Mandingo (1975)


(director: Richard Fleischer; screenwriters: Norman Wexler/based on the novel by Kyle Onstott; cinematographer: Richard H. Kline; editor: Frank Bracht; music: Maurice Jarre; cast: James Mason (Maxwell), Susan George (Blanche), Perry King (Hammond), Richard Ward (Agamemnon), Brenda Sykes (Ellen), Ken Norton (Mede), Lillian Hayman (Lucretia Borgia), Roy Poole (Doc Redfield), Ji-Tu Cumbuka (Cicero), Ben Masters (Charles), Paul Benedict (Brownlee); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Dino De Laurentiis; Paramount Pictures; 1975)

“At least offers no tears for the demise of the good ole days in Dixie.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Richard Fleischer (“Armored Car Robbery“/”Narrow Margin“/”The Vikings”)directs this lurid trashy melodrama regarding slavery in the Old South. It’s based on the novel by Kyle Onstott, and is crudely written by Norman Wexler. The unpleasant film is dreadful, but in all its perversity and absurdity it leaves no room for romancing the sicko pre-Civil War Southern slavery system as something nostalgic as it shows this evil system for what it is and how the slaves were not considered human so they could be abused.

In 1840 the cranky widowed bigoted Louisiana plantation owner Warren Maxwell (James Mason) of the rundown Falconhurst, who became wealthy as a slave-trader, orders hisson Hammond (Perry King) to travel to New Orleans to wed a white woman and give the family heirs. The bride is the deceitful Blanche (Susan George), who disappoints Ham greatly when on their wedding night he discovers she’s not a virgin. While in town Ham also buys the physically imposing slave Mede (Ken Norton, pro boxer), a Mandingo and trains him to be a fighter. Back home Ham buys the slave-girl Ellen (Brenda Sykes) and uses her as his bed “wench,” finding he has more feelings for her then he does for his wife. The horny Blanche goes in heat over the stud slave and to get revenge on her gimpy hubby for treating her so coldly, she seduces Mede. It results in her giving birth to Mede’s mulatto child. This doesn’t sit too well with the crazed racist Ham, who poisons his wife, slays the child and then turns his attention to Mede.

It’s a poor man’s version of Gone With The Wind, where everyone is in heat, master and slave relations are over the top, and the plantation owners are mercilessly depicted as despicable cads. The grim pic is an exploitation movie, which for all its faults at least offers no tears for the demise of the good ole days in Dixie.