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Hammer/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< Hammer

Not on the map as one of Blaxploitation’s most noted entries, Hammer (an appropriation of football favorite Fred Williamson’s nickname) is both an early indication of the path that the new African American male would take in American cinema, and a well done vehicle: a pointedly “black” (the “jive lingo is unrelenting) A-list studio release in which a sports star makes an impressive film debut.

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As B.J Hammer, a warehouse worker turned boxer, Fred Williamson excels. Attractive; “I was deemed a ‘pretty boy’ so I had to learn how to defend myself early on,” agile; two years for the Oakland Raiders and two years for the Kansas City Chiefs, and comfortable in front of the camera; Williamson was Diahann Carroll’s boyfriend on the TV series Julia, the athlete-turned-actor delivers on all fronts. If proof be needed Hammer was only the first of a string of Fred Williamson starring vehicles that included The Legend of Nigger Charley, Black Caesar and That Man Bolt.

Aiding and abetting Hammer, in and out of the ring, is Hammer’s beauteous “main squeeze” Lois (Vonetta McGee), world weary trainer Professor (Mel Stewart) and bodacious former girlfriend Mary (Nawana Davis). On hand in support roles are exploitation film staples D’Urville Martin (Dolemite), Bernie Hamilton, William Smith, and Elizabeth Harding.

An explosive car chase, shootouts, a harrowing ambush, dialogue that pushes ethnic boundaries; “let’s relax and just go get some ribs(!)”, location shooting, and a series of well executed, low-budget fight sequences make a stark and memorable impression. Released four years before Rocky, there’s no doubt that Hammer served as a template for Sylvester Stallone’s celebrated, entertainment industry entre and franchise.

What exactly does “selling out” mean, especially when it’s applied to a working class black man? Is one’s participation in illicit activities acceptable when there are no other options? What is more valuable in inner city communities; material possessions or street cred? Hammer asks these questions without apology—and without providing the answers. A film made with respect for the audience it was created for.

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Josiah Howard lives in New York City. His writing credits include articles for The New York Times, The Village Voice and Motion Picture. Currently he is adapting a previously published work for the big screen. A veteran of more than one hundred radio broadcasts, he is a regular contributor to the film review website Grindhouse Cinema Database and in 2014 was featured in five episodes of TV One's award-winning documentary series Unsung.
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