Movie Database entry for this film]
[Reel.com does not offer this movie at this time]
First of all, let me admit that
Im just a little bit uneasy mocking this film. This isnt, like many of our
subjects, a no-budget botch job perpetrated by hacks. Its not another limping
reiteration of some genre thats been flogged to death. Nor is it an elephantine ego
project gone awry. It is, in fact, an earnest and well intentioned flick honestly trying
to do some good. Its just that it does it so
I particularly want to say that Im in no way trying to make fun
of David Wilkerson. Wilkerson was a minister from rural Pennsylvania who traveled to the
ghettos of New York in (apparently) the 60s. He ran a successful ministry there and
managed to help some kids out of gangs, at no little risk to his own life. He wrote a book
about his experiences, which was then adapted into our current subject.
The result is so stilted that one finds it difficult to believe that it
was ever considered credible. Yet the video box quotes laudatory reviews from actually
legitimate sources. The Boston Globe apparently found the film to be "[a]n
artistic success." As well, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner praised it as
"[o]ne of the most entertaining films of the year."
I agree, although I doubt that it entertained the reviewer for the same
reasons that it entertained me. More amazingly, he judges that the movie "captures a
sharp realism of the ghetto that can be recognized as true by anyone who has ever lived
there." Yet today even the most naïve viewer will laugh out loud at the films
cornball depiction of life on The Street. Gritty it aint. Cross and
the Switchblade ultimately makes our last ghetto epic, Change of Habit, look
like Boyz N the Hood in comparison.
We open with your standard establishing shot of the Brooklyn Bridge.
(Were in New York. Get it?) This is accompanied by text informing us to prepare for
"A Word from the Producer
" This proves to be your standard our
story might seem incredible, but nonetheless is based on actual events spiel.
Yet even if we buy that these "events actually took place," we can only conclude
that much was lost in their translation to the screen.
We cut to a close-up of a switchblade being opened. This seems to me a
rather cruel jest, raising as it does the hope that we will immediately cut to a cross and
that then the film will be over. Instead, another close-up spotlights a teenaged
boys face, his eyes popping wide with alarm. As some extremely 70s wakka-chika
music kicks in, he takes off through what we now see is a city park. A gang of toughs
quickly takes up pursuit.
The reason the kid can run is that the film portrays an era where the
gang weapons of choice were knives, chains and metal pipes. Ah, those innocent, halcyon
days! Life was so much simpler then. Unfortunately, though, the lad proves insufficiently
fleet. Pulled down from a fence, he is subjected to thugs savagely beating the grass
around his head and torso. I guess that they have extremely poor depth perception. Either
that, or they are actually supposed to be beating the guy and the action is just badly
shot. Their task accomplished, the rowdies run off laughing.
They are met by a female accomplice on a nearby pathway. She opens a
large purse, and they toss their implements of destruction inside. Just after the last
punk drops something in the bag, though, a beat cop happens along. Emerging just then into
the shot, the cop apparently doesnt notice anything until the last guy stops to pick
up something. Given the way the shot is filmed, though, theres no way he could have not
seen the entire loudly laughing gang throwing their weapons into the bag.
We cut to a trial. Already, the films age is limiting its
impact. What, a specific guy beaten instead of being among those mowed down in a drive-by?
And a lone cop happening on the scene apprehends the gang, rather than being himself shot
down? And then the gang members are actually brought to trial? What next? Is the Sugar
Plum Fairy going to make an appearance?
The segue from the park is accomplished by cutting to a photo-realistic
charcoal drawing of the defendants. This, rather improbably, proves to be the work of a
courtroom sketch artist, apparently the finest one who ever lived. Meanwhile, the actor
playing the prosecutor chews out the line "What-did-you-do-after-he-fell-down?"
in the manner of a recent immigrant phonetically reading from a translation guide.
After the defendant answers
"I hit him," the prosecutor similarly labors over the line
"What-did-you-have-in-your-hand-when-you-hit-him?" Hmm. Actually, he might more
sound like a movie robot than the aforementioned immigrant. Anyway, Im busy
wondering why this guy is on the stand. He cant be propelled to testify against
himself. Is he ratting on the rest of the gang? Then why doesnt the prosecutor ask
what they were carrying?
Right about here, the Subtlety Train completely leaves the station. In
fact, the current sequence quickly becomes the silliest trial scene yet to
grace this website. Considering the fierce nature of the competition, in films ranging
from Abe Lincoln - Freedom Fighter to The Sea Serpent to Body of Evidence,
this is quite a distinction.
The prosecutor tries to get the mumbling witness to speak up. His
lawyer objects, although he fails to state cause. (Presumably, badgering the witness). The
prosecutor then whirls around and heatedly screams "Are you trying to make a fool of
me??!!" (Not that he needs any help.) The screaming in open court seems a tad
extreme, not to mention somewhat unprofessional. As well, the line makes little sense. How
does a defense objection make the prosecutor look foolish?
"Your Honor," he loudly continues, "I cannot complete my
examination if this idiot goes on interrupting!!" Unsurprisingly, the defense
counsel then objects to being called an idiot. The judge responds by reprimanding their
remarks as discourteous to each other as well as to the Court. As the defense lawyer was
only complaining about being called an idiot, however, Im not sure why hes
also being chastised.
Now, though, its the defenses turn to act like a loon. The
prosecutor walks over and seizes the guys arm. Admittedly, such physical contact is
way over the line, but the defense lawyer freaks out. "Your Honor, this man wants to
assault me!!" He then demands police protection (!!) from the prosecutor. Man, and I
thought the O.J. Simpson trial was unruly!
As the Judge attempts to reassert order, the most innocuous looking man
imaginable enters the court. You might think Im exaggerating, to which I reply with
two words: Pat Boone. Thats right, Debbies dad. As if thats not bad
enough, Boone here looks almost exactly like Stephen Collins in The Promise.
This is not a good start.
For some reason, the appearance of the extraordinarily whitebread Boone
throws the court into a tizzy. Hes soon overwhelmed by guards and the Judge noisily
orders him removed from the courtroom. Out in the hall, the cops frisk him, assuming that
hes connected with the gang (Pat Boone!) and carrying a gun. (To do what
exactly?) Instead, all they find is a Bible. Thats right: Boone is our star, playing
the real life David Wilkerson.
As the assembled press
repeatedly takes his picture, the cops search his bible, thinking "Maybe theres
a gun in it!" We soon learn that Wilkersons parish has sent him to the Big
Apple, hoping that he could help these troubled kids. At this, the Cynical Members of the
Press have sport with him:
Wiseacre Reporter: "How do think that you can help those
Innocent Wilkerson: "Ive got a whole church full of
people praying for them back in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania!"
Unsurprisingly, at this the assembled reporters break into callous
laughter. Oh, they of little faith!
The reporter tells him to pray for a miracle, as "the DA will burn
those creeps!" Meanwhile, a cop informs Wilkerson that the Judge wont press
charges (for what?!) if he promises not to return. Shamefaced, Wilkerson agrees. Here the
film counterintuitively proves the limits of prayer. For despite the fervid supplications
of the audience, the words The End fail to appear on the screen.
Instead, a photographer goads Wilkerson into holding up his Bible, at
which he and his fellows snap his picture again. Meanwhile, a cop tells Wilkerson not to
worry, as these kids "are not of your faith." This is meant to reassure the
audience that, like in the somewhat similar Change of Habit, religion will only be
discussed in terms of its Social Relevance. Dont worry, folks, none of that grubby
doctrine stuff here, by golly!
As Our Hero makes his leave, an elevator opens and disgorges a daisy
chain of handcuffed young prisoners. A soulful tune appears on the soundtrack. "What
can you dooo? / What can you say? / Where do you start
warbles out as the camera zooms in on the suspiciously clean cut bunch. See, the lyrics
tie into the action on the screen. Neat. The songs continues as we segue to the sun rising
over the city. "Youve got to realize / that youre just one guy. / But
on the other hand / the fact is, youve gotta try
We cut to the front page of a local paper. Somehow, I suspect
its not The Times. There we see the picture of Wilkerson with his Bible,
adorning the front page (!). Its nestled under a enormous headline that screams
PREACHER "RUMBLES" AT GANG KILLERS TRIAL. (Shouldnt that be
"Killer Gangs"?) As an added hint to the filmmakers commitment to
Social Relevance, another smaller headline reads Welfare Report Blasted Here.
Im not sure what that means, exactly, but it does sound Socially Relevant.
We cut to a pristine classic
50s Buick, the windows of which are covered up with newspapers. Inside we see
Wilkerson sleeping. If one were to actually sleep in the position shown here, hed
wake up with neck cramps like you wouldnt believe. When we cut outside, we see that
the car is parked on a ghetto street, carefully festooned with trash for that Inner City
look. A group of pre-teen kids appears, artfully begrimed and notably interracial in
membership. They look like they just walked out of a Little Rascals short.
