Friday, June 1, 2018

FEATURE FRIDAY: BLACK SAMURAI (1977)

   It's been awhile between movie reviews here; so time to get back to work for some Summertime action! 😃 For those of us of the Gen X persuasion, this meant Friday Night and Black Belt Theater at the drive-in. And always a good time to bring a date, especially if the action involves a damsel-in-distress. Any girl worth her salt is going to enjoy that.

   But relationship advice aside, we're bringing to the table this weekend a martial-arts film which was quite a hit during the late Spring/early Summer of 1977: The Black Samurai. The film was based (albeit rather loosely) on Marc Olden's 1975 novel, The Warlock. Fans of Olden's Black Samurai novels bristled at a few liberties that the producers took with the subject; but Jim Kelly was a perfect fit for the title character. And overall, it was a solid action film where Kelly's exceptional karate skills were put on full display.

    In the film, Kelly plays Robert Sand, a.k.a. The Black Samurai. Herein, Sand is an agent of the Defense Reserve Agency Guardian of Nations, or DRAGON. Sand has just finished up a tough assignment and is enjoying a vacation in sunny Acapulco when his superiors track him down for another mission. Sand is reluctant, but agrees when told that his girlfriend, Toki (daughter of his teacher Master Konuma and played by the unbelievably sexy Chia Lin) has been kidnapped by a vicious cult headed by The Warlock (played by Bill Roi).

    The Warlock runs a compound in a remote tropical area which also serves as his hub for narcotics, prostitution, and arms-trafficking. Victor Chavez (played by Roberto Contreras) heads his security force. He's kidnapped Toki because her father has been working with the UN to shut down the Warlock's operations. Sand knows that, as a brother-Samurai, Konuma will never submit to the Warlock's demands. Thus it becomes a race against the clock to save Toki. 

     This film is 82 minutes of almost non-stop action. It has some of Jim Kelly's most famous fight scenes and really cool clip of him flying to Chavez' villa with a jet-pack. One of my all-time favorite Kelly lines occurs when he meets Chavez for a fight.

     "Let's see if you're as good as they say you are," Chavez says, drawing a knife.

      "I'm better." Sand replies confidently.

     Like a lot of Kelly's other films, Black Samurai was marred by bad editing. The voice-dubbing during the fight scenes is especially bad. There are also a few scenes that seem 'cut-and-pasted' where they don't belong. But---martial arts films are usually never Academy Award material anyway. On the plus side, this film was shot in Haiti and used actual Voodoo practitioners for some of the cult-scenes. The drop-dead gorgeous Regina Carroll also has a memorable dance-scene. 

    Overall, though, for a production company on a shoestring budget and writers taking liberties with a storyline, Black Samurai isn't too bad. In fact, it's pretty good. Jim Kelly storming a castle full of devil-worshipers to rescue a lovely Japanese princess? It's hard to get much better than that!

    Black Samurai gets ⍟⍟⍟ 1/2 out of four stars. 



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