|Flying Squirrel Boxing Productions|
|The KO Picture Show|
|Presents. . .|
The tag line... 'Hammer... is a black explosion!' THAT'S the best they could do?! How on Earth did they NOT go with '... he's gonna nail you, sucka!'
Have you ever sat through a movie and just wondered to yourself, "How the HELL did this ever get made?" That certainly was the case for yours truly at about the one hour mark of this 90-minute cinematic vision known as "Hammer", starring Fred Williamson.
Actually, the "HOW" is answered easily enough. This was produced at a time when the tide of blaxploitation was beginning to crest. "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" and "Shaft" had come out the year before, signaling the artistic, didactic, and, most importantly, the economic merit of this genre. A quick flip through IMDb shows that the producers of "Hammer" had stuck mostly with horror as their principle means of exploitative entertainment, but they obviously could see that there was money to be made with this type of movie.
Given the "quality" of this particular entry into the genre, it's not hard to imagine a sort of "clipboard checklist" method of production...
1. "Do we have a cool nickname for our, as yet, uncasted titular hero?"
CHECK! - "Originally we were leaning towards "Axe" or "Crowbar", but we've decided to stick to our 'tool shed motif' and go with 'Hammer'. Nice and short. It'll look good on the posters."
2. "We've got the name... do we have a good looking young man to play him?"
CHECK! - "Fred Williamson is available. He's also willing to go shirtless for roughly 2/3rds of our running time. That'll save on wardrobe."
3. "Excellent. In that vein, do we have any women willing to go shirtless?"
CHECK! - "Yes. We've got 4 women willing to be filmed in various states of undress. In fact, one seems unwilling to put any clothes on at all. Maybe we can cast her as a stripper of some sort."
4. "Good, good... okay... do we have a Caucasian villain?"
CHECK! - "I think you're gonna be very happy here boss... we managed to get in touch with William Smith's people. They said as long as he's allowed to wear his weight in leather and denim, they'll make sure he's available for the shoot."
5. "William Smith? Fantastic! You see 'CC & Company'? Good stuff! Moving on.. you mentioned wardrobe... do we have enough for the whole cast?"
CHECK! - "Yes sir, some of the ugliest outfits known to mankind. We have one genuine pimp suit, with cane. We also have a large selection of horrifically tight jeans and velour shirts. Unfortunately, none of the buttons work on the shirts..."
"That's fine. Mr. Williamson can wear them. Any other wardrobe available?"
"We do have an inordinately large amount of boxing trunks and gloves."
"Boxing trunks? Hmmm.. Can we make 'Hammer' a boxer? Does Fred Williamson know how to box? For that matter, does anyone in our cast have any boxing background?"
"None that I know of, sir."
"Alright.. we'll have to think about it.. moving on..."
6. "Do we have any decent locations available to shoot in?"
CHECK! - "I'm talking to the location scout... seems we have a warehouse and.. well that's funny. We also seem to have a boxing gym and arena available."
"That clinches it! 'Hammer' is a boxer! Okay.. okay.. we're looking good here! Can you think of anything else that we'll need?......."
Two glaring omissions would be "script" and "fight choreographer" (which I'll get into later in "The Fightin'" section). Trying to summarize what happens in the movie would just be silly, not to mention, a little insulting to my sense of entitlement. Why should I bother to write out some semblance of a story when the "writer" obviously felt no need to extend that same courtesy to his audience? The screenplay seems to follow the same "frugal" nature that my imagined pre-production checklist above abided by. Honestly, who needs a plot? Hammer is good, if a little misguided. "THE MAN" is pulling all the strings, but of course Hammer doesn't realize it until it's almost too late. There's a heroin sub-plot that goes absolutely nowhere. Just an excuse to have a car chase* and set some stuff on fire. People call each other "jive turkeys". "THE MAN" is kept in perpetual shadows, never revealing his face (with an obviously dubbed in voice for added unintended comic effect). He can only be described as an "absentee antagonist", as he's on the screen for all of 2 minutes (one minute at the beginning, one minute at the end), yet all of the ill will directed towards Hammer and his brothers and sisters is attributed to him. Why are William Smith and his gang of meanies beating everyone up? Because "THE MAN" told him too. Why is everyone who expresses even the slightest contrary views immediately killed? "THE MAN" says it must be!
