Wednesday, July 18, 2012

125. BLACK JESUS (SEDUTO ALLA SUA DESTRA, 1968)

I liked this movie quite a bit but, frankly, I needed to rely on various Internet sources to find out some basic information about it, such as where it was set, who the characters were, and if they were inspired by real historical figures and events. All the film tells us, in a closing title card, is that the location of this story is "immaginary."

Set somewhere in what we presume to be Africa, BLACK JESUS stars the great Woody Strode (SERGEANT RUTLEDGE, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST) as Maurice Lalubi, a non-violent black rebel whose eloquence has inspired legions of his countrymen to fight against the dominant oppression of white European colonists. (The role was inspired by the real-life rebel leader Patrice Lamumba.) He is jailed in a room where he makes the acquaintance of two white men, as all three of them await some form of torture. One of these men, a thief named Oreste (Franco Citti), befriends Lalubi -- becoming the man "seated by his right" indicated by the Italian title -- while the other, unnamed prisoner (HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON's Stephen Forsyth) is so tight-lipped and hostile, he might well be a spy sent into the cell to listen.

The film unfolds in something like real time, with genuine stage drama impact, as the men bond -- or not -- while awaiting or recovering from appalling physical punishments. Strode's character is introduced vocally and he is kept off-camera for awhile, imbuing Lalubi with the aura of a Christ-like leader, preaching intelligently for peace but also sensibility and justice. The more he speaks, in a strange way, the less formidable he seems, particularly when he admits to Oreste his dread of the coming suffering. What the film becomes is a tremendous acting opportunity for Citti, who paints a fascinating character who has lived all over the world and done many different things to survive. Luciano Catenacci, the bald burgomeister in Mario Bava's KILL, BABY... KILL!, plays a violent interrogating cop with a down-to-earth naturalism you won't find anywhere else in his limited filmography. Directed by the story writer Valerio Zurlini (who died in 1982 at the age of 56), and scripted by Franco Brusati (Kirk Douglas' ULYSSES and Zefferelli's ROMEO AND JULIET) this is a fairly riveting piece of humanistic political cinema that deserves a wider audience.

Viewed on DVD-R.   

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