After SUPERFLY (1972) proved that inner-city East Coast drug dealers could make commercially viable movie heroes, it was time for West Coast pimps to have a crack at the box office. THE MACK is lacking in narrative drive and logic, but offers an entertainingly exploitative portrait of a
Freed from prison after nearly five years, Goldie (Max Julien) assembles an independent stable of prostitutes even as white druglord the Fatman (George Murdock) tries to employ his services. Dogged by the two cops who arrested him, both of whom are on the take, and despite his strong-willed
brother Olinga (Roger E. Mosley) preaching against crime in the community, Goldie pushes his girls hard and wins the coveted Mack of the Year award as best pimp.
But the Fatman is tired of being spurned, and plots to kill Goldie. Unfortunately for him, the tables are turned and the Fatman is instead seized and injected with battery acid. Then one of rival pimp Pretty Tony's (Dick Williams) girls switches to Goldie's stable, starting a feud between the
Macks. Goldie's mother is assaulted and beaten to death, after which Goldie retaliates by killing Pretty Tony with dynamite. But it turns out that the two corrupt cops had actually killed mom, after failing to frame Goldie for the death of a black cop whom they themselves had shot for threatening
to expose them. When the cops put Goldie on the spot, Olinga shows up unexpectedly to help him, and together the brothers kill the cops. Then a contrite Goldie hops on a bus out of town.
It goes without saying that the "bad guys" are all white (and all caricatures, including a giggling henchman and a cop who kneads a stone-faced prostitute's meaty breasts while rambling on about how he hates skinny chicks), and the sole honest cop is black. In the film's unique worldview, "bad
guys" means drug dealers, which Goldie is quick to condemn. As a Mack he is by contrast an honorable man, whose first whore, Lulu (Carol Speed) actually has to beg him to become her pimp and take care of her. He's quick to give money to the local kids, as long as they stay in school, get good
grades, and promise not to grow up like him. Of course, he's tough on his girls and won't take any guff, but then he takes them to a Mack picnic and even on a field trip to a planetarium--where they must recite an oath of loyalty to him while watching the stars.
Needless to say, realism isn't the film's strong point. But on the other hand, realistic atmosphere is exactly the film's strong point. The characters and conversations all have a ring of truth about them, some of the overlapping dialogue appearing improvised. The Mack Ball seems entirely
authentic, but then, there's a good reason for that. One of the final credits reads: "Our special thanks to all the Players who contributed so much to this picture," and the film is dedicated, "In memory of a man, Frank D. Ward" (he died during production), with the Ward brothers listed as
technical advisors. These are actual pimps who appear during the awards sequence, filmed at least in part at the real Mack Ball, a bizarre version of the Academy Awards with Macks and their coteries strolling down a red carpet from their limos, dressed to the nines in their finest furs and
feathers. The 1970s were a boom time for black criminal mythologizing, with writers like Iceberg Slim (aka Robert Beck) and Donald Goines turning their pasts as pimps and pushers, junkies and cons into popular books like Trick Baby and Street Players. THE MACK taps into that vein of otherworldly
exploitation perhaps better than any other film.
The meandering plot is really just a series of separate episodes with the thinnest of connecting tissue, as several parallel plot threads intersect randomly. Goldie simply decides one day to be the world's best pimp, and quicker than it takes to sing, "Goldie had it together/he had a master plan,"
he is. He has a sort of fairy godfather, a mysterious deus ex machina former boss who bankrolls Goldie's foray into Mackdom and shows up periodically thereafter to warn him of impending trouble. Late in the film, the scene suddenly jumps to Goldie in the Fatman's car, about to be murdered. For no
reason whatsoever, Goldie's sniveling sidekick, Slim (played by Richard Pryor in misplaced comic mode), stumbles by in disguise as a drunk, toting an accordion that conveniently fires bullets. Context and continuity clearly just don't enter into it.
What makes this ultimately silly and disconnected film work as well as it does largely comes down to the performances, all of which are convincing and rich in detail--at least those of the black leads (Pryor excepted). Dick Williams, excellent as Pretty Tony, is a skilled
actor-writer-director-producer who racked up a Drama Desk award and several Tony nominations while appearing in films such as DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975) and THE DEEP (1977) and starring as Malcolm X in the TV miniseries "King" (1978). Roger E. Mosley, founder and codirector of the Watts Repertory
Company, was featured in George Armitage's blaxploitation oddities HIT MAN (1972) and DARKTOWN STRUTTERS (1975) as well as numerous nongenre films, receiving high praise as the lead in LEADBELLY (1976), directed by Gordon Parks Sr. of SHAFT fame. And Max Julien, the Mack himself, was an alumnus of
AIP exploitation films (PSYCH-OUT, SAVAGE SEVEN), who went on to star in TOMASINE AND BUSHROD (1974) from Gordon Parks Jr., director of SUPERFLY (1972), and to create and coproduce CLEOPATRA JONES (1973). (Graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations, substance abuse, extreme profanity.)
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- Released: 1973
- Rating: R
- Review: After SUPERFLY (1972) proved that inner-city East Coast drug dealers could make commercially viable movie heroes, it was time for West Coast pimps to have a crack at the box office. THE MACK is lacking in narrative drive and logic, but offers an entertaini… (more)