Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Johnny Firecloud (1975)

There was a time I was big into old-school exploitation cinema, but these days I rarely find myself watching the really grimy stuff. I guess it's because I've seen all of the most notorious "classics", and for every twisted masterpiece like Last House On Dead End Street, there are a hundred shit-fests like House On The Edge Of The Park. But that's not to say that I've given up on exploitation cinema entirely, and I'll still dip into it once in a while, when I come across something that grabs my attention - which brings us to Johnny Firecloud. 

Johnny Firecloud is a Native American army officer who has left the army and returned to his hometown, where a bad Boss Hog-esque bastard named Colby runs the show. Colby and his cronies constantly harass the Native Americans of the town, and the spineless sheriff Jesse doesn't seem to be in a hurry to change any of that. When Colby and co overstep the mark and mess with Johnny's family, IT'S TIME TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH. 

The first thing that strikes you about Johnny Firecloud is how professional and slick the cinematography is - I was surprised by how good the movie looked, the amazing scenery no doubt adding to the effect. The second thing that hits you is the fact that, for the most part, it's about as subtle as a kick in the balls. The first scene features Johnny being hassled by the cops, breaking his tail light and roughing him up - the next scene features Johnny's grandfather being forced to perform a "war dance" in a bar by Colby and his gang (this scene is pretty uncomfortable to watch), before they beat the crap out of Johnny for trying to intervene. So yeah, subtle it ain't, but this is exploitation afterall. 

 After watching these scenes I was expecting the movie to be more typical exploitation, filled with cardboard characters, a la Last House On The Left, that are cartoonish in their villainy. Thankfully, the movie reigns it in and actually fleshes the bad guys out somewhat, which helps nurture the viewer's desire to see them get served a great deal. In fact, Johnny Firecloud's strength is that it takes the time to develop it's characters - the first 45 minutes are almost straight drama, and it honestly works pretty well. The dialog is decent and the performances are mostly solid, so once Johnny finally gets to work, it's hugely satisfying.

The second half of the film is the payoff, and Johnny Firecloud absolutely owns in this sense. For 45 minutes Johnny basically wanders around fucking people up in some extremely nasty and inventive ways, and the movie definitely doesn't hold back with the good stuff. It's surprising how many "notorious" exploitation films are actually pretty tame in terms of their violence, but Johnny Firecloud doesn't puss out - at the same time, however, it doesn't go so over the top that the violence is comical or unrealistic. The only flaw in this sense would be that some of the fights are poorly choreographed, with actors clearly missing eachother at certain points, but that's a fairly minor complaint.

The movie obviously has it's problems, but in terms of exploitation and what one requires from it, it's a total winner. There were points where some of the characters' actions struck me as a tad inconsistent, but I realised a few seconds later that that's probably the tiniest complaint I've ever had about a 70's exploitation movie. It's incredibly rare to find a racism-based exploitation movie that actually treats it's subject with some degree of intelligence, and on this count Johnny Firecloud stands head and shoulders above any similar movie I've seen (I could never understand why Fight For Your Life, for example, gets so much praise).

The tagline for this movie was "A Hate Story", and that's exactly what it is - a harsh, gritty film that pretty much ticks every box for me. 

1 comment:

  1. Never heard of this flick, but it sounds killer. I was really disappointed in Fight For Your Life. It was a drab affair.


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