Hell Up in Harlem


1h 36m 1973
Hell Up in Harlem

Brief Synopsis

A gangster tries to save his wife from Mafia kidnappers.

Photos & Videos

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Action
Crime
Release Date
1973
Production Company
American International Pictures
Distribution Company
American International Pictures; Orion Home Video

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color

Synopsis

Tommy comes from a forced rest period due to injuries suffered in Harlem's gang warfare. With the help of his girl, he will reorganize his gang, and overcome his rival gang leaders, through extreme acts of violence and death.

Photo Collections

Hell Up in Harlem - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Hell Up in Harlem (1973). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Action
Crime
Release Date
1973
Production Company
American International Pictures
Distribution Company
American International Pictures; Orion Home Video

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color

Articles

The Gist (Hell Up in Harlem) - THE GIST


American International Pictures had a funny habit of resurrecting dead exploitation heroes when their exploits proved sufficiently profitable to ensure a sequel. Like Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) and Blacula (1972) before him, Fred Williamson's high-stepping Black Caesar (1973) crawled out of his grave for an instant follow-up just ten months later. Sitting pretty on the original film's $2,000,000 profit (roughly quadruple its budget), producer Samuel Z. Arkoff green-lighted Hell Up in Harlem (1973) so fast that he had time to recall release prints of Black Caesar to remove William's onscreen death, which this continuation depicts in its opening frames as just a thorough ass-stompin'. (Tommy Gibbs' comeuppance at the hands of the local toughs his rise-to-power inspired remained intact in European prints and on later VHS tapes and DVDs.) Largely improvised and shot guerilla-style in New York and Los Angeles around a frequently absent Williamson (then starring in Universal's That Man Bolt, 1973), Hell Up in Harlem ain't pretty or graceful but it sure is a lot of fun.

It feels like a thankless job to work up praise for a film discounted by its architect as unnecessary. "We shouldn't have made the film," Larry Cohen told Andrea Juno and V. Vale in an interview published in Re/Search: Incredibly Strange Films in 1986. "But that's what happens when greed gets in the way." Truth be told, Cohen is being too hard on Hell Up in Harlem and, implicitly, too easy on Black Caesar. With its origins in the classic Warner Brothers gangster films (its specific model being Mervyn LeRoy's 1931 classic Little Caesar), Black Caesar is the more formulaic and plodding, requiring Williamson to do little more than dance in shoes first owned by Edward G. Robinson. Inspired by nothing so much as continued profit, Hell Up in Harlem is more free-form and anarchic. Like blaxploitation's King Henry IV, Pt. 2, the film brings back all the familiar (surviving) characters, throwing them into the mix to adapt or die. Hell's ultra-violence and double digit body count look ahead to Brian De Palma's 1983 Scarface remake (particularly the mansion siege, which favors the home team in this incarnation) and Abel Ferrara's King of New York (1990), whose climactic taxi cab bleed-out feels informed by the shoot-out that brings Black Caesar to a close and sets the stage for Hell Up in Harlem.

In later years, Fred Williamson has downplayed and even diminished the importance of director-writer-producer Larry Cohen as the driving force behind these two films. While the Black Caesar canon certainly benefits from The Hammer's iconic presence it's clearly Cohen's sense of the absurd that makes Hell Up in Harlem more fun than it ought (or needs) to be. A former joke writer and stand-up comic, Cohen structures Hell as a comedy of errors, setting up the dapper but vainglorious Williamson as his straight man/fall guy while raining chaos on his head as if he were some uptown Mr. Hulot on a holiday that Death forgot to take. Of the many preposterous setpieces that Cohen pulls out of his hat, the most jaw-dropping involves Williamson running down turncoat Tony King (soon to play his own imperiled black godfather in the criminally obscure Report to the Commissioner, 1975) in a foot and car pursuit that turns into an airplane chase when the antagonists book tickets on separate flights from New York to Los Angeles, only to settle their beef man-to-man in the baggage claim of LAX.

Producers: Larry Cohen, Janelle Webb
Executive Producer: Samuel Z. Arkoff, Peter Sabiston
Director: Larry Cohen
Screenplay: Larry Cohen
Cinematography: Fenton Hamilton
Film Editing: Peter Honess, Franco Guerri
Music: Fonce Mizell, Freddie Perren
Cast: Fred Williamson (Tommy Gibbs), Julius Harris (Papa Gibbs), Gloria Hendry (Helen), Margaret Avery (Sister Jennifer), D'Urville Martin (Reverend Rufus), Tony King (Zach), Gerald Gordon (D.A. DiAngelo), Bobby Ramsen (Joe Frankfurter), James Dixon (Irish), Esther Sutherland (The Cook).
C-95 min.

