"They Said It Would Take An Army To Get The Mob Out Of Harlem"
"This Is The Army !"
"This Is Gordon's War !"
Though most often categorized as a standard Blaxploitation/urban revenge film, 1973’s Gordon’s War tries to approach its subject matter with a little more gravity and seriousness then usually seen and along with some solid performances by the leads makes this a really excellent (and somewhat unsung) piece of 70’s cinema.
Paul Winfield plays Gordon Hudson who after returning from service in Vietnam finds his wife dead from an overdose and his Harlem neighborhood overrun by drugs & prostitution. Gathering together three of ex-army buddies they attempt to clean up the streets with their ultimate goal being the local drug boss Spanish Harry (Gilbert Lewis - ACROSS 110th STREET and the King of Cartoons from the 1st season of Pee Wee’s Playhouse). Being all ex-military men they carefully plan out their operations and have a set up an HQ in an abandoned building complete with maps and police scanners.
It’s interesting to watch this as there is a deliberate and exact course to their actions, which may leave some action movie fans restless. Although the film does kick the plot into gear immediately with Hudson visiting his wife’s grave in a pre-credit sequence followed in the movie proper by his tracking down of his wife’s pusher and the recruitment of his army buddies, it takes it time before any gunplay. In addition Hudson is not portrayed as a gun blazing vigilante hero, but as a real person. After his encounter with his wife’s pusher he just beats him up (and smashes up his car with a trash can) which later leads himself to getting a pretty major whoppin’ from the pusher’s gang.
Directed by actor Ossie Davis (who earlier had helmed COTTON COMES TO HARLEM) the film makes excellent uses of gritty blighted 70's NYC locations (plus we got bunches of big ol' Cadillacs, floppy hats & technicolor clothes) and really tries to show how rampant drugs & crime were eating away at the neighborhood. If the movie has a fault its that the middle section gets a bit convoluted plot-wise (as if chunks of the script and some transition scenes were jettisoned before filming) and the ending has some of that "we're out of time - gotta wrap this up in hurry" look.
Gordon's three buddies are all given well written characterizations that allow them individual and remembered roles, as it just not Winfield and a bunch of guys following him. Winfield homself is especially good here giving a nice stoic performance (plus he gets to burn a guy's face off with an aerosol can & cigarette lighter !) and the cast is filled with many familiar faces from 70's Blaxploitation and T.V. As mentioned before, the film takes its time but after the first hour really kicks into high gear with a raid on heroin cutting operation, a shootout with sawed off shotguns and finishes off with a really neat car/motorcycle chase thru the NYC streets (including a tunnel !). Look for a quick bit by Grace Jones a drug mule.
Long unavailable on home video this was released by Shout Factory on a dbl. feature DVD with the rather odd pairing of OFF LIMITS.