(director/writer: Shirley Clarke; screenwriters: Carl Lee/from the play by Robert Rossen & Warren Miller/from the novel Warren Miller; cinematographer: Baird Bryant; editor: Shirley Clarke; music: Mal Waldron; cast: Carl Lee (The Priest), Hampton Clanton (Duke), Yolanda Rodriguez (Luanee), Clarence Williams III (Blood), Marilyn Cox (Miss Dewpoint), Georgia Burke (Grandma), Gloria Foster (Mrs. Custis); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Frederick Wiseman; Wiseman Films; 1963)

“An eye-opening film that captures ghetto life back in the 1960s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Cool World as in the world of Harlem is a gripping accessible mainstream semi-documentary film shot in b/w and on location in Harlem by the white Jewish well-educated writer-director Shirley Clarke (“The Connection”/”Portrait of Jason”/”Ornette: Made in America“). It bogs down at times when caught in its schematic agenda. But when allowed to have a natural flow, its lively cast of mostly non-professionals, make this an eye-opening film that timelessly captures ghetto life back in the 1960s –its jazz background score by Dizzy Gillespie still registers even in today’s hip-hop world. The film could be a sociologist’s study as it explores ghetto violence, poverty, drug use, entrapment in slum life and racism.

It’s based on the play by Robert Rossen & Warren Miller, which was based on the novel by Warren Miller. Carl Lee, a principal actor in the film. co-writes the script. However the script is the film’s weak point. What makes up for that is its powerful visceral effects from its location shots and its very fine character-based part of the story.

Hampton Clayton plays an ambitious 14-year-old given a gun by Carl Lee, a racketeer, and with that the kid becomes the leader of a Harlem street gang. Through some bad experiences Hampton later discovers that a life of crime and hatred doesn’t pay, which sounds trite but seems better on film.