Boss (1975)
By: Stuart Giesel on October 18, 2012 | Comments
VCI | All Regions, NTSC | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 2.0 | 87 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Jack Arnold
Starring: Fred Williamson, D'Urville Martin, William Smith, R.G. Armstrong
Screenplay: Fred Williamson
Country: USA
External Links
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It wasn't long after the popularity of the first blaxploitation films like Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Shaft and Super Fly that Hollywood cranked out 'black' variants of old favourites: Black Shampoo being a riff on Warren Beatty's Shampoo (with extra chainsaw), Blackenstein and Blacula obviously as black takes on Frankenstein and DraculaAbby as an odd variant of The Exorcist, and a handful of films - of which Boss is one - which see black stars duke it out in westerns.

The film's original title is Boss Nigger, which has been changed on the cover of its DVD release by distributor VCI for obvious reasons, though the original title still appears in the film credits.

Boss Nigger stars Fred Williamson as Boss Nigger and D'Urville Martin as Amos, two bounty hunters who come to a small town to claim the reward for a bounty, only to find that the town has no sheriff. Boss takes it upon himself to take the position of sheriff despite protests from virtually the entire town populace who don't take kindly to black folk at all, let alone ones so outspoken and independent as Boss and Amos. The mayor, Griffin (R. G. Armstrong) is especially vocal, given that he's in cahoots with the local scumbag Jed Clayton (William Smith) and his gang, who like to ride into town and take what they want every month without interference. After enforcing a series of local laws which rile the residents (of which one is a fine or jailtime for using the word 'nigger') Boss decides to hunt down Clayton and his gang.

It's a straightforward western apart from three things. One, of course, is the lead performances from Williamson and Martin in roles that would normally have been played by white performers. And it has to be said that they make a terrific pairing. Williamson looks the part and is physically striking in his black bounty hunter outfit, but he plays the role with a bit of mischief, clearly relishing the opportunity to put the racist locals in their place (he also wrote the film). Martin provides more of the comic relief - some of the film's best scenes see him react to the revolting racist comments before locking them up with all the righteous fury he can muster. The second unique aspect of Boss Nigger is the fact that at times it feels like a satire on the typical western. There is more comedic material in the film than in almost any other straightlaced western that I can recall (so that doesn't include Blazing Saddles). It's not played blatantly for laughs, but I'd be surprised if you didn't go through the entire film without chuckling at least a few times. Thirdly, for good or bad, is the use of the N-word. I have no idea how many times it's used in the film, but it's thrown around with the sort of abandon that the word 'fuck' gets used in Glengarry Glen Ross. It's shocking to hear townsfolk from all walks of life use the word so freely and openly. Of course, our heroes get the upper hand in the end, but it's still fascinating to see how the film plays on the use of the word and, along with some gunplay and bloodshed, how it somehow scored a PG rating from the MPAA to boot.

If you can get past the constant use of the word 'nigger' you'll find a fairly routine plot - ultimately this is about a hero winning over the townsfolk, besting the bad guy and getting the girl, after all - but the film is nicely directed, gives a strong sense of time and place, and there's enough action to satisfy western fans as well as blaxploitation fans who just want to see Williamson command the screen. It's a little slow in parts, but so long as Williamson and Martin are on the screen you don't mind.

In addition, the film sports a catchy theme tune which had been edited in some versions to remove all mention of the N-word, but in VCI's DVD release is presented uncut, as is the film; the only snipping that's gone on here is the film's title on the DVD cover.

Yes, Boss Nigger is politically incorrect by today's standards, as the title alone suggests. This is a film that could never get made today. But that's why this, along with Williamson's other western efforts The Legend of Nigger Charley and The Soul of Nigger Charley, is a valuable addition to the blaxploitation lineup. If Boss Nigger doesn't exactly turn the western genre on its head, it has at least shoved it on its side and given it a boot in the ribs.
Video
Boss Nigger is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (thankfully) which gives life to the widescreen panoramas and action. It should be noted that the picture quality is pretty poor; colours are vivid, but the picture is fuzzy and detail is lacking. Still, it's probably enough to have Boss Nigger provided complete and uncut and not in a pan-and-scan presentation.
Audio
The English stereo audio track is functional but fairly flat. The theme tune is memorable, the score a mix of blaxploitation funk and a more conservative western score, and the sound effects are meaty enough. Unfortunately there's a persistent hiss in the background throughout the entire film, more evident in some scenes than others.
Extra Features
A Conversation with Fred "The Hammer" Williamson with Joel Blumberg: (The title on the disc menu incorrectly names Fred as "Fred Williams") This is a half-hour discussion with Fred Williamson on his sports career and his Hollywood career then and now. It's an excellent interview; Williamson is a charismatic, informative interviewee and he provides a lot of detail about the nature of the movie business for black performers amongst other subjects. Unfortunately the interview doesn't cover Boss Nigger or any of his films in depth. Interestingly, Williamson reveals he's 70 years old in the interview - 70! He doesn't look a day over 50. Truly some good genes there.

"A Boss Memory" with Producer Myrl Schriebman: Schriebman talks about Boss Nigger director Jack Arnold and getting the film made, as well as some of the technical challenges on such a low budget film. An interesting interview for fans of the film.

A Jack Arnold Tribute by Producer Myrl Schriebman: Schriebman provides a brief but heartfelt tribute to director Arnold.

The disc also contains the original theatrical trailer for Boss Nigger.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Boss Nigger is a fun, tongue-in-cheek western with decidedly un-PC content. It's a joy to see Fred Williamson and D'Urville Martin fight back against the scumbag criminals, whilst enforcing their own brand of justice on a racist townsfolk. It's a playful take on the traditional Hollywood western, but can stand on its own as a pretty damn fine western regardless. It's definitely a keeper for anyone who's a fan of blaxploitation films or even westerns in general.

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