Judge Daryl Loomis wants to hunt white people too.
White man's town…black man's law.
Football player, actor, writer, and shameless self promoter: there are a lot of faces to Fred "the Hammer" Williamson (Black Caesar). This is the face of Sherriff Boss; he's part devil, part legend, but all man, fighting for justice so he can make a buck and saving the girl so he can take her home later. Boss don't take no sass from no white man, not while he has the badge.
Facts of the Case
Boss (Williamson) makes his living as a bounty hunter, traveling the West hunting down while folk. With his buddy Amos (D'Urville Martin, Dolemite), they're going for a big score in Jed Clayton (William Smith, Red Dawn). They come into the town that Clayton camps outside of and finds they're short one sheriff, so Boss forces his way into the job. The white people in town don't like the idea of a black sheriff, but Boss doesn't give a damn. He's going to sit back and wait, biding his time for Clayton to come to town and get what's coming to him.
Before the film begins, Williamson presents us with something of a disclaimer. In it he explains, as the writer and producer of Boss, that he fully supports his original title and the reasons why. Originally titled Boss Nigger for the purpose of shock value, it was changed to either Boss or The Black Bounty Hunter in sensitive areas and for this release as well, though the print used still sports the original title card. A jarring way to begin a movie for these days, but Williamson hammers the word into the ground like so many wide receivers in his football days until it becomes almost synonymous with the word "hi." Though Williamson doesn't mention it in the prologue, this titling was certainly politically motivated as well as pure sensationalism and, in this combination of western comedy and blaxploitation, is one of the things that makes Boss an amusing and sometimes weird ride.
In an interview on the disc, The Hammer discusses his prerequisites for starring in a film. First, he never gets killed. Second, he gets to beat up the bad guy. Third, he gets the girl…but only if he wants her. Needless to say, at risk of spoiling the ever-so-complicated plotting, all his needs are met. Boss plays out just like a '50s oater with a little Spaghetti Western thrown in the mix. Boss is the good guy, but there's no way he's wearing a white hat, so he's all in black, of course. As Boss and Amos ride up on town, a group of white outlaws kill a black man while his daughter looks on. The outlaws don't make it, and Boss sends Clara Mae (Carmen Hayworth) to the cantina in town where they'll meet up later for drinks or something. When the bounty hunters get to town, Williamson and Martin get to show off their comic skills, and their interactions with the racist townspeople make for the best moments in the film. Since Williamson deadpans all his lines anyway, he makes a good straight man to Martin's dapper clown who revels in fining the people anytime they say something offensive. These guys are more opportunists than heroes. Their only reason for cleaning up the town is the bounty they stand to collect, so it makes sense for them to stuff their pockets with their money.
The cast is full of old western character actors and all of them put in solid performances, especially William Smith as Clayton. He's played this role many times over the decades and makes a very unlikable villain. He stages a good brawl and his fight with Boss, since Williamson does his own stunts, comes off very well. The film is action packed with lots of shootouts and a strong body count, but very little blood. All the roles are played with exuberance, parodying the characters of shopkeep, corrupt mayor, worrying doctor, very well. We even have a little romantic triangle with Boss, Clara Mae, and Miss Pruitt (Barbara Leigh, Terminal Island), the white, progressive schoolmarm who is more than a little turned on at the thought of Boss, who plants a kiss on her lips "to satisfy her curiosity."
Boss is full of great little moments like this and, for as good a time as the actors are having, it is all well-kept in check by capable journeyman director Jack Arnold, who worked with Williamson previously in Black Eye. He keeps the story moving along at a nice pace, mixing the comedy and the action very well. While this is still a very low budget picture, it doesn't have the technical failures that other low-rent productions can have; there are no exposed microphones or cars in the lot in Boss. It does, however, have the strangest western soundtrack I've ever heard. They've taken a very standard soul soundtrack from any blaxploitation movie and changed the lyrics to have some old west references and left it alone. I've never seen another western with a soul soundtrack, but I'm not sure I'll be able to watch one without it again. For all its idiosyncrasies, Boss is a very entertaining use of ninety minutes.
VCI has done a mediocre job with their release of Boss. It claims to come from the 35mm negative, but is one of the worst transfers I've seen in some time. The print is dirty and scratched with completely washed-out colors. Overall, the picture looks out of focus and, especially in the darker scenes, it's difficult to see what's going on. The sound is better, though only mono. All the dialogue, and especially the soundtrack, come through clearly with a minimum of background noise, even if there's often not a lot going on. The extras, mostly interviews, are the best part. The long form talk with Fred Williamson is especially good. The Hammer is great at talking about how great he is and, though it gets a little tiresome after a while, he's always good for a few laughs. Though the technical aspects of the DVD are suspect, the content is good enough to still recommend.
Though Boss comes off a little offensive at the start, it is easy to get through that into the playful use of racial stereotypes that bring some good laughs. Boss is quality blaxploitation and, at the same time, a decent parody of western genre conventions.
Not guilty, now you crackers get out of my courtroom.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
• Interview with Fred Williamson
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