Death Journey review by Tom Blain

Cheap even for blaxploitation

You may consider yourself a connoisseur of 70s cinema. You like something with a funky beat, an afro, and goldfish boots. When Shaft wasn't cool enough, you reached for a nose full of Superfly. Dig it? Sweet Sweetback's Badassssss Song was just sweet enough, but what happens when you suck out all the sweetness? You can go back to the Shaft sequels, including Shaft Goes to Africa, but its something new you crave. Shiiiiiiit. The doctor (and I don't mean Doctor Detroit, and that is no connection to Detroit 9000) has your cure. A heaping does of Fred Williamson as Jesse Crowder should cure your ails. You have four Crowder flavors to chose from, Death Journey, No Way Back, Blind Rage, and Last Fight, but remember: it all began with Fred Williamson's directorial debut Death Journey.

Bit of Background. Fred Williamson (born in Gary, Indiana) graduated from Northwestern University and went on to become a pro football cornerback. His brutal hits earned him the nickname "The Hammer." After his football career ran dry, 10 years later, he tried his hand at acting. Luckily for him, he landed a role in the successful (both audience-wise and critically) Robert Altman film M*A*S*H. After M*A*S*H he began to etch a name for himself as a prominent blaxploitation actor. He starred in such films as Boss Nigger, Mean Johny Barrows, Bucktown, and Black Ceasar. Over time he became as synonymous with the genre as Richard Roundtree, Pam Grier, and Jim Brown.

Death Journey, as mentioned above, is the first Jesse Crowder film and the first movie directed by Williamson. Crowder is a private detective who shoots from the hip and asks questions later. He is very similar in look and style to John Shaft (shutcho mouth!). When there is a job too dirty for whitey's baby soft hands, they call on Crowder.

In Death Journey the mission is to transfer an informant from Los Angeles to New York safely within 48 hours. The side assignment is to lay as much pipe as possible in the meantime. Crowder is one smooth cat and he knows how to treat a lady. Crowder and Finley (the fat lazy informant) are faced with bad guy after bad guy (and occasionally bad girl; which he also nails) and Crowder takes care of them all with a bad ass attitude. The 3000 mile journey is covered on foot, in several cars, on a bus, in a train and finally over in an airplane. Within 76 minutes he scores with 7 different women, including two at the same time. That is a pace that Wilt 'The Stilt' Chamberlain couldn't hang with! He doesn't discriminate based on race or nationality but only the beauties will do.

The best quote in the movie comes after he discovers one of his conquests seeks to kill his informant. "I ain't gonna kill you baby. Youre too good in the sack. I'm just gonna bruise you up a bit." Then he tosses her off a moving train. Brother is COLD!

Now that I have built up a bubble let me burst it on you. The movie is a little out of touch, and a little chaotic. Scenes are hard to follow and shots are put together haphazardly. The music (while cool as Neapolitan, baby!) is monotonous. There are about 3 different R&B drum and bass beats that are repeated for the 76-minute duration. Crowder has 48 hours to get from California to New York, but for the first half of the movie he is still trying to get out of L.A., and for the next half it looks like they cut-out shots in order to race to the end (i.e., they take off in a plane from Chicago to New York, the plane is in the air, the plane lands, no action in between). Finally most shots drag on for about 10-20 seconds longer than they should. As Crowder takes off in his copper, hoopty, Continental limousine the camera captures the shutting of the door and continues as the car stars, drives off, reaches a stop sign, and takes a right turn (in slow motion). None of this information is important. It doesn't lead us any better into the next scene than just cutting off at the closing of the door would.

I got the DVD as part of a 10-disc set for $17 so I shouldn't complain too much. My copy is 76 minutes and I noticed somewhere there is a 90-minute version. Maybe its a little more cohesive, and maybe the sound and picture are cleaned up a little. I would assume this movie had quite the limited budget so there is little that Fred Williamson could do. Its not the first movie I would recommend of the genre, but it has a few entertaining moments if you take it for what it is.




2 out of 10 Jackasses
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