New on Blu: He’s So Bad, They Call Him BOSS (1975)

The classic blaxploitation western arrives on Blu-ray from Kit Parker Films/SprocketVault

Editor’s Note/Real Talk: The following is a review of the Blu-ray release of the 1975 blaxploitation film entitled Boss Nigger, and that’s the first and last time we’ll explicitly reference that title. It is the third in a trio of films that Fred Williamson and D’Urville Martin starred in together featuring this particular word in the title, and while it’s used here in an empowering context, it is in some sense a product of its era. We feel strongly that it is intellectually honest and historically relevant to acknowledge this title, but at the same time want to avoid carelessly wielding a slur that is both hurtful and offensive. We celebrate this film as an achievement in black cinema, and following the lead of this Blu-ray’s publisher, we will henceforth refer to the film as simply Boss.

Over 40 years after its release, it’s hard to view Boss in anything but a historical context, as so many aspects of its daring approach are representative of the height of the blaxploitation era. It’s hard to imagine this film being made or released today with such a controversial title, and certainly not theatrically. And yet its undeniable influence is clearly felt and directly referenced in modern films like Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven.

Boss seems like a somehow even more incendiary response to Mel Brooks’ already daring comedy Blazing Saddles from the year before, taking the idea of a black sheriff in the old west and pushing it even further, all the way past comedy and into a bold and dark satire. The film is indeed uproariously wild and funny, leaning hard into its title and anachronistic concept with an immensely catchy earworm of a theme song that I’ve had to be careful not to sing out loud, and humorous antics that thoroughly lampoon racism.

Fred Williamson and D’Urville Martin play a pair of black bounty hunters in the Old West who happen across a document that authorizes the carrier as an officer of the law. So they fearlessly strut into town and announce themselves as the new Sheriff and his deputy, much to the horror of the white townsfolk and their harried mayor (R. G. Armstrong).

While the film, which was written by Williamson, mostly plays for laughs, the plot eventually gets more serious as the corrupt mayor teams up with a gang of outlaws to get rid of the uppity Negroes who have sullied their town with their presence. The plot involves kidnapping and murder in order to flush out and destroy the two lawmen once and for all.

While Boss is largely writ comedic, it’s not afraid to be honest and get rough. Black men taking the law into their own hands in the old west is a humorous and cathartic concept that feels good to watch, but in the lens of real history, one doomed to failure. Without getting into spoilers, the film acknowledges this idea of fatalism and doesn’t carry through the jovial antics into the kind of happy ending that one might hope for or expect.

Boss is clearly a low budget production, and its attempt to recreate the Old West is met with mixed results. The sets, reused from Cheyenne Social Club, are solid, while the costuming is considerably less evocative — many extras sport contemporary blue jeans and colorful western apparel that lack the appropriate rustic aesthetic. Thankfully western great (and Peckinpah favorite) R. G. Armstrong lends a great deal of much-needed genre credibility with his presence as the baddie.

Boss is the third western-themed period picture starring Fred Williamson and D’Urville Martin, following up The Legend of N****r Charley (1972) and The Soul of N****r Charley (1973), causing many to consider it a trilogy capper. From what I’ve read, at one point it was developed with that consideration, but the film doesn’t play that way — it’s more comedic in tone, and perhaps more tellingly, both characters go by different names. Whether you prefer it as a sequel or not, the important takeaway here is that Boss absolutely stands on its own and in no way requires knowledge of the other films to be enjoyed or understood.

All in all, Boss is a terrifically entertaining film, and a gleefully wild time capsule of the height of ‘70s black empowerment and blaxploitation fearlessness. This one is one of a kind, folks.

The Package

Long-awaited, Boss comes to Blu-ray from Kit Parker Films/Sprocket Vault, distributed by MVDvisual. The publishers have, in my opinion wisely, opted for a reversible cover featuring the censored, shelf-friendly title by default, with the option of the original poster art on the reverse. The combo pack includes a DVD, sporting modified artwork from the earlier VCI release.

The picture quality is generally good, though sporting inconsistent brightness and color saturation. But considering Boss’s low budget origin and limited appeal, not to mention that it’s nearly a miracle to get this film on Blu-ray in the first place (good luck finding legitimate, watchable versions of the “Charley” movies), I feel very satisfied, blessed even, with its presentation here.

Special Features and Extras

The Blu-ray ports over the legacy extras from VCI’s earlier DVD release; including interviews with Writer/Producer/Star Fred Williamson and Associate Producer (and UCLA Professor) Myrl Schreibman.

A Conversation with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (27:11)
Fred sits down for an career-spanning interview discussing his approach to acting and producing, as well as his days doing television and pro football.

“Jack Arnold Tribute” (3:50)
Myrl Schreibman remembers director Jack Arnold, whose other credits include Creature From the Black Lagoon, It Came From Outer Space, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, among many others.

“A Boss Memory” (7:54)
More than the title suggests; Schreibman recalls the film’s origins and a handful of both humorous and serious anecdotes from the film’s making and casting.

Original Theatrical Trailer (2:30)
Also included is the famous trailer, though in rather poor quality (not as nice as the high definition scan you may have seen elsewhere, e.g. 42nd Street Forever).

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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