Although it had been released as part of Sony's made-on-demand line of DVDs back in 2011, up until recently Thomasine & Bushrod had been unavailable. With the release of Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, it seems like a natural to try to make money from whatever blaxploitation westerns there are to be found. To be certain, there aren't that many blaxploitation westerns in the first place, three of the best have already been released on home video, and two contain a certain word in the title that simply wouldn't be stood for in this day and age. So, when you look at it that way, there really was only one blaxploitation western that stood a chance of riding in within the cloud of dust kicked up by Django Unchained. And here it is, released for the first time on DVDâ€"granted it is part of Sony's made-on-demand line of discsâ€"the legendary Thomasine & Bushrod.
Set in Texas in 1911, Vonetta McGee stars as Thomasine, a bounty hunter who is as cunning as she is beautiful. While turning in one of the outlaws she's captured, Thomasine learns of the bounty on her former lover, Bushrod (Max Julien), a notorious gunslinger turned broncobuster, looking for Adolph the Butcher, the man who murdered his sister. Thomasine manages to track down Bushrod, just before he find Adolph the Butcher and dispenses a little hot lead vengeance. That's when Sheriff Bogardie (George Murdock) shows up, looking to settle a few scores with Bushrod. Thomasine intervenes, rescuing Bushrod from certain death at the hands of Bogardie, and soon her and her former main squeeze are both considered "wanted." It's just about then that the couple resorts to robbing banks, and sharing the spoils of their ill-gotten gains with Indians, blacks, and poor whites. Soon Thomasine and Bushrod are legends of the old west. But with the law chasing after them, will they live long enough to leave the life of crime behind them, and settle down to raise a family?
When it was initially released, some critics called Thomasine & Bushrod a rip-off of Bonnie & Clyde. To be sure, there may be elements of T&B that were inspired by Arthur Penn's violent classic, but there are also moments of this film that are inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as well as several other westerns. It's unfair to think of this film as anything other than being its own movie. In fact, you can barley consider this to be a blaxploitation western. No, Thomasine & Bushrod is something quite unique in the universe. This is a Max Julien western. Co-produced and written by Julien, Thomasine & Bushrod was his follow-up to The Mack, the film for which he is best remembered. Julien also wrote Cleopatra Jones, but it is his performance in The Mack that is the stuff of legend, and it created an enigmatic persona that is oddly out of place in Thomasine & Bushrod, while at the same time giving the film its own unique quality.
Directed by Gordon Parks Jr., best know for the blaxploitation classics Super Fly and Three the Hard Way, Thomasine & Bushrod is something of an uneven film. Parks doesn't have much in terms of a distinctive narrative style, although Lucien Ballard's cinematography manages to give the film a nice look. Ballard shot such westerns as True Grit and The Wild Bunch, and his photography works better when it is matched with a more concise director's vision. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much vision here, and those expecting a rootin' tootin' western will likely be disappointed. The action in this movie is fairly sparse, and the pace begins to get a bit too casual. Instead of seeing the sort of action you'd hope for in a western, you get to see a lot of interaction by then real life lovers Julien and McGee. The performances by the two leads are solid, and it's interesting to see Julien in one of his few film roles outside of The Mack, but he's doesn't carry the film the way he did in The Mack.
The greatest strength of Thomasine & Bushrod is the performances of the supporting cast, most notably George Murdock as an evil lawman and Glynn Turman as a deadly gunslinger. Blaxploitation fans will remember Murdock from his role as the Fat Man in The Mack, and his role as a sadistic cop in Willie Dynamite. Murdock is especially scum-ridden in this film, and shows why he is the leading evil cracker of the blaxploitation genre. Glynn Turman appears in an all-too-brief appearance as Jomo, the Jamaican gunslinger who refers to himself in the third person. "Jomo is bad. Jomo will kill your babies." Although Thomasine & Bushrod is a decent film, with some entertaining moments, I'd much rather watch a film about Murdock and Turman's characters, running around the old west trying to kill each other.