The 70’s were a time of huge changes in just about everything, especially film. So let’s talk exploitation here, the word exploitation means to exploit something or some situation. Theater exhibitors wanted titles on marquees that would draw in patrons. Blood, sex. murder, mutilation and racism would draw the crowds in. But would the dreaded “N” word wind up on a marquee? Yeah, it would. 

In 1972 a western was released by Paramount. “The Legend of Nigger Charley”. Woody Strode was going to be cast in the lead. That didn’t happen. Woody was an established character actor. His short appearance in “Once Upon a Time in the West” , not only netted him 10k, it opened the door for Woody to work in Europe. So writer/producer, Larry Spangler, cast newcomer Fred Williamson in the lead. 

This was Fred’s first starring role. New director, Martin Goldman was at the helm. Also cast was D’Urville Martin as Toby, Don Pedro Colley as Joshua and John P Ryan as a slaver and Joe Santos as a crazy preacher. Here’s a kick in the ass, the film is rated PG. Obviously, critics shit all over the film. Even Native Americans were outraged over a scene where Indians met the escaped slaves, then rubbed them to see if the black rubbed off. 

Also, it seemed every other word was nigger. The reviews were negative at best. Don Pedro Colley said in an interview that “racism is just a part of life and trying to erase that point in time would be pointless.” He also felt that the media was sensationalizing the film and making it more controversial than the movie really is. 

The plot is that Charley is about to be freed before a slave auction. His friends Tobey and Joshua are ready to escape. Houston (Ryan) catches Charley with his girl and rips up his paper. Charley is beaten and locked up. Tobey frees him and he beats Houston to death. Now they have a slave catcher after them. They get to a town and the sheriff asks them to leave. They tell him that they are tired of running. 

 The sheriff is gunned down by the slavers. Good action sequence as the threesome wipe out the slavers. The boys get approached by a farmer, who is dealing with a crazy “reverend.” He wants to hire their guns. They refuse. Along the way they pick up a young kid who is fast with a gun and an old man who claims to be a Blackfoot. The farmer’s wife is on Charley’s mind, so the go back. Three of the ‘reverends” men show up and try to rape te wife. Charley guns down two of them and send the 3rd with a message to the reverend. The reverend and his gang attack, another really good battle, but Joshua and others get killed. Charley and Toby ride off at the end.    Supposedly this ran on network TV as “The Legend of Black Charley”. I never saw it, but I realized something: broadcast TV would cut words like shit, hell, damn, bastard and son of a bitch, but nigger was left in. When the western, “There Was a Crooked Man”. was run on TV, all the cursing was cut out, but the line “ You work like a nigger all your life was left in. 

You’re left to wonder why was that? Were the networks trying to inflame racial tension, or was that just acceptable in that time period. A year later, exhibitors would salivate over Greydon Clark’s first film, “Nigger Lover”. But Charley would be back in 1973’s “The Soul of Nigger Charley”. D’Urville Martin was back as Charley’s sidekick.

This time out the film was rated R. Confederate holdouts have a “plantation” in Mexico and are rounding up former slaves. They wipe out small towns and loot them. Larry Spangler directed this one. Another man of mystery as there is zero information out there about him. Charley and Toby arrive in the burnt out town and find two survivors, a young boy and Marcellus, a guy who can use a bow and arrow. 

After hearing about the Colonel’s plantation, they rob 100,000 that was going to the confederates. But they are captured by Sandoval, (Pedro Armendariz Jr.) who is going to sell them to the Colonel (Kevin Hagen). A slave is sent to Charley with a message that if the gold isn’t returned, they kill a slave every hour. Charley offers Sandoval the gold if he helps free the slaves. 

Another really good battle with the Confederates getting wiped out. Charley’s love interest, Elena (Denise Nicolas) is shot in the back by a dying Reb. Typical 70’s downbeat ending. I was managing The Livingston Drive-in in 1973. The chain, General Cinema, owned most of the drive ins in New Jersey. Films were booked according to population dynamics. 

The double bill of “Legend of Nigger Charley” and “Soul of Nigger Charley” were booked at the Union Drive in as it was close to Newark and Irvington. So what became of these films? 