Still, amongst all of this slapdashery and a distinct non-attention to detail, there were moments of inspired lunacy. And I feel that 3 characters in particular managed to capture what can only be regarded as an aligning of the stars, or what they call "kismet", that could have only taken place in a movie such as this, and only in a time such as the 70's. First, during a unrelentingly 70's-ish club scene we have the FIRST EVER on screen appearance of one Fred "Rerun" Berry, poppin' and lockin' his heart out a full 4 YEARS before hanging out with Dwayne and Raj! His screen time is fleeting, but inspired.
Next we have 2 gentlemen who were also making their feature film debuts. The first is Al Richardson, who plays a black militant who calls Hammer out at a party for being a puppet of "THE MAN". I would normally just chalk it up to the writer trying to fulfill his "blaxploitation cliché quota", but Mr. Richardson is so vehement in his denouncing of Hammer that I wondered if they'd found him protesting the ACTUAL "MAN" somewhere and just decided to cast him on the spot. But I see that he had other credits in the future, so obviously "THE MAN" didn't manage to keep him down.
And that brings us to our final subject, a thought-provoking character known simply as "Bruiser", as played by Juan "John" de Carlos. Bottom line: Bruiser is a mentally iffy brute of a man who lives at the boxing gym, sleeping on a cot near the heavy bags and basically giving everyone who trains there the willies. Bruiser also confronts Hammer about his duplicitous "MAN"-abiding ways (and eventually he serves as a 6-foot-5, 400 lbs. 'Deus Ex Machina' when William Smith and his cronies show up at the gym to do some more of "THE MAN'S" bidding). I have to say... I wouldn't be surprised if the filmmakers DID actually find Mr. de Carlos wandering the streets of Southern California, bug-eyed and sweaty, screaming
"I'M BRUISER! GIVE ME THAT CHEESEBURGER!" at those passing by. Either that, or he's a method actor on par with Marlon Brando.
The Fightin' - 1 - 2
You honestly have to wonder if anyone involved in the movie had even SEEN a boxing match at some point during their life. It's all bad news, from the complete lack of fight choreography to the extremely questionable training sequences (Why would only one person be wearing headgear during a sparring session? Maybe because, inexplicably, the guy hitting the speed bag is wearing the only other one available?) The fight cinematography was of the "right in the action" variety, wrestling around with the combatants, giving me motion sickness in the process.
Things didn't improve much in the "Big Fight Finale". There were a handful of staged punches that ALMOST worked, but it was all overshadowed by some of the most ridiculous fight trauma I've ever seen! I'm guessing they only had enough money for one "special effects treatment", so Williamson got the honor of being uglied-up. Basically they slapped a greenish-brown latex appliance on his left eye and called it a day. One minute Hammer is fine, then cut to the corner and he looks like an alien. The funniest part was how his corner man still wanted to give the appearance of patting at his "swollen eye" with a wet sponge, but they didn't want to actually TOUCH the piece of FX wizardry. So he just "air-sponged" it, dabbing at an area about a good inch away, obviously making no contact whatsoever. The only thing keeping this from being a "1 Count" is Fred Williamson's awesome 70's-era trunk and robe. I'll take the "nut-huggers" of that time period over the ridiculous satin culottes of today every time.
Overall Rating - 1 - 2
There was a real recklessness about the entire production: Continuity errors (within the first 5 minutes!), unintelligible dialogue, editing-via-hatchet or other blunt objects within reach, obvious non-actors in pivotal roles, plot points dropped and never picked up again, Fred Williamson's visible panty lines (those were some snug slacks!). And the most bizarre part is that there was a definite inkling of "sequel" at the end of it all, like they felt this "Hammer" would be an enduring character. One could almost argue that this was all a set-up in order to GET to a sequel. That all the dropped plot points and the absolute refusal to reveal who "THE MAN" was and why he does what he does was, in fact, intended. But that would be almost unimaginable. I refuse to give the filmmakers that much credit.
|Starring: Fred Williamson|
|"Reviewing the best (and worst) in Pugilistic Pictures!"|
|By The Way...
* The car chase scene showed that no one was immune to the "who cares?!" nature that permeated the entire production. At one point the chase changes from paved back alleys and surface streets to some dirt paths, but this didn't phase the sound editor. He kept the "squealing tire" sound effect going throughout.