Here, however, the film shows us the gritty side of The Street. For the
youngsters immediately start stripping Wilkersons car of hubcaps. (They waited until
daylight for this?) Meanwhile, a slightly older Black kid peeks inside the car. He quickly
reports to his older sister (I presume) that theres a guy inside. The sister asks if
the guy "looks bad," i.e., tough (remember, were talking Pat Boone, here).
Although nervous, the lad agrees to her plan: Hes to hold Wilkerson at bay with a
switchblade. Meanwhile, shell grab his wallet.
So the guy waits for the noise of the kids ransacking his car to bring
Wilkerson out. (Conveniently, despite the fact that each individual hubcap appears to pop
off in a half second, the young hoodlums are still at it.) His sister positions herself on
the opposite side of the car (?). Sure enough, Wilkerson soon makes an appearance, clad in
evident flood pants that spotlight his bright red socks. You know, I can almost believe
that he would go to sleep wearing his tie. But with his shoes and socks still on?
Our Hero proves surprisingly adept and soon has the kid in an arm lock.
Proving that hes perhaps not cut out for this work, the pinioned kid at this point
yells, "Gimme your wallet!" Apparently noticing that things arent going
his way, he then blurts out "Watch it, hes fast!" His sister, meanwhile,
worriedly watches. "Hey, Bottlecap, cool it!" she yells. "Let go of that
cat!" (Bottlecap?! What it this, a Fat Albert episode?) As Bottlecap is the
one being held, though, this advice proves less than pertinent.
Wilkerson manages to disarm his attacker and kick the knife away.
Meanwhile, the sister runs over and immediately recognizes Wilkerson from his picture in
the paper. Apparently, shes a faithful follower of the Fourth Estate. "You the
cat from the trial, aint ya?" she inquires. Wilkerson agrees. For some reason,
this proves his credentials to her. (Why? All he did was show up and
immediately get run out of the courtroom.)
"Lay it on me, Baby," she replies, putting out her hand. With
this, she officially welcomes Jabootus third White Male Benefactor of the Minority
Underclasses. (Notice that Im not even counting the white scientists helping out the
backward natives of Jungle Hell and From Hell It Came.)
Wilkerson, rube that he is
(*giggle*), fails to recognize the universal hand gesture for requesting a High
Five. Instead, he (*guffaw*) tries to shake her hand. "Dont wrestle with
me!" she reprimands. "Just lay it in the sky!" She informs Bottlecap how
Wilkerson is "the cat who went after the Judge in the Egyptian King trial!" (Uh,
The young lady identifies herself (really, I swear) as "Little Bo
Peep," but notes that Wilkerson can call her Bo. Her function, we quickly deduce,
will be to act as Virgil to Wilkersons Dante as he tours this urban hell. Now
thats he cool and everything, Bo calls to the lads running off with parts of
Wilkersons car, including the hood. She apparently has a fair amount of power here,
as everythings quickly returned.
As they reassemble the car, Bottlecap sits nearby, discoursing on how
fine Wilkerson shoes are. His own tattered pair, we learn, were stolen from a wino. One,
he suspects, with a fungal problem, since they make his feet itch. If you guessed that
Wilkerson will soon, to the kids surprise, give Bottlecap his shoes, score yourself
a point. If you also guessed that this will set up an improbable bit where the shoeless
Wilkerson tours the dark areas of the city wearing only his socks (I mean on his feet, you
perverts), well, Id say youve seen too many of these movies.
Wilkerson learns that the Egyptian Kings arent even a
particularly tough gang. The two "heaviest" are the Mau Maus (!) and the
Bishops. Bo, we learn, has somehow maintained status as an independent contractor. She has
no need, we learn, for "jitterbugging, and getting messed up, and cutting cats."
Of course, she did set the knife-wielding Bottlecap onto
Wilkerson. Apparently, she means cutting cats merely for fun, rather than for profit.
Also, I dont know what jitterbugging means here, but its an
unfortunately goofy piece of slang. Itll be used throughout the movie, always in a
serious context, and always inspiring a chuckle from the viewer.
Wilkerson asks if Bo believes in God. Bo replies that shes more
concerned with "pigs, and getting bread." Bottlecap, meanwhile, still infatuated
with Wilkersons footwear, notes that its "Easy for you to talk about God,
a rich man like you, with that bad [i.e., nice] car, and those fine shoes." At this,
Wilkerson hands the shoes over, although not, I notice, his car. Wilkerson tells the
hesitant Bottlecap to go on and take them. He has another pair, he explains, back home in
Philipsburg. Yeah, thats handy.
Impressed with his generosity, Bo offers to take him to see the Mau
Maus, who are "some real boppers!" She warns him, "Dont go laying
none of that God stuff on em, though. Cause theyll cut you so full of
holes that you can sprinkle the grass in Whatsamacallit, Pennsylvania, just by drinking a
glass of water!" (Apparently, Bo has gotten her knowledge of human anatomy from
watching Three Stooges shorts.) Here, Wilkerson proves a fast study, for when Bo holds out
her hand again, he quickly slaps it five.
We cut to Wilkersons Chevy, missing a hubcap and with the hood
tied down on the roof of the car (presumably for comic effect), cruising down
the mean streets of the city. Music that sounds like an incompetent imitation of Nelson
Riddles orchestrations from the old Batman TV series accompanies this.
"This turf," Bo explains as they drive along, "belongs
to the AAAGP." (American Association for the Advancement of Gangsters and Pot. This
revelation is accompanied by comedy music, to help us get how funny it is.)
"They dont rumble," she continues, "they just freak out." Much
like the VWPGCWM, or Viewers Who Paid Good Cash to Watch this Movie.
Bo has Wilkerson pull over. "This is about as close as youre
going to get and still keep your car." (Luckily theres a conveniently huge
parking space ready for Wilkersons gigantic vehicle.) Theyre soon crossing the
street. Nearby, in one of the films more symbolic moments, we see a garbage truck
making a pickup. I half expected to cut to a frightened Roy Scheider, exclaiming that
"Were going to need a bigger truck!"
Bo and the still shoeless Wilkerson (couldnt they have stopped
and gotten some shoes before this?) enter an alleyway. Hewing close to the wall, they then
jump up onto a small ledge to make their way. However, once they arrive at the end and
jump down, a wider shot shows the alley to be entirely clear. This makes the whole
ledge walking thing seem a bit odd.
As they continue, Wilkerson is almost tragically hit by a falling water
balloon. "Water," he sagely notes. "If were lucky!" comes
Bos reply. (?) Finally coming to their destination, Bo calls out to the gangs
lookout, Angela. Angela proves to be a hilariously clean cut young lady in a nice clean
turtleneck sweater and slacks and fashionable haircut. Apparently, life on The Street
takes a lot out of you.
Angela (licking her lips as a signal that her morals are less than they
should be) thinks she recognizes Wilkerson. Bo replies that "you just seen his
picture in the paper." Which confirms that gangbangers and tough ghetto youths all
start the day perusing their newspaper, presumably over a cup of joe and a fresh
croissant. Seeing his shoeless condition, Angela laughs derisively. "Leave him
alone," Bo protests. "Thats his thing." What, walking around in his
stocking feet? Maybe she was laughing at his red socks.
Bo cant take Wilkerson inside, as shes not affiliated with
the gang. So she asks Angela if shell take him in. Angela demurs. Its a bad
time, as the Mau Maus are expecting the Bishops to drop by for a "war council."
Bo presses, but Angela continues to resist, noting that that she doesnt want to get
"bawled out." (The savage world of the gangs, eh.)
It turns out (duh) that Angela is looking for a fee for her assistance.
She boldly asks for five dollars, to Wilkersons apparent shock. Bo pulls him aside
for a conference. "Five dollars is this chicks top price," she explains.
"For that you get two joints of marijuana, her body, and two bits change."
Apparently five dollars went a lot farther then. Bo suggests that three dollars should do.
Hmm, considering what you get for five bucks, for three Id at least bargain for a
beer and a, uh, close personal favor of the type that President Clinton is so fond of.
Bo takes the money to Angela, but only gives her two bucks, stealthily
keeping a dollar for herself. (What a scamp!) Angela pockets the money and escorts him in,
through a door marked "Pigs and creeps, keep out." Bo, meanwhile, takes off to
"steal some breakfast." Thats what she says anyway. Perhaps she just
doesnt want to get Wilkersons blood sprayed all over her clothes when they cut
the interloper into tiny pieces.
Inside the main den, we meet Rosa, a young white woman whos
rather obviously (and I mean obviously) high. The film now takes another large step
away from reality, the presentation of the drug scene here being slightly less credible
than those hippie episodes of Dragnet. Other youths are sitting around
drinking, making out and getting high. Wilkerson is intercepted by stoner dude Chance, who
looks quite a bit like a young Howard Stern. (Which explains a lot, actually.) "Hey,
man," he exclaims, fingering Wilkersons tie, "the tennis club is down the
Once again, though, Wilkersons extremely short-lived appearance
at the trial buys him some space. "Thats cool," Chance posits, apparently
more stoned than I thought. "Cool, man. Smoke my peace pipe." Here he offers
Wilkerson a hit off his wacky tabacky, which is obviously declined. Angela, though,
isnt as picky, and grabs off a large toke.
