Sent to fight for America and mistreated by a stupid ass Lt whom Johnny punches out, a dishonorably discharged Johnny Barrow has to try to make his way in an America that was never for the black man to begin with. While much progress has been made (of course it has!), it seems our racial divide can respawn in a heartbeat and be just as critical as it was fifty years ago. Johnny is mugged, tossed in prison and only being recognized as a terrific ball-player saves his ass! This itself is such a subtle bit of cultural rot that it goes by without even a sniff. The black man has always been free to entertain us, and while the film doesn’t go down this particular rabbit warren, Johnny doesn’t seem altogether pleased to be recognized.

Since I’m kind of an Elliot Gould completist, I’ve had this film on my lists for years. Gould appears out of nowhere like a circus performer seeming to ad lib his role. We get some gold from Gould (is that name actually Gold??) and he’s gone in a moment, appearing just to save Johnny the ignominious moment of having to eat from a trash barrel. Thank you Mr. Gould.

Soon enough Johnny is recognized again and provided a meal. This time he’s also offered a job that he immediately susses as criminal. He declines and ends up working for a good old, standard American scumbag small-business owner, of which our nation is full of too many. He’s a gas station lackey cleaning toilets and scrubbing floors and getting screwed out of payment. Eventually you know this relationship has to end badly, and sure our hero is back with the cops getting beat up. The crime job is looking better all the time.

The Italian families (because all eye-talians are mobsters) are sparring over their flower shops (just like back in RI) and Roddy McDowell is the son of the Da Vinci’s (didn’t reach far for that Italian veracity!) and Johnny Barrow as the new muscle is supposed to help protect territory. Things immediately get out of hand and Barrows is right in the middle of it. Dueling double barrels blazing. Trying to do the right thing always gets you punished doubly. And the double cross is a solid kick to the crotch you see coming like a train. Just plain lousy circumstances all around.

Fred Williamson is excellent in this no frills role in a no frills film. It’s one of the first of his series of terrific action roles stretching through the 70s and building his prominence as respected actor and director.

Free on Prime my friends!

One thought on “Mean Johnny Barrow (1975)

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