by Richard Harland Smith

The Gist (Hell Up In Harlem) - The Gist

The Gist (Hell Up in Harlem) - THE GIST

American International Pictures had a funny habit of resurrecting dead exploitation heroes when their exploits proved sufficiently profitable to ensure a sequel. Like Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) and Blacula (1972) before him, Fred Williamson's high-stepping Black Caesar (1973) crawled out of his grave for an instant follow-up just ten months later. Sitting pretty on the original film's $2,000,000 profit (roughly quadruple its budget), producer Samuel Z. Arkoff green-lighted Hell Up in Harlem (1973) so fast that he had time to recall release prints of Black Caesar to remove William's onscreen death, which this continuation depicts in its opening frames as just a thorough ass-stompin'. (Tommy Gibbs' comeuppance at the hands of the local toughs his rise-to-power inspired remained intact in European prints and on later VHS tapes and DVDs.) Largely improvised and shot guerilla-style in New York and Los Angeles around a frequently absent Williamson (then starring in Universal's That Man Bolt, 1973), Hell Up in Harlem ain't pretty or graceful but it sure is a lot of fun. It feels like a thankless job to work up praise for a film discounted by its architect as unnecessary. "We shouldn't have made the film," Larry Cohen told Andrea Juno and V. Vale in an interview published in Re/Search: Incredibly Strange Films in 1986. "But that's what happens when greed gets in the way." Truth be told, Cohen is being too hard on Hell Up in Harlem and, implicitly, too easy on Black Caesar. With its origins in the classic Warner Brothers gangster films (its specific model being Mervyn LeRoy's 1931 classic Little Caesar), Black Caesar is the more formulaic and plodding, requiring Williamson to do little more than dance in shoes first owned by Edward G. Robinson. Inspired by nothing so much as continued profit, Hell Up in Harlem is more free-form and anarchic. Like blaxploitation's King Henry IV, Pt. 2, the film brings back all the familiar (surviving) characters, throwing them into the mix to adapt or die. Hell's ultra-violence and double digit body count look ahead to Brian De Palma's 1983 Scarface remake (particularly the mansion siege, which favors the home team in this incarnation) and Abel Ferrara's King of New York (1990), whose climactic taxi cab bleed-out feels informed by the shoot-out that brings Black Caesar to a close and sets the stage for Hell Up in Harlem. In later years, Fred Williamson has downplayed and even diminished the importance of director-writer-producer Larry Cohen as the driving force behind these two films. While the Black Caesar canon certainly benefits from The Hammer's iconic presence it's clearly Cohen's sense of the absurd that makes Hell Up in Harlem more fun than it ought (or needs) to be. A former joke writer and stand-up comic, Cohen structures Hell as a comedy of errors, setting up the dapper but vainglorious Williamson as his straight man/fall guy while raining chaos on his head as if he were some uptown Mr. Hulot on a holiday that Death forgot to take. Of the many preposterous setpieces that Cohen pulls out of his hat, the most jaw-dropping involves Williamson running down turncoat Tony King (soon to play his own imperiled black godfather in the criminally obscure Report to the Commissioner, 1975) in a foot and car pursuit that turns into an airplane chase when the antagonists book tickets on separate flights from New York to Los Angeles, only to settle their beef man-to-man in the baggage claim of LAX. Producers: Larry Cohen, Janelle Webb Executive Producer: Samuel Z. Arkoff, Peter Sabiston Director: Larry Cohen Screenplay: Larry Cohen Cinematography: Fenton Hamilton Film Editing: Peter Honess, Franco Guerri Music: Fonce Mizell, Freddie Perren Cast: Fred Williamson (Tommy Gibbs), Julius Harris (Papa Gibbs), Gloria Hendry (Helen), Margaret Avery (Sister Jennifer), D'Urville Martin (Reverend Rufus), Tony King (Zach), Gerald Gordon (D.A. DiAngelo), Bobby Ramsen (Joe Frankfurter), James Dixon (Irish), Esther Sutherland (The Cook). C-95 min. by Richard Harland Smith

Insider Info (Hell Up in Harlem) - BEHIND THE SCENES


Hell Up in Harlem was originally to be titled Black Caesar's Sweet Revenge.

Production was so rushed on Hell Up in Harlem that Larry Cohen began with only half a shooting script.

Because Fred Williamson was shooting That Man Bolt (1973) for Universal, Cohen used a double for the actor in long shots.

Larry Cohen shot Hell Up in Harlem back to back with his horror film It's Alive (1974).

Hospital scenes for Hell Up in Harlem were captured at Harlem Hospital, where Cohen also shot sequences for It's Alive.

Larry Cohen's mansion in the Coldwater Canyon section of the Hollywood Hills stood in for both District Attorney DiAngelo's office and Tommy Gibbs' California pied-à-terre.

The mansion, which was built by the Hearst Family, had previously belonged to director Sam Fuller and actor Clint Walker, who both lost it in divorce settlements.

Fred Williamson "borrowed" many of his costumes for That Man Bolt for use in Hell Up in Harlem.

Although James Brown had scored Black Caesar, AIP was unhappy with his score for Slaughter's Big Rip-Off (1973) and nixed the Godfather of Soul's participation on Hell Up in Harlem.

The purple Rolls Royce seen in the film actually belonged to Yunosuke Aoki, founder of the Benihana restaurant chain.