Immediately from off camera Angelas brother comes into the shot.
He grabs her and tries to shake some sense into her. Apparently, he doesnt approve
of her wanting to be a Deb, i.e., a gang party girl. He forces her to look at a couple
making out on a couch, as an ominous blare of music issues forth. Next we see a guy
snuggling with a girl and drinking from a liquor bottle. "Look at them!" he
shrieks. "Do you want to be like them?!" I guess she doesnt. Otherwise
shed have gone to college.
When he opens the door to
boot her out, two Black dudes are revealed. One is Big Cat, wearing smoked glasses and
carrying a stylish walking stick. Watching the film, it took me and a fellow veteran
Jabootu enthusiast a good half hour to finally decide that Big Cat wasnt meant to be
blind. Whether the films that unclear, or whether its just that ones
brain stops functioning in an optimal fashion when watching this stuff, I couldnt
"Tell the man we have arrived," Big Cat orates in stentorian
fashion to another ominous chord of music. "We are the chosen people! We are
the Bishops!" With him is the Bishops "warlord" Abdullah, who comes
complete with the obligatory dashiki. If Im not mistaken, these are in fact the same
two Radical Black Dudes from Change of Habit. If not, theyre close enough.
Chance points to an adjacent boiler room, and Big Cat leads his, uh,
whatever they called a posse back in the 70, inside. The Mau Maus are cinematically
waiting in the shadows, so that they can emerge into the light in a dramatic
fashion. While the Bishops dont have a gang outfit, the Mau Maus sport red jackets
with two big Ms on the back, matching fedoras with matches stuck in the
headbands (?), and, like Big Cat, canes.
The leader of the Bishops announces himself in a manner certain to
strike terror into the hearts of his enemies: "Big Cats the name, and
jitterbuggings my game." At this, Israel, the "president" (?!) of the
Mau Maus, steps dramatically into the light. (See, I told you.) The two gangs agree to
meet Monday at the park (the "disputed turf," were told) for a rumble. Big
Cat suggests eight at night. However, one of Israels men points out that "we
cant see these cats at night!" Besides, nighttime means more police. Noon, when
the neighborhood kids will be in school and not in the way, is chosen instead.
Unnoticed, Wilkerson enters the room. The gangs have now chosen the
place and the time, and agreed to team up on the cops should they show up. Next on the
agenda is to negotiate what weapons will be considered kosher. For this part of the
powwow, Israel calls on Nicky, the warlord of the Mau Maus. To a burst of wakka-chika
music, Nicky walks dramatically from the shadows. (You just cant use an
effect that cool too often.) This actually is a dramatic moment, however. For we
can now see that Nicky is played by none other than a presumably very embarrassed young
straights, chains, clubs," suggests Nicky. Zips would be zip guns, the
slang term for homemade firearms. These are generally crude one-shot devices consisting of
a cartridge inserted in a pipe with some rudimentary firing mechanism. Straights, I
assume, are razors. Mingo (who is, I gather, only a pawn in the Game of Life), a member of
the Mau Maus, argues against the use of zips. Guns are more apt to draw the attention of
the cops. So only the hand-to-hand weapons are agreed to.
At this point, Wilkerson decides to intercede. However, this poor rural
Minister proves sadly unprepared for the scathing wit of the inner city gang member:
Wilkerson: "Can I say something?"
Big Cat: "I dont know, Dude. Can you?"
Anyway, Wilkerson goes into that "theres Somebody who loves
you" kind of thing. (Im more of a fire & brimstone man myself.) Apparently
were to believe that gang membership is the result of feeling unloved. Therefore, if
Wilkerson can only convince them that Jesus loves them, then his battle will be won.
Wilkerson soldiers on in the face of their withering scorn. When he
asserts that the Lord loves them despite knowing of their "drinking, the
", one of the Mau Maus satirically (or something) breaks out into a
rendition of "La Cucaracha." (?) Im not sure why, but this is apparently
humorous, since all the youths start chortling.
You know Wilkersons in trouble when he starts making arguments
like the following: "You guys talk about getting high. Well, God will get you
high!" At this point, the dashiki-clad warrior Abdullah asks, "What God
you talking about?" Hmm. Dashiki. Abdullah. Im no expert, but
isnt this cat, er, guy (oops, now Im doing it!) quite possibly a
This rather nonsensical exchange continues. When asked if God
"rumbles," Wilkerson replies yes. (See, if youre going to talk, I mean,
rap with the kids, youve got to speak their language. Understand? I mean, dig?)
"Hes fighting for you right now!"
Finally, in a display of détente, Wilkerson addresses the leader of
the Bishops. "Big Cat? Mr. President? Id like to shake your hand." Big
Cat, impressed with this display of courage (or something), indeed proffers his hand.
Only, being black and all, he holds it out for a groovy slap five, rather than
a nerdy handshake. Wilkerson, remembering his lesson from Bo, lays some skin on him.
Then he turns to the Mau Maus. "Nicky? Mr. Warlord?"
(Shouldnt he address the President of the Mau Maus? Wouldnt Big Cat
take this as an insult, i.e., as suggesting that the Warlord of the Mau Maus possesses the
same stature as the President of the Bishops?) Nicky is the films hard case, though.
So when he offers Wilkerson his hand, its across his face. Hmm, maybe Eric Estrada
should have become a film critic rather than an actor. Anyway, that answers that old
question about what one hand clapping sounds like. (OK, I stole that joke from an old Rockford
Wilkerson turns his other cheek, so to speak. Unfortuately, its
too late. The gangs have started mouthing off to one another again. Big Cat theorizes that
the Mau Maus have produced Wilkerson in an attempt to change their minds about the gang
fight. Israel replies that "The only thing were going to change is your lip.
Were going to push it up into your nose!" (Thats telling
im!) Big Cat responds in rhyme, as is his propensity. "When all your worst plan
are made/Youd best sign up for Medicaid!" I dont know who the guy playing
Big Cat is, but apparently he only got the part because Nipsy Russell was busy.
Israel proves just as handy with a rejoinder, however. "Youd
better forget about Medicaid, and start saving for your tomb!" (Thats
telling im!) A shocked Wilkerson, meanwhile, slinks out in defeat. He looks pretty
bummed, apparently by the fact that it will take more than three or four minutes of
uninspired preaching to turn these youths around. I guess that hes not aware that
hardcore gang-bangers often require a half hour or more of generic religious lecturing
As he tramps dejectedly to the door, hes intercepted by Rosa, the
junkie. "Is He on my side, too?" she slurringly inquires. Then she laughs.
"Whats He goin to do for me? Im a mainliner!" To back up this
assertion, she presents her arm. And while she has what seems to be a rather small number
of needle marks, about three Id say, they are unusually large. Apparently she shoots
up using one of those cloth cake-icing dispensers.
"Heroin!" she clarifies, in case anyone thought her merely a
clumsy needlepointer. "A whole mountain of Snow White!" Announcing
that heroin is heaven, she asks Wilkerson what he can provide thats as good. Well,
young lady, maybe you can reap some satisfaction from an Oscar for Best
Supporting Actress in honor of your magnificent thesping in this scene! Bravo!
Now we are treated to a
unique artistic gambit, one designed to make the audience share Wilkersons
depression. For he has no sooner stepped back into the alley than the films folk/pop
songsters start in again. As if in answer to Angelas questions, they croon: "Where
is your good life? / Nobody kno-oohs / Doot doo doo doo doo / Doot doo dee doot doo doodly
" As my friend Andrew noted, its like they were just making lyrics
up as they went along and then ran out of ideas. This certainly is as good a theory as
Unfortunately, though, they soon abandon scat singing and again try
actual words. "You say that Love will change the world someday / How come it
doesnt happen right away? / Hey-hey-hey! / Where is the magic? / Id like to
see / Where is your good life? / Arent you coming on strong with me?"
Certainly that last line resonates with the viewer, at least if they mean strong as in,
"Man, that dude has some strong BO!"
Still, Wilkerson at least has some influence over Bo. She rejoins him
and during their stroll lifts a trumpet left sitting in a front car seat. However, under
Wilkersons expectant expression she puts it back. (You know, this is New York
city. I mean, if you leave something valuable in your front car seat and then leave the
windows rolled down, well, you pretty much deserve to be ripped off. Dig?)
Our duo heads back to Wilkersons car, with Our Hero still
comically shod only in his socks. Reaching his car, Wilkerson stops with an
amazed expression on his face. Hes presumably agog at the freshly introduced
horrendous continuity error. See, earlier we saw him park on the right side of the street,
in front of a block of stores. We saw this clearly.
Now, however, we cut to what hes supposedly looking at from the
street. And not only is it from the perspective of someone parked on the left side
of the street, but now instead of the stores we see a well-tended building with a great
big cross on the roof. "Is that a church?!" he asks. Apparently the world
of Master Detectives suffered a great loss when Wilkerson decided to become a minister.
