|Available at Amazon.com|
Director Richard Fleischer and James Mason teamed up to create Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Families thrilled to Captain Nemo and the underwater effects. Two decades later they reunited for Mandingo. They horrified families with a salacious story of master and slave relationships in the South. This isn’t a cute Song of the South number with Uncle Remus singing to animated bluebirds. Mandingo‘s pre-Civil War version of Uncle Remus howls as the whip comes down. One of the mild moments features Mason using a slave kid as ottoman to cure his rheumatism. The boy is supposed to absorb the creaking illness through Mason’s feet. Walt Disney wouldn’t approve this medical practice or this film.
Mason wants his son (Perry King, the President from The Day After Tomorrow) to marry and have a son to carry on their Louisiana plantation. The problem is that King prefers to have sex with female slaves. He follows his daddy’s wishes and marries a proper white woman (Susan George). But he can’t stop sleeping with his favorite slave (Brenda Sykes). The wife is not happy with the arrangement. She blows a fuse when he splits a present between wife and wench. To punch up the film, King buys a Mandingo warrior slave played by heavyweight boxing champ Ken Norton. He ends up in a wagered fight that isn’t boxing or even mixed martial arts. It’s more like human cockfighting with flesh biting a legal action.
King’s wife decides that what’s fun for the Master should be proper for the mistress. She brings the Mandingo into her bedroom. She discovers that the boxing champ can go longer than 15 rounds. She looks good wrapped around the legend of the ring. If her husband knocks up a slave, he’s merely diversifying the portfolio. The same is not true if the reverse happens. Care to guess the ending?
The most shocking element of the film is Paul Benedict. Bentley from The Jeffersons plays a lecherous slave owner. Did he secretly have plans for chaining up George and Weezie inside that deluxe apartment in the sky? It is strange to compare the image of Mason’s feet on the youth with Bentley having George walk on his back. Was Bentley reversing the plantation cure with George’s feet absorbing the badness?
There’s an uncomfortable honesty in Mandingo‘s depiction of the carnality in the slave trade. Quite a few people who sell us tales of the old South keep things chaste. Heaven forbid the Daughter’s of the Confederacy talk about what great grandpappy Burford was plowing besides the back 40. Mandingo might not be a historically accurate story, but it is well documented that many people descended from slaves inherited more than their Master’s last name. The burning question explored in Mandingo is if the pre-Civil War plantation owners viewed the slaves as human lovers or was it on par with molesting the livestock? Mandingo is everything squeamish in a film about slavery: nudity, severe abuse, whippings and a throbbing shame.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. This isn’t a clean transfer. Specks pop up on the screen, but the dirtiness of the image adds to the dilapidated atmosphere of the plantation house. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The levels are good. You might want to turn down the volume during the beatings so not to disturb the neighbors.
Mandingo is an extreme entertainment as it dares to go beyond the sweet innocent tales of the South. It’s more brutal than camp.
Legend Films present Mandingo. Directed by: Richard Fleischer. Starring: James Mason, Susan George, Perry King and Ken Norton. Written by: Norman Wexler. Running time: 126 minutes. Rating: R. Theatrically Released: July 25, 1975. Released on DVD: June 3, 2008. Available at Amazon.com