Extras during the beach house shootout include Mindi Miller, Fred Williamson's girlfriend at the time, and writer Mario Puzzo's son Eugene.

Larry Cohen shot death scenes for certain actors he suspected might be difficult in the event that he wanted to fire them early in the production.

The actor shot in the back on the subway by Julius Harris was Tony King, in a death scene for Zach that was never used.

Larry Cohen used his own bed for a love scene between Fred Williamson and Margaret Avery.

Academy Award® nominated film editor Peter Honess got his first cutting job on Hell Up in Harlem.

In her last scene, Gloria Hendry walks by a movie marquee for Across 110th Street (1972), the movie she made prior to Black Caesar.

In an interview with writer Tony Williams for his book on the director, Cohen commented on his final cut of Hell Up in Harlem: "I think I put too many action sequences into the film, such as the attack on the island and the assault on Tommy and his girlfriend in California. There were just too many confusing plot developments. I don't think the later scenes with the Reverend (D'Urville Martin) really worked. However, looking back at the film now, it's not as bad as I once felt it was. By the way, the Chicago newspapers only last week profiled a black minister who was a former pimp. The very character Martin played."

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

Sources:
Larry Cohen, director audio commentary Hell Up in Harlem DVD
Fred Williamson interview by Brett McCormick, Psychotronic Video No. 10, 1991.
Fred Williamson interview by Steve Ryfle, Shock Cinema No. 15, 19
Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants by Sam Arkoff with Richard Trubo
Larry Cohen: The Radical Allegories of an Independent Filmmaker by Tony Williams

Insider Info (Hell Up in Harlem) - BEHIND THE SCENES

Hell Up in Harlem was originally to be titled Black Caesar's Sweet Revenge. Production was so rushed on Hell Up in Harlem that Larry Cohen began with only half a shooting script. Because Fred Williamson was shooting That Man Bolt (1973) for Universal, Cohen used a double for the actor in long shots. Larry Cohen shot Hell Up in Harlem back to back with his horror film It's Alive (1974). Hospital scenes for Hell Up in Harlem were captured at Harlem Hospital, where Cohen also shot sequences for It's Alive. Larry Cohen's mansion in the Coldwater Canyon section of the Hollywood Hills stood in for both District Attorney DiAngelo's office and Tommy Gibbs' California pied-à-terre. The mansion, which was built by the Hearst Family, had previously belonged to director Sam Fuller and actor Clint Walker, who both lost it in divorce settlements. Fred Williamson "borrowed" many of his costumes for That Man Bolt for use in Hell Up in Harlem. Although James Brown had scored Black Caesar, AIP was unhappy with his score for Slaughter's Big Rip-Off (1973) and nixed the Godfather of Soul's participation on Hell Up in Harlem. The purple Rolls Royce seen in the film actually belonged to Yunosuke Aoki, founder of the Benihana restaurant chain. Extras during the beach house shootout include Mindi Miller, Fred Williamson's girlfriend at the time, and writer Mario Puzzo's son Eugene. Larry Cohen shot death scenes for certain actors he suspected might be difficult in the event that he wanted to fire them early in the production. The actor shot in the back on the subway by Julius Harris was Tony King, in a death scene for Zach that was never used. Larry Cohen used his own bed for a love scene between Fred Williamson and Margaret Avery. Academy Award® nominated film editor Peter Honess got his first cutting job on Hell Up in Harlem. In her last scene, Gloria Hendry walks by a movie marquee for Across 110th Street (1972), the movie she made prior to Black Caesar. In an interview with writer Tony Williams for his book on the director, Cohen commented on his final cut of Hell Up in Harlem: "I think I put too many action sequences into the film, such as the attack on the island and the assault on Tommy and his girlfriend in California. There were just too many confusing plot developments. I don't think the later scenes with the Reverend (D'Urville Martin) really worked. However, looking back at the film now, it's not as bad as I once felt it was. By the way, the Chicago newspapers only last week profiled a black minister who was a former pimp. The very character Martin played." Compiled by Richard Harland Smith Sources: Larry Cohen, director audio commentary Hell Up in Harlem DVD Fred Williamson interview by Brett McCormick, Psychotronic Video No. 10, 1991. Fred Williamson interview by Steve Ryfle, Shock Cinema No. 15, 19 Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants by Sam Arkoff with Richard Trubo Larry Cohen: The Radical Allegories of an Independent Filmmaker by Tony Williams

In the Know (Hell Up in Harlem) - TRIVIA


Larry Cohen's grandfather had been a minstrel show performer, donning blackface as a comic "end man."

Growing up in the Washington Heights section of New York City, Cohen was writing and drawing comics by the age of 8.

In his youth, Cohen worked as a joke writer and did standup comedy in New Jersey and the Catskills.

Cohen created the TV series Branded (1965-1966) and The Invaders (1967-1968), both informed by his memories of the Communist "witch hunts" of the 1950s.

Cohen's feature film debut as a director was Bone (1972), starring Yaphet Kotto.

