Welcome to this week’s B-Movie Enema. This week, we’re following the exploits of Mean Johnny Barrows as he tries to bring himself up out of the gutter and get back at the Man for always standing in the way of him and his prosperity.
Now, you may look at that opening salvo for this article and think, “Sweet! This is Fred Williamson in a blaxploitation classic!” I don’t blame you for thinking that. I thought that too. However, it’s not. It’s not listed as a notable blaxploitation flick. It’s more of a crime drama than an exploitation movie. Yes, it is directed by Williamson himself and he likely got that opportunity because of the 70s black cinema coming into prominence. Yet, this seems to transcend the blaxploitation moniker.
I’m sure there will be elements here. I mean he’s dishonorably discharged from the military. He’s busted for being drunk. He’s homeless. He’s not able to be with the woman he loves. He blames these things on the Man, and there’s probably fair reason to. So, yeah, the mistake thinking this is part of the blaxploitation subgenre that was running through black cinema of the time is acceptable and understandable.
But let’s talk about The Hammer himself, Fred Williamson. Williamson was born in Gary, Indiana in 1938. He went to college at Northwestern University and played football there. Now… before you think that he just walked onto any ol’ college and said “I’m THE HAMMER!” and they quaked in fear to let him play, remember that Northwestern University is an extremely difficult school to get into, even on a football scholarship. You gotta be more than a tough cookie to go to NU – you better be a smart one too. So, Williamson is more than just a football player.
Williamson graduated and was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League. That’s where he got his nickname The Hammer. That’s because they were having a scrimmage against the San Francisco 49ers and their coach asked him to stop hammering his players. That aggression of his did suit him well as he would really make his mark in the American Football League playing for both the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs. Playing for Kansas City afforded Williamson a chance to play in the very first Super Bowl. However, that game proved to be Williamson’s last as he was knocked out when his head ran into the knee of Packers’ running back Donny Anderson. That was bad enough, but his own teammate on the KC defense fell on him and it broke his arm.
Williamson transitioned to acting and ended up being in a range of films. He was in Robert Altman’s 1970 critical darling M*A*S*H. He was in some blaxploitation movies. Some I can’t even bring myself to type the title of, but others like Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem I can. He even appeared in the third season episode of Star Trek called “The Cloud Minders” where he guest starred as Anka.
As for Mean Johnny Barrows, this served as Williamson’s directorial debut. In a way, this is a bit of a precursor to the Rambo character from First Blood. I want to make sure I am differentiating the John Rambo from the 1972 novel First Blood from the Sylvester Stallone version in the 1982 film as they are two different depictions. Mean Johnny Barrows is probably more of an ancestor to the film version than anything. But it was very difficult for G.I.s and others coming home from Vietnam to properly get back into society. It didn’t help that they were kind of thrust into war and then thrust back into society which had very conflicting opinions about the war.
The movie opens with army boots doing army things. The drill sergeant is teaching his troops how to deal with a mine field. He has a guy step forward and then tells the guy he’s dead now because, if this would be a live mine field, he’s stepped right on one. This is a dummy mine field, but, uh oh Spaghettios, there is one live mine in this field, and the drill sergeant has stepped on it. Another army man tells him how he could get out of this – by replacing a safety pin that prevents it from exploding. Mean Johnny Barrows does this and hopes that it will save his life.
It works, but barely. Johnny is able to survive the mine, but it still explodes. His ranking officer, who keeps calling him “boy” for what it’s worth, says that he knew he could do it all along and that he would be safe. Johnny takes offense to this and punches the guy out. This gets him tossed from the service. He returns to Southern California. There, he’s followed by a couple toughs who end up mugging him on the street beat him up pretty good.
This day gets worse when he’s found dazed and lying on the ground by the cops. He’s arrested for not being able to answer questions about who or how much he’s had to drink. At the station, Mirror Universe Adam-12 try to get Johnny to talk, but he won’t. They find his wallet and notice he has a medal that clearly cannot be his. It must be stolen!
When he refuses to answer their questions, they are about to beat one out of him. The police captain stops them and calls the cops out on their bullshit arrest. The captain knows who he is – former high school football star, college star until he was thrown out for messing around with a co-ed, and a war hero. He lets him out.
