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  Drum Beat It
Year: 1976
Director: Steve Carver
Stars: Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Ken Norton, Pam Grier, Yaphet Kotto, John Colicos, Fiona Lewis, Paula Kelly, Royal Dano, Lillian Hayman, Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith, Alain Patrick, Brenda Sykes, Clay Tanner, Lila Finn, Henry Wills, Donna Garrett, Harvey Parry
Genre: Trash, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: In Cuba during the eighteenth century, society lady Marianna (Isela Vega) threatened to bring shame upon herself when she fell in love with a slave and bore his child, although she was also romantically involved with her maid, Rachel (Paula Kelly) and together, after the slave was made an example of, they fled to New Orleans where Marianna became a successful madam. Twenty years later and the child has grown up to be Drum (Ken Norton), who acts as a slave just as his father did, only he works for his Marianna, believing that Rachel is his actual mother. One night, a party is being held at the whorehouse and Drum is serving drinks; however, one of the guests, a powerful French slave owner called DeMarigny (John Colicos) demands that the entertainment should take the form of a fight between Drum and another slave, Blaise (Yaphet Kotto). It is to be a fateful meeting...

If you thought Mandingo was a little too restrained, then perhaps you should try its sequel, named after its title character. Although this is supposed to be the two decades later follow up, it has little in common plotwise with its predecessor other than its historical setting and climate, yet proved no less controversial. Burt Kennedy, the film's original director, was replaced with that paragon of sensitivity Steve Carver, and the Dino de Laurentiis-produced film was released by United Artists after being disowned by the studio that commissioned it. Mandingo, at a stretch, could be seen as a brave try at tackling a shameful period of the past even if it did draw the punters in thanks to its more lurid elements, but here the lurid elements rule the day as we're supposed to throw up out hands in horror while hypocritically indulging the trashy presentation.

Like the first film, it was based on a novel by Kyle Onstott that has not survived with the dignity of Alex Haley's Roots, here adapted as with Mandingo by Norman Wexler. Although Warren Oates receives top billing, you may wonder where he is for the first half hour, as most of this is taken up with Drum's unpleasant encounters with DeMarigny (Colicos way over the top and in possession of an offensive accent). When Drum wins the fight with Blaise he is awarded his own woman, but he shouldn't get too comfortable because the aggressively homosexual DeMarigny has designs on him, and when spurned vows revenge. This means Drum, appropriately played by wooden boxer Norton as if he'd much rather be somewhere else, has to be relocated by Marianna to work for Oates' plantation owner Hammond Maxwell, epsecially after Rachel has been murdered by the Frenchman.

One thing about the film is that at least you couldn't say it was exploiting the African Americans in the cast, who are portrayed as sympathetic in the main - a pity you couldn't say the same for the women in the cast, who are treated as if the best they can offer the story is to take their clothes off. Over half the actresses disrobe for the camera, which exposes the true intentions of the filmmakers, and the most thankless role goes to Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith, as the daughter of Maxwell who is determined to get one of the slaves into bed. But even Fiona Lewis, as the prospective next Mrs Maxwell, has a gratuitous bath scene. So basically, if you're looking for an examination of the last years of the slave trade in America, you will be disappointed, but if you're after sexploitation, then that's what Drum is really all about. It builds to a climax reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead, only with rebelling slaves in place of zombies, and every bit as delicately handled as you'd imagine; otherwise, apart from cheap laughs Drum is pretty tiresome. Music by Charlie Smalls.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Steve Carver  (1945 - )

American director B-movie director best known for the popular 1983 Chuck Norris vehicle Lone Wolf McQuade, and for the films he made for producer Roger Corman in the 1970s, Big Bad Mama, Capone and The Arena (co-directed with Aristide Massaccesi).

 
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