Because Cohen had directed a black actor in Bone, producer Samuel Arkoff hired him to direct blaxploitation pictures for AIP.

Cohen had written the treatment for Black Caesar as a vehicle for Sammy Davis, Jr., but was cheated out of his fee by Davis' manager.

Hell Up in Harlem star Fred Williamson earned the nickname "The Hammer" as a karate chopping AFL/NFL defensive back for such teams as the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Playing in the very first Super Bowl in 1967, "The Hammer" was knocked unconscious in the fourth quarter.

Williamson's Hollywood career took off when he won a role as Diahann Carroll's boyfriend on the sitcom Julia (1969-1971).

Williamson directed the football game sequence for Robert Altman's M*A*S*H (1970), his first feature film.

Hell Up in Harlem villain Gerald Gordon had previously appeared in Larry Cohen's 1970 Off-Off Broadway stage play, Nature of the Crime, starring Tony Lo Bianco.

Gloria Hendry's lineage includes Seminole Indian, African, Creek Indian, Irish, and Chinese bloodlines.

Before she broke into films, Hendry worked as a secretary for the N.A.A.C.P. and was a Playboy bunny in New York.

After appearing in Black Caesar, Hendry was slated to star opposite Bernie Casey in Hit Man (1972) when she was cast as a Bond girl opposite Roger Moore in Live and Let Die (1973).

Tony King later enjoyed a working vacation abroad, in such popular Euro-cult movies as Antonio Margheriti's Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and The Last Hunter (1980) and in Ruggero Deodato's Raiders of Atlantis (1983).

James Dixon has appeared in many films for Larry Cohen, from Black Caesar to Wicked Stepmother (1989) and appears in all three It's Alive films.

In an interview with writer Tony Williams for his book on Larry Cohen, Dixon stated, "Some days we'd shoot It's Alive in the morning and Hell Up in Harlem in the afternoon. I remember we used a location in North Hollywood, which was a little hospital off of Victory Boulevard. But it wasn't functioning as a hospital anymore. It operated as a drying-out place, an alcoholic recovery unit. We'd run right through the wards. All these people would be lying in bed with D.T.'s....we'd be running through shooting Hell Up in Harlem. I'd be in my New York police uniform with all these black guys chasing me or me chasing them. The drunks in their beds didn't know what the hell was going on, especially when, later on, I would be back, this time in my Lt. Perkins outfit, chasing the baby monster from It's Alive."

Margaret Avery shared a lesbian love scene with Whoopi Goldberg in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple (1985).

D'Urville Martin appeared as Lionel Jefferson in two unaired pilots for the TV series All in the Family.

Hell Up in Harlem costars Gloria Hendry and Julius Harris also appeared together in Live and Let Die.

Composer Freddie Perren later penned the disco classic "I Will Survive."

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

Sources:
Dark Visions: Conversations with the Masters of the Horror Film by Stanley Wiater
Larry Cohen interview by Andrea Juno and V. Vale, Re/Search: Incredibly Strange Films, 1986.
Larry Cohen biography by Elayne Chaplin, Contemporary North American Film Directors: A Wallflower Critical Guide
Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants by Sam Arkoff with Richard Trubo
Back Story 4: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1970s and 1980s by Patrick McGilligan
That's Blaxploitation: Roots of the Badass 'Tude by Darius James
Larry Cohen: The Radical Allegories of an Independent Filmmaker by Tony Williams
Fred Williamson interview by Brett McCormick, Psychotronic Video No. 10, 1991.
Fred Williamson interview by Steve Ryfle, Shock Cinema No. 15, 1999.
Larry Cohen interview by Maitland McDonagh, Psychotronic Video No. 11, 1991.
Gloria Hendry interview, CommanderBond.net
Gloria Hendry interview by Jessie Lilley, Worldly Remains No. 1, 2000
Internet Movie Database