Johnny is back on the streets but he needs to find a job and a sustainable living situation. He goes into the back door of an Italian restaurant. The chef tries throwing him out, but Mario Racconi, played by Stuart Whitman, comes in and offers him a plate. We also see that Mario has a hot ass manager, Nancy (played by the heavenly gorgeous Jenny Sherman).
Mario played football against Johnny once upon a time. So, Mario also knows who Johnny is. He wants to give him a job. It’s a bit of a dirty job, thus Johnny turns it down. Mario asks him how many meals a silver star will buy him. The next day, Johnny finds the classified section and starts looking for a job. The soundtrack tells us there are no jobs for Johnny when he marches home.
No… I mean it. The soundtrack helps fill in some of Johnny’s struggle in this looking for work montage and it’s pretty great.
So then this guy shows up who calls himself Professor Theodore Rasputin Waterhouse (retired, of course). All his friends call himself The Professor. He is dressed like a 70s American Doctor Who and is played by special guest star Elliott Gould.
He pegs Johnny properly by saying that he’s not been on the skids for very long. He’s a little too well put together and a little too healthy looking to have been on the streets for as long as many of the other people around here. He has Johnny follow him, but Johnny isn’t going to follow someone named Professor Theodore Rasputin Waterhouse without first finding out where they are going.
The Professor likes Johnny’s inquisitive mind.
The Professor says they need to go to the soup kitchen. The number one rule to being homeless is that you gotta stay healthy. You don’t eat out of the garbage. You go to the soup kitchen. Go for a walk every day to keep up on exercise. The one thing you gotta do at the kitchen is deal with a sermon about how all the homeless people’s souls are headed straight to hell. If you can deal with that, you’ll get your food and you’ll be able to survive the streets.
Now we meet Don Da Vince, played by Anthony Caruso. With a name like Don Da Vince, you better believe he’s in the crime business. He also has a son. His name is Tony. Tony’s played by the great Cornelius himself, Roddy McDowall. Tony is a bit of a mess. He seems meek. He might even be slow. Don Da Vince knows Tony doesn’t quite have the stomach for the family business. He apparently is a flower salesman.
Now, Tony does have an ace in the hole. Apparently, Tony came to his papa with a business idea that was too good for the old man to refuse. Tony is concerned about the rival family, the Racconis. Remember Mario and his hot ass restaurant manager? He’s one of them. Don Da Vince and the other son, Carlo, have no worries for the competition.
Johnny’s in a long ass line at the soup kitchen. But good thing there’s a limo with a hot babe inside that wants to talk to Johnny. She’s there to collect Johnny for Mario. Instead of getting out and going to an office for this convo, they all decide to pile into the back of the limo together.
Mario’s father, Don Racconi, wants to talk to Johnny. The Racconi’s think they could win Johnny over to their side because the Da Vince’s are troubling and they are moving into Los Angeles. Don Racconi says regardless if he accepts or declines the offer about to be put out to him, Johnny’s lips must remain sealed. Johnny still declines the job offer. He was a soldier when he killed men in the past. For the mob? He’s not interested.
Mario says that Nancy will take Johnny anywhere he wants to go. They decide to have a deep conversation about the question Don Racconi asked Johnny – “What’s a man’s worth?” Johnny has a lot of feelings around this idea. Hell, he’s been kicked out of every possible positive thing for himself and now he’s on the streets. While he lived by the same code the Racconis and Da Vinces do when he was in the war, but not anymore.
Nancy says she understands his position. She wants out of this life that is directly connected to the mob too. She suggests that he do what Don Racconi wants, get it over with, then leave it behind to get what he wants in life. He says that might be what he must do, but he needs to try to get by his way first. She wishes him luck and he’s back on the streets.
But things turn around. Johnny walks into a service station and asks for a job. At first, it seems as though it’s gonna be another dead end as the guy begins grilling Johnny on his education and his discharge documents from the army. The guy figures out that Johnny was a dishonorable discharge, but he give Johnny a chance. The guy wants Johnny to clean the johns, then scrub the floor, and finally wash a couple cars out back. Johnny thinks this is shit work, but he agrees.
