Billy Dee Williams and Jim Brown headline a pair of blaxploitation classics from director Robert Hartford-Davis
By now I’m accustomed to the knowledge that most blaxploitation directors, particularly on studio pictures, were actually white guys. Even so, it’s surprising to me to learn that Robert Hartford-Davis (Corruption) is the British helmer behind these two Columbia pictures from the early 70s, now available on a combined double feature Blu-ray from Mill Creek entertainment.
Both films feature great casts with a charismatic, recognizable lead (Billy Dee Williams, Jim Brown) and interesting supporting actors like Eddie Albert, Martin Landau, Bernie Casey, Brenda Sykes, Albert Salmi, Vic Morrow, and Frankie Avalon.
The Take (1974)
Billy Dee Williams stars in this seedy crime tale as veteran cop Terry Sneed, newly transferred to Paloma, NM. He immediately establishes himself as a great cop by taking quick action in foiling a violent getaway, pretty much right after stepping off the plane. He’s immediately ingratiated to a needy police force under the leadership of Chief Berrigan (Eddie Albert), but the good cop persona belies the truth: Sneed is a cop on the take.
The film rides a weird line, seemingly taking the position that he’s a corrupt cop, but a good one nonetheless: he agreeably takes money to protect the local gang boss (Vic Morrow), then betrays him anyway.
The film builds up to an eventual confrontation as Sneed leads an operation that ends in a multiple-chase action sequence, while foiling his own corruption investigation.
Despite the great charisma of Billy Dee Williams, the film is a little bland, and I had a hard time getting behind the protagonist’s corruption (which is never really challenged). The 70s Paloma setting is actually one of the movie’s best traits, offering a fun window into a specific time and place.
Black Gunn (1972)
The better film of the duo, Black Gunn actually released a couple years prior. Jim Brown stars as Gunn, a successful nightclub owner who lives a pretty charmed life and keeps to himself. But trouble comes calling in the form of his brother Scotty, a black militant. Scotty robs a corrupt business but bites off more than he can chew by also stealing their books. Books which implicate them by outlining proof of their crimes. Books which Scotty entrusts to Gunn for safekeeping.
Led by mob boss Martin Landau, the bad guys kill Scotty and set their targets on Gunn, putting him on the warpath and eventually teaming with the militants (led by Bernie Casey!) for a final confrontation.
Black Gunn is a satisfying revenge story with terrific cast, and easily the better film in this pairing. Martin Landau chews up the scenery as the big bad, and gets a worthwhile comeuppance in the action-packed finale.
Mill Creek’s double feature pairs both films on a single disc with no other features. Like many Mill Creek double features, it’s a solid value with a middling presentation.
Black Gunn fares better here, mostly looking pretty solid with nice clarity and textures. The Take, on the other hand, suffers from a lot of what appears to be a combination of scan noise and compression. The original elements also appear to be faded, giving the overall impact of being a bit washed up and yellow-tinged. This is a film that could benefit from some color correction.
Special Features and Extras
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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.