Hell Up in Harlem (1973)

HELL UP IN HARLEM (1973, Larry Cohen)

Dir: Larry Cohen - Cast: Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry, Margaret Avery, D'Urville Martin, Julius Harris, Tony King, Gerald Gordon

A sequel to the successful blaxploitation drama Black Caesar, hastily put together. After the unexpected success of the first movie, director Cohen was asked to come up with a blitz sequel. Problem was that both he and his star Williamson were occupied. Williamson was working in California on a movie called That Man Bolt while Cohen was busy on the East Coast, completing his own movie It’s Alive! The bulk of Hell Up in Harlem was shot over the weekends, with Cohen traveling from coast to coast, using all his imagination to construct a story and a movie.

The opening scene uses footage from the first movie, disregarding its bleak conclusion and changing the context of the assault on Williamson’s life. It is now suggested that the assault was masterminded by a corrupt District Atttorney and that Williamson survived the attack with the help of a few brothers. Using this new outcome of the first adventure, Cohen pieced together a frantic story of planes, trains and automobiles, with action up in the sky and down on the ground, Williamson running from one mayhem to another murder, kicking white ass wherever he goes and killing opponents by the dozens. When Williamson was not available, scenes were shot from his viewpoint, with a double filmed from behind. Julius Harris, who returns as Williamson's father, has a much bigger role now, carrying entire parts of the movie all by himself.

As a result this sequel is more action than drama, offering a collection of set pieces rather than a coherent narrative. The comedy (yes, there’s some) is rather tasteless, but there’s a funny scene in which Williamson is surprised by a white lady who knows karate. Not great, not all bad. Half good, 5/10


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