It is shit work, but Johnny goes all in and does his best. A week passes and Johnny begins asking questions. These questions include 1) when do I get paid? and 2) when can I start pumping gas instead of cleaning shitters? You know, important employment questions. At least Johnny has a place to sleep for now. However, as to when he’s going to get paid, the boss tells him to “not worry” about that.
I’d be very worried about that.
Meanwhile, Mario tells Don Racconi that the Da Vinces have moved in. They have set up a flower shop to cover their business. Mario is sent get some guys and prepare for a turf war. Racconi ally, Antonio, shows up at the Da Vince flower shop. He’s looking for Don Da Vince and he’s got a gun. Elsewhere, Johnny Barrows has continued to look for better things to do at the service station. Mario and Nancy come to talk to Johnny. Mario even puts the station’s owner in his place for being a jerk to Johnny.
Mario continues to try to talk Johnny into working for his family. Johnny still says no. Later that same day, Don Racconi gets a bouquet of roses with a note from the Da Vinces saying that Antonio sleeps with the roses. I… I suppose that’s better than a bouquet of fishes.
Racconi sets up a meeting with the Da Vinces. I’m not sure about the meeting happening in the dead of night at a cemetery. Da Vince swears that the cemetery is sacred ground that they both have people buried there. They agree to try to talk through their differences. Da Vince says what he’s doing is going to make a bunch of money. He’s going to sell drugs to blacks, Hispanics, and whoever. Racconi hates the idea of drugs being on the streets and tells Da Vince that he has to stop. The meeting ends with neither side willing to change their minds.
And a dead Don Racconi.
The next day, Johnny gets paid for his work. The station owner gives him 21 bucks. He docks him for parts money that somehow went missing. He docks him for all the Cokes he drinks. He docks him for talking to Mario and for Mario putting him in his place. He then fires Johnny. This starts a wrestling match that gets broken up by the Mirror Universe Adam-12 guys again. Johnny performs some sweet kung fu on the guys until the cops club him.
Mario was also shot the night before, but he survived and is in the hospital where Nancy is looking after him. He tells Nancy to get Johnny and bring him to the hospital. Mario is going to pay him a shit ton of money for what he needs him to do.
I hope it’s more sweet kung fu.
But there is a problem… Johnny is in jail. The captain chats with him again and says that Johnny is free to go because he must have some pretty powerful friends to not only get the “guys upstairs” to make sure he’s set free, but Johnny’s old boss is no longer pressing charges. In fact… He’s changed his entire story! But enough about that, a super hot blonde is waiting for him outside.
Nancy tells Johnny that the Da Vinces shot down the Racconis. Johnny still doesn’t want to work for Mario, but he does agree to go to the hospital. Mario flat out says he wants Johnny to kill all the Da Vinces. He places this heavy shit on Johnny – if he does this, he would be saving a lot of black folks too. The Da Vinces are going to sell junk to everyone, and likely more black folks than anyone else. Johnny tells Mario he’ll think on it.
We get to see a montage of how the Da Vinces’ business works. They pack little flower baskets full of junk. They pass the baskets off to black guys. Business seems to be booming.
There’s something worse going on… Don Da Vince wants his people to go talk to Nancy. The Don thinks she’s running things while Mario is in the hospital. Roddy McDowall, looking for a little more approval from his daddy, asks to take that task on for himself. The Don agrees.
Based on what we’ve seen from Roddy McDowall in this operation and his demeanor, I’m going to guess he’s gonna fuck this up somehow.
When Nancy arrives at the hospital to see Mario, a limo pulls up and she gets inside. Later, Mario learns that Nancy might have been picked up by Carlo. Johnny and Mario are nervous. It’s not made better by Nancy calling Mario’s room. Johnny answers and she tells him that they made her do “sickening” things. We do not hear what that is. We do know three things. First, Johnny is ready to fuck up some Da Vinces. Second, Nancy seems awfully cozy with Roddy McDowall saying that if he plays ball, everyone will be out of the way.
