Black Samson


1h 27m 1974
Black Samson

Brief Synopsis

Samson is a nightclub owner who does all he can to keep his neighborhood free of drugs and crime. When mobster Johnny Nappa tries to cut in on his territory, Samson uses his martial arts skills and his pet lion to fight back.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Action
Crime
Drama
Release Date
1974

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 27m

Synopsis

Samson is a nightclub owner who does all he can to keep his neighborhood free of drugs and crime. When mobster Johnny Nappa tries to cut in on his territory, Samson uses his martial arts skills and his pet lion to fight back.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Action
Crime
Drama
Release Date
1974

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 27m

Articles

Black Samson (1974)


Film critics caution spectators from labeling all Black films of the 1960s and 70s, “Blaxploitation.” The late era Black Samson, however, is a quintessential film from the genre, rife with campy dialogue by Daniel B. Cady and Warren Hamilton Jr., funky music by Allen Toussaint, hyperbolized martial arts-inflected violence, pan-African ethos and aesthetic – and most important, mythic Black heroism.  

The figure of Black Samson is an American icon. His lore begins before the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Mid-eighteenth-century court records in colonial America reveal that a number of enslaved African men were named after the Biblical hero – though, as historians note, slaveholders did not necessarily intend to connect the enslaved person to their Biblical namesake. The Old Testament does not describe Samson as Black. It doesn’t specify his eye color, skin color, hair texture or phenotype. Nevertheless, 19th century abolitionists began to enlist the Biblical Samson in their cause and cast him as a Black man, applying his story to racially charged issues in the United States. In fact, by the late 19th century, the term “Black Samson” was used as a reference to the collective strength of freed African Americans. The Black Samson symbol was constructed as a vengeance fantasy for plantation oppressions and atrocities, making it nearly perfect source material for Blaxploitation cinema, which, as a genre, relishes in the racial revenge plot line. 

Black Samson tells the story of a nightclub owner named Samson (Rockne Tarkington) who tries his best to keep his Black neighborhood clean of drugs and crime. A viciously racist white mobster, Johnny Napa (the prolific William Smith), tries to take over the historically Black territory. But Samson defends his turf – using his quarterstaff (reminiscent of American soul musician Isaac Hayes’ important 1971 album, “Black Moses”) and pet lion (likely representative of the symbol of Rastafarianism, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, referred to as the “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah”). The film, like many Blaxploitation films, is an allegory for the legacy of slavery and colonization: the encroaching white gangster representing the slaveholder or brutal colonizer, the Black hero representing Black peoples’ righteous defender.

Rockne Tarkington plays the title role in a coiffed Afro and an airy dashiki, remaining confident, cool and collected in the face of his adversaries. Tarkington was the first Black actor to be credited on The Andy Griffith Show and the only African American to ever have a speaking part on the series. He was the first choice for a key role in the cult classic, Enter the Dragon (1973), but was replaced by Jim Kelly shortly before the start of production. Following on the heels of that movie, Black Samson mobilizes similar Kung Fu elements, illustrating the influence that Asian cinema had on popular Blaxploitation films. 

Black Samson was directed by famed stuntman Charles “Chuck” Bail, also referred to as “the Hollywood man of action,” who served as the stunt double for Max Baer Jr. on The Beverly Hillbillies and for Peter Breck on The Big Valley. He played various criminal henchmen on the Batman TV series and served as the stunt coordinator for several Richard Rush films. Bail made his directorial debut in the waning days of the Blaxploitation era. In addition to Black Samson, he directed the frenetic and over-the-top sequel Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975), which reprised Tamara Dobson in the title role from the earlier Cleopatra Jones (1973). He also directed Gumball Rally (1976), which preceded the similar but more famous The Cannonball Run (1981). In Black Samson, spectators see the world through a stuntman’s eye, particularly with the textured shots of a remarkable car chase scene that ends with boldly choreographed fisticuffs.

