In the 1980’s, after his illustrious Blaxploitation career skyrocketed, former football player turned action star Fred Williamson starred in a series of Italian-made exploitation films with his best known of this genre being this trilogy of films in which he plays a hard-boiled, unorthodox, gun-slinging, karate-chopping Chicago detective named Robert Malone.
The original film, a rip-off of the Hollywood action film Cobra, starring Sylvester Stallone and Brigitte Nielsen, starts with Malone called in to negotiate with a band of terrorists who have taken a pool hostage with one of the swimmers already killed. Malone, sporting a black trenchcoat and cigar in mouth (the latter a trademark of the character), goes true to form. Instead of negotiating, he proceeds to kill all of the terrorists, which draws the ire of police chief Walker.
Soon we are introduced to the villains of the film, a biker gang led by someone whose name is never known. They find a roadster on the beach, which belongs to a woman and her windsurfing boyfriend. While she takes pictures of her boyfriend, the gang arrives and attack the girl while the leader steals and goes for a joyride on the beach. He hits the boyfriend, who runs to save his girlfriend only to be killed by a shotgun blast by the leader.
We are then introduced to the character of Elise, a professional photographer for modeling magazines. When she arrives at a friend’s house, she hears a strange noise and her friend opens the door with her neck slashed. You guessed it, the killers are the biker gang. She is attacked and sent to the hospital. When Malone is given the assignment, he must protect her from the biker gang, who knows she can point them out and send them to jail is she stays alive.
During the 1970’s, Fred Williamson was one of the big action stars of the Blaxploitation era. A former football player, Williamson had the build of the action hero plus it helped he earned three black belts, in Tae Kwon Do, Shotokan Karate, and Kenpo. He got to use his martial arts in some films, and not so much in others. In an age where firepower took over, Williamson was resorted to using more guns than his fists. This first installment proves no different.
Williamson channels his tough guy act from the seventies well into this film. It may seem strange that he is the only African-American in the cast (hence the title, which is in its own right, a title for a Blaxploitation film), but he truly is the tough action star. He does to show off his martial arts in one particular scene in which he takes on a biker gang member in his house and throws a few roundhouse kicks before hitting him with a jumping side kick, causing the biker to fall to his death. Of course, Williamson has to have an equally tough villain as an adversary or it just doesn’t work.
Enter Bruno Bilotta, who for some strange reason used a pseudonym of “Karl Landgren” early in his career. Bilotta is truly a big guy himself and one who can perform physical feats as well. He may not have a true martial arts background, but he truly proves to be a menacing figure in the film. He has a half-smile, half-snarl that makes one wonder how dangerous he can be and uses his size to his advantage when it comes to fighting. Meanwhile, model turned actress Eva Grimaldi (in the Brigitte Nielsen role) may seem to play a potential love interest to Williamson’s Malone, but there are truly no spark as it is apparent that Malone is a “lone wolf”, or rather “lone cobra”. Grimaldi is merely just there to play a damsel in distress of sorts and virtually doesn’t do much else.
For a rip-off of a Hollywood action hit, The Black Cobra isn’t that bad of a film, but one can tell it was done cheaply. Yet, it made the most of its budget and to see Fred Williamson channel his old-school Blaxploition action hero in an Italian-made action picture may even be likened by those who love a good cult film.
WFG RATING: B
A L’Imaggine s.r.l. production. Director: Stelvio Massi. Producer: Luciano Appignani. Writer: Danilo Massi. Cinematography: Stelvio Massi. Editing: Alessandro Lucidi.
Cast: Fred Williamson, Eva Grimaldi, Bruno Bilotta, Maurice Poli, Vassili Karis, Sabrina Siani.