Universal // 1973 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // February 22nd, 2005
The highest flyin', slickest, meanest dude you'll ever face is Jefferson Bolt...on the case!
Like Jim Brown, Fred "The Hammer" Williamson managed to take advantage of the blaxploitation craze of the early 1970s to parlay his football stardom into onscreen success. Although Williamson never had a breakthrough hit on the level of Superfly or Shaft, he still managed to become one of the most popular African-American action stars of the decade, thanks to solid genre efforts like Black Caesar and Bucktown. While That Man Bolt is ultimately a lesser Williamson film because of its previous obscurity, it really isn't a bad little picture at all, sitting somewhere right around the middle of Williamson's rßsumß. Made at the height of the genre's popularity, the film borrows liberally from Enter the Dragon and Shaft, casting the ex-jock as a dapper international courier who still manages to kick ass even with a briefcase full of cash handcuffed to his wrist.
Blackmailed over a phony murder charge by corpulent British agent Griffiths (Byron Webster, The Killing of Sister George), Jefferson Bolt (Fred Williamson, Vigilante) is unwittingly recruited to transport a million greenbacks from Hong Kong to Mexico City for a suspicious Chinese bank executive. When he arrives at his stopover in Los Angeles, though, Bolt is attacked by a trio of thugs who are a little too eager to help him check his luggage. After dropping the hammer on them in an airport bathroom bust-up, Bolt follows the stench of betrayal to a casino in Las Vegas. While digging around Sin City for leads, casino boss Connie (Jack Ging, Sssssss) tells him that the million is counterfeit. But Bolt isn't so sure he can trust his friend -- especially after his apartment is ransacked and a night of passion with lounge singer Samantha Nightingale (Teresa Graves, Get Christie Love!) is ruined by a bullet meant for him.
Suspicious that this whole deal is one big set-up, Bolt heads back to Hong Kong to confront the banker, but he too has been killed. When Griffiths learns of the double cross, he helps Bolt get on the guest list to a party at a remote island martial arts school run by his old teacher Kumada (Masatoshi Nakamura, This Story of Love). Bolt makes quite a scene at the party, first accusing Kumada of setting up the phony money run and then scoring with his exotic wife, Dominique (Miko Miyama, The Hawaiians). Infuriated, Kumada sends crack assassin Spider (Karate expert Ken Kazama) to take care of that man Bolt once and for all.
Always very much in control of his career, Fred Williamson was cast as many groundbreaking characters throughout the 1960s and '70s. His first lead role was as one of the screen's first black cowboys in The Legend of Nigger Charley, and he will always be best known as the black mob kingpin in Black Caesar and its sequel, Hell Up in Harlem. Here, in another relatively unique role, Williamson brings a touch of suave class to the tough-as-nails international jetsetter, Jefferson Bolt.
Now, the film certainly has its share of flaws -- it's at least twenty minutes too long, the plot is much too convoluted, and Williams's stunt double doesn't look anything like him -- but That Man Bolt is absolutely relentless in its pursuit of thrilling action. The film starts interestingly enough, with Bolt's predecessor pulled out of the lake with a briefcase still handcuffed to his wrist, but the viewer is soon lost as set-up overlaps upon set-up, and Bolt's motives fall more in question more often than the authenticity of the million dollars he is supposed to be protecting. Of course, as with most blaxploitation films, the plot is merely a formality to showcase the hero's badass swagger as he decimates an army of villains. Car chases, martial arts brawls, and numerous encounters with the ladies are all a daily part of Bolt's courier job, and the action is well handled by veteran directors Henry Levin and David Lowell Rich. It's only in the last reel that the film begins to lose its steam, as international intrigue gives way to an Enter the Dragon-styled kung-fu spectacular that pits The Hammer against Judo and Karate champions from across the globe.
Although the character is an obvious amalgamation of James Bond and John Shaft -- in the latter case right down to the phallic surname -- Jefferson Bolt remains just enough of an individual to work. Blaxploitation fans will immediately recognize Bolt as the standard fiercely independent anti-hero who likes to flash his generous bankroll. In the eyes of "The Man," Bolt may be little more than a disposable patsy, but he asserts himself by getting his revenge at the end. Turning the familiar character type into an international jet-setter is an inspired twist, however, and despite the fact that Bolt has to rely more on his fists and his wits than gadgets, this films shares many similarities with the Bond franchise: a British windbag boss, a wry sense of humor, and international locations. Bolt even gets his own catchphrase -- "Charming!" -- uttered whenever his array of impeccable suits are soiled by the blood of an unmannered goon.
With his cigar and exceptional poise, Williamson projects a menacing cool, and he's well suited to this character. Unlike many of the lower rent blaxploitation stars, Williamson is an extremely reliable action actor, and handles himself consistently well in all types of scenes. Teresa Graves, later to become blaxploitation star in her own right with Get Christie Love! and its spin-off TV series, is excellent in her brief role as lounge lizardette Samantha Nightingale. A former singer in the much-reviled Doodletown Pipers, Graves gets to swing through a funkified cover of "She's a Lady" here. Byron Webster's pompous Griffiths proves an excellent foil for Williamson. Bolt takes every opportunity to deviously deflate the stuffy Brit, which culminates in one scene at a Hong Kong bathhouse where Bolt gets a complimentary "Happy Ending" while Griffiths is manhandled by an unappealing, heavyset masseuse.
The only other letdown is That Man Bolt's original score. While even the most wretched blaxploitation film can be redeemed by a good soundtrack, Charles Bernstein's serviceable syncopated funk tracks are just a shade too cleanly arranged to really register as authentic or even particularly memorable.
Universal was not very active in the blaxploitation genre, especially in comparison to Warner Brothers, MGM, and the B-film studios that cranked them out like they were going out of style -- which in fact, they were. Universal's entire library of blaxploitation films -- That Man Bolt, Willie Dynamite, and Trick Baby -- were released very late in the VHS game, and now they all make the leap to DVD as the first (and undoubtedly last) releases in Universal's bare-bones "Soul Showcase" line. Although digitally remastered, the quality of this release is nothing special. The image generally looks pretty good, although the transfer is a shade on the grainy side. Colors for the most part are deep and solid. The Dolby Mono track is always clear and free of extraneous noise, but fidelity is obviously limited. There are no extras on this disc, not even a trailer, which may not be surprising, but it is disappointing.
The international spy twist and the film's similarity to Enter the Dragon lends itself well to those looking to dip their toes in the murky water of blaxploitation for the first time, but seasoned viewers will find that That Man Bolt isn't quite as watchable or enjoyable as some of Williamson's better-known outings. Still, the lush interiors, dapper suits, and reasonable stunts give this film a gloss that is certainly missing from many of Williamson's later, cheaper films.
Bolt may be guilty of being a slick, mean dude, but ain't the baddest, that's for sure.
Review content copyright © 2005 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Rated R