Monday, December 10, 2007

The Irresistible Force

Here's one of the few men's adventure heroes of the '70s who actually was adapted to motion picture form. Unfortunately, the film version of BLACK SAMURAI was directed by Al Adamson, who never made a good movie in his life. Few are even watchable, which is about the best you can say for Adamson's 1977 film, which has also been seen as THE FREEZE BOMB and BLACK TERMINATOR. I don't believe it has anything to do with any of Marc Olden's Black Samurai novels, and the version I saw was cut for television, missing some violence, swearing and nudity. Which is, of course, the only reason anybody's watching BLACK SAMURAI in the first place.

What's great about BLACK SAMURAI is Jim Kelly, who, then and now, is probably Hollywood's best choice for the character. The high-haired black martial-arts star (ENTER THE DRAGON) scraped the bottom of the action barrel when he signed on for this cheap, confusing adventure filmed in Hong Kong. As D.R.A.G.O.N. agent Robert Sand, Kelly chases sinister Satan-worshiping druglord Janicot (Bill Roy), who has kidnapped his girlfriend Toki (Essie Lin Chia), who also happens to be the daughter of a prominent Chinese ambassador targeting Janicot's crime reign for extinction.

With a bigger budget and a better director than hack Adamson (BLAZING STEWARDESSES), this adaptation of Marc Olden's series of BLACK SAMURAI pulp novels could have been fun, since it does sport plenty of exotic locations, beautiful women, kung fu, campy villains and even a midget. But Adamson, who made bad movies in nearly every genre, can ruin almost anything, and not even Kelly, who actually is livelier than usual this time, can convince your eyes to stay open.

As for the books, Olden wrote eight of them in 1974-1975. The second, THE GOLDEN KILL, is a great adventure filled with action, romance, violence, exotic locations and powerful villains. There is no D.R.A.G.O.N., of course, in the novel. Instead, Sand works for The Baron, who is actually William Baron Clarke, a former President of the United States who uses his wealth and his influence to battle evil from his Texas ranch. His one operative is Robert Sand, who goes up against millionaire Print Drewcolt's plot to use a virus to wipe out millions of Red Chinese and blame the Russians. That way, he can sign a $40 million gold mining contract with China that Russia is first in line for. Drewcolt's #1 henchman is Talon, a cruel assassin whose modus operandi involves stripping his victims nude and standing them in the dark, damp courtyard of Drewcolt's English castle, where he sends his vicious trained hawk, Rajah, to rip them apart.

THE GOLDEN KILL is a terrific novel, and leads one to wonder why Adamson didn't adapt it, rather than creating a (much worse) story from scratch. Actually, one wonders about most of Al Adamson's filmmaking choices.

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