Five on the Black Hand Side
1973, Dir. Oscar Williams - 96 min. / Color / 1.85:1
Olive Films Blu-ray $29.95, DVD $19.95
Ah, the 1970s. Gotta love ‘em.
The beginning of the decade gave us the Blaxploitation genre with a series of comedy, horror, and action films for the urban theatre and drive-in trade, so naturally, a nice family-type comedy seemed a relatively safe bet. Charles L. Russell adapted his 1970 off-Broadway play for the honors.
Tyrannical father John Henry Brooks browbeats his wife (whom he calls “Mrs. Brooks”) and attempts with little success to bully his young adult children, two sons who can’t get along (one is too much like his father, the other’s intent on being a radical and who lives on the roof with the pigeons) and a daughter, who’s marrying a man insisting on a “traditional African” wedding. Got all that? Well, hang on: Mrs. Brooks has decided to become a liberated woman, upsetting the family dynamic and causing havoc down at the barber shop owned by Mr. Brooks.
A fun movie that, while very much of its time, still has something to say about family, race culture, and relationships. Mr. Brooks (Leonard Jackson) is all bluster but you know it’s because that was the only way a Black man of his generation could be a successful entrepreneur; Clarice Taylor as his wife is wonderful as the “awoken” woman who decides it’s time not to be treated like a part of the furniture; and Bonnie Banfield, D’Urville Martin and Glynn Turman are excellent as the children. Ja’Net Dubois (Willona on TV’s Good Times) is a hoot as the militant friend of Mrs. Brooks, while somebody named Sonny Jim steals the show as “Sweetmeat,” the fast-talking barber shop visitor who is so hilarious they made him the star of the film’s trailer, too. (He’s the guy who says “You've been Coffy-tized, Blacula-rized and Superflyed -but now you're gonna be glorified, unified and filled-with-pride... when you see Five on the Black Hand Side!"
Sweetmeat: “I may not be the baddest man in the world, but I’m in the top two and my father is getting old!”
Nobody’s going to present this is a great movie, a contemporary review in the N.Y. Times called it “modest but meaningful” and it’s nice to see a family-rated comedy (it was PG back in its day) tackle some of the issues it tackles, with a good sense of humor about it.
The Olive Films Blu-ray includes English sub-titles and a very funny trailer; the film itself looks and sounds very good and one hopes it’s successful enough that more of the Black-themed films of the early ‘70s join it on the movie shelves.