And third… Her see-through top is the tits.
I’m gonna pause here for a minute to be a real creep. Jenny Sherman is absolutely stunning in this movie. Whoever was in charge of her wardrobe just killed it. Every time she’s on screen the whole movie looks better. She’s not a particularly great actress and some of the lines in the movie are pretty melodramatic and not exactly helping her sound better saying the dialog, but she looks real good doing whatever she’s trying to do in this movie.
But fuck all that girl noise… It’s time for Johnny to go to work. He’s got an envelope of money and places to be be and asses to kick. He buys himself a sweet silver car. He then picks himself up a fuckin’ fly white pinstripe suit. Johnny means business now.
His first place he needs to do this business is the flower shop. Johnny walks in like he’s Black James Bond and straight up shoots one guy right in the chest. One guy down. There are a few others in the store. One of which is Carlo Da Vince. Johnny sneaks up behind Carlo and dusts him off with one shot like he was nothing. The third guy is left to come back in and sees his friends dead. He goes to get Don Da Vince and Roddy McDowall. Considering this third guy cost the Don the life of his oldest son, well, that doesn’t go well. He’s told to kill himself with his own gun.
And he does.
Roddy McDowall calls Nancy and tells him he’s gotta split for a couple weeks because the “hero” is getting a little close. By the time he gets back, he suspects Johnny will have done all the dirty work and all they will need to do is get rid of Johnny. But uh oh! Johnny is on the boat that Roddy is taking to Mexico.
I really want to know what Johnny did in the army because, seriously, this is fucking super spy shit. He’s sneaking around, knocking fools out, and killing everyone. He’s even making people kill themselves for their failure to the Don. Johnny enters Roddy’s bedroom and wakes him up with a gun pointed right at his face. When he tells Johnny that he is Tony Da Vince of the Da Vince family, Johnny thanks him for telling him he’s got the right guy.
Johnny slices Roddy’s calf and tells him to jump into the water. The idea is that something will eventually come along and eat ol’ Roddy. Something did work out that killed Roddy because Don Da Vince is trying to figure out who put the hit out on his two sons. His only guess is it had to be Mario. He calls in a big time hit guy to provide protection.
Johnny calls Nancy to set up the meeting saying that “it’s done”. I mean… It’s kind of not. Don Da Vince is not dead. Is… Isn’t he supposed to be dead too? He is still the Don and can call in all sorts of muscle. But whatever, sure. It’s done. I think Johnny just wants to Barrow into Jenny’s Sherman.
I don’t know what I just said, but it sounded hot as fuck.
I hate to break it to everyone, but I’m quite concerned that our girl Nancy here isn’t on the side of the angels. She seemed to make that smoking hot glance to a mysterious guy in a car while Johnny is inside the bar where they met to get the info he needed for whatever. Sure enough, the guy in the car tries to run down Johnny. We’ve seen this since that scene with her see-through top, but there is, indeed, more to Nancy than we think. That said, it’s a good thing The Hammer has some football moves at his disposal. It helps keep him alive, but it doesn’t stop the would-be assassin from sticking his tire with a ninja star.
I hope this means kung fu is afoot…
Johnny holds a flower delivery guy at the end of a shotgun. He asks the driver if Da Vince is in the flower shop. He is not. But he knows where is, so Johnny has him bring him to the Don. The Don’s goons are pretty much fucked.
Double-double-barrel action erupts as The Hammer comes down hard on pretty much everyone. So hard, in fact, he kills Don Da Vince with his fourth shot. So yeah, pretty much the Da Vince family is completely wiped out… Or are they?
Johnny calls Nancy to have her meet him at his place. When he takes off for what’s likely to be sexy times, a car with a long-haired man follows. Johnny? He’s no fool, he makes a quick turn and momentarily shakes the shadow on him. A chase does ensue. Johnny takes off on foot forcing the man following him to come along. Then… KUNG FU!
Who is this villain? It’s O’Malley. Who’s he? He’s the guy that set Johnny up at the beginning with the landmine. He’s also the guy who got him booted from the army and basically set this whole thing in motion for Mean Johnny Barrows to have to deal with. It’s a lot of kicks and punches and O’Malley even grabs the Hammer’s balls.
