Black Heat a.k.a. The Murder Gang a.k.a. Girl’s Hotel (1976): Breakdown by Kain424
A Las Vegas cop tries to shut down a criminal organization running out of a sleazy hotel. Funky music, cheap sets, and bad lighting ensue.
As the 70s progressed, the blaxploitation genre regressed. Rather than expand, the style quickly began sputtering into self parody and over-saturation. What was cool and unique only a few years before was quickly becoming silly and overdone. As young black filmmakers attempted to replicate what Gordon Parks had done with Shaft, it became apparent the genre was losing credibility.
Black Heat is one of the cheap knock-off type flicks produced during this era. Seeing how popular former NFL player Jim Brown had become in the genre, another former NFL player (and also a co-star of Jim Brown’s in Black Gunn), Tim Brown, was hired to play the lead. Brown had starred in Dynamite Brothers, and though that film hadn’t performed especially well, these types of movies were now being produced quickly and without regard to quality. Brown isn’t too interesting a lead, but I suppose he does alright.
The story is actually a bit more complicated than one would assume, with many characters and revelations. Brown plays a cop with an attitude (of course), who’s partner is killed in action. Partly for revenge, but mostly out of duty, he tracks down the baddies, going through every level in the villains’ organization on his way to the top.
The Action is clunky and amateurish, all shot poorly and frequently in too little light. The lack of care this movie has received over the years means no decent transfer is yet available. This, naturally, only adds to the visual impairment. Every turn of events is seen miles ahead of its occurrence and while the story (simple as it should be) is coherent, it’s done with such dragging, one wants to turn the thing off half way through. Things are not assisted by the woefully inappropriate funk soundtrack. I should not be bobbing my head to the soundtrack during a rape scene. Ever.
That being said, there are some nice things to say. There is a bit of a buddy-cop aspect to the first quarter of the movie, with our black and white heroes playing off each other in a way similar to the Mel Gibson and Danny Glover archetypes from Lethal Weapon. We are treated to a few decent explosions and some cheap-but-ok shootouts. Also, it’s funny to see West Side Story‘s Russ Tamblyn (he played Riff) be such a slimy prick of a bad guy.
[HOW BAD-ASS IS THE MAIN CHARACTER?]
Tim Brown is Kicks Carter
He’s pretty tough with his partner around, and even dual-wields a couple of revolvers in a gunfight. But while he can be cool at times, he’s barely able to hold his own in a one-on-one against a chunky Riff from West Side Story. So not exactly a bad-ass.
You could argue that he’s awesome because he takes down an entire criminal organization, but I would counter that he gets the help of a group of prostitutes, a lounge singer, a gambling addict, and a reporter. Not to mention the cooperation of the entire police department. Plus, the bad guys are running drugs and guns by plane in the middle of broad daylight, so they weren’t too bright to begin with.
[THE BODY COUNT: 15]
While not too great an experience, one can’t argue the film isn’t violent. People are shot and killed frequently enough to keep things going, and women are beaten often as well. Most of the deaths are caused in the shootouts, but there are also deaths from being run-over, impaled, and blown up. Tim Brown kills around 7 and almost all of the rest are bad guys killing other people. But it’s split pretty evenly, except for a deranged man who accidentally blows himself up with his hostage.
[MOST SATISFYING DEATH]
Ziggy, played by Russ Tamblyn, gets the best death. Not that it’s especially harsh, but because he’s so unrepentant even at the end. After a chase across rooftops and through a junkyard, Carter knocks Ziggy off a platform and onto a pile of junkyard rubble, where he is impaled upon a metal spike.
Despite dying, Ziggy grins and gives Carter the bird until he finally collapses. I thought it was pretty funny.
[DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO]
Our two cop characters aren’t necessarily gay, but they have an unusually close relationship. They pretty much ignore several poolside women just to look at each other and talk about everything but women. When the white guy dies, it’s up to Kicks Carter to avenge him, ignoring the guy’s former girl like she was just a side thing anyway. But that’s about it.
[EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY]
At first it seems like we’ll have a decent female side character in the black news reporter, as she straight up dismisses our hero early in the film. She’s cocky, resourceful, and even has her own backstory. This all comes to a halt about twenty minutes after she rejects Tim Brown’s advances. They bang and she slowly disappears from the film’s narrative afterward.
There’s another woman addicted to gambling, who bets her body in a poker game and loses her ass to four guys in an awkward rape sequence. She also gets raped by a lesbian later. Both times to uncomfortably fun funk music. Yay.
[EPIC MOMENT AND BEST ONE-LINER]
I’ve searched high and low for a one-liner in this (jive?) turkey, but to no avail. But here is my epic moment:
The bad guy is getting away, money, drugs and weapons in tow. He steals a plane and begins to take off. Kicks jumps into the passenger side of an unmarked squad car and is in hot pursuit, firing at his target all the way.
Finally, he hits the fuel tank, which starts a fire in the plane’s cabin, right where the weapons and ammo are stored. The blaze ignites the ammunition, which blows the plane up. Easily the coolest part of the whole movie.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Don’t run your illegal operations out of a known whorehouse or swap guns for drugs in broad daylight. These are stupid choices and you will get caught.
[THE CHECKLIST: 10 outta 25]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[ ] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[ ] Crotch Attack
[ ] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[ ] Heavy Artillery
[ ] Improvised Weapon(s)
[X] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[X] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[ ] Manly Embrace(s)
[ ] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[ ] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[ ] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[ ] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[X] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[ ] Torture Sequence(s)
[ ] Unnecessary Sequel
[X] Vehicle Chase(s)
[ ] Vigilante Justice