Duke Johnson comes to the small town of Bucktown to bury his late brother Ben. When he is forced to stay 60 days to close his brother’s estate, he is given a chance to open his brother’s club, the Club Alabam. With the help of Ben’s friends Harley and Aretha, Duke begins to succeed. That is, until he learns that the Bucktown cops, led by Chief Patterson, are the ones responsible for Ben’s death.
Duke, who is also pushed by the cops for protection money, calls up old friend Roy. Roy arrives with T.J., Josh, and Hambone. Together, the group gets rid of the police. It only becomes the beginning as Roy decides he sees money in Bucktown. Deciding to stay, he enlists his cronies as the new police force and soon, best friends Roy and Duke become sworn enemies.
In what could be a bold move on the part of director Arthur Marks, he teamed up two of the biggest names in the Blaxploitation genre, Fred Williamson and Pam Grier. Williamson truly makes this film his show as Duke, a man who is driven by revenge for the death of his brother. However, as the film progresses, it is clear that once he upholds that mission, there is more to handle when his one-time best friend decides to take over the small town himself.
Duke is truly a changed man throughout the course of the film. He goes from being a city slicker who only planned to stay in the town for a few days to one who ends up doing what it takes to protect the town. Perhaps it is the motivation of both his brother’s death and his eventual love for Aretha, the young woman who was friends with Duke’s brother who is the key to knowing the truth behind his brother’s death.
While most Blaxploitation films seem to have revenge at its central theme, screenwriter Bob Ellison did the impossible and made the revenge theme only the first half of the plot. Instead, Ellison focuses on the classic “friend turned enemy” theme with Thalmus Rasulala’s Roy coming in to help Duke in his mission of vengeance only to turn villain when he decides he wants to take over the town. He gets help in the form of T.J., played by Tony King; Josh, played by Gene Simms; and a pre-Rocky Carl Weathers as Hambone.
Back to the character of Aretha, who becomes Duke’s love interest in the film. While the ever-popular Pam Grier is best known for kicking butt in Coffy and Foxy Brown, she acts more like a cross between a strong woman and a damsel-in-distress type. Suffice to say, those expecting Grier to be doing any butt kicking here will be totally disappointed. The film is truly Fred Williamson’s show and while it would have been great to see a butt-kicking couple, we are sadly not given that option.
Nevertheless, Bucktown is truly a great example of Blaxploitation. It may not have been as popular as previous films by either Williamson or Grier. The clichés of the genre are there yet the second half of the film proves to have quite a nice breakaway from the usual thematic plot of revenge.
WFG RATING: B+
An American International Pictures production in association with Plitt Theatres. Director: Arthur Marks. Producer: Bernard Schwartz. Writer: Bob Ellison. Cinematography:
Cast: Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, Tony King, Bernie Hamilton, Art Lund, Tierre Turner, Carl Weathers, Morgan Upton, Jim Bohan, Robert Burton, Gene Simms.