Mar 24, 2011
Shortly after Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and Shaft fly-away eminence, Hammer was released starring Fred "The Hammer" Williamson. His first starring vehicle and true to his nickname earned in major league football, Hammer remains one of the strangest and archaic forms of blaxploitation cinema around. Ideally, the term is attached to loose-lipped action packed films in which soul seeps from every possible orifice. Someone must have missed the memo with Hammer and what we are given is a tight-knit drama with brief shimmers of jive and an excellent William Smith as the villainesque character. B.J. Hammer is this cats name and brawling is his game, which is why local crime boss Big Sid recruits him to be a prizefighter for the mob. Things get sticky once they tell Hammer to throw a fight and once he refuses and they kidnap his woman, Hammer ponders on how to defuse the situation at any cost. Unlike most blaxploitation titles, you won't find any African aesthetic as per the standard of the later fare. Hammer is certainly no Slaughter or Truck Turner and this just goes to show how premature the idea of his half-cooked film really was. It must have been conceived by a mind that couldn't discern the value of these black action pictures and instead created a thematically white film with a very thin layer of Negro attitude - because that is the form that Hammer takes on.
That's not to say Hammer isn't worth watching, especially for blaxploitation completists. On the contrary, Hammer is filmed exceptionally well and is a very classy picture but without grand excitement or crude attitude which is what the genre is known for. Once the film picks up, mainly to say after the dock fight in which Hammer ditches a meat hook in order to plant his fist in the gut of a disgruntled worker, the film conjures up some of what makes these films so great. A scene I'm referring to is when the white mistress of Big Sid slips into Hammer's room as he rests and proceeds to try to seduce the bull. Once Hammer gets a phone call giving him a second chance with an Afro'd mama, he kicks Rhoda to the curb and leaves her to get beaten by the jealous and enraged Brenner, portrayed excellently by William Smith. Throughout the film, Brenner expresses his displeasure with the many Africans he works alongside. During scenes of torture, he wears a mask of intense satisfaction that makes his character "pop" off screen while the others simply settle into the dust. Hammer is sugar, spice, and all things nice. It doesn't contain any of Fred Williamson's later charm but does unite "The Hammer" with co-star D'Urville Martin - the two later went on to star in Boss Nigger, which, by definition, is black sensationalism incarnate. The inclusion of D'Urville Martin's character, Sonny, in Hammer is a steaming deus ex machina for further commenting on brothers selling out. The character only exists for B.J. to attempt to assimilate back into his low-income community after hitting the limelight, leaving them to slap his hand, disappear, then reappear by films end to give you the promised "Black Explosion".
"Looks like somebody gave you a good nigger whipping."
Hammer isn't the ideal introductory film for those uneducated in Fred Williamson, who later proves his worth with the sordid Black Cobra series and many other black oddities worth noting. Hammer definitely abides by Williamson's own credo of always getting the woman and never losing a fight - such Afro-narcissism goes a long way for spoiled entertainment. But in the end, Hammer delivers not a thing that we require of its company - not an explosion, nor a memorable soul soundtrack exempt from borrowing from Hayes. Hammer candidly gets by with its time-capsule aspect of a very young Fred Williamson doing very stale cinema. If you had any previous appetite for this film, your best bet would be to skip on further down his filmography in favor of fine dining. Hammer is a fossil in every way. Scenes of note are Fred Williamson playing father figure to his little fans in the street. It always tickles me to see hardened action heroes, known for murdering over such fickle things, kneel down and play role model to the "future business leaders" of America. Fred Williamson might be one groovy turkey but Hammer fails to hit the nail on the head, oh, please pardon that pun.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 3:20 PM
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