Running from the right side
of the street over to the, uh, right side of the street (my head hurts), Wilkerson and Bo
approach the church. Singing is heard. As they enter the church and are seen, and the
singing tapers off. Hector Gomez, the churchs pastor, approaches and instantly
recognizes his guest. Man, they sure scrutinize their newspapers in this neighborhood!
"We have all been praying for you," he gushes to the flummoxed Wilkerson.
Hector introduces various members of the congregation, including his
wife Raphiella and several cute kids. The ice broken, they swarm around their celebrity
guest. However, a quick cut shows Bo nervously hanging out in the back. As a street
black, (Im not sure how else to say it), shes presumably unsure of the
welcome shell receive from these clean-cut church goers.
Shes willing to speak up for Wilkerson, though, and calls out
that hes been sleeping in his car. Hector will have none of that, needless to say,
and demands that he stay with him and Raphiella. Wilkerson gratefully agrees, especially
as it will put him in proximity to a phone. See, his wife (we now learn) is expecting a
baby. This is a plot device, by the way, that goes nowhere fast.
Hector is shocked to learn that Bo lives in The Street. Who ever heard
of such a thing, especially in nice little town like New York? We learn that Bo chooses to
live alfresco rather than remain in her familys cramped apartment, shared by her ten
(!) siblings. "So you will live with us, too!" the jolly Hector cries. At this
rate, Hector will have more people living at his place than Bo does.
Suddenly the mood turns reverent. "What miracle," Hector
asks, "brings such a fine young man to our troubled streets?" Wilkerson replies
that finding such wonderful supporters has renewed his faith in his mission here. At this,
the exuberant Hector rushes forward and grasps his surprised guest in a bear hug. (Ah,
those hot-blooded Latin types, eh?) Then, while still embracing Wilkerson, he holds out
his hand for Bo to high five. I can dig it.
From this scene of Christian Fellowship, however, we ironically (*yawn*)
cut to a close-up of a switchblade being opened. A pan back reveals a line of Mau Mau
members, armed with knives, bats and machetes. Across from them are the Bishops,
possessing similar accoutrements. They raise their hands in a Black Power salute. (I can
dig it.) Oddly, everyone is attired in freshly laundered casual wear. Personally, Id
have worn my junky clothes. Maybe its Rumble Etiquette.
At a signal the opposing
lines close together. Weapons flail, although none too effectively, it seems. A crane shot
features the melee at a distance, with bad 70s action music accompanying
the sortie. Close-ups then reveal the perhaps two dozen gang-bangers whacking away at one
another. Then a practically indecipherable tune entitled "The Last Rumble" kicks
in: "Its the Last Rumble / Something, something / Whoa! / We gotta rumble,
gettin it ooon!" Apparently, this tune is too much, for Israel now calls
The Mau Maus take off, the Bishops in pursuit. Meanwhile, a fairly
small number of wounded remain behind. I mean, Israel and some others were wielding
humongous machetes! We were shown prostrate guys getting worked over with baseball bats.
Others had chains and knives. Frankly, its seems like there should have been a lot
Israels retreat proves to be a clever trap, though. Compatriots
of the Mau Maus lie in wait, ready to pull taut an ankle-high rope and trip the pursuing
Bishops. The "Na Na Na" singing accompanying the scenes of running youths,
though, tended to remind me more of a Banana Splits episode than anything else. I
half expected a Mau Mau to yell out, "Uh, Oh, Chongo!", followed by scenes of
the Bishops being pelted with watermelons or custard pies.
Sure enough, though, the trap works. Although the Bishops are so spread
out that no one other than the lead guy would have been tripped, they ludicrously continue
to run into the rope like lemmings. Another undisciplined battle ensues (although by all
rights the Mau Maus should have been able to work over their fallen foes at their
leisure). Soon its the Bishops who are in retreat and the Mau Maus doing the
chasing. The oddest thing is, although both fights left wounded on the ground, there seem
to be ever more participants in the chase.
The Bishops run out of the park and into a nearby alleyway. Now we see their
fallback plan. (Grant and Lee had nothing on these guys.) Running through a tunnel
of boxes, they emerge in an enclosed courtyard. However, rope ladders are placed along one
wall to allow them to escape. As the Mau Maus approach, a rope is pulled and the boxes
forming the tunnel collapse, blocking them.
This gives the Bishops time to make their escape while the Mau Maus
awkwardly push their way through the barricade. They then rather stupidly enter the
enclosed area. This allows their opponents to pull up the ladders and then block the
escape route with a well-tossed Molatov Cocktail. At this point the Bishops begin pelting
them with bricks. (While this is pretty nasty, you have to wonder why they dont toss
a few more firebombs directly at them and burn them all like rats.)
Sirens are heard and the Bishops will soon have to flee. Thats
OK, because their rain of bricks seems to be having a lot less effect than youd
think. We see some ripped shirts and stuff, but where are the concussions, the smashed out
teeth and mangled eyeballs?
The cops, having made the scene, slowly approach the trash barricade.
For some reason this is only partially aflame at this point. (Apparently, cardboard boxes
burn in a very moderate fashion, especially after being sprayed with burning gasoline.)
This allows the Mau Maus, lead by Nicky, to begin escaping up the fire escape. Meanwhile,
they are still being pelted with bricks.
Then we cut back to the fire, which is now huge. (?!) Presumably, the
cops are cut off, although they are nowhere to be seen, so its hard to tell. The Mau
Maus, meanwhile, are jumping from one connected rooftop to another, making their escape.
They are soon confronted, however, by a squad of cops equipped with riot helmets and billy
clubs. Oh, and I just noticed that some of the Bishops, including Big Cat, are also on the
scene. I have no idea how they got there.
The assembled members of both gangs run down yet another fire escape.
Somehow they are now on the other side of the courtyard, up where the Bishops were when
pelting bricks down on the Mau Maus. How the heck did they end up over there?! Then they
all start leaping and running down a long series of stone steps, looking like nothing so
much as members of a mass musical number from something like West Side Story.
Savvy Nicky grabs Israel and
pulls him to safety moments before the cops cut off the toughs and apprehend them. They
all give up after one officer raises his service revolver in the air and fires off a
warning shot. Man, those were simpler times, werent they?
Nicky and Israel, now sporting much more stage blood than they were
earlier, hustle to a rendezvous point. There they are met by Norma, a clean cut blonde in
a sweater and skirt who looks like she just returned from Vasser. Laughably, she proves to
be one of the gangs debs. She hands them their jackets, fedoras and
canes, noting that only gang member Mingo has likewise made an appearance. Hearing
Mingos name, Nicky grimaces angrily.
Israel orders Norma to stay there for another hour. Anyone showing up
in that time is to receive their gear and be told where the official hideout is. Then he
and Nicky run to the street and merge into the foot traffic. Oddly, their faces are now
almost entirely clean. Israel pulls out a handkerchief to clean up, but why bother? The
blood is apparently just evaporating off anyway.
We cut to a cop cutting through a crowd assembled on the street. The
attraction proves to be Wilkerson. The cop, however, is unimpressed by his intention to
preach. "Weve got enough trouble," he notes. Then he turns and begins to
disperse the crowd. Now we learn a rather arcane point of law. I thought that they were
joking at first, but apparently this used to be the law.
Wilkerson: "Officer, dont I have a constitutional
right to speak on any street corner in America?"
Cop: "Only under an American flag!"
Therefore, since the corner that Wilkerson is standing on lacks a
displayed flag, he has no right to speak. This plot point established, the cop turns back
around and resumes chasing off the spectators. Wilkerson, however, is not so easily put
off. "Does anyone have an American flag?" he inquires. The cop threatens to run
him in if he doesnt take off.
The day is saved, though, by none other than Big Cat. Presumably to
razz the cop, Big Cat snatches a little flag being used to decorate a car antenna. (Gee, that
was handy.) Then he runs forth, looking oddly like an Olympic runner carrying a torch, and
hands the emblem to Wilkerson. He posts it on a nearby fence but the cop remains
Apparently, he feels that the flag doesnt count due to its small
size. He declares it to be an insufficient "toy flag," which is certainly a
novel theory. Just then, luckily, the trench coated Lt. Columbo, er, Sergeant Delano
happens by. (A lot of people just happen by in this picture.) To the beat
cops annoyance, Delano doesnt share his views on the size restrictions of
flags. So Wilkerson is finally allowed to speak. The crowd cheers, although that might
only be because they havent heard Wilkerson preach yet.
Our Hero must first win over
this cynical bunch of New Yorkers. "Ive got a message for you," he begins.
A heckler responds by saying "Ive got a message for you," and
giving Wilkerson a Bronx Cheer (i.e., a raspberry). The crowd roars with loud approval at
this sly japery. Wilkerson, though, soldiers on.
"Is there anything in your life youd like changed?" he
asks. However, his quipping opponent isnt through dispensing droll witticisms.
