The Mack The Movie Review
11:29PM on December 13, 2008
Mack, The (1973)(Widescreen) (DTS)
Most young adults are familiar with Willie Hutch's timeless track "Brothers Gonna Work It Out" through the Chemical Brothers' extensive sampling of the classic funk song. But before its bass licks graced the big-beat dance floor, "Brother's" was the theme song to the blaxploitation classic simply known as The Mack. Starring Max Julien as a pimp extraordinaire, this low-budget 1973 drama ranks alongside Shaft, Superfly, Dolemite, and Foxy Brown in the genre's highest echelon. Long hard-to-find, The Mack is now back in a tricked-out DVD edition from New Line Home Video, which finally gets this cult favorite its due.
The Greatest Pimp of All Time
Julien plays Goldie, a recently released ex-con who's spent the last several years in prison cooking up a master plan — to become the greatest pimp Oakland's ever seen. He wastes little time, gathering some of the California port's sexiest ladies for his harem-for-rent and employing his old partner-in-crime Slim (Richard Pryor, who, despite above-the-tile billing on the box, is barely in the film) to manage his operation. This riles Goldie's brother Olinga (Roger E. Mosley, who went on to play T.C. on Magnum, P.I.), a black-power activist who's dedicated to cleaning up the streets. In one of those alliances found only in blaxploitation movies, the two join forces to clean up the streets — or, at least, the streets where Goldie's 'hos ain't walkin', ya dig?
Like many of its contemporaries, The Mack suffers from a scattershot story line. Some scenes — as when Goldie attends a "Players' Ball" much like the one in American Pimp — border on comedy. Others, as when he brainwashes his stable of hookers via an audio-visual show at a planetarium, are downright creepy. However, the film is packed with enough style, attitude, and action to make the farm report funky, and it's always watchable.
While it doesn't quite get the deluxe treatment that Goldie would've wanted, The Mack DVD offers two solid extras to entertain blaxploitation fans and educate the uninitiated. The top dog on the extra tip is the documentary "Mackin' Ain't Easy." Mainly film outtakes and talking-head interviews of the now-aged Julien, director Michael Campus, and other crew members, "Mackin'" chronicles the production behind the The Mack. We learn that the film was shot with the help of Frank Ward of the Ward Brothers, who were to 1970s Oakland what The Krays were to 1960s London. The Wards' participation brought the production into conflict with the Black Panthers, who were trying to reduce crime in the area through any means necessary. It's a fascinating 40 minutes, spiced up by newsreel footage of the involved fictional and real-life personae, countless stories that seem too crazy to be true, and a breakdown of the soundtrack recording sessions with Hutch himself.
The commentary track — which features Julien, Campus, and producer Harvey Bernhard as well as actors Annazette Chase, Don Gordon, George Murdock, and Dick Anthony Williams — is similarly informative, but yet somehow lacking. To their credit, the participants' comments never lag. However, that's because their words were spliced together from pre-recorded interviews, a technique that allows the dead air to be edited out, but doesn't have the spontaneity of a live commentary track. There also seems to be too much emphasis on Julien's comments — which is understandable, given his verbosity.
Even though the box promises a theatrical trailer, the commentary and featurette are the only extras on The Mack DVD. The disc does boast a remastered soundtrack in Dolby Digital 2.0, 5.1, and DTS versions, and the original mono audio is also included for comparison purposes. The film's murky, grainy 1.85:1 widescreen image isn't nearly as impressive, but that stems more from the original shoestring cinematography than the print quality. Still, The Mack stands as a testament that, given enough determination, a few filmmaking brothers can work it out.