Though not one of the most cited Blaxploitation films, Black Samson should be. It is a time capsule not only of an important American cinematic style but of a bygone cinematic politic. Released after the Civil Rights Movement, toward the end of the Black Power movement and in the last days of the Vietnam War, it is a prescient warning of the 1980s drug era that would pave the way for the less fantastical, more sobering Black urban films of the 1990s.

Black Samson (1974)

Black Samson (1974)

Film critics caution spectators from labeling all Black films of the 1960s and 70s, “Blaxploitation.” The late era Black Samson, however, is a quintessential film from the genre, rife with campy dialogue by Daniel B. Cady and Warren Hamilton Jr., funky music by Allen Toussaint, hyperbolized martial arts-inflected violence, pan-African ethos and aesthetic – and most important, mythic Black heroism.  The figure of Black Samson is an American icon. His lore begins before the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Mid-eighteenth-century court records in colonial America reveal that a number of enslaved African men were named after the Biblical hero – though, as historians note, slaveholders did not necessarily intend to connect the enslaved person to their Biblical namesake. The Old Testament does not describe Samson as Black. It doesn’t specify his eye color, skin color, hair texture or phenotype. Nevertheless, 19th century abolitionists began to enlist the Biblical Samson in their cause and cast him as a Black man, applying his story to racially charged issues in the United States. In fact, by the late 19th century, the term “Black Samson” was used as a reference to the collective strength of freed African Americans. The Black Samson symbol was constructed as a vengeance fantasy for plantation oppressions and atrocities, making it nearly perfect source material for Blaxploitation cinema, which, as a genre, relishes in the racial revenge plot line. Black Samson tells the story of a nightclub owner named Samson (Rockne Tarkington) who tries his best to keep his Black neighborhood clean of drugs and crime. A viciously racist white mobster, Johnny Napa (the prolific William Smith), tries to take over the historically Black territory. But Samson defends his turf – using his quarterstaff (reminiscent of American soul musician Isaac Hayes’ important 1971 album, “Black Moses”) and pet lion (likely representative of the symbol of Rastafarianism, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, referred to as the “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah”). The film, like many Blaxploitation films, is an allegory for the legacy of slavery and colonization: the encroaching white gangster representing the slaveholder or brutal colonizer, the Black hero representing Black peoples’ righteous defender.Rockne Tarkington plays the title role in a coiffed Afro and an airy dashiki, remaining confident, cool and collected in the face of his adversaries. Tarkington was the first Black actor to be credited on The Andy Griffith Show and the only African American to ever have a speaking part on the series. He was the first choice for a key role in the cult classic, Enter the Dragon (1973), but was replaced by Jim Kelly shortly before the start of production. Following on the heels of that movie, Black Samson mobilizes similar Kung Fu elements, illustrating the influence that Asian cinema had on popular Blaxploitation films. Black Samson was directed by famed stuntman Charles “Chuck” Bail, also referred to as “the Hollywood man of action,” who served as the stunt double for Max Baer Jr. on The Beverly Hillbillies and for Peter Breck on The Big Valley. He played various criminal henchmen on the Batman TV series and served as the stunt coordinator for several Richard Rush films. Bail made his directorial debut in the waning days of the Blaxploitation era. In addition to Black Samson, he directed the frenetic and over-the-top sequel Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975), which reprised Tamara Dobson in the title role from the earlier Cleopatra Jones (1973). He also directed Gumball Rally (1976), which preceded the similar but more famous The Cannonball Run (1981). In Black Samson, spectators see the world through a stuntman’s eye, particularly with the textured shots of a remarkable car chase scene that ends with boldly choreographed fisticuffs.Though not one of the most cited Blaxploitation films, Black Samson should be. It is a time capsule not only of an important American cinematic style but of a bygone cinematic politic. Released after the Civil Rights Movement, toward the end of the Black Power movement and in the last days of the Vietnam War, it is a prescient warning of the 1980s drug era that would pave the way for the less fantastical, more sobering Black urban films of the 1990s.

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1974

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1974