During the 1970s Fred "The Hammer" Williamson became one of the undisputed kings of action movies. The former NFL football player turned actor, wrote, produced, directed and even starred in more than 60 of his own films. Many were made through his Po' Boy Productions company.
Unlike many of today's special effects laden, action films, Williamson's movies--though action-packed--were always big on style and featured memorable, heroic characters that audiences could identify with. Williamson played the ultra-cool, gangsta Tommy Gibbs in "Black Caesar" and "Hell up in Harlem," the macho, private dick, Jesse Crowder in "No Way Back" and a spy hero named Jefferson Bolt in "That Man Bolt."
Most all of Williamson's movies have been box office successes in America and overseas, especially the Spaghetti Westerns he made like "Take a Hard Ride," "The Legend of Nigger Charley," "Boss" and one of my all-time favorites, "Joshua."
I saw "Joshua" at least three or four times since it debuted in 1976, but decided to watch it recently since I was on one of my Western movie kicks. I actually had forgotten just how good this movie is. And while Williamson is often lauded for his acting ability, he's also a gifted screenwriter.
Larry G. Spangler, who produced Williamson's 1972 classic, "The Legend of Nigger Charley," directed "Joshua." In the movie, Williamson plays a civil war veteran (Joshua) who returns home and finds out that his mother, Martha (Kathryn Jackson) has been brutally murdered by a bunch of redneck cowboys. They've also kidnapped the mail order bride (Isela Vega) of the man that Martha worked for.
They should have known better because now Joshua has waged his own war and is out for revenge. Joshua hunts down the outlaws, outsmarting them at every turn while high above a mountaintop. He methodically devises some pretty ingenious ways of picking off the bad guys one by one that includes dropping a rattlesnake on one of them, rigging a shotgun to a tree and killing another and setting a dynamite trap.
During a recent interview with N2Entertainment.net, Williamson said that "Joshua" continues to resonate with audiences both here and abroad. "Joshua" is a classic Western in every way," explained Williamson who admits the movie is also one of his personal favorites. "It's a contemporary revenge story with characters that viewers come to care about."
Williamson believes that audiences--and not just his loyal fans--still long for these types of character driven movies. "It's unfortunate that they aren't being made anymore," says Williamson. "Now it's all about big budgets and special effects."
Williamson has a proven track record that shows his movies can be produced inexpensively yet still turn a sizeable profit.
"One of the most interesting things to me about Fred Williamson has been his business acumen," says John Simmons, Assistant Professor of Cinematography at UCLA and who is also one of only four African-Americans in the entire country that's a member of the prestigious American Society of Cinematographers.
"Williamson is a savvy businessman and knew how to market himself and create opportunities at a time when so many doors were shut to African-Americans," adds Simmons. "He also had an understanding of the importance of the Spaghetti Western in cinema and was able to ride that wave. The people that you see making films today; a lot of their success stands on the shoulders of pioneers like Fred Williamson."
Besides that, Simmons notes that Williamson made sure that he was always a hero in his movies. "He won all his fights, never got killed, always got the girl and went to the bank based on those three movie rules," says Simmons. That's pretty smart."
Editor's Note: If you haven't seen Fred Williamson's 1976 movie "Joshua" be sure and check it out. It's available on DVD and can be purchased online or at your local video store.