPLOITATION CHECKLIST: 10 outta 12]
[X] Afros or Sideburns
[X] Brothels or Pimps
 Churches or Pastors
[X] Funky Soundtrack
 Homophobic Caricatures
[X] Inner-City Setting
[X] Night Club Act
[X] Plot Involving Drugs or Organized Crime
[X] Racist Authority Figures
[X] Sticking It to the Man
[X] Sweet Love Makin'
[X] Use of Street Slang