"Yeah!" he yells. "Id like to make the rich poor and me rich!"
(To which hardcore Marxists in the crowd are presumably thinking, You had me, then
you lost me.) Big Cat gets in on the hilarity with one of his impromptu verses:
"Weve got no love. Weve got no bread. We tried to call the law, but the
line was dead." More mass laughter ensues. Apparently nothing goes over with New
Yorkers like a non sequitur.
At this point, Nicky and Israel just happen by. (See what I mean?)
Israel now has some of the blood he wiped off back on his face. I wish hed make his
mind up. Seeing the unescorted Big Cat (and why is he alone, anyway?), they move in
to take advantage of their vulnerable enemy. Israel, however, stops when he spots the cop,
still standing nearby.
Having endured the crowds taunting, Wilkerson fights fire with (*yawn*)
fire. "Some of you are so blind," he asserts, "youre heading for a
ditch and you dont even see it!" (David Wilkerson - Master of Metaphor!)
He warns them that theyre living in dangerous times. "The Bible says," he
continues, "How can you escape, if you neglect your soul? Now thats
one thing you cant run away from!" Uh, well said. I guess. Wait, could you run
that by me one more time?
Israel is shown listening with rapt attention, while Nicky urges that
they leave. (Because Wilkerson is starting to get through to him, and hes fighting
it. Get it?) Its a good thing they didnt leave, though, because Wilkerson now
unleashes his best line. "I see the hate sticking out of your eyes, some of ya."
Uh, well said.
Israel, meanwhile, shrugs off Nickys efforts to get him to leave.
He looks especially struck when Wilkerson tells his audience that "You pretend that
you dont want anybody to touch you. But inside, youre crying out for
Love!" (The Gospel according to Leo Bascaglia.) Wilkerson then, in a bravado display,
dares the "tough guys" in the crowd to "shake hands with a skinny
He walks over to the leader of the Bishops. "Will you, Big
Cat?" he asks. Big Cat pauses dramatically (well, not really, but you know
then peels off his glove and takes Wilkersons hand. "What do you want me to do,
man?" he inquires. "Pray with me!" comes the reply. I will give the movie
this much credit: They dont insert Heavenly ah-ah music here. Big
Cat, however, isnt ready to make the leap yet. Seeing Wilkersons
disappointment, he offers him some hope. "Dont worry, though. Youre
Wilkerson moves on, heading over to Israel and Nicky. Israel accepts
his hand, to Nickys evident dismay. When Nicky is offered a shake, though, he spits
on the ground. The crowd gasps and moans at this rude display with rather exaggerated
horror. Wilkerson, although aghast, responds that "God loves you, Nicky."
"You come near me, Ill kill you!" Nicky loudly replies. This, by the way,
receives no reaction from the crowd. So remember this Etiquette Tip if you ever travel to
New York: Spittings a no-no, but Death Threats are OK.
Wilkerson remains uncowed. "Yeah," he responds, "you
could do that. You could cut me up into a thousand pieces and lay me in the street. And
every piece will still love you!" Sort of like the Sorcerers Apprentice scene
from Fantasia, I guess, only with a twist. Nicky, apparently as freaked out by that
little speech as I was (really, just read that bit aloud and see how it sounds), makes a
quick exit. Delano, meanwhile, comes over and formally introduces himself to Wilkerson.
We cut back to the hideout of the Mau Maus. Horribly wounded gang
members (where did these guys come from?) sit in chairs along the wall. Sporting their
horrible wounds, including grievous burns (although we clearly saw no one get sprayed with
the Molatov Cocktails), they rather amusingly recall the dead sitting in the afterlife
waiting room in Beetlejuice. This impression is reinforced by a Halloween paper
skeleton adorning the wall. (!)
As debs tend to their
suddenly apparent wounds, an unscathed Mingo is bragging about his feats of valor. Nicky,
entering from the hallway, is first seen appearing in a mirror behind Mingos back.
(They must have a class called The Artistic Uses of Mirrors - 101 in film
school.) A disgusted Nicky accuses Mingo of running out on the fight. "You calling me
a liar?" Mingo bleats. "Im calling you a liar and a chicken!"
Nicky angrily retorts.
Nicky shepherds the walking wounded into a line. They all remove their
belts, buckle-end up, and create a gauntlet. Nicky orders Mingo to enter it. Just then,
however, Israel shows up. Feeling that Nicky has overstepped his authority, the irate
Israel pulls him into a corner. Nicky, however, chides him for hanging out (*gasp*)
with Wilkerson. "Hes just a nice guy with a lot of guts trying to help
people," Israel responds. (This guy is a gang leader?)
Nicky here points out the obvious: "He wants to break up the
gangs! What the hell do you think hes in the neighborhood for?" Yeah,
youd think Israel would, in fact, also have a problem with that. This, by the way,
is Estradas big Oscar Clip moment. He wails and cries and slaps the walls.
(You wouldnt want him to mess up his hands by hitting a brick wall with his fists,
would you?) I guess it would be mean to make fun of his acting here. Still, you do wish
hed light some of those matches stuck in his hatband and clear the air a little, if
you know what I mean.
Nicky, apparently, cant handle the pressure of Wilkersons
attention. "Why does he have to pick on me?" he shrieks. "Because
youre the worst, craziest bastard there is," Israel sagely responds. "If
he could reach you, he could reach anybody." Actually, I really wouldnt mind
living in a universe where Nicky represented the absolute worst that mankind had to offer.
Sounds pretty peaceful, actually.
That fit of histrionics out of the way (Acting!), Israel removes
his own belt. At the sight of this, Mingo takes off, the rest of the gang in pursuit.
Discordant trumpet cords bleat to reflect the ominous actions on the screen. Out in the
alley, Mingo clambers onto a nearby fire escape. The gang quickly emulates him.
Then comes a rather glaring continuity error, as Nicky engages in an
act of Offscreen Teleportation. One second, a wide shot clearly reveals Mingo to be
at least a floor higher than his pursuers. This includes Nicky, who is quite distinctly in
the shot to his rear. The next second, a close-up shot reveals that Nicky has not only
somehow caught up with Mingo, but has actually somehow gotten in front of him and is
blocking his way. (?!) Mingo, spaz that he is, backs away and manages to fall off the
fire escape. This, as you might expect, results in a compromise of his bodys
Angela, the girl who wanted
to be a deb (remember?), shrieks with horror and runs to Mingo. From this and an earlier
reaction shot, I guess, possibly, that were to deduce that she had something going
on with Mingo. Or maybe not. If so, its otherwise ignored and goes nowhere, so who
Then, for an ironic punctuation to the scene, Norma runs up. "Who
won?" she asks, referring to the gang fight. "Who gets the park?" "I
dont know." Israel realizes with shock. Wow, so it was all for nothing. The
fighting, the blood, the seared and flayed flesh and broken bones, Mingo, everything, and
nothing was even resolved. It really makes you think, doesnt i
hey, wake up!
You heard me!! Wake up, over there!!
We cut to Nicky in his (I must admit) authentically tiny and hovel-like
apartment. Hes tossing and turning in his sleep, perhaps dreaming of the critical
response to his performance in this film. In case we dont get it, we see into
Nickys dreams and see Mingo again falling from the fire escape. In a truly
extraordinary coincidence, Nicky sees this, not from his perspective on the fire escape,
but from the exact angle that the camera showed it to us earlier. He evens sees himself
and the gang looking at Mingo on the ground, again from the same angle that the camera
portrayed it. What are the odds, huh?
Then he starts dreaming of Wilkerson, again seeing himself spit at him
and slapping him in the face. Hes then awakened by a knock at the door. ("Movie
Police! Open up, weve got the place surrounded!") Grabbing his cane and raising
it, he opens the door and finds
Wilkerson. He again tosses the God loves
you thing at Nicky, who responds (not entirely without cause) "You woke me up
to tell me that?!"
When Nicky again threatens
to kill him, Wilkerson answers that "Im not afraid of you." "You talk
tough," he continues, "but inside youre like all the rest of us.
Youre scared." (Apparently there are no sociopaths in the this universe. Again
- nice place.) Its when Wilkerson asks the searing question, "Arent you lonely,
Nick?", though, that he finally provokes a response. "Damn youuuu!!" Nicky
caterwauls, slamming the door.
The next day, Rosa the junkie (remember?) enters a neighborhood candy
store. This kicks off another couplet by our narrative minstrels. "Love is only a
word to me / A word you use when youre not too sure of what
Here, luckily, theyre cut off before they can go into that "doot doo doodly
Nicky, once Rosas lover, is already inside, enjoying a tasty ice
cream treat. She plays up to him, trying to cadge ten bucks for a fix. Nicky, however,
contemptuous of her weakness, wants nothing to do with her. "Trust me, Nicky, just
until tomorrow." "I wouldnt trust you to yesterday!" he snarls. (?)
Hoping to soften him up, she speaks of her feelings for him. "I know a deb is
supposed to belong to the whole gang [boy, theres a career option for you!],
but I only really ever belonged to you, Nicky!"
