Gordon’s War (1973)

The 70s brought in new creative stories using the events of the times, greater lawlessness, veterans, frustrated police, ineffective police, greater use of drugs and societies that seemed to be falling apart. In Italy, this sparked poliziotteschi movies. In America came gritty crime stories (and 70s style noir) and these were part of the black-dominated stories, set in black areas and providing work for many fine black actors and actresses who didn’t have movie work and roles of this kind in earlier decades. The outpouring of creativity was amazing, laying the groundwork for superstars of the future like Samuel L. Jackson and Morgan Freeman.

Paul Winfield, a fine actor, had been doing TV work mainly before “Sounder” and “Gordon’s War”. The younger Tony King had begun in “Shaft”. Gilbert Lewis was recognizable from “Cotton Comes to Harlem” and “Across 110th Street”. This movie assembled a very good cast.

The location shoot in Harlem is an essential ingredient in making this film work. The feel of the streets, shops, people, cars, bars, abandoned buildings, rundown apartments and ramshackle appearances bolsters the movie greatly.

There is a chase scene, car following motorcycle, that ranks among the very best of any movie anywhere, including those in poliziotteschis. That alone makes the movie.

All of the above make the movie above average. What brings it back to average is the story and script. The story is heavy on action, but has not enough continuity and buildups of action, suspense, emotion and aftermath. The multi-talented Ossie Davis directs competently and does what he can, but the script is too often mundane or lacking in sharpness. The individual characters are not fully brought into focus as individual persons. I blame the two writers, Howard Friedlander and Ed Spielman, for the result that the film, while okay, does not rise higher. The idea of it had greater potential. The execution by the cast and crew lifted it, but they couldn’t rise beyond the story and script.

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