Hell Up in Harlem (Larry Cohen / U.S., 1973):

An offshoot from Black Caesar, opening with the original's final reel as a reminder of its virtuosity and as a means of reconsidering its implications. That Larry Cohen filmed it on weekends during the It's Alive shoot should be seen not as a rushed decision to cash in, but as thematic elucidation -- It's Alive's surgery room makes an appearance as Fred Williamson's gut-shot kingpin takes over Harlem Hospital, he's the fanged baby bringing the monster out of his upstanding father (Julius Harris). Williamson's got dirt on the corrupt district attorney (Gerald Gordon), he recuperates while Harris tries out underworld waters, much to his liking ("If momma could just see us now"). Gloria Hendry, a holdover from the original, takes to turning tricks on 42nd St. once her kids are taken from her, the freshly unscrupulous Harris orders her demise; Williamson gives his father control of his crime world and moves to California with Margaret Avery, until a coup led by his own enforcer (Tony King) brings him back to Harlem. Cohen can create a film out of nothing, the speedy and startlingly direct style leaves a trail of brisk hammer blows: The killing of a chauffeur turncoat drags in Japanese gangsters for a melee capped with a superb overhead shot (cf. The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond), cartoon blood trinkles for a frame or two as a mobster gets speared while sunbathing on a Dixie-adorned towel, Williamson and his gang crash a mafioso's bikini party, where the zooming camera catches the smiles of a duo of gun-toting Aunt Jemimas who feed their employers chitlins and black-eyed peas. The creator-creation tension is further felt in the star's glorying in the character's brute ambition versus the director's ironic critique of it, a tension that enriches such moments as the preposterously rousing airport chase, or the hero's concluding promise to love his son "like I did my daddy," a "happy ending" soaked in Cohen's dissonance. With D'Urville Martin, Bobby Ramsen, and James Dixon.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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