She reveals that she only enjoyed, uh, extra-curricular activities when
with him. "I really dug it," she asserts. "Write it in my yearbook!"
he snaps, tossing her off. (At least that makes more sense than his trust you to
yesterday crack.) However, he realizes that he can use her desperation for a fix to
He drags her into the stores phone booth (Kids, ask your
parents!) and closes the door. "What do you want me to do?" she whines. "I
want you to get rid of the Preacher," he replies, flipping open a switchblade.
"How?" she asks. "Kill him, scare him, ball him [uh, does that last one
really get rid of him?], I dont care." If she takes care of
Wilkerson, he promises, hell take care of her. Lost in the power of the Horse with
No Name, she can only agree to his terms.
Cut to an odd scene that really doesnt have much to do with
anything. Israel and two others run into a hallway with a sack of swag. From their
comments we learn that they thought their victim was Jewish. However, upon examining their
ill-gotten gains, Israel finds a crucifix. "The guys a Catholic!" one thug
yells, while the other crosses himself.
His conscience bothering him, Thug #2 suggests taking the crucifix to
the hospital and giving it to Mingo. Thug #1 laughs at this pious suggestion, noting that
Mingo wouldnt even know what it was. "Thats right," replies Thug #2,
"hes still in a
a coma?" As he stutters over his apparently
exotic word, his buddy has sport with him. "A kimono?" he laughs.
"Mingos in a kimono!" So
ghetto thugs know what a kimono
is, but have trouble with coma?
Cut to dinner at Hector and Raphiellas place behind the church.
There Bo (looking much more clean cut), Wilkerson and Sgt. Delano are having dinner.
Apparently, this in the days before Taco Bell, as both Bo and Wilkerson seem to find the
basic Mexican fare quite a novelty. "Mmm, these are delicious," Wilkerson notes,
biting into a tostado. "We dont have anything like this in Phillipsburg!"
Boy, the Big City, huh?
Delano expresses his admiration for Wilkersons accomplishments.
"Youve been working with a bad bunch of apples, and youve got them
smiling!" (Thus proving that as a wordsmith, hes a good police officer.)
Wilkerson, however, is depressed by his inability to reach Nicky. He also feels that the
moment he approaches a breakthrough, the kids just tune him out. "Maybe if I could
get them all together in one big place
" he muses. Yeah! And put on a show!! It
always worked for Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland!
"You mean a rally!" Hector exclaims. "Yeah, a
rally!" Wilkerson concurs. "All the beboopers and jitterbuggers and
everybody!" Delano warns about how dangerous such an enterprise is (yeah, to the
audiences suspension of disbelief), but Wilkerson is too enthused to listen.
Wilkerson notes that they'll need a place large enough for "every
gang member and junkie in New York!" Bo smirks. "That dont take a hall, it
takes the Grand Canyon!" Actually, when the time comes, well see that
"every gang member and junkie in New York ends up being the Mau Maus and the
Bishops. In other words, maybe two dozen people.
Cut to Israel and Nicky rapping at Gang HQ. Nicky again gets on
Israels case about his chats with Wilkerson. They both pretend to find
Wilkersons ministering to them comical. Yet, like gods we peer into their souls and
perceive the spiritual voids that they are so desperate to fill. Or something.
Back at the Gomezs, dinner is interrupted by the doorbell. Then
the phone rings. Its Gwen, Wilkersons pregnant wife. Out in the chapel, Hector
opens to door to find Rosa waiting. (Remember? Her nefarious purpose?) Hector, proving to
be somewhat naïve, asks the sweating, agitated Rosa "Whats the matter with
you?" She demands to see Wilkerson.
Freaking out, she runs into the home quarters, searching for him. She
comes to a halt, however, when she sees Delano, whose extremely evident gun identifies him
as a cop. She then demands that Wilkerson, still on the phone, talk to her in private. The
two of them head back into the chapel. She rambles incoherently (gee, whoda
thought), then asks for ten bucks. He, of course, refuses, because of the whole "Man
of God" thing. "Youre a filthy fink!" she replies.
Enraged, she pulls the knife, and after some travail, manages to open
it. She swipes it at Wilkerson and manages to slash his shirt. The Gomezes and Delano
appear, and Rosa takes off. Raphiella, however, manages to cut off her escape. Trapped,
Rosa puts the knife at her own throat. This is meant to be dramatic, but since it recalls
a similar scene involving Bart the Sheriff in Blazing Saddles, the effect is
somewhat lessened. Having the audience impersonate Rosa saying in a deep voice,
"Nobody more or the junkie gets it!" probably isnt what the filmmakers had
in mind here.
Rosa indeed threatens to
kill herself. However, Raphiella talks to her and gets her to put down the knife.
(Frankly, Raphiella seems a lot better at this sort of thing than Wilkerson. More
believable, anyway.) The scene ends with the two women embracing. Awww!
We cut to the obligatory montage of Rosa suffering from heroin
withdrawal. I think that you can pretty much envision what this is like. What you probably
cant predict, though, are the lyrics that accompany this bit. This section of our
musical narration is somewhat weird, presumably to reflect the heroin thing.
"Cover my ground with fleecy white snow / Cover my floor with dust / Cover my
walls with spidery webs / Cover my mind with drugs
" I think. And so on,
until Rosa is, presumably, over the hump.
Cut to a funeral procession driving down a rainy street. This just
happens to stop (a funeral procession?!) in front of a hall where a sign is being put up
that reads "BIG YOUTH RALLY / DAVID WILKERSON". Seeing this, Nicky snarls
"I wish he was in that box instead of Mingo!" "Yeah," Israel agrees,
"poor Mingo." This dialog cleverly helps us to figure out that this is
Mingos funeral. Just in case, you know, we were wondering.
At the cemetery, we see a knife-wielding member of the Bishops.
Strategically camouflaged in a bright yellow shirt and glaring red headband, hes
lurking behind a tombstone. Meanwhile, an utterly inappropriate blues harmonica wha-whas
as we look over the group of mourners. Soon the extras leave, and only Israel, Nicky and a
couple of others Mau Maus are left. (Apparently, appearance at a gang member's funeral
Walking to the open grave,
Israel tosses in Mingos gang jacket, fedora and cane. Then we see him fall into the
grave. Music explodes (well, pops) as we see that the Mau Maus are under attack from a
sizable group of Bishops. We clearly see Nicky and at least one other guy getting slashed
with huge honking machetes.
Suddenly, cop whistles are heard (thats convenient) and
the Bishops run off. Laughably, we see that all of two cops are causing their retreat. The
two other generic Mau Maus run off too, including the one we saw getting worked over with
a machete. Next, Nicky staggers off. Again, while hes obviously hurt, for a guy
whos just suffered from a machete attack, he looks pretty good. Finally, we see
Israel pulling himself out from Mingos grave.
Having run all the way back to the city, Nicky collapses in an
alleyway. Bo just happens to walk by (see previous note), and sees his (somewhat) bloodied
condition. "Hey, Nicky," she asks. "Whats the matter, you get
hurt?" Seeing that this is so, she goes to get help, and in roughly ten seconds
returns with Wilkerson and the cleaned up Rosa. I guess they were just happening to walk
Wilkerson begins yakking again at Nicky, whos in too bad of a
shape to do much about it. Seeking some respite, Nicky again staggers off. "He
wont listen to me," Our Hero mutters. Given the circumstances, this makes him
sound a trifle self-absorbed. Rosa, who has hopes of winning Nickys love now that
shes off the stuff, asks Wilkerson if she should go try to help him. Wilkerson sends
her after him, which seems pretty stupid to me. "Tag along, Bo," he orders, like
hes the leader of the A-Team or something.
As Nicky makes it to his apartment, Rosa dismisses Bo. Meanwhile, she
yammers on to him about how shes clean. The last thing Nicky wants to deal with
right now, though, is one of Wilkersons rehab projects. He begins to berate her, in
a scene where again we see Nicky via a mirror. Wow, thats twice theyve done
that now. I guess that that officially makes it a motif.
To emphasize Rosas
pain at Nickys rejection of her, that stupid "Cover my ground"
heroin song starts up again. Sure enough, Rosa runs off to seek surcease of sorrow via her
drug of choice. She runs past a tabby cat. Apparently afraid that we wont recognize
that its a cat, they dub in a loud meow sound to clue us in.
Rosa enters the tenement where her pusher lives. Seeing a fellow junkie
liquefying his drugs with a lighter, Rosa grabs his arm to request a taste. Youd
think that an experienced junkie would know better, and sure enough, the guy ends up
spilling it. Actually, hes pretty polite for a junkie in this situation. He merely
pushes her away, rather than freaking out and stabbing her a hundred and forty-seven
Rosa runs up the stairs to her pushers apartment. Hes glad
to see her. Cant have the customer base kicking the habit. He heads to his secret
stash, which proves to be about two dozen little bags taped to the underside of his toilet
seat lid. Presumably, they are located there so that he can send them on a quick
waterslide trip should the cops show up. Or maybe its supposed to be symbolic.
