Hell Up in Harlem is an entertaining sequel to Black Caesar even with some changed characterizations
5 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
So a couple of days after I watched Black Caesar on Hulu, I got my Soul Cinema Double Feature DVD and saw the movie's sequel there: Hell Up in Harlem (by the way, Cotton Comes to Harlem was the other feature). Like the movie serials of long ago, this follow-up ignores some of the details of the last one (like the fact that after Tommy Gibbs is shot, he dies when a group of ghetto kids beat him up). Also, the father as played by Julius Harris wasn't someone who admired his son's lifestyle in the previous one yet here he seems to relish the chance to be his son's partner. One more thing, it seems convenient that D'Urville Martin's crooked preacher of the first one is suddenly reformed as a real one here though he goes back to his previous characterization soon enough. Anyway, this time the villain is district attorney DiAngelo (Gerald Gordon) who seems to want Gibbs real bad to the point of willingly taking Tommy's ex-wife (Glora Hendry) with him when she tells him about those ledgers that was a plot point in the previous movie. I'll just stop there and say that despite the contradictions inherent between both movies, I enjoyed this one perhaps a little more due to more action (clumsly as some of it is) and less of a serious tone. Certainly the revenge scenes of the respective villains in both movies provide some sort of catharsis to anyone who suffered through many of the stereotypical characterizations of African-Americans from previous years. I have to admit though that some of the scenes of Tommy and his "son" border on the cheezily saccharine. Good thing they're very brief. In summary, Hell Up in Harlem is a bit more fun compared to its predecessor even though writer/director Larry Cohen was involved with both. And while the songs by Edwin "War" Starr aren't as good as those of James Brown in the predecessor, they're okay. So, yeah, that's a recommendation. P.S. The trailer presented with the movie has an extra scene in which female black maids and members of an Italian mob are singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" with Williamson saying, "Isn't America great?" Amusing stuff though I can see why it didn't end up in the movie.
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