Former football star Fred Williamson had already established himself as an actor with his recurring role on television's Julia, and in film with Robert Altman's MASH and Otto Preminger's Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon. But it was the controversially-named blaxploitation western The Legend of Nigger Charley that launched his career as an iconic action star in 1972. Williamson followed up in 1973 with the inferior sequel The Soul of Nigger Charley, which was nonetheless a box office hit. Two years later, Williamson would return in a third western--with three more to follow--that sought to capture the success of the Nigger Charley movies. Boss Nigger, while having nothing to do with the previous films other than the incendiary word in title and the appearance of co-star D'Urville Martin, was mistaken by many to be the third film in a series that started with a pair of not-that-good entries. The result is that Boss Nigger, also known as Boss, also known as The Black Bounty Hunter and The Black Bounty Killer, never really got the attention is deserved, or the recognition as the best of Williamson's western adventures.
Williamson and Martin are at the top of their game as Boss and Amos, two ex-slaves turned bounty hunters that would rather bring 'em back dead than alive. Boss and Amos are on the trail of outlaw Jed Clayton (the ever-evil William Smith), who is hiding out near a small prairie town that has no sheriff. Boss manages to bully the local crackers into naming him sheriff and Amos deputy; but his real plan is to lure Clayton out of hiding. While they are waiting for Clayton to show his face, Boss and Amos take pleasure in wreaking havoc on the town bigots (think of Clint Eastwood High Plains Drifter, only with a blaxploitation slant). They post a set of new laws, that includes making it an offense for white people to call them "nigger"--a crime punishable by a $20 fine or two days in jail. But the fun and games are soon over, and the poop hits the fan when Clayton finds out that Boss has been filling that gang leader's flunkies full of lead. Clayton takes out his anger on the town, as he sets things up for a final showdown with Boss.
With hundreds of films produced during the blaxploitation movement of the 1970s, there were surprisingly very few westerns to emerge during the decade (and most of them featured Fred Williamson). Several of these films were informed by the popular spaghetti westerns produced in Europe that were just starting to slow down in the 1970s. Of the handful of blaxploitation westerns, only Charley One Eye, starring Richard Roundtree and Take a Hard Ride with Williamson, Jim Brown and Jim Kelly were true Eurowesterns. But you wouldn't know that by watching Boss, which feels a bit like what Blazing Saddles would have been if it were made by an Italian director like Sergio Corbucci (Companeros) or Enzo Barboni (My Name is Trinity). A low-budget mix of gritty action with a decent helping of comedy, Boss seems to draw more inspiration from the Italian filmmakers that reinvented the western in the 1960s than directors like John Ford and Howard Hawks, who defined the genre in earlier decades. The result is something along the lines of a blaxploitation version of the Trinity films, the comedic spaghetti westerns starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer.
Boss is not, by any stretch of the imagination, what anyone could consider a great film--unless, of course, you're comparing it to some of Williamson's other westerns, most notably the supremely terrible Adios, Amigos. Williamson's script for Boss, however, is arguably the best thing he's ever written. And while veteran director Jack Arnold (look up his credits for a truly impressive resume) is clearly limited by a low budget and meager production resources, he still manages to deliver a film that is competent and entertaining. Leon Moore's funky soundtrack helps propel the film, making Boss one of the better entries in the western subgenre of blaxploitation.
Boss is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen. After years of watching a bad, full frame VHS dub of Boss that cropped off much of the image, it was nice to finally see a widescreen version. Unfortunately, the picture quality on this release is not much better than the old VHS version released by Magnum Entertainment in the 1980s. The colors are not consistent, and at times look washed out.
Boss is presented in 2.0 stereo. The sound levels and audio mix, while not being all that good, are still a bit better than the video transfer. There is a more consistent quality to the audio overall than there is to the video, but it is still not that great.
The highlight of the bonus material is "A Conversation with Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson" (28 min.) a comprehensive interview conducted by Joel Blumberg. Williamson talks at length about both his football and film career. "A Boss Memory" and "A Jack Arnold Tribute" feature Boss associate producer Myrl Schreibman reflecting on the production of the film, and director Jack Arnold.
Fans of Fred Williamson will want to add this to their collection, as will diehard blaxploitation aficionados. Those that don't appreciate Williamson's work, or the black action films of the 1970s may not enjoy Boss, but those that do, will recognize this for the entertaining movie it is.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]