September 16, 2015
TCM Underground this week: ‘The Mack’ (1973) and ‘Three the Hard Way’ (1974)
In the demilitarized zone that was THE MACK‘s filming location, production on the film became as wild and potentially fatal as the narrative itself, leading to the murder of Frank Ward and one of his prostitutes mid-production while the two sat in his idling Rolls Royce. (Actress Carol Speed, who appears in the film as the prostitute Lulu, had a personal relationship with Ward during filming and was so unnerved by his murder that she fled to Kentucky and accepted a role in the low budget THE EXORCIST ripoff ABBY (1974) just so that she could get away from the West Coast.) Trouble arose also in the self-destructive behavior of the third-billed Pryor, whose unfettered cocaine use made him an unreliable and often unavailable team player, and who once during shooting had to be restrained by costar Julien from going after producer Bernhard with a sock filled with ball bearings. With Julien acting as a middle man between the Panthers and the now crumbling Ward empire, production was completed at a cost of $250,000, with the premiere of THE MACK occurring in Oakland and used as a fundraiser for the Black Panthers’ philanthropic free breakfast for children campaign.
THE MACK struck a nerve with the black community, who saw in it less of the wish fulfillment of such so-called Blaxploitation classics as Shaft (1971) and Super Fly (1972) and more of a much-needed dialogue between the fractious halves of African-American society… with Julien’s hustler Goldie articulating the desire for success by any means necessary as the best revenge against an oppressive society and Goldie’s militant brother Olinga (Roger E. Mosley) stumping for the Panther platform of pride and accomplishment through purity and purpose.
The script for THREE THE HARD WAY keeps its protagonists on the far side of righteous, solid citizens all (a record producer, an entrepreneur, and a martial arts expert all accustomed to the finer things in life), who must pool their resources to oppose a maniacal white supremacist (THE ROBE’s Jay Robinson) poised to taint the nation’s water supply with a toxin lethal only to Afro-Americans.