Christmas has come early for Jim Brown fans: the Warner Archive has just released four of his titles for the first time on DVD. The least-heralded or remembered among them is probably The Slams, a 1973 gritty prison film set in Los Angeles. Produced by Gene Corman (you know who's brother) and directed by Jonathan Kaplan, the film casts Brown as Curtis Hook, a tough petty criminal who, like Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, is only nominally a hero because the people he associates with are so deplorable. (When we first see him, he is force feeding cyanide gas into a room to suffocate some Mafia goons!) Hook becomes part of a heist team that steals over $1 million from some mob thugs. The plan succeeds at first but goes awry when Hook correctly suspects his confederates intend to kill him. He gets the drop on them and absconds with the loot, which he hides in an abandoned amusement park. However, he is captured by police and sent to a prison that resembles an American version of Devil's Island. The place is an urban jungle run filled with racial tensions, corrupt officials and sadistic guards. When word gets out that Hook knows where the missing money is, everyone tries to pressure him to bring them in on a deal to split the money. Hook steadfastly refuses and endures attempted mob hits, beatings and harassment from other prisoners. He concocts an ambitious plan to escape with the help of his sexy girlfriend (Judy Pace) and an aristocratic crime boss (Paul E. Harris). Hook is under pressure because, in a clever plot twist, he learns the amusement park is about to be demolished, thus insuring his loot will either be discovered or destroyed.
The Slams is typical of crime movies the period: it's tough, uncompromising and filmed on a tight budget that gives it the feel of a grind house flick. It was clearly made for audiences on 42nd Street and at drive-in theaters, but that isn't meant as a knock. It's an efficiently-made thriller and its crude aspects only enhance one's enjoyment of watching it. Brown probably never aspired to winning an Oscar, but there aren't many leading men around today with his combination of macho self-assurance and sexual confidence. Brown was from the era when audiences weren't interested in leading men who were in touch with their feminine sides. The supporting cast in this film is particularly eclectic with Harris providing a very amusing performance as a sleazy criminal who fancies himself royalty because he owns a Rolls Royce. The film also presents two stalwart cast members of comedy TV classics: Frank DeKova of F Troop and Ted Cassidy of The Addams Family, both of whom give fine dramatic performances. The dialogue is sometimes unintelligible due to machine-gun fire delivery of street slang, but in the aggregate, The Slams is an enjoyable thriller that Brown fans will want to add to their collections.
The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer which, perhaps misleadingly, markets the movie as a Blaxploitation flick.