What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of it? I’ll bet that there are even some of you out there who say they will never watch a slave film, who are beginning to think: “Hmmmm…. A slave movie with Dionne Warwick? Maybe….”
It’s a film that’s been forgotten for over 40 years (except by yours truly, of course) and for good reason.
It’s really bad. But that shouldn’t stop you from seeing it, if not for curiosity sake.
The independently produced and distributed film was released in 1969, but didn’t make much of an impact when it came out, unlike Mandingo which was released 6 years later. And it was pretty much quickly forgotten, although it has developed something of a small cult film following over the years.
The film was directed by Hebert Biberman, a B-movie director and producer who only had a few film credits to his name, until his career was stopped cold when he became one of the infamous "Hollywood Ten," and was blacklisted for his openly politically-leftist views by the film industry for many years, during the 1950’s anti-Communist “Red Scare” panic created by the U.S. Congressional House Un-American Activities Committee.
Slaves was Biberman’s first film after 15 years out in the wilderness and, sadly, his last. He died just two years later after the film came out, which is a shame since, as his final film project, it was so bad.
No doubt he thought he was making a progressive, forward thinking movie that was a reflection and commentary on the Black Power Movement of the times. But as you can even tell from the trailer below, it falls right into the same old stereotypes that you’re seen hundreds of times before.
Starring Warwick, in her screen debut, Ossie Davis (who looks totally embarrassed throughout the film as if he was thinking “How in the hell did I get in this mess?") and Stephen Boyd who seems to have taken the film way too seriously than it should've been (and who I suspect Quentin Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio used as some inspiration for Calvin Candie in Django Unchained), the picture is a mess. Though I suppose it means well. I haven’t seen it in over 30 years and I still remember laughing at major scenes in it.
However, if you’re curious, the film is available on Amazon Instant Video, but I wouldn’t knock myself out to see it, unless you’re in the mood for a good comedy or the bizarre.