Mr. Pusher is extremely
helpful, even given her cash-free state. "First one is free," he exclaims, the
universal law of pushers everywhere. To make sure that she gets the full effect, he puts
what seems to me to be a rather large amount of horse in the spoon. This is held over a
hotplate and soon is ready to be injected. To be fair, they do manage to make all this
look suitably gross and unsanitary, even for this pre-AIDS era. Of course, shooting up
heroin isnt an activity that requires tremendous skill to be made to look
Here comes the films most unrealistic moment, which is saying
something. Rosa waits as he shoots a big wad of the stuff into her arm. Soon, though, she
reacts angrily to the fact that its having no effect. She accuses him of stepping on
it (Street Lingo Ken, they calls me), a charge he denies. "Its the
best!" he maintains. Apparently, her body has so kicked the habit that heroin
doesnt even effect her anymore.
I know. I dont think that thats how it works either.
Certainly, the pusher doesnt think so. He reminds her that the second dose costs
moolah. "And so does the third, and the fourth, and the four thousandth!"
However, he also offers financial advice to his clients. For Rosa, he suggests a career as
a sort of Street Entrepreneur. "And stay away from that preacher," he exhorts.
"Somebodys messin with your head." However, a shot of another
zonked-out junkie is, I believe, supposed to make us question whether its not the
pusher whos messing with Rosas head. Get it?
Cut to the Youth Rally." Delano is setting up the stage,
while Bo, Hector and Raphiella are laying out stacks of Bibles. The audience, though,
currently consists of only a handful of squares (and hardly young ones, at that).
Certainly not what Wilkerson had in mind. Entertainment is being provided by a
multi-ethnic folk trio playing guitar. Thankfully, though, its purely instrumental.
Ive think weve had all the singing we can stand in this picture.
A pensive Wilkerson looks things over from the balcony. Seeing him,
Delano walks up for a chat. They discuss the lack of gang member and junkie attendance.
Here, Delano provides a look at the amazing deductive talents that make him a successful
police sergeant. "Maybe Im the reason theyre not coming," he
theorizes. You know, given how hes a cop and all. He says that for tomorrows
show hell stay away, and make sure that there are no cop cars parked nearby. Hmm,
yes, that might help.
We cut to the Bishops and the Mau Maus having another council meeting.
Nicky, apparently, is all fixed up from his slight concussion and machete wounds. The two
gangs stand in semi-circular lines, opposite one another. When the leaders from each side
move in to talk, the whole scene rather laughably resembles a marching band forming a
The Mau Maus are rather pissed about the whole cemetery attack, which
apparently violated gang protocols or something. Israel demands another gang
fight, and Big Cat is happy to oblige. When he suggests the park again, though, Nicky
This fight is to be for all the local territory rights. Israel asks how
they determine whos the winner. "Last man standing," is Nickys
reply. Apparently, the gang who has a member still living at the end of the fight will get
to control all the local turf. Whether this person will be able to keep control of it
seems beyond the current scope of these talks.
Big Cat questions how this would work. "As soon as we get it on,
everyone runs all over the city." No problem. In order to keep people from taking off
before matters are settled, Nicky suggests having the rumble in an enclosed area.
Someplace where theyve be trapped until everythings decided. Then,
unsurprisingly, he suggests the Youth Rally. Seal off the doors (how?) and get it on until
things are taken care of, once and for all.
Abdullah expresses his approval of this plan. At this point, to the
chagrin of Israel and Big Cat, the two warlords freeze them out and set things up
themselves. In this manner, matters are quickly settled. Even zips will be allowed this
time, as long as they arent "store bought stuff." I guess that rules out
Cut to the Rally. Wilkerson, not privy to the plans, is glad to see an
actual gang turnout for tonights show. Again, I must mention that the rather small
size of the two gangs (and arent there any other gangs in New York?) sort of
mocks Wilkersons earlier fears about not having a large enough hall. Even with a
couple of dozen solid citizens on hand, the place remains largely empty. Even more so, in
fact, as some of the normal folks hightail it out of there once the gangs show up. (What
were they doing there in the first place?)
Once seated on opposite sides of the hall, the two groups start to hurl
watermelon, watermelon sounds at one another. Mostly, they just snarl at one
another, sounding like two arguing contingents of Frankenstein Monsters. They also start
brandishing weapons, which you think would pretty much clear out the place. However, some
hardy (and extremely moronic) people stick around anyway. And no, Im referring to
the people watching the film.
Backstage, Wilkerson looks to Heaven and prays for guidance. Its
a little late for that, though. He should have prayed for a better script before they
started shooting the film. Out front, Hector is getting a bad vibe. Probably the result
of, you know, the two gangs of hooligans yelling and waving weapons at one another.
Wilkerson, however, has an idea. "Well let Mary sing. Maybe thatll cool
Mary proves to be a rather sweet looking young lady, who now takes the
stage. (Hey, remember to bring it back later! Ha! Im so funny.) However, she
doesnt appear to be prepared for this particular crowd. Their whistling and
catcalling quickly shake her up. I have to admit, though, that she sings well. Improbably
well, actually, if you know what I mean.
The soppy lyrics of her tune
leave something to be desired, though. "Someday, a bright new wave will break upon
the shore / And there will be no sickness, no more crying, no more war / And little
children never will grow hungry anymore / and if she keeps this up much longer, we all
will start to snore
" OK, that last bit is mine. Hearing this slop, the
gangs react like any sane person and soon have jeered Mary off the stage. Actually, she
got off lightly. I mean, considering how her audience was packing heat and all.
Wilkerson at this point begins. He wants to collect an offering (?!),
and picks four gang members, including Nicky and Abdullah, to collect it. Calling them up
to the stage, he hands them empty cardboard milk cartons. Then he sends them forth into
the audience. Actually, this is proves to be a smart business move. A glowering Abdullah,
unsurprisingly, is shown to collect more money than Mary probably would of.
Wilkerson told them that when they were finished, they should walk
around backstage and bring him the money. Once they are back there, though, and out of
sight, they have a conference. Abdullah wonders if they should split the proceeds now, or
let the winner of the rumble have the whole pot. Nicky, though, smells a rat. He thinks
that Wilkerson thinks that theyll take the money. Therefore, to cross him up, Nicky
suggests actually turning the money in to Wilkerson.
It turns out, though, that Wilkerson isnt surprised to get the
money at all. See, while Nicky thought that Wilkerson would think that theyd keep
the money, Wilkerson thought that Nicky would think that he would think
OK, now here is where critiquing the film gets a little delicate.
Im a Christian, and I certainly believe that coming to Christ can transform
ones life. And, to be fair, some of the final sermon here and Boones
presentation of it are actually pretty good stuff. Yet, I have to say that, particularly
to more cynical modern viewers (including myself), the success of this sermon seem a bit
The idea that the films been trying to establish is that Nicky is
the hardest case of all. If Wilkerson can bring him to God, the rest will be
unafraid to follow. And this apparently is what more or less happened in real life. After
all, Wilkerson and Nicky, and presumably other characters in the film, represent real
people. One wonders, however, if this mass conversion of everyone in both gangs (minus
one) is really what happened. Id think it more likely that Wilkersons success
was somewhat less total, and that it probably took a bit longer than we see here.
Certainly, when Robert Duval in his extraordinary film The Apostle helps
Billy Bob Thornton to accept Christ, it comes off as rather more authentic. There,
Thornton was evidently a character in some spiritual pain. Here, that isnt really
established for anyone other than Nicky. All the other members of both gangs seem pretty
happy with the status quo, and thus their conversions seem a little strange.
Wilkerson begins his sermon by decrying labeling. "I
bet you thought that asking those guys to collect money was like asking a junkie to guard
a drugstore!" Cut to the Bishops, laughing en masse at this drollery and slapping
each other five. Other than Abdullah, of course, who as the lone (?) Muslim in the group
seems less than pleased with the effect that Wilkersons having on his cohorts.
Wilkerson avers how, by turning in the money, these fellows shook free
of their labels. Still, this is only the opening gambit in a longer battle. Opposition
comes in the form of cynical quips from the audience (I mean the one in the movie).
"Thats because theyre suckers!" one wag shouts, to the general
amusement of his fellows. (This is the kind of crowd that stand-up comics must dream
about. A tough room it aint.)
No one can label you, Wilkerson continues, for no one really knows the real
you. "No friend, no gang member, no deb or dittybopper or preacher or priest or rabbi
or social worker or psychiatrist, nobody." (Dittybopper?) "That why I dont
preach religion," he continues, although why hes waving that Bible around then,
I dont know. In so many words, he, like many others, is more interested in
Christs utility in improving lives than in saving souls. I have some rather severe
theological problems with this, but this is neither the time nor the place. Besides,
its Wilkersons movie.
We now learn, I guess, what a dittybop is. "I want
every dittybop off!" Our Hero cries, and we cut to Mau Maus removing their fedoras.
