Boss (1975) Blu-ray Review

Black Bart

After two black bounty hunters declare themselves Sheriff and Deputy of an archetypal western movie town, they institute new laws. The list is topped with a $20 fine for using racial slurs; this town might become bankrupt, but the jail is well funded.

A year after Blazing Saddles uprooted the western and tore down racial boundaries with wit, Boss took another route: Fred Williamson brandishing a shotgun on any white outlaws in his way. There’s comedy. Residents of this town gape at their new lawmen with comical bug eyes. High-rollers like the bank owner end up imprisoned for minor infractions.

Boss is more than comfortable with itself. The original title, Boss N*gger, lays out a blaxsploitation platform that famed director Jack Arnold runs with. Using a snazzy ‘70s funk for its score, Williamson takes on a commanding presence, with or without shotgun acrobatics. Wonderfully implausible, shoot-outs pit Williamson against 20-1 odds. Luckily, his gun never needs reloading and his aim is better than a trained military sniper.

An outlet for those oppressed by racial division, like most blaxsploitation, but with more charm than others

Self-awareness accounts for a lot in Boss. Racial divides pop from the script. Along with Williamson is D’Urville Martin, a joy as the two set out to take out “whitey” after their days as slaves. Much of the script plays as a control exercise. If the self-appointed lawmen don’t need to kill, they will demand respect, forcing the mayor to arbitrarily wait while Williamson and Martin finish breakfast. The duo turn tables, slamming the racist bigots who see them as lessers.

There’s a cheapness to the production. This doesn’t have the might of a studio effort like Blazing Saddles. Boss is notably dingy on decrepit sets with little dressing. Action bounces between edits helplessly, barely composed. Given its time and tone though, that all helps Boss, a grindhouse, anti-racist showcase. It’s an outlet for those oppressed by racial division, like most blaxsploitation, but with more charm than others. There’s vibrancy to the dialog, colorful performances, and a deft blending of comedy with an outpouring of anger.

As a western, it’s staid and flat. A local gang terrorizes the town, lawmen take him down. That’s not too important. What matters is Williamson tackling his white enemies, which in genre tradition, is done with a snide wink and limited budget. One-liners memorably sear into the subconscious and while violent, Boss does enough to to stir things up and reveal gross injustices. It’s relevant, sadly, but the lasting appeal is unmistakable.

Video

Consider the budget and source material to put expectations in check. Boss isn’t completely eroded, but carries a number of age-related faults. Under better control than expected, scratches and dirt remain part of the print, inoffensively so. A small bit of judder on occasion is also passe.

Inconsistent color is where Boss begins to falter. While the exteriors of the dusty town manage fine warmth and even some primaries of note, the darkened interiors do not perform equally. Fading robs shadows of depth, turning black levels into a bright blue while sapping color.

That’s an issue for the encode too. While grain appears thin and processed, that’s nothing compared to instances of macroblocking. Opening at night, the first scene is riddled with compression from shadows that only reach light gray. There’s a digital buzz to the imagery in general, if not outright blocking than a sheen of minuscule artifacting.

Fine detail isn’t much of a thing here. Sharpness is low and resolution struggles to reach an acceptable tier. Exteriors capture some of the minor set dressing at least.

Audio

With an awesome, pure ‘70s theme song, that’s enough to save Boss’ audio from being intolerable. There’s plenty wrong here, including some skipping between edits and static underlying dialog.

This scratchy PCM mono effort only provides the barest essentials. Muffled dialog captures the low-grade original recording methods, topped with 40+ years of aging. Highs screech and no lows exist anymore. As a grindhouse track, there’s natural flavor here, preserved uncompressed on this disc.

Extras

Producer Myrl Scheribman is brought in for two interview segments, one on the production, another concerning director Jack Arnold. Together, they run 12-minutes. An older interview with Fred Williamson nearly makes it to 30-minutes, a fun conversation.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

  • Video
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Movie

Fred Williamson does more than boss around his constituents in this ’70s blaxsploitation western, a violent take on Blazing Saddles.

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