Why I haven’t seen The Mack up to this point is beyond me. If I were a teen in the 70s, I would have rarely made it out of the movie theaters on a day to day basis; this is how much I love this decade of filmmaking, especially American filmmaking. I have seen many blaxploitation films of the early 70s, and have had this one on my list for many years, but it has taken a backburner to my Pam Grier obsessions, Rudy Ray Moore watching, and action adventures starring Fred Williamson. Fortunately, I did not overlook this gem today because I may have missed one of the best of this genre.
One of the coolest things that blaxploitation films have in common, at least for many of them, is the usage of the hand-held camera prior to it being a cliché. Nowadays, it seems to be an absolute necessity to use the hand-held camera technique for all hip, and mostly shitty, new directors. I have a suggestion for those same directors: know where it started and/or was used most effectively and actually watch those films so that you can get an original idea in your head. The other common thread in blaxploitation is the use of the music montage. At any given point in a solid work from this genre, there will usually be a scene or two that has the party sequence inspired by the music that sets it’s tone. The Mack has a few of them as well as a kick-ass opening credit montage / song.
The action begins in media res (“in the middle of”). There is a shootout that is presented with fast, in-your-face camera work that ends up in a car wreck. Goldie, soon to be known as the Mack of the year, is arrested and thrown in the pen for 5 years. Once Goldie gets out, he makes his rounds to see the people most important to his current life and his future: his boss, his girl, his mom, and his brother. He visits them all before he even decides to take off his prison issued shirt. He also runs into the crooked, white cops that put him away and are looking for Goldie to fuck up again.
Richard Pryor plays Goldie’s right-hand man, Slim. There are many scenes in the film where Pryor seems obviously out of his mind on drugs or alcohol, including one scene at the Player’s Ball where the camera shoots to him very quickly, and he looks like he is in a heroin-induced nod. Although Goldie has plenty of friends, his runs in with the likes of characters known generically as “The Gambler,” “Pretty Tony,” the two crooked cops (names unknown), and “Fat Man,” are the incidences where things get a little suspenseful. Without giving away too much, just know that this follows the standard template for many gangster films even though Goldie is a pimp first and a gangster second.
Since this film was released in 1973, there was a plethora of social issues to choose from, and many of them were added in this film, such as police corruption, drug addiction, and racism. “Fat Man” and the cops represent the system that is constantly working against Goldie; it is by no coincidence that all the major corruption, or at least the corruption that is shown in a bad light, is brought on by these white characters. “Fat Man” is Goldie’s former heroin distributor / boss, who is trying to get Goldie to come work for him again. However, Goldie has become his own businessman and has much success.
One of the reasons why I love this genre so much is the hilarious dialogue that frequently shows up; The Mack is no exception. Even if you don’t like these films, you should at least watch them for the following pieces of dialogue:
“You’re gonna have a bankroll so big it’s gonna look like your pockets got the mumps.” – spoken by Goldie’s mentor / new boss
“You vicious-ass piece of jelly.” – spoken by Goldie to Fat Man.
Even though Goldie’s rise to the top seems expedited a bit too much at the beginning and some of the other points feel slapped together, the entertainment, in my opinion, is top notch. Look for the hilarious scenes involving a cameo by Jesus Christ and a scene of the Player’s Picnic. These are the types of scenes that allow people to watch this film as a thriller, a comedy, and/or a film of social conscience. Regardless, I liked The Mack very much. I am changing my rating scale from stars to letter grades starting with this film, and I give The Mack an A-.