THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
There's something about the phrase “Jim Brown prison movie” that makes me giddy. Everything about it reeks of '70s exploitation cinema. A lot of genre movies from that era have an added entertainment value now, simply because they don't make 'em like that anymore. 1973's The Slams, now on DVD from Warner Archive, is a fine example of what I'm talking about. It's everything you could ever want from a Jim Brown prison movie.
An early film from director Jonathan Kaplan (who went on to make The Accused and Unlawful Entry), The Slams casts Brown as Curtis Hook, a prisoner who knows where $1.5 million in mob cash is hidden. While behind bars, many of the mob's “inside men” try to force Hook to spill the beans, through violence and physical intimidation. He also has to deal with some of the corrupt guards, who work in collusion with the inmates. Hook knows the only thing to do is to jump the prison walls and retrieve the cash before anyone else can get to it.
The Slams has the sort of raw, gritty feel that marked exploitation pictures of its time. There's plenty of badass-ery going on behind these bars. Kaplan cast his film with supporting players who look menacing, including Ted Cassidy (Lurch from “The Addams Family”), to emphasize the rough-and-tumble criminals Hook has to contend with. At the same time, the movie is more clever than one might expect. It incorporates some socially relevant themes (including prison racism), and the escape plan Hook concocts is sort of ingenious. The action scenes are well-staged too, showing off Kaplan's skill at orchestrating mayhem in creative ways.
Regrettably, The Slams contains homophobic slurs and offensive portrayals of gay characters that were all too common in the period. More than once I was caught off guard; you simply don't see or hear this sort of thing in movies these days. Other than that, this is a perfectly enjoyable throwback. Jim Brown kicks ass and takes names, radiating his trademark cool the entire time. The Slams has been nicely remastered and is now ready to be discovered by aficionados of '70s grindhouse fare.
For more information, or to order a copy, visit the Warner Archives website.
( out of four)
The Slams is rated R for violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.
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