In the Know (Hell Up in Harlem) - TRIVIA

Larry Cohen's grandfather had been a minstrel show performer, donning blackface as a comic "end man." Growing up in the Washington Heights section of New York City, Cohen was writing and drawing comics by the age of 8. In his youth, Cohen worked as a joke writer and did standup comedy in New Jersey and the Catskills. Cohen created the TV series Branded (1965-1966) and The Invaders (1967-1968), both informed by his memories of the Communist "witch hunts" of the 1950s. Cohen's feature film debut as a director was Bone (1972), starring Yaphet Kotto. Because Cohen had directed a black actor in Bone, producer Samuel Arkoff hired him to direct blaxploitation pictures for AIP. Cohen had written the treatment for Black Caesar as a vehicle for Sammy Davis, Jr., but was cheated out of his fee by Davis' manager. Hell Up in Harlem star Fred Williamson earned the nickname "The Hammer" as a karate chopping AFL/NFL defensive back for such teams as the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs. Playing in the very first Super Bowl in 1967, "The Hammer" was knocked unconscious in the fourth quarter. Williamson's Hollywood career took off when he won a role as Diahann Carroll's boyfriend on the sitcom Julia (1969-1971). Williamson directed the football game sequence for Robert Altman's M*A*S*H (1970), his first feature film. Hell Up in Harlem villain Gerald Gordon had previously appeared in Larry Cohen's 1970 Off-Off Broadway stage play, Nature of the Crime, starring Tony Lo Bianco. Gloria Hendry's lineage includes Seminole Indian, African, Creek Indian, Irish, and Chinese bloodlines. Before she broke into films, Hendry worked as a secretary for the N.A.A.C.P. and was a Playboy bunny in New York. After appearing in Black Caesar, Hendry was slated to star opposite Bernie Casey in Hit Man (1972) when she was cast as a Bond girl opposite Roger Moore in Live and Let Die (1973). Tony King later enjoyed a working vacation abroad, in such popular Euro-cult movies as Antonio Margheriti's Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and The Last Hunter (1980) and in Ruggero Deodato's Raiders of Atlantis (1983). James Dixon has appeared in many films for Larry Cohen, from Black Caesar to Wicked Stepmother (1989) and appears in all three It's Alive films. In an interview with writer Tony Williams for his book on Larry Cohen, Dixon stated, "Some days we'd shoot It's Alive in the morning and Hell Up in Harlem in the afternoon. I remember we used a location in North Hollywood, which was a little hospital off of Victory Boulevard. But it wasn't functioning as a hospital anymore. It operated as a drying-out place, an alcoholic recovery unit. We'd run right through the wards. All these people would be lying in bed with D.T.'s....we'd be running through shooting Hell Up in Harlem. I'd be in my New York police uniform with all these black guys chasing me or me chasing them. The drunks in their beds didn't know what the hell was going on, especially when, later on, I would be back, this time in my Lt. Perkins outfit, chasing the baby monster from It's Alive." Margaret Avery shared a lesbian love scene with Whoopi Goldberg in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple (1985). D'Urville Martin appeared as Lionel Jefferson in two unaired pilots for the TV series All in the Family. Hell Up in Harlem costars Gloria Hendry and Julius Harris also appeared together in Live and Let Die. Composer Freddie Perren later penned the disco classic "I Will Survive." Compiled by Richard Harland Smith Sources: Dark Visions: Conversations with the Masters of the Horror Film by Stanley Wiater Larry Cohen interview by Andrea Juno and V. Vale, Re/Search: Incredibly Strange Films, 1986. Larry Cohen biography by Elayne Chaplin, Contemporary North American Film Directors: A Wallflower Critical Guide Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants by Sam Arkoff with Richard Trubo Back Story 4: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1970s and 1980s by Patrick McGilligan That's Blaxploitation: Roots of the Badass 'Tude by Darius James Larry Cohen: The Radical Allegories of an Independent Filmmaker by Tony Williams Fred Williamson interview by Brett McCormick, Psychotronic Video No. 10, 1991. Fred Williamson interview by Steve Ryfle, Shock Cinema No. 15, 1999. Larry Cohen interview by Maitland McDonagh, Psychotronic Video No. 11, 1991. Gloria Hendry interview, CommanderBond.net Gloria Hendry interview by Jessie Lilley, Worldly Remains No. 1, 2000 Internet Movie Database

Yea or Nay (Hell Up in Harlem) - CRITIC REVIEWS OF "HELL UP IN HARLEM"


"Hell Up in Harlem has the right title as a slaughter pile-up... There is a quietly vivid performance by Julius W. Harris, as a kind of unwilling Harlem godfather. Mr. Williamson himself, who also had another movie, That Man Bolt, opening yesterday, certainly gets around New York in this one murderously trying to 'make it a decent place to live for everybody.' He must have meant every survivor. The line got a hearty laugh one morning last week at the midtown Cinerama Theater."
Howard Thompson, The New York Times

"BOMB...Extremely violent, poorly filmed sequel to Black Caesar as Fred makes NYC a decent place to live by annihilating all who stand in his way."
Leonard Maltin Movie Guide

"Even though he died in Black Caesar, Fred Williamson returns as gangster Tommy Gibbs in this quickly made sequel... This AIP release ends with a setup for another sequel, which never happened."
Michael Weldon, The Psychotronic Video Guide

"The film as a whole has an air of having been hurriedly thrown together, and is altogether inferior to its predecessor. Indeed, it doesn't even look like a Cohen film. The narrative is oddly disjointed... A few sequences are powerfully realized, however, in particular a violent affray in an airport baggage-collection area."
The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: The Gangster Film

"(Black Caesar's)... absolutely off-the-f**n'-wall sequel..."
Steve Puchalski, Slimetime

