The Big Score

Director: Fred Williamson    
Fred Williamson, John Saxon, Richard Roundtree

There has been a lot of debate about the blaxploitation genre. Some people have argued that it exploited the black actors cast in these movies; work for these black actors was hard to come by, so they would often Without his cigar, Fred was forced to use a gun as a phallic symbolaccept roles for less of a salary than they deserved. Others have argued about the kind of roles these black actors were cast in; as I stated in my review of Five On The Black Hand Side, many people were upset that these blaxploitation films focused on criminal elements instead of more wholesome subjects. And as I also stated, some people believe that the blaxploitation era made no difference in helping to advance black actors' position in Hollywood nowadays, given the scarcity of black roles in movies in the few years after the collapse of the genre. But there is also some argument from the other side for that last issue, at least in the case of Fred Williamson. When the blaxploitation genre died in the mid-'70s, Williamson kept going like nothing had happened, first by appearing in the same kind of movies that he had been in when the genre was at its strongest; he in fact appeared in a whopping five films in 1975 when the genre was all but dead. He also started to direct his own films, showing a power behind the camera that was unheard of when the blaxploitation genre was in gear. As the years past, he changed his direction whenever it seemed his career was heading to a standstill; for example, he headed to Italy several times to appear in movies made there. Whatever he did, he never found himself out of work for long, and is in fact still working in front of and behind the camera today.

Not only has Williamson earned credit behind the camera as a director, he has also earned it as a screenwriter, writing among others No Way Back, The Last John shows *his* phallic symbolFight, and the western Joshua. He didn't write the screenplay for The Big Score, but there is an interesting story attached to it all the same. According to the Leonard Maltin movie guide, the screenplay was originally written as a proposed entry in the Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry series. (See, unlike the Teen Movie Critic, I credit my source when I take something from one of Leonard Maltin's reviews.) This may sound promising when you consider that the same screenwriter also wrote the story for the Dirty Harry entry The Enforcer. On the other hand, the screenwriter also wrote two hack jobs for Golan and Globus, the lame buddy cop flick Number One With A Bullet, and the equally lame Death Wish 4: The Crackdown. The Big Score concerns itself with the drug trade in Chicago. Frank Hooks (Williamson) is a cop determined to smash a drug ring lead by a Goldie Jackson (Michael Dante). He's assisted by his partner Davis (Saxon, Enter The Dragon) and by cop Gordon (Roundtree, Shaft). What he doesn't know is that Jackson is just a lower part of the drug totem pole, and it's actually mobster Mayfield (Joe Spinell, Maniac) who is pulling the strings.

I wrote down a lot of notes while watching The Big Score. Here are some of them:

