Release Date(s)1975 (August 28, 2018)
Studio(s)Dimension Pictures (Kit Parker Films/MVD Visual/Sprocket Vault)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: D+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C-
Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, like many of his contemporaries, made a name for himself in the film business by writing, producing, and starring in several of his own movies. The blaxploitation genre, as it eventually became known, covered a variety of different styles and genres, including action, horror, and westerns. In 1975, after working with Jack Arnold on Black Eye, he re-teamed with him once again for Boss Nigger, which has been subsequently sanitized on home video as simply Boss.
Boss tells of two bounty hunters, Boss (Williamson) and Amos (D’Urville Martin), who ride into a town that’s in the grip of an outlaw named Jed and his gang of bandits. A lawless town without a sheriff and only the mayor (R.G. Armstrong) left to keep things running for Jed, Boss and Amos quickly take up the mantles of sheriff and deputy, sorting the town of its racism, greed, and corruption, with Jed quick to take action once he hears that two black men have taken over.
Despite Blazing Saddles coming in a year prior with enormous success, it didn’t stop the folks behind Boss from making a film with a similar premise. It’s not really much of a comedy so much as it as a different take on traditional material. There is no High Plains Drifter who rides into town and rids it of its scum with a dark and dramatic tone. Instead, Boss and Amos make their own rules, fining or throwing anyone in jail who disrespects the law or refers to them by the dreaded n-word. Some lighthearted comedy comes out of this, but it’s never really comedic. It’s also interesting that Boss and Amos attempt to help those who are less fortunate, particularly starving Mexican children, by taking all the supplies from the local store and handing it out with no thought of how it’s actually going to be paid for. In Boss’ eyes, it’s simply the right thing to do.
If it isn’t painfully clear by now, Boss is more about a couple of black men who come into town and do what the white men can’t, which includes taking care of the innocent locals and fighting off the bad guys who get in the way, whether the town’s white inhabitants begrudgingly accept it or not. As far as context is concerned, it was another in a long line of films from the period about black men in roles normally reserved for white men. Truth be told, Boss is a pretty standard western, complete with its own theme song and a ruthless villain, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Fred Williamson would go on to other things, but his appearances in films like Hammer, The Soul of Nigger Charley, Black Caesar, and Hell Up in Harlem (among others) cemented his status as an important figure in black cinema.
Boss comes to Blu-ray for the first time with a transfer that’s, well, disappointing. I have no idea what the source is for it, but I would venture to guess that it’s a previous HD master that’s been re-encoded. While it has the mildest appearance of something watchable, it’s full of problems, including color temperatures, grain, contrast, and black levels that are uneven from shot to shot. It also appears a little too clean at times, suggesting that some heavy clean-up has been performed, although some mild speckling and occasional frame damage still remain. At times it looks quite serviceable, particularly when it comes to the open skies or interiors of the jail, but the inconsistency creeps in constantly to spoil things before you can become accustomed to its better qualities. So yeah, there’s room for improvement. The audio actually fares much better. Presented on an English 2.0 mono LPCM track with optional subtitles in English SDH, it’s a track that definitely shows its age and is fairly narrow with occasional crackle, but dialogue is discernible, the funky 70s score (as well as the theme song) have some room to breathe, and the blasting of shotguns have some force behind them.
For those who own the previous DVD release, you’ll be happy to know that this carries over all of the extras, but brings nothing new to the table. Included is the film’s original theatrical trailer; The Boss Memory with associate producer Myrl Schreibman, an 8-minute interview in which he covers working with the legendary director; an additional 4-minute tribute to director Jack Arnold by Schreibman; A Conversation with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson with Joel Blumberg, a 27-minute interview that covers many facets of his long career; a DVD copy of the film; and reversible artwork that features the original theatrical one-sheet with the Boss Nigger title on the opposite side.
Boss (or Boss Nigger, if you so choose) comes to Blu-ray with a bit of a thud. It’s a terrific film that deserves a bit more care in the A/V department, and perhaps even some additional extras to make it a more complete package. It will have to do for the moment, but there’s likely a better release of it waiting to happen sometime in the near future.
- Tim Salmons