"This sequel to Black Caesar sparks from a marked tension between blaxploitation conventions and Cohen's maintenance of an ironic distance from his 'hero', who survives an opening semi-reprise of the earlier film's ending (having Harlem Hospital commandeered at gunpoint) to rise/fall/resurrect himself as underworld overlord of New York. The jerkily episodic narrative loosens its tremendous pace about half-way in, even if Cohen keeps jostling the formula with inventive story loops and staccato bursts of action, but it's the overall evidence of a film shot literally 'on the run' that makes this such a delight. Action constantly erupts to general bewilderment and brilliant effect on unsanctioned New York streets, while tourist trap monuments to American democracy serve as hit-and-run locations for conspiracy or corruption... Black maids force-feeding soul food to Mafiosi, a colour-reverse lynching, and a ludicrous foot-plane-foot chase sequence constitute just a few of the sly energies emitted en route to a characteristically ambivalent ending."
Time Out

"The frenetic pace is filled with mucho gunplay and vulgar scenes that are used as sources of low-brow social awareness comedy..."
Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews

"This fast-paced sequel... delivers twice the action... yet is only half as satisfying because it lacks the hard-hitting drama and balanced tone of its predecessor. The key problem is its script, which manages to be underwritten and over-plotted all at once... On the plus side, Hell Up in Harlem benefits from a slick funk score by Motown producers Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell. Also, writer/director Larry Cohen does maintain a snappy pace (an action scene occurs about every five to ten minutes in this film), and works in plenty of odd, witty touches like a chase scene that involves its participants boarding separate planes to pursue each other across the country. However, the constant flow of bullets and fisticuffs becomes numbing after a while... It's fun while it lasts, but is ultimately unsatisfying."
Donald Guarisco, All Movie Guide

"An implausible and near-uninteresting follow-up to Cohen's superior Black Caesar."
Aaron Hills, Premiere

"The film is hokey, filled with exposition, and exploits black audiences by replacing one stereotype (black faced, watermelon eating minstrels) with another (gun toting, arrogant, morally bankrupt men)-an insipid characteristic of the genre that ultimately led to its demise. Nonetheless, there are some memorable scenes (even if they are contrived), and a small infusion of acerbic satire that lifts the film several degrees above mediocrity."
Jon Lap, Apollo Guide

"The action is halfway reasonable, with Cohen's camera hiding the seams in the weak stuntwork. There are plenty of iffy gags as when cel animation is used for a laughable wound effect... Besides that, Hell Up in Harlem is unusually tidy for a genre movie. There's hardly any swearing, and only a bit of nudity."
Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant

"For this, Larry Cohen should've caught hell up in Harlem."
Darius James, That's Blaxploitation

"Hell Up in Harlem barely touches upon American racial injustice. Just as problematic a shortcoming, however, is Cohen's graceless scene construction, full of crummy cinematography and mismatched edits. Nonetheless, it's somewhat amusing to see former NFL giant Williamson running, dodging and leaping his way through an airport terminal and parking lot like an early, more menacing version of Mr. Hertz himself, O.J. Simpson."
Nick Schager, The Nick Schager Film Project

"We wrote the script as we went along and the picture sure looks like it."
Larry Cohen

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

Yea or Nay (Hell Up in Harlem) - CRITIC REVIEWS OF "HELL UP IN HARLEM"

