When it comes to 70s exploitation, always bet on black!
Shep Stone (Fred Williamson) used to be a L.A. police lieutenant before his sister died of a drug overdose and he started doing more than just arresting pushers. Since being fired from the force he spends most of his time finding runaways and drinking bourbon in his favourite bar. When his hooker neighbour is killed by a psycho named Chess for a silver topped cane she stole from the gravesite of a dead silent movie star, he convinces an old friend from the force to let him investigate the crime for $200 and a gun permit. Around the same time a worried father named Dole hires him to find his missing daughter, Amy. Investigating both cases takes Stone into the worlds of pornography, the occult and a local “church” whose flock consists of young hippy Jesus freaks, until they converge and lead Stone to the same MacGuffin—$250,000 of uncut heroin.
Unfaithful Adaptation: Black Eye is based on the 1971 Jeff Jacks novel, Murder on the Wild Side, but—according to this review—differs significantly from this source material in several ways. Jacks’ protagonist is white and was kicked off the force for stealing money from a drug bust. He’s also based in New York, instead of Los Angeles. Also instead of a voluptuous redheaded hooker/porn star/medium, his murdered neighbour in the novel is an old lady known as the “The Handkerchief Woman”. In the book Stone agrees to investigate the murder to get his P.I. license, not a gun permit.
Religion Sucks: Williamson's romantic co-star in Black Eye was the extraordinarily lovely Teresa Graves, who remains best known as the star of the Blaxploitation inspired TV series Get Christie Love. After Black Eye she starred in only one other film—the 1975 Clive Donner directed David Niven oddity Old Dracula—before giving up acting because it conflicted with her newfound Muslim faith.
Best Hack in the Business: Black Eye was the first of two Blaxploitation movies made by Jack Arnold (the other being Boss, which also starred Williamson), the director of Creature From the Black Lagoon, Tarantula and The Incredible Shrinking Man (as well as 26 episodes of Gilligan’s Island).
Despite being one of the biggest names in the genre, Fred Williamson has never made it a secret that he hates the Blaxploitation label, repeatedly asking the question, “Who was being exploited?” whenever he discusses the subject. Watching Black Eye it’s easy to understand where he is coming from. Despite its title, the film bares little resemblance to the outlandish films so expertly parodied by Black Dynamite and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and is instead a fairly straightforward private detective picture that just happens to have a black protagonist.
As a result, Black Eye both benefits and suffers from its lack of traditional Blaxploitation trappings. Director Arnold was one of the best pros in the business and gives the film a solid professional look, and Williamson is outstanding as Stone, a character who never descends into stereotype and who could have easily appeared in more films had this one proven to be a success. The problem is that the script takes what appeared to have been very exploitation friendly source material and annihilates it in an unfortunate show of good taste. The film was rated PG, despite being based on what looks like an X-rated novel.
Williamson does his best to carry the film on his broad shoulders, but its not enough and he’s weighed down by slow-placing and a plot that is never as interesting as it thinks it is. The one intriguing element that does remain (the grudgingly respectful relationship he forms with his girlfriend’s lesbian sugar-mommy) gets short shrift and ends up being unresolved and feeling superfluous.
Fans of “The Hammer” will definitely want to give this one a look, but it’s likely going to bore those who expect some goofy tackiness in their Blaxploitation movies. The best Black Eye can offer up in that direction is this brief "lovers frolicing" scene and—as much as I love it—it just isn't enough.
Bad Mother—shut your mouth! rating: 5 out of 10