The Guy From Harlem (1977): Bad Movie Royalty, Ya Racist

Well, bad movie fans, I feel as though we’ve been cheated. Until yesterday, if you had asked me about the worst movie of all time, I’d probably recite back to you the basics: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), The Room (2003), Troll 2 (1990), Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010)… maybe throw in a little Gone with the Pope (2010) to appear extra pretentious in my adoration of horrible cinema. What do all of these films have in common? They’re made by white directors about white people. Who could have suspected racism permeates our society to such an extent that what is easily a candidate for worst movie ever is completely unknown to lovers of bad movies? That’s the only possible explanation for why we have overlooked this horrendous gem of inept filmmaking. So stop being racist and watch this movie already.

Synopsis: Al Connors works as a private detective in Florida, wowing the underground world with his ways from Harlem, and maybe rescuing a babe or two in the process.

Finally, a hero that understands the importance of cleanliess!

Finally, a hero who understands the importance of cleanliness!

Let’s begin by noticing that the filmmakers here are not out to impress you. Sure, The Man from Harlem may have sounded more imposing or professional, but that’s not what we’re going for here. People even refer to him as “the guy from Harlem” IN THE MOVIE… in case you were confused as to who the title referenced. “Wait a minute, you mean the main character we’ve been following for 20 minutes is the guy from Harlem?! What a twist!” They probably needed to make it more clear, since Loye Hawkins (the man behind The Guy) closely resembles Will Ferrell with a tan and could easily be mistaken for The Guy From Florida Who Kinda Looks Black. Even writing that, I feel mean, since I’m sure poor Hawkins was one of those kids who was too white for the black kids and too black for the white kids, but it really came off that the producers didn’t want anyone too “urban” for the role. Which is crazy! It’s Blaxploitation! Maybe they were hoping this would be the crossover hit that finally got White America to understand the black man.

We're going streaking!

We’re going streaking!

And why not? Of course, only if you think getting America to believe that the average black man’s major concerns are pussy and kung fu slapping is a step in the right direction. At any rate, this was not the film to bridge that gap, for many gloriously horrible reasons.

Both the hostage and I are gigantic fans of Black Dynamite (2009); watching The Guy From Harlem felt like watching the exact movie Black Dynamite was tenderly mocking, although it’s much more likely that the problems prevalent in The Guy From Harlem were ubiquitous in Blaxploitation films of the time. A bright orange shag rug makes it obvious that the hotel room, Al’s office, a downtown apartment, etc., are all the same location with different sheets of wallpaper hung over the walls (this is made even more blatant by the fact that the set designers only sometimes felt the need to tack the wallpaper down at the bottom, so it occasionally curls up in the background of a scene). While no character out-and-out reads the stage directions, multiple line flubs are left in. When the princess or queen or wife of chief (it varies) of “an African nation” (we never were able to get more specific than that) says that she spent “6 month” in Harlem, there is the barest pause and hesitation before the actors are apparently given the cure to continue. I could not count on both hands how often an actor stepped on another’s line, or began incorrectly to have to restart. I imagined Ed Wood (as played by Johnny Depp), enthusiastically waving them through all the errors, trumpeting, “filmmaking is not about the tiny details, it’s about the big picture!”

But don’t be fooled into thinking the film is only ridiculous in set design, acting, and directing. The writing is equally absurd. Any man out there looking to impress his next lady-friend take note: order strip steak well done and J & B Scotch (or as the Rifftrax crew points out: “I hope you like really tough, burned meat and shitty scotch!”). The plot of this film is more like two episodes of Magnum P.I. back to back than one narrative line. Although Connors could teach Magnum a thing or two about fighting – have you ever seen a deadlier beast with his bare hands?

fightOr feet, perhaps? The fight scenes looked as though two ten-year-olds with no training were told to act out their most impressive karate moves. Hands down, my favourite Al Connors take-down maneuver is when he lies on his back and kicks out with his legs – his foes, fortunately no more skilled in combat that he, then run into his outstretched legs and are rendered inert by the sheer stunning blow! Fight choreography has never before looked this hilariously amateurish.

We watched the Rifftrax recording of this movie, and as much a fan I am of bad film, that is definitely the way to go with this movie. Much like Birdemic, the editors on The Guy From Harlem have never heard of elliptical editing. That scene in which Connors enters his office, gets his messages, goes to his desk, roots through his papers, looks up a number to call, picks up the phone, dials the number, waits for an answer… you see it all unfold as you would if you were in his office – all the mind-numbingly dull moments in life that most movie editors assume will be inferred by the audience… not so with this flick. Because of this, there is A LOT of dialogue-free filler, which leaves abundant space for funny people to rip it apart. If you just want to witness the astounding lack of talent on display, watch the film; if you want to enjoy it, watch the Rifftrax.

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~ by K. Harker on December 10, 2012.

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