"Hell Up in Harlem has the right title as a slaughter pile-up... There is a quietly vivid performance by Julius W. Harris, as a kind of unwilling Harlem godfather. Mr. Williamson himself, who also had another movie, That Man Bolt, opening yesterday, certainly gets around New York in this one murderously trying to 'make it a decent place to live for everybody.' He must have meant every survivor. The line got a hearty laugh one morning last week at the midtown Cinerama Theater." Howard Thompson, The New York Times "BOMB...Extremely violent, poorly filmed sequel to Black Caesar as Fred makes NYC a decent place to live by annihilating all who stand in his way." Leonard Maltin Movie Guide "Even though he died in Black Caesar, Fred Williamson returns as gangster Tommy Gibbs in this quickly made sequel... This AIP release ends with a setup for another sequel, which never happened." Michael Weldon, The Psychotronic Video Guide "The film as a whole has an air of having been hurriedly thrown together, and is altogether inferior to its predecessor. Indeed, it doesn't even look like a Cohen film. The narrative is oddly disjointed... A few sequences are powerfully realized, however, in particular a violent affray in an airport baggage-collection area." The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: The Gangster Film "(Black Caesar's)... absolutely off-the-f**n'-wall sequel..." Steve Puchalski, Slimetime "This sequel to Black Caesar sparks from a marked tension between blaxploitation conventions and Cohen's maintenance of an ironic distance from his 'hero', who survives an opening semi-reprise of the earlier film's ending (having Harlem Hospital commandeered at gunpoint) to rise/fall/resurrect himself as underworld overlord of New York. The jerkily episodic narrative loosens its tremendous pace about half-way in, even if Cohen keeps jostling the formula with inventive story loops and staccato bursts of action, but it's the overall evidence of a film shot literally 'on the run' that makes this such a delight. Action constantly erupts to general bewilderment and brilliant effect on unsanctioned New York streets, while tourist trap monuments to American democracy serve as hit-and-run locations for conspiracy or corruption... Black maids force-feeding soul food to Mafiosi, a colour-reverse lynching, and a ludicrous foot-plane-foot chase sequence constitute just a few of the sly energies emitted en route to a characteristically ambivalent ending." Time Out "The frenetic pace is filled with mucho gunplay and vulgar scenes that are used as sources of low-brow social awareness comedy..." Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews "This fast-paced sequel... delivers twice the action... yet is only half as satisfying because it lacks the hard-hitting drama and balanced tone of its predecessor. The key problem is its script, which manages to be underwritten and over-plotted all at once... On the plus side, Hell Up in Harlem benefits from a slick funk score by Motown producers Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell. Also, writer/director Larry Cohen does maintain a snappy pace (an action scene occurs about every five to ten minutes in this film), and works in plenty of odd, witty touches like a chase scene that involves its participants boarding separate planes to pursue each other across the country. However, the constant flow of bullets and fisticuffs becomes numbing after a while... It's fun while it lasts, but is ultimately unsatisfying." Donald Guarisco, All Movie Guide "An implausible and near-uninteresting follow-up to Cohen's superior Black Caesar." Aaron Hills, Premiere "The film is hokey, filled with exposition, and exploits black audiences by replacing one stereotype (black faced, watermelon eating minstrels) with another (gun toting, arrogant, morally bankrupt men)-an insipid characteristic of the genre that ultimately led to its demise. Nonetheless, there are some memorable scenes (even if they are contrived), and a small infusion of acerbic satire that lifts the film several degrees above mediocrity." Jon Lap, Apollo Guide "The action is halfway reasonable, with Cohen's camera hiding the seams in the weak stuntwork. There are plenty of iffy gags as when cel animation is used for a laughable wound effect... Besides that, Hell Up in Harlem is unusually tidy for a genre movie. There's hardly any swearing, and only a bit of nudity." Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant "For this, Larry Cohen should've caught hell up in Harlem." Darius James, That's Blaxploitation "Hell Up in Harlem barely touches upon American racial injustice. Just as problematic a shortcoming, however, is Cohen's graceless scene construction, full of crummy cinematography and mismatched edits. Nonetheless, it's somewhat amusing to see former NFL giant Williamson running, dodging and leaping his way through an airport terminal and parking lot like an early, more menacing version of Mr. Hertz himself, O.J. Simpson." Nick Schager, The Nick Schager Film Project "We wrote the script as we went along and the picture sure looks like it." Larry Cohen Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

Quote It (Hell Up in Harlem) - QUOTES FROM "HELL UP IN HARLEM"


DiAngelo: "So the police are going to kill Tommy Gibbs in cold blood and you want me to stop it? What should I do-arrest the entire New York Police Department?"

DiAngelo: "Black bitches are all alike-you're stupid. Gibbs is as good as dead already. It's done. Some very important people have taken care of that."

Papa Gibbs: "Xerox is a very useful weapon, Mr. DiAngelo."

Tommy: "you do-stay cool."

Papa Gibbs: "You ain't fit to raise children!"

Tommy: "I'm gonna shut down their Japanese connection. Now I know you can handle some of those little Japanese guys, right, Pa? Now we'll pull our own little Pearl Harbor on them, right?"

Tommy: "How you like the hired help, Palermo? They'll clean up the mess they made, won't you ladies? See, that just goes to show you, you never know who's' doing up your socks and underwear."

Tommy: "Now that's what they call soul food."
Cook: "Mmmm. Now you got black-eyed peas... carrot greens..."
Tommy: "... chitlins..."
Cook: "...collard greens... pig's feet... cornbread...
Tommy: "... pork butts..."
Cook: "... and for desert... watermelon!"
Tommy: "Eat hearty, gentlemen."

Tommy: "Anything can be fixed in the good old U.S. of A."

Zach: "I'm gonna follow you all over. When you go to the airport, I'll be your ticket. When you walk down the street, I'll be your shadow. In other words, I'm gonna be all over your ass."

Tommy: "You weren't so high and mighty when you were pimping for me up on Lenox Avenue."

Papa Gibbs: "You comfortable in my chair?"
Zach: "You damn right."
Papa Gibbs: "Well, then you just get your dead ass out of it right now... NOW!"

Helen: What do you want to do, huh? Kill me? I'd welcome that. Maybe I'll make you kill me. You won't be rid of me 'til you do. I'm not gonna run away anymore and I'm not gonna keep away from the kids.
Papa Gibbs: They're our kids now.
Helen: And if you want me out of the way, you'll have to put a bullet in me. So you might as well do it now.
Tommy: There ain't nobody gonna touch a hair on your head. You're the safest woman in New York City. You can walk any street, any time of night, there ain't nothing going to happen to you."

Rufus: "He's always had a knack for foolin' women."

Informant: "Listen. Zach killed Helen. He's trying to make his own deal with DiAngelo. He's hiding out up at Grant's Tomb. Send the boys up there and ice his bad ass."

Tommy: "I'm going to ease back into New York, quiet-like. I got me some funerals to attend."