(?) So that mystery, at least, is solved. "Im going to talk about Love,"
he continues. "Thats right, Love! That word that bugs you. Its a sissy
word to most of you!" Wilkersons here to prove them wrong. "Youre
going to see tonight that Love is the gutsiest word in the English language!"
From here his presentation gets somewhat better. Still, I could
personally do without lines like "Jesus was a package of pure Love! Sweet, straight
Love!" The problem I have is more the extremely subdued reactions shot of the
suddenly cowed gang members. It just strains credulity that every single one of them
(expect Abdullah) is so quietly enrapt by Wilkersons sermon. Perhaps if there were
more Revival Meeting fervor in the audience, the sense of an almost palpable gestalt
emotional wave, it would be more credible.
The speech also, sadly, plays an early version of the race card.
Wilkerson asks the Mau Maus to "turn away from hating for your Black brothers!"
However, he only exhorts the Bishops to "forgive the White Mans sins!" In
other words, when a White man (or Hispanic) is a gang member, its a conscious
choice. A Black man, however, is only a gang member because hes reacting to
anothers hate. That this, like all such arguments, is inherently racist (as it
assumes that Blacks dont or cant make moral choices for themselves) apparently
has escaped the attention of the films producers.
Some of the gang members protest that the sins committed against them
are too great to forgive. (Lexical note: Whites really do have an advantage in the war of
Rhetoric. When one of the Mau Maus uses the N word, its still shocking.
In fact, perhaps its even more shocking now than it was then. However, when a Bishop
attempts to insult in return with the term honkies, its, as ever, rather
Wilkersons having none of this circular logic.
"Everyones griping about this atrocity, and that tragedy!" I quote this
line because it seems to me to be self contradictory. Is it even possible to
gripe about an atrocity?
He goes on to note how Jesus experienced the same pain and fears that
any man would when he was crucified. Fair enough, but was it really necessary to note how
nails were driven into "his hands! A sensitive part of his body!" What, exactly
(and I really hope that this isnt coming off as blasé towards what is the single
most momentous moment in human history), would be a less sensitive part of the
body to have nails driven through?
One major problem with this film is its tendency to shoot itself into
the foot whenever it approaches success. As Wilkerson preaches about how Jesus voluntarily
died for our sins, the sermon picks up steam. Suddenly, Nickys crying reaction shots
(an actually nice acting moment from Estrada) dont seem so comical. Yet, they
cant seem to rely on the essential strength of this message, one that has changed
the lives of millions upon millions of people over the last two thousand years.
Instead, they have Nicky look up, and then ruin the entire thing by
insanely freeze framing Wilkerson. As his sermon continues to be heard, jingling, tinkling
wind chime-like music is heard. Behind the frozen image of Wilkerson, the screen turns
blue, and shafts of light appear in the background. Apparently, they didnt want to
indicate Nickys conversion with the traditional, cliché "Heavenly Ah-Ah"
Here we observe a regular
problem among the kind of movies we examine here. When they decide to avoid using
clichés, they invariably end up substituting something so stupid that you realize why the
clichés are used in the first place. A far wiser choice, if they didnt want to use Ah-Ahing,
would have been to just leave it alone. Let the sermon and Estradas acting carry the
scene with a little dignity.
As well, that weird frozen shot of the grinning Wilkerson seems more
like the idolization of a cult leader than the reaction of someone coming to Jesus. A
preacher, after all, is only the messenger. Its the Word that should be emphasized
here, not Wilkerson.
And if youre going to try to do that, as they belatedly do,
its not really wise to use an echo chamber (!) to emphasize the final two words of
the last line of the sermon: "Let Jesus Christ come in!" With those final words
reverberating in our ears, we can only think of the aural shenanigans that William Shatner
used to spice up his renditions of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Lucy in the
Sky with Diamonds."
Suddenly, the mood is broken by the shouting Abdullah standing on stage
and addressing the "white cats" and "black cats." Oddly, in attacking
Wilkersons presentation, he doesnt emphasize Allah, but rather the advantages
of gang life. Yeah, theres a winner. He reminds everybody that the exits are
shut off, and that the two gangs came here to rumble. At his words, everyone starts
watermelloning and pulling out their weapons. (This is apparently an easily swayed crowd.)
The two gangs start toward each other, as Wilkerson looks to Heaven for
a miracle. And it comes. (Otherwise, it wouldnt be much of a movie.) The miracle
takes the form of Nicky, whos found the Light and intercedes between the gangs.
Proclaiming that Jesus is in the room, Wilkerson orders them to put away their weapons.
"Cmon, with all of your hang-ups!" he cries, inviting them up on the
With this, the two gangs come together. Their rapprochement is
indicated when Big Cat and one of the Mau Maus solemnly high five each other. (And yes,
its just as goofy as that description sounds.) Nicky, meanwhile, hugs Bo in a sign
that hes found the Path. Out in the audience, a watching Rosa cries with joy.
Her expression soon turns into a rather comical look of horror when, to
a blare of music, she sees Abdullah flip open his switchblade. He attacks Nicky by
slashing his hand. (Youd think a warlord would be able to use a knife in
a more efficient manner.) Nicky, however, soon has Abdullah on the ground, threatening him
with his own knife. Needless to say, though, Nicky then makes a show of sparing his life.
Speaking for much of the audience, Abdullah notes that "I really dont dig this
As if to make sure that any credibility the scene has built up is
wasted, those annoying minstrels return to the soundtrack. "God loves you / He
loves you / Just as you are, now standing there / In your cold, dark and bitter little
world / He loves you / He loves you-oo-oo / His hand, is reaching out / oo-oo-oo
Meanwhile, Nicky and Wilkerson exchange exactly the kind of
crying with joy expressions as the goony lead characters of The Promise
did at the conclusion of their picture. As Nicky proclaims his new focus on Jesus, the
minstrels oo-oo in the background, finally noting that "Gods
Love is stronger than anything! God loves Nicky Cruz. God loves Nicky Cruz!!"
Yeah, thanks, now I get it.
Wilkerson starts to hand out Bibles. The gang members, thirsting for
Spiritual Sustenance, hungrily reach out for them. Unfortunately, the director emphasizes
this by having the actors act in a childish, "oo, oo, give me one!" sort
of fashion that recalls the kids in the candy shop demanding sweets in Willy Wonka and
the Chocolate Factory.
Now comes an especially embarrassing moment. Focus is drawn to the
actor playing the formally ultra-cool Big Cat, apparently here directed to act exactly
like a wide-eyed five year old. (Theyre young in their newfound innocence - get it?)
"Hey, hey, Preach?" he stutters. "How about giving us one of those big
[Bibles] so that you can really see what were carrying!" "Preach, me
too!" concurs Israel. Goshers, yes!
We cut to Rosa, tying a
bandage around Nickys bleeding hand. Rosa notes the difference in him, how hes
all kinds of shiny!" "Maybe its because Im about
two minutes alright now!" he answers, sort of. Then the reformed duo hug, letting the
audience know that theyll live happily ever after. Israel, meanwhile, is looking
through his Bible and happily notes that his name is "all over this
Im practically on every page!"
As the camera zooms in on Wilkerson, truly odd computer
music is heard. I suppose its supposed to be cool, but its more
like something that youd hear at the end of some sci-fi picture like The Forbin
Project. However, it quickly segues into more appropriate happy guitar
cords. Wilkersons voice is heard: "So, this was the beginning."
(Dont worry, hes not talking about the movie.)
We learn that this "breakthrough" made "the ghetto my
church." Hes last seen walking past winos and knife wielding thugs. His
narration explains how his outreach techniques spread across the land, helping others like
Nicky and Rosa. "You can take it from this skinny preacher from the hills of
Pennsylvania," he sums up. "The Cross is mightier than the Switchblade."
And so the work of David Wilkerson continues. Which is fine. As long as his movie is over.
Since I couldnt leave you with just a taste, heres the
entire song "A Bright New World," or at least as much of it as was sung before
Mary was chased from the hall:
Someday, a bright new wave will break upon the shore,
and there will be no sickness, no more crying, no more war.
And little children never will grow hungry anymore,
and therell be a bright new morning overhead.
Theyll be a Bright New World for us to share.
Someday theyll be an end to unkind words and cruel [or something; actually,
it sounds like cool, but that makes even less sense than cruel],
The man who said there is no God will know he is a fool.
And Peace will be the Way of Life, with Love the only rule,
and therell be a bright new morning overhead.
Theyll be a Bright New World for us to share.
Someday, we know not when, when life on Earth is done,
and those who dont love everyone will all be glad its gone
And one last tune from our Chorus of Minstrels, regaling us as the
end credits finally set us free
"But then I heard of a Love so gra-ate!
Greater than all of my bitter hate!
Saw some Love so strong,
Makes you love the man whos done you wro-ah-ong!
Whoa, I see Love as the Son of God,
Who gave his life for a mean and lonely guy like me!
Though its hard for me to see,
Ill try to un-der-staand!