The Mack (1973) Cinerama Releasing Corporation/Crime Drama-Action RT: 110 minutes Rated R (language, strong violence, nudity, sexual content, drug references, adult situations) Director: Michael Campus Screenplay: Robert J. Poole Music: Willie Hutch Starring: Max Julien, Don Gordon, Richard Pryor, Carol Speed, Roger E. Mosely, Dick Williams, William C. Watson, George Murdock, Juanita Moore, Paul Harris, Kai Hernandez, Lee Duncan.
One of the quintessential blaxploitation classics from the early 70s, The Mack is not only a riveting action/crime flick, it's also a social commentary about life in the ghetto. For those who don't know, a "mack" is defined as a conspicuously successful pimp. That's the profession of the film's main character, Goldie (Julien, How to Be a Player), who's just been released from prison after serving a five year stretch. What was his crime? Drug dealing and being black. A shoot out with rival dealers results in Goldie getting trapped under a car and two racist cops, Hank (Gordon, The Final Conflict) and Jed (Watson, The Sword and the Sorcerer) debating whether to save him or shoot him dead right there and then.
Goldie returns to his hometown of Oakland, California and immediately gets back into the crime business, he becomes a pimp at the behest of another "player" (somebody involved in the pimping business) who tells him, "A pimp is only as good as his product-and his product is women!" He visits his brother Olinga (Mosley, Unlawful Entry), a black militant leader who urges Goldie to join his cause and rid the neighborhood of all the pushers and pimps (wouldn't that be a conflict of interest?). He visits his mother (Moore, Paternity) who pleads with him to stay out of trouble. Goldie hooks up with old friend/sidekick Slim (Pryor, Stir Crazy) and enter the "game" with a bunch of fine looking "bitches" (prostitutes), including Lulu (Speed, Abby), an old childhood friend of Goldie's. It doesn't take long for Goldie to be one of the top players on the street, but he does have his enemies who want to bring him down and/or take him out. Hank and Jed continue harassing Goldie, a rival pimp Pretty Tony (Williams, The Jerk) is seriously competitive and his old boss Fatman (Murdock, Certain Fury) wants him to come back and work for him again. To paraphrase Hustle & Flow (2005), it's hard out there for a pimp.
The Mack depicts a young man with no prospects for a legitimate job, Goldie's black and he's been to prison, the only career choice he has is crime, he can either deal drugs or women. That's actually applicable to most of the ghetto's residents, when Goldie first runs into Lulu at a neighborhood bar, he tells her that he always thought that she'd be a doctor or lawyer, she replies that her race prevents her from doing something like that. Pimping (or macking) seems like a great career choice, another player tells him, "You're going to make a wad of cash so big, your pockets are gonna look like they got the mumps!" He ends up making about $3000 a week, even his women walk the streets of a very poor neighborhood. When it comes to business, Goldie is completely serious. When Lulu gets assaulted by a customer, he yells, "I don't give a s**t what happened to you!.......get back out there and git me my money!" What's interesting about this movie is the role of the pimp in the community. Goldie is a criminal whose flashy lifestyle looks appealing to the children in the community, the kids all drop what they're doing and run up to his expensive car when he pulls up. He hands out cash while advising them to stay in school and choose a legitimate career. Pimping is a highly competitive profession, it gets downright ugly at times. In one scene, Goldie and Slim snatch up a rival pimp and lock him in his car trunk with a bunch of rats. Another part has one of Pretty Tony's women leaving him to work for Goldie, naturally he objects to this and threatens Goldie, this leads to one of The Mack's most famous lines, "You know the rules of the game, your bitch just chose me. Now we can handle this like you got some class, or we can get into some gangsta s**t!".
However, the business does have its perks, like the annual Player's Ball where the "Pimp of the Year" is named. Movie geeks will remember that this sequence was spoofed in the 1988 comedy I'm Gonna Git You Sucka!. It was the scene where Fly Guy (Antonio Fargas, Starsky & Hutch) recites an original poem "The Bitch Better Have My Money!" It's hilarious to watch these guys strut around in some really wild outfits......the long fur coats, the big hats, the very colorful suits and the gold-tipped walking sticks. There's also a Player's Picnic where the pimps and prostitutes play softball and drink beer, it could almost be mistaken for a family picnic. Max Julien is quite good as Goldie, he's a young man with no hope, many factors prevent him from doing anything else........his incarceration, the rampant poverty of the ghetto and the social norms (of the time) regarding race and class. Mosely is also very good as Olinga, who obviously despises his brother's career choice and lifestyle. Goldie represents everything that he and his militant brothers are trying to expel from the community. Gordon and Watson are great as the two racist cops who are just looking for an excuse, any excuse, to send Goldie back to jail. At one point, they kill a fellow cop (also black) who calls them on their corruption and their brutal, sadistic methods. Another good performance comes from Moore, she's obviously a good mother who loves her son. Willie Hutch provides an excellent score, it's that funky R & B music from the 70s that I really like. There's some really cool quotable dialogue (as you can see) and the story moves along nicely, there's even some cool action scenes. In one scene, Goldie and Slim force a rival pimp to repeatedly stab himself with a knife before they strap him to a chair along with a bomb. In another scene, Goldie kills some thug by injecting him with battery acid.
The Mack is very obviously dated, watching it almost 40 years later, some of the movie is pretty funny. Society has come a long way since 1973, it gives The Mack some historical significance as the viewer observes the social structure of the time. Like I said, there weren't that many options for black people from the ghetto. They couldn't afford to send their kids to college and, as a result, a lot of them turned to crime as a source of income, getting arrested and sent to jail was just part of the job. In blaxploitation flicks, the bad guys were usually white, like the two racist cops and Goldie's former boss,, they represented a collective group known as "The Man". It was "The Man" who kept their people down and forced them into crime. The system was obviously designed for white people, so people like Olinga started black militant groups as a way of standing up for their race and creating their own system. These are a few of the observations that I made while rewatching this flick, but I'm not supposed to be writing a term paper on history, this is supposed to be a review of the movie. The movie itself isn't very well made from a technical viewpoint, the cinematography is shoddy and it's very obviously a low budget production, it lacks the polish and style of a movie like Shaft (1971). The story is pretty interesting and the director keeps the flick moving along at a decent pace. However, the movie is pretty uneven and seems uncertain of what it wants to be, a socially relevant drama or a kick-ass action flick. Nevertheless, the cool quotient is pretty high and it's one of the better blaxploitation flicks. The Mack still has a pretty strong cult following and I can see why. The characters are memorable and the dialogue is priceless, the movie does it's job and holds the viewer's interest. It's a solid three-star movie!