One of the best things about the blaxploitation movement was that it created a bunch of stars that might not have otherwise had the careers they had. Yes, the movies in which they appeared during the 1970s were awesome, but there's a reason people like Pam Grier, Isaac Hayes, Richard Roundtree and Jim Brown had careers past the point that blaxploitation had fallen out of favor. It's because they're real-deal movie stars -- strong, charismatic and cool. These are actors that tear up the screen no matter what genre they're working in.
Fred "The Hammer" Williamson is one of the greatest stars to come out of the blaxploitation scene. It's not where he got his start; after several successful seasons playing football with the Steelers, the Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs (with whom he
Hammer is a solid crime picture that, while lacking the thrilling subversion and vitality of Larry Cohen's Black Caesar and its sequel Hell Up in Harlem, still makes a really strong starring vehicle for Williamson. He's not yet the larger-than-life screen icon he would become in just a few years. In fact, he's one of the most grounded elements in the movie -- the "normal" character surrounded by the more colorful criminal elements. Hammer is part of a long tradition of movie boxers mixed up with a criminal element that includes everything from Robert Wise's The Set-Up to, of course, the Bruce Willis character in Pulp Fiction. Like so many blaxploitation films, Hammer reclaims this cinematic archetype for black actors and black audiences, telling a familiar story but through a new lens.
So while Hammer isn't my favorite blaxploitation movie -- or even my favorite Fred Williamson movie -- it's incredibly important in advancing both the genre and the career of its leading man. I'm so excited that Olive Films have released a number of seminal blaxploitation movies this month (this one and three from Pam Grier), and during #Junesploitation no less! Does this mean we might still get titles like Slaughter or Black Mama, White Mama or the aforementioned Black Caesar? We can only hope.
Blu-ray release date: June 9, 2015
DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Buy Hammer from Olive Films here