Director Richard Fleischer has had an odd career to say the least. He’s done everything to classics (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) to Schwarzenegger movies (Conan the Destroyer) to sci-fi (Fantastic Voyage) to kid’s stuff (Doctor Dolittle) to… Mandingo.
Mandingo. Just the word alone is enough to make the mind begin to swirl with oodles of racy racial imagery and southern fried melodramatics. The movie’s reputation more or less precedes it and if you’ve only heard whispers about this flick, you may be a little disappointed once you actually sit down to watch it. What passed for shocking back in ’75 may seem a bit tame today, but Mandingo is still chockfull of enough jaw dropping moments to live up to it’s status as one of the most exploitative exploitation movies of all time.
Basically, if V.C. Andrews gobbled down a bunch of Quaaludes and wrote a racially charged Harlequin romance novel and it was filmed by the director of Amityville 3-D, this is what you get.
James Mason stars as a big time plantation owner who keeps his slaves ignorant of reading, writing and religion. His lame legged son (Perry King) shuns the affections of white women and prefers to bed down with a slave girls and even gets one pregnant. His poppa grows weary of King’s interracial intercourse and insists that he marry his white cousin (Susan George) to keep up appearances, and more importantly sire an heir to the plantation. One day at the market, he buys a towering Mandingo (a “Breeder”) named Mede (heavyweight champ Ken Norton) who also is a cunning fighter. George gets pissed that King is busy seducing slaves, so she whips the mother of his unborn child into having a miscarriage. When King goes away on business, George seduces Norton and when she finally births Mason an heir, guess what color it is?
Mandingo handles the subject of interracial romance with a little more conviction and sensitivity than White Meat on Black Street 7, but not much. It’s a lurid melodramatic soap opera, plain and simple. Having said that though, it gives you a lot of smutty goodness for your exploitation dollar, and for that, guilty pleasure movie fans should be eternally grateful.
That’s not saying it’s a perfect movie. Not by any means. It ambles along at a meandering pace and suffers from a perplexing personality crisis at times. Sometimes Fleischer seems like he’s trying to make Gone With the Wind 2, other times he acts like he’s going for the feel of a Jaama Fanaka movie. On top of that, it’s also way too long for it’s own good.
But I will say this for Mandingo: It’s a lot more fun than Roots.
The fight scene is pretty graphic and brutal (it seems like a warm up to Fleischer’s Tough Enough) and is among the movie’s many trashy highlights. Norton punches, kicks and gnaws away at his opponent, and the brawl is one of the craziest fight scenes you’ve seen outside of a Penitentiary movie.
Although Mandingo at times puts on airs and tries to act like a “real” movie, there’s enough ribald goodness here to keep you fully entertained. Interracial S & M sex scenes? Check. Mason draining his rheumatic feet onto little slave boys? Yeppers. Slaves being hung upside down and beaten until their butts are bloody? Gotcha. Lots of men and women, both black and white, cavorting around buck naked? Right on. People being pitchforked to death then boiled alive? You got it dude.
Let me just put it to you this way: If you’ve ever wanted to see Mr. Bentley from The Jeffersons check a musclebound slave for hemorrhoids, this is the flick for you.
The performances are a bit uneven, but for the most part, they get the job done. Mason’s southern brogue is so dang thick you can only understand about every third word he says, but that doesn’t affect his performance too much. King makes for a solid romantic lead and George looks like she’s having fun as his wild eyed, whip wielding wife. Norton also makes a considerable impression as the formidable Mede.
Blues enthusiasts will be pleased to know that there’s a great theme song by Muddy Waters in there too. Screenwriter Norman Wexler later went on to pen the sequel, Drum, the next year, as well as Saturday Night Fever.
Even though you can’t understand half of what he’s saying, Mason still gets the best line of the movie: “You’re acting like a
For more information on the upcoming Mandingo DVD, as well as Legend’s new line of DVD’s (all licensed from Paramount Pictures), check out www.legendfilms.net.