Color, 1968, 106m.
Directed by Charles Martin
Starring Dana Wynter, Raymond St. Jacques, Kevin McCarthy, Barbara McNair, Arthur O'Connell, John Russell, Ann Prentiss, Royal Dano
Code Red (US R0 NTSC) / (1.78:1) (16:9)

If He Hollers Let Him GoTwelve years after dodging malefic space pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dana Wynter and Kevin McCarthy teamed up again for a very unlikely, fascinatingly weird reIf He Hollers Let Him Gounion project (and, even more strangely, passed away within nine months of each other). A racially-charged soap opera filled with overacting, unlikely plot twists, and late '60s social tension galore, If He Hollers, Let Him Go! belongs to that peculiar breed of Hollywood films grappling with the shifting states of black and white Americans such as ...tick...tick...tick... and The Liberation of L.B. Jones, all of which essentially descended into obscurity very quickly. Of that particular batch, this one got a harsher reception than most; for example, Roger Ebert panned it as "insulting garbage... a series of scenes in which characters pound, gouge and kick each other bloody. This is an evil film, a dishonest film, an ugly film." Well, that's not really the case; it's more an overheated film, a crazy film, which of course also means that it's pretty diverting if you're in the right mood.

After slipping out of prison while serving time for a false murder rap, James (They Live's St. Jacques) finds an unexpected income source in the form of Leslie Whitlock (McCarthy), a businessman looking for a way to bump off his wife, Ellen (Wynter), to get his hands on her fortune. Pining for the woman he lost before his incarceration, a singer named Lily (McNair), James initially turns down a paid off to kill Ellen but eventually changes his mind. However, James has another plan entirely in mind -- to track down Lily and find the real killer who put him behind bars. Of course, fate still has a few more surprises in store.

Shot like a particularly sleazy TV movie complete with lIf He Hollers Let Him Goots of static medium shots and gaudy colors, this is nowhere near a great film; however, the weird range of acting styles (with McCarthy chewing so much scenery it's a miracle he didn't get splinters in his mouth during the final act) and colorful supporting cast (including The Poseidon Adventure's Arthur O'Connell, Rio Bravo's John Russell, California Split's Ann Prentiss, and old pro Royal Dano, who gets to grope a nearly naked nymphet in one scene) gIf He Hollers Let Him Goive it that unmistakable sensation of a late '60s film trying to deal with the times that are a-changing. On top of that you get some pretty bold (for '68) celebrity skin including a nude love scene with pop singer McNair, who wouldn't go nearly as far the next year in Jess Franco's Venus in Furs, and even a pretty torrid moment between Wynter and McCarthy that should have vintage sci-fi fans raising their eyebrows. Finally, this was the first film written by Chester Himes (based on his book), whose novels later inspired the more familiar black action films Cotton Comes to Harlem, Come Back, Charleston Blue, and A Rage in Harlem.

Theatrically released by Cinerama and briefly released on VHS from Prism, this film spent decades in limbo like many of the studio's other titles before eventually getting a DVD release from Code Red, sold directly through them online. The transfer is often shockingly strong, with very vivid colors, perfect black levels, and almost no damage whatsoever; these elements have been kept in pristine condition over the years, and while the restoration of (close to) the original theatrical framing doesn't add much aesthetically considering the "bolt it down and shoot" nature of the cinematography, it's a major jump in every respect over the old tape edition. The mono audio also sounds fine, with McNair's obligatory vocal performance benefiting the most. The disc has no menu but, in keeping with what appears to be Code Red's running joke for years, kicks off with the trailer for Family Honor and includes the trailer for this film directly after the feature.

Reviewed on December 3, 2012.