Zach: "He's a candy ass. I flew to California, man, out to his house, fired some shots in the crib. He didn't even have the balls to do a damn thing. He didn't even have the balls to come after me. He didn't have the balls to do nothing. I even killed his old man. No balls at all. No Balls Gibbs."

Tommy: "I'm closin' down the city. I'm gonna make New York a decent place to live."

Tommy: "When is the next flight to L.A., any airline?"
Agent: "American Airlines in five minutes."
Man: "You'll never make it."
Tommy: "Bullshit!"

Tommy: "You know what I'm gonna do to you, huh? Figure it out, DiAngelo, figure it out. I'm gonna send you to wop heaven. I'm gonna make you famous, DiAngelo. You're gonna be the first whitey ever hung by a nigger."

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

Quote It (Hell Up in Harlem) - QUOTES FROM "HELL UP IN HARLEM"

DiAngelo: "So the police are going to kill Tommy Gibbs in cold blood and you want me to stop it? What should I do-arrest the entire New York Police Department?" DiAngelo: "Black bitches are all alike-you're stupid. Gibbs is as good as dead already. It's done. Some very important people have taken care of that." Papa Gibbs: "Xerox is a very useful weapon, Mr. DiAngelo." Tommy: "you do-stay cool." Papa Gibbs: "You ain't fit to raise children!" Tommy: "I'm gonna shut down their Japanese connection. Now I know you can handle some of those little Japanese guys, right, Pa? Now we'll pull our own little Pearl Harbor on them, right?" Tommy: "How you like the hired help, Palermo? They'll clean up the mess they made, won't you ladies? See, that just goes to show you, you never know who's' doing up your socks and underwear." Tommy: "Now that's what they call soul food." Cook: "Mmmm. Now you got black-eyed peas... carrot greens..." Tommy: "... chitlins..." Cook: "...collard greens... pig's feet... cornbread... Tommy: "... pork butts..." Cook: "... and for desert... watermelon!" Tommy: "Eat hearty, gentlemen." Tommy: "Anything can be fixed in the good old U.S. of A." Zach: "I'm gonna follow you all over. When you go to the airport, I'll be your ticket. When you walk down the street, I'll be your shadow. In other words, I'm gonna be all over your ass." Tommy: "You weren't so high and mighty when you were pimping for me up on Lenox Avenue." Papa Gibbs: "You comfortable in my chair?" Zach: "You damn right." Papa Gibbs: "Well, then you just get your dead ass out of it right now... NOW!" Helen: What do you want to do, huh? Kill me? I'd welcome that. Maybe I'll make you kill me. You won't be rid of me 'til you do. I'm not gonna run away anymore and I'm not gonna keep away from the kids. Papa Gibbs: They're our kids now. Helen: And if you want me out of the way, you'll have to put a bullet in me. So you might as well do it now. Tommy: There ain't nobody gonna touch a hair on your head. You're the safest woman in New York City. You can walk any street, any time of night, there ain't nothing going to happen to you." Rufus: "He's always had a knack for foolin' women." Informant: "Listen. Zach killed Helen. He's trying to make his own deal with DiAngelo. He's hiding out up at Grant's Tomb. Send the boys up there and ice his bad ass." Tommy: "I'm going to ease back into New York, quiet-like. I got me some funerals to attend." Zach: "He's a candy ass. I flew to California, man, out to his house, fired some shots in the crib. He didn't even have the balls to do a damn thing. He didn't even have the balls to come after me. He didn't have the balls to do nothing. I even killed his old man. No balls at all. No Balls Gibbs." Tommy: "I'm closin' down the city. I'm gonna make New York a decent place to live." Tommy: "When is the next flight to L.A., any airline?" Agent: "American Airlines in five minutes." Man: "You'll never make it." Tommy: "Bullshit!" Tommy: "You know what I'm gonna do to you, huh? Figure it out, DiAngelo, figure it out. I'm gonna send you to wop heaven. I'm gonna make you famous, DiAngelo. You're gonna be the first whitey ever hung by a nigger." Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

Quotes

Trivia

James Brown was originally slated to do the music after his work on Black Caesar (1973) was so well received, but American International Pictures executives changed their minds after rejecting the music Brown delivered for Slaughter's Big Rip-Off (1973). Subsequently, the music was done by Motown artist Edwin Starr and Brown's rejected music was used for the album, "The Payback".

Due to the success of the first film featuring 'Tommy Gibbs' , Black Caesar (1973), AIP wanted a second film. Unfortunately, Fred Williamson was filming That Man Bolt (1973) during the week from Monday to Friday, and director 'Larry Cohen' was busy making It's Alive! (1974/I), but they made this sequel concurrently by filming the majority of it at weekends.

Cohen filmed some of the scenes with the same crew and equipment as It's Alive, and due to Williamson's other film commitments he had to make most of the film with a stand-in, Williamson himself only really appearing in the close-ups. The close-ups were filmed in LA, where Williamson was based, and the rest of the film was filmed on location in New York.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video February 1988

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1973

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1973

Released in United States on Video February 1988