[box cover]

Hell Up In Harlem

At the end of Black Caesar (1973), gangster Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson) is beaten to death by a gang of homeless miscreants, seemingly killing the possibility of a sequel. But when the picture was a heavy grosser for its company AIP, a dead main character was not going to get in the way of a quick buck. Rehiring director Larry Cohen and star Williamson from Caesar, the sequel had a tough road ahead, as both had other projects going — Cohen was directing It's Alive, and Williamson was in California working on That Man Bolt, and shortly had to leave to shoot a film in Europe. With a studio impatient to make money, only weekends available for shooting, and Williamson stuck for the majority of the shooting schedule in L.A. (for a picture mostly set in New York), one could then say that 1973's Hell Up in Harlem is a good movie — under the circumstances. The opening sequence, which tries to make the end of Caesar sequel-able, has admirable energy: Gibbs tries to dodge the cops that set him up, yet is stuck running around New York with a bullet in his belly trying to find safe harbor. There is urgency to this, carrying the film through its first half-hour, where Gibbs gets his revenge. But by the middle, when Gibbs' father (Julius Harris) takes the center stage after becoming the big boss (to cover Williamson's absence from the locations), the movie feels more and more like it was made up on the spot — an episode of grown men playing cops and robbers. As Hell up in Harlem is a sequel without purpose (it's not like there's any unanswered questions from the first film), there's no dramatic arc to the film, which amounts to Gibbs trying to get out of the racket but getting pulled back in by a corrupt D.A. (Gerald Gordon). That said, Cohen and Williamson handle it well under the circumstances. MGM's DVD presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with audio in DD 2.0 mono. The extras are solid, featuring a candid audio commentary by director Cohen, the theatrical trailer, and teaser trailer. Keep-case.

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