Obviously Paramount was embarrassed by these films, but they did make money. I found both films on a bootleg DVD from Blax DVD. “Legend of Nigger Charley” is from and edited VHS tape, and by edited I mean all the cursing is edited out, but nigger is still there. You don’t know how stupidly this plays out. That son of a Bleep is a nigger. Get the picture? The disc is terrible , full of drop outs and white outs.

“Soul of Nigger Charley” was obviously film chained off of a washed out print. The color is gone, but it isn’t edited or censored, the print just looks like shit. You even get a couple of jumpy splices. These films need to get a decent release. Yeah, they are a time capsule of early 70’s film, yeah, they will trigger “today’s woke, pc or overly sensitive modern audiences” . Well suck it up, pussies, this is the way it was and I make no apologies for telling it like it was. So was this the end of Nigger Charley? Not really.

Fred Williamson wrote a sequel, “Boss Nigger”. Fred said this when the film got a DVD release. “ I used the “N” word to create sensationalism at the box office. All three films were successful and made money. You have to remember that all who used that word against me in those films regretted it. I personally approve this title and the song with the dialogue intact” Fred Williamson 2008. 

I’m guessing that legally Fred couldn’t use the Nigger Charley name. So here, he was Boss. D’Urville Martin was back, this time he was Amos. Veteran director, Jack Arnold ( Creature from the Black Lagoon) was hired to direct. Veteran character actors R.G. Armstrong was the crooked mayor and William Smith was Jed Clayton, the main bad guy.

Boss and Amos are bounty hunters. Amos tells the mayor that “…being that you white guys had so much fun hunting down us niggers, we figured it might be fun hunting down white folks”. After killing an outlaw, Boss find a telegram that a sheriff’s badge is waiting for the outlaw. So the two go to town, take over the sheriff’s office, and appoint themselves sheriff and deputy.

Williamson throws some humor in as Amos arrests and fines white folk for being rude. The school marm, Miss Pruitt, (Barbara Leigh) has more than a passing interest in the Boss. That whole scene is weird as in some scenes, she dresses provocatively and in others, she dresses like a prude. But the Boss had rescued a black woman , Clara Mae, from Clayton’s gang. She is the woman he is interested in. 

Jed kidnaps Clara Mae to lure boss out. Boss gets lassoed and drug around. Then Jed pistol whips him and shoots him in the hand. They tie him to a post. Amos knocks out Clara Mae’s guards and frees Boss. Boss gets stitched up at Miss Pruitt’s house. Jed is coming into town, so they plant some dynamite to welcome him. 

Jed and crew stop in a bar, the same bar where Boss told Clara Mae to hide in. Jed finds her and she breaks a bottle over his head. Jed guns her down. As they loot the town, Boss and Amos set off the dynamite. Boss is a killing machine. Of course he and Jed have to beat the shit out of each other. Hey, with Bill and Fred in the mix, you need a fight. 

Boss shoots Jed, who won’t go down. “Go to hell, nigger, Jed screams. “That’s Mister Nigger”, Boss yells back, then shoots him in the head. Walking out, the mayor shoots him twice. Boss throws a knife that hit’s the mark.  “Get me outta here”, he tells Amos, “ I don’t want to die in a white town. The fade out has the Boss Nigger song playing as the credits roll.

Sadly all the major players from these films are gone. Fred is still with us at age 85. Fred wrote another western, “Joshua” 1976 and Larry Spangler directed. Larry only directed six films “The Last Rebel”, “Last Escape of Billy the Kid”, “Soul of Nigger Charley”, “A Knife for the Ladies”, “Life and Times of the Happy Hooker”, and “Joshua”. Not much is know about Spangler.

Ok, these films mirror the mores of the 70’s, no fuckin apologies for that. The real problem I have is that they are good action films with interesting characters. And that being said, they should be seen, and not these shitty prints that I watched. So here’s the thing, which one of these vanity boutique DVD companies has the balls to blu ray both films? 

And please, don’t tell me that they are too racist. Someone just released Lee Frost’s “The Scavengers” and “Hot Spur” and you don’t get anymore racist than those two films. In fact, “Scavengers” is a lot more offensive than either “Nigger Charley” films. So my boys, step up to the plate and take the 42P challenge: Put these suckers out. 

Pete Chiarella

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