This shit is awesome.
So, yeah, Johnny and O’Malley fight it out for a couple minutes. It seems as though O’Malley’s got the upper hand and will crush Johnny’s head in with a rock, but it’s a good thing that Johnny kept that ninja star because that will save his life as he tosses it into O’Malley’s chest.
But, hey! Johnny’s got sexy time to get to. He meets with Nancy and the music tells us everything is gonna be alright. He suggests they walk up to the top of a hill to “see” better. What they are going to see, I dunno. But the music sounds pretty romantic. He’s very specific about where he wants her to go too. I’m sure this is to lead to a very romantic place. Johnny tells her that he’s got everything he’s ever wanted. He’s got money. He’s got land. But he doesn’t feel as though it’s really his. Something feels off. If it’s what Nancy wants, Johnny’s cool with it.
BUT OH NO! Nancy shoots Johnny!
Yup, our sexy sweetie Nancy is absolutely the final bad guy. She was Tony’s girl all along. She shoots the shit out of Johnny. What she doesn’t realize, though, as she walks away, is that she stepped on a landmine.
That’s… Kind of a bonkers way of ending the movie. No, not the exploding babe. I’m talking about a dedication about the veteran who traded his place on the front line for a place on the unemployment line. I mean, yeah. Those guys had it hard. But…
Oh forget it. Any movie that ends with someone exploding is fantastic.
I do have a question though. This is supposedly Johnny’s “place”, right? That’s where he said for Nancy to meet him. Does he just have a plot of land with weeds and dandelions all over the place? Does he just have a hill he bought? Did he buy the hill he was willing to die on? Okay, jokes aside, seriously, what’s up with this?
Okay, sure… He just got this bitchin’ job with all the monies. He hasn’t had time yet for building a house. Fine. There was a landmine on the property though. Did he put those out there? Was that his ADT system against burglars? Or… OR did O’Malley use that as a possible failsafe to get Johnny no matter what? That seems more likely, but also… I really just liked the twist that she seemingly was getting away scot-free and then BOOM! BLABLAMMBOS! she’s blown up.
A surprising end, no doubt.
It kinda sucked that Nancy was the bad girl. I kind of feel like that was a change to the script mid-stream. I know there are little things that suddenly seem to make more sense when looking back, but it still kind of comes out of nowhere. Yeah, Roddy McDowall jumps at the whole thing to get to her to have the Da Vinces lean on her a bit, but there’s a lot riding on his dad letting the weirdo kid with the affinity toward flowers to agree to this whole set up. If it’s Carlo that went to her instead, does that totally fuck up the whole plan? It’s a plan that entirely hinges upon this working out exactly or Nancy’s gonna get hurt real bad.
But, in the long run, this is a fine film for what it is. It’s independent. There seems to be an earnest attempt to make an engaging drama about a guy who basically get piled on by society after serving in a war. Some of the acting is wonky (I’m looking at you Jenny Sherman… no, I mean, I’m just looking at you in general because you’re gorgeous), but it stands on its own. There’s a general revenge plot there that really takes over in the final act. Overall, decent.
Does it cross the border into blaxploitation? No. I see why it doesn’t get listed with some of the same blaxploitation movies of the era. While it is important in some scenes that Johnny is a black man, it’s not taking some of the same story beats that other films do. In fact, Johnny IS the only black man in the meat of the story. He’s not necessarily bucking a system. He’s a victim of it, sure, but he’s not really doing much more than just trying to find a job, live honestly, and be left alone. So it definitely tries to not go for that typical element in blaxploitation films. In all, yeah, it’s a hybrid, but really more of an attempt to have a mainstream crime drama movie that happens to star a black man (who also directed it).
I still recommend it no matter what. It’s free on YouTube from a few channels. Take in some Mean Johnny Barrows tonight with the whole family!
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Next week, we’re going back to the world of weirdo adult movies as I watch mostly eastern European women do kinky shit with Doctor Who’s biggest villains in Abducted By the Daleks! I’m sure this will not be weird at all!