  • In the opening sequence, Hooks drives to a drug bust not only wearing pimp clothing, but driving a pimpmobile. The question I'm wondering about is just where did he get that pimpmobile. Does the police force own one to be used for undercover assignments like this? Did they rent it? If they did rent it, wouldn't it violate the rental agreement to take it into a dangerous situation? Incidentally, I can't picture Clint Eastwood dressed as a pimp or driving a pimpmobile, which may be one reason why he rejected this script.
  • (By the way, did you know my Microsoft FrontPage spellchecker recognized "pimpmobile"? Let it not be said that Bill Gates is not thorough.)
  • The actual bust is not only has its footage badly edited, but there is bad sound mixing as well. When Davis and Gordon jump into the fray, they have some lines of dialogue that are next to impossible to hear because the harsh Jay Chattaway synthesizer score is blaring too loudly in the background.
  • A drug bust like this should show our hero to be a super cop of some sort. However, there is nothing especially super about what Hooks ends up doing in the bust. All he ends up doing is getting into a quick fist fight with his prey. I admit it gets a few points for having the bad guy at one point getting slugged in the crotch, though Lee Marvin did this kind of thing better in Point Blank.
  • The scene in the captain's office is tightly filmed - every shot is a close-up head-and-shoulders shot of one of the individuals there. Cheap filmmaking.
  • They are not fooling anyone - Hook's "you're going away for a long, long time" speech to the bailed Jackson is obviously dubbed.
  • Jackson mockingly says to Hooks "Any time you want a nickel bag, Hooks, let me know." That's a real dumb thing to say to a cop that could testify about it later. Incidentally, his lawyer is right beside him when he says it, but doesn't say a thing. Get a new lawyer, buddy.
  • Hooks grabs Jackson by the collar after being mocked too much. As the cops and Jackson's cronies break up the struggle, there is plenty of shouting that's impossible to make out. The audio of this movie really sucks.
  • In the captain's office afterwards, getting grilled for his behavior, Williamson speaks his lines quickly and with no conviction to them. He's probably as impatient to get though such a clichéd scene as we are.
  • Who is this woman that Hooks visits after leaving the precinct? His girlfriend? His ex? You have to wait until later into the film to find out that her full name is "Angie Hooks" (played by singer Nancy Wilson), so I guess she's his ex. The scene itself seems to serve no purpose, except maybe to have a product plug for Budweiser beer.
  • Boy, John Saxon isn't getting a lot to do. So far, he seems to be there so Hooks can speak his thoughts out loud.
  • Hooks shoots a warning shot in the vicinity of a small-time hustler he's chasing. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't warning shots supposed to be fired up? Later he tells the suspect that next time he won't "shoot in the air." I think Hooks needs to return to the police academy.
  • I really hate this loud and blaring synthesizer score.
  • For a super cop, Hooks has a really wimpy gun. I admit I'm not versed with guns, so let me describe it as a short-barreled revolver that isn't much bigger than the palm of his hand.
  • Why is it that so many of the outdoor shots of the movie at this point look like they were filmed in the same run-down stretch of alleyway?
  • How about that - during another drug bust, Goldie Jackson gets killed by Hooks. That's something I wasn't expecting a third of the way into the film. Though at this point it seems an unusual place to introduce another villain.
  • Hooks visits his ex-wife again at her nightclub in another scene that seems to serve no purpose at all, except to showcase Wilson's singing ability
  • Mayfield and Kolso (played by Bruce Glover) appear around this part of the movie, and they help to add a little life to what's going on. As Mayfield, Spinell has a penetrating look, one that means business. Glover manages to express emotions like rage without going over the top.
  • Guess what - we have yet another scene at Angie's nightclub which serves no purpose at all!
  • In keeping with the movie's insistence on scenes that serve no purpose, we next get a long (and slow-motion) flashback by Hooks to the drug deal where Goldie Jackson was killed.
  • Then we get another scene that serves no purpose, with Hooks returning to the scene where Goldie Jackson was killed, and looks around.
  • After that, we have a scene with Hooks and Angie having breakfast, in a scene that... guess.
  • We start getting locations that don't look like they were filmed in the same alleyway. But they are, for the most part, tightly shot, making it hard to get a feel for them.
  • Let me get this straight... The bad guys think that a lot of money that went missing during the Goldie Jackson bust/kill is now secretly in the hands of Hooks. The bad guys want the money back. Okay, well if that's the case, why do the bad guys start trying to kill Hooks? How could they get back the money that way, if he had it?
  • After questioning him, Hooks kills one of Mayfield's men in cold blood. Later, he shoots an unarmed man (who's not trying to flee or hurt him) in the leg. Dirty Harry was never this harsh, and this is probably another reason why Eastwood rejected the script.
  • I think at this point (more than an hour into the film) there has been only three brief appearances by Mayfield. This is a poor way to build up a bad guy.
  • Speaking of appearances, I just realized Roundtree's character stopped appearing some time ago, with no explanation. Well, it's not like he appeared that much anyway.
  • The climactic action sequence is a real disappointment. Some of the action takes place in the interior of an abandoned warehouse, where it's dark and hard to make out what is happening. A kung fu fight reeks of choreography instead of feeling like a genuine and desperate struggle. And a key grenade explosion is only heard and not seen. In fact, the whole sequence feels cheap, quickly made with limited resources.
  • What? Mayfield's character goes away unpunished at the end? That may be a more realistic ending, but it's not one that many action fans will be pleased by.

The big score? More like a low score to me.

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See also: The Art Of Dying, Deadly Force, One Man Jury