You know how in movies, sometimes, there will be another movie shown on a television in the background, or one of the characters will be watching it? It’s common for these prop movies to be old public domain flicks, or, if the director is feeling particularly ambitious, something cobbled together just for that movie. Think Angels with Filthy Souls from Home Alone. That wasn’t a real old noir flick that Kevin was watching on the TV. It was a fake, a part of the scenery, a piece of cinematic cliché meant to set the mood.
Today’s shitty movie, The Guy from Harlem, has that same kind of feel. It feels like a deliberate attempt to fake a bad 1970s blaxploitation flick. The print that’s available for streaming, as of this writing, is a transfer from a badly worn 35mm print. Pops and scratches abound, the color is as washed as I’ve ever seen in an old film, and there are many, many missing frames. It feels readymade as a movie within a movie, only it was a legitimate production. Barely.
From 1977, The Guy from Harlem was directed by Rene Martinez, Jr., from a screenplay by Gardenia Martinez. The film follows private eye Al Connors (Loye Hawkins), a Harlem native who has moved his agency to Miami. There, he is contracted by the CIA to guard Mrs. Ashanti (Patricia Fulton), the wife of an African president, for twenty-four hours before she is due to meet the Secretary of State. Ashanti is under threat of abduction from local druglord Big Daddy (Wayne Crawford). Connors hides her in a hotel, takes care of some bad guys who try to kidnap her, then, the hotel no longer being safe, sleeps with her at one of his girlfriend’s apartments.
The movie sets this up as the main plot, but it’s not. Rather, this flick is divided neatly in two. As soon as Connors and Ashanti are done having sex, that’s the last we see of plot #1. Presumably, Ashanti is delivered safely to the State Department, although viewers never see an actual resolution.
Plot #2 is another kidnapping plot. In this one, the daughter of Big Daddy’s rival in the drug trade, Harry de Bauld (Steve Gallon), has been successfully kidnapped. The price for her return is 500,000 bucks worth of cocaine and a quarter million in cash. De Bauld hires Connors to make the exchange.
Wanda de Bauld (Cathy Davis) is being held in a shack somewhere in the boonies, and Connors shows up to free her. He doesn’t bother with the exchange, as he’s super righteous about the drug trade, so he just kills a bunch of bad guys so he can free Wanda. Then he takes her to his girlfriend’s apartment and has sex with her. I don’t know what Connors’s old lady did to deserve such treatment, but it’s hilarious.
This sets up a final confrontation with Big Daddy. Karate fight, denouement, fin.
The Guy from Harlem is an extraordinarily bad movie. Every scene is dripping with blaxploitation tropes, which is no bad thing when done well. Connors is a tough hero who takes no shit, especially from whitey. Whitey is virulently racist in this film, for that matter. And, as is a common disease in many movies, the women in the film are turned on by being rescued from certain rape. As film has tried to teach us over and over and over again, nothing turns on women more than almost being raped, or the death of a close family member. At least it’s handled in such silly fashion that one can only laugh.
There are people in this movie who speak lines, but calling it acting is a stretch. It feels very first take, and that’s because there’s nary a scene where at least one performer doesn’t flub a line. The only member of the cast who had any sort of career after this flick was Crawford. Everyone else disappeared from the business so thoroughly that they don’t have headshots on IMDb.
Then there is the fight choreography. Martial arts was a big deal in the 1970s, especially in blaxploitation films. The fights in this flick are a pale imitation. They play out more like kids tussling in the backyard.
Everything about this film — the poor quality of the print, the strange script, the lowest common denominator use of damsel in distress and blaxploitation tropes, the acting, the fights, etc. — combines to form a glorious package of total shittiness. This is not a very watchable bad movie. But, it’s a prime example of a movie where the only thing they got right was managing to finish it and get it released. I salute Rene Martinez and company. This film, in its incompetence, is as rare a jewel as the most beloved and well-made films of all time. It’s almost worth watching just to see how not to make a movie. Almost.
The Guy from Harlem takes over the #416 spot in the Watchability Index from Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.