Film / The Guy from Harlem

"You got TWO questions, I got ONE answer!"

Somewhere between blaxploitation and outsider art, you will find The Guy from Harlem.

The year is 1976. Al Connors is a streetwise detective from Harlem, currently working in Miami. The CIA hires him to protect an African VIP from potential assassins. He completes the assignment so skilfully that he draws the attention of a gangster named Harry De Bauld. His daughter Wanda has been kidnapped by a rival gangster, and his own gang is too emotionally shaken to attempt a rescue. Al Connors draws on all his Harlem skills to locate Wanda and bring her back alive.

Along the way, he does battle with stilted dialogue, repetitive storytelling, poor production values, choppy editing, goofy fight choreography, incessant flubbed lines, and a pervasive school-play-esque awkwardness that hilariously undermines every attempt at coolness or badassery. But just as Al inevitably triumphs, so the film's many limitations freebase into a glittering crystal of So Bad, It's Good.

The Tropes from Harlem:

  • Acrofatic: The squat, man-boobed mook does a lot of jumping and tumbling.
  • Afro Asskicker: Al Connors sports a substantial fro. So does his secretary, and Mrs. Ashanti, Wanda De Bauld, and about a half dozen others.
  • Alternate DVD Commentary: The film was plucked from obscurity by the RiffTrax team, who recorded a comedic commentary in 2012.
  • Amateur Cast
  • Artistic License Economics:
    Harry: "Big Daddy's gang, them hoodlums, and my boys have been fighting for a long, long time over valuable property that brings in millions of dollars each and every day!"
    Mike Nelson: "Millions every day?! Is this piece of property Canada?"
  • Attempted Rape: One of the mooks guarding Wanda tries to rape her, but Jim arrives and pulls him off.
  • Awkward Silence/Leave the Camera Running: The film includes many prolonged shots of characters sitting and doing nothing, walking across rooms, etc.
    Mike Nelson: "There's more action than this in a Vermeer painting!"
  • Blaxploitation
  • Bloodless Carnage: When Jim is shot in the back, no wounds are visible. He simply topples over.
  • Broken Record: "Hasn't four o'clock passed yet?!"
  • The Casanova: Al Connors. Harry has a lackey who thinks he's one, but he falls flat on his face when he asks Al's secretary to go dancing.
  • Creator Provincialism: If an African VIP were going to meet with the U.S. secretary of state, why would their meeting take place in Miami?
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Al's room service is delivered by an assassin dressed as a hotel maid. But Al detects the masquerade and knocks "her" out cold.
    Mrs. Ashanti: "Al, have you lost your mind? That's a woman!"
    [Al pulls off the guy's wig]
    Mrs. Ashanti: "How did you know he was a man?"
    Al: "He didn't have steaks on this tray. I can smell a New York strip steak a block away."
    Mike Nelson: "What are you, a cartoon dog?!"
  • Does Not Like Shoes/Fanservice: During her first scene, Al's girlfriend Jo Ann is conspicuously barefoot. She even sits on the bed so that her bare feet are in the center of the frame, in an alluring pose.
  • The Dragon: Jim, the bespectacled sauna enthusiast.
  • Drama-Preserving Handicap: You might expect the leader of a ruthless crime syndicate to send a few of his own henchmen to rescue his kidnapped daughter, rather than paying an outsider to do the job. But as Harry explains, the emotional stress of his daughter's kidnapping makes this impossible.
    Harry: "Why don't somebody in my organization do the job? Do you realize, Al, that we're talking about life and death? Everybody's too upset! After all, man, you're talking about my daughter!"
    Mike Nelson: (as Harry) "My criminal organization is very sensitive!"
  • Drink Order: Al prefers J&B, a brand of bottom-shelf blended scotch.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Wanda ran away from home in protest after her father started dealing drugs.
  • Extreme Doormat: Jo Ann lets herself be kicked out of her own apartment so that Al can use it as a hotel room for a strange woman, and also have sex with that woman on Jo Ann's bed. Then she allows the same thing to happen again.
  • Fan Disservice
    • On both occasions when Al is about to get funky with a chick, she changes into a frumpy ankle-length nightgown.
      Mike Nelson: "Are we gonna do the Marx Brothers mirror scene?!"
      Kevin Murphy: "Or did you think we were in some sort of Peter Sellers sex farce from 1962?"
    • We are treated to a lingering shot of Jim, clad only in a towel, sitting spread-legged in a sauna. To give you an idea of how physically appealing Jim is, the riffers refer to a later scene of him as the ugliest shot in film history.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Judging by Al's copy of the Miami Herald, Mrs. Ashanti arrives in the United States on June 19, 1976.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: After he has been outmaneuvered and disarmed, Big Daddy demands the satisfaction of kicking Al's ass in unarmed combat.
  • Great Detective: Al can't help being an ace sleuth, considering where he grew up.
    Mrs. Ashanti: "With all that experience in Harlem, I should be lucky to have you for my bodyguard."
    Al: "Baby, you don't know how lucky you are. Harlem is the experienced playground for all people interested in becoming detectives."
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Despite Wanda's value as a hostage, she is left in the care of very unreliable guards.
    Jim: "I told you to keep your hands off that chick!"
    Mac: "Hey, what can I say, man? She looked horny."
    Mike Nelson: "Never a good thing to have to say to your boss."
  • Halfway Plot Switch: For the first half-hour, Al protects Mrs. Ashanti from assassins. The rest of the film is a separate story about Al rescuing Wanda De Bauld from kidnappers.
  • Happily Ever After: Big Daddy is vanquished, Harry De Bauld is (maybe) going to stop selling drugs, and Al and Wanda will be married.
  • Happy Ending Massage: Averted. When Mrs. Ashanti says she could use a massage, Al calls for a masseuse rather than administer it himself. This is peculiar in retrospect, because he later claims that he used to be a professional masseur.
    Mike Nelson: "No, you idiot, you did that completely wrong! Get back in there! Haven't you ever seen one of these?"
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: An apparently unintentional example.
    Harry: "Very few people see Big Daddy. The only thing I can tell you, he's about 6'2" tall, has blond curly hair. And man, you talking about some muscles, he's got some muscles on him, and he always wears bands around his muscles. That's the only thing we can tell you about Big Daddy. Nobody ever sees him!"
    Bill Corbett: "Man, if only we had some details!"
    • Later, Mike repeats the description, wishing they had something to go on, when a character who exactly matches the description (and later turns out to be Big Daddy) is standing in front of the camera.
  • In Medias Res: The first scene opens with Wanda already kidnapped. As the Rifftrax points out, the scene seems to just appear out of nowhere, with no setup. They claim it begins "mid-sentence," which isn't much of an exaggeration.
  • Insistent Terminology: Mrs. Ashanti is always described as "the wife of an African president". It is never specified who that African president is, or what country he's from.
  • It Makes Just As Much Sense In Context: Large portions of the movie, such as "Al has sex with a woman he just met in his girlfriend's apartment" or "a CIA agent drops by and asks Al if he'd mind guarding the wife of an African President."
  • Jive Turkey: A lot of the dialogue, though Al himself is a very mild case. The biggest offender is probably the henchman of Harry's who unsuccessfully flirts with Al's secretary.
  • Jungle Fever: A recurring theme, as befitting a blaxploitation film.
    White mook: "You know, that broad's not too bad-looking. I haven't had any of that dark meat in a long time."
    • However, Al's relationship with his white girlfriend doesn't really qualify.
      Kevin Murphy: "They don't have the jungle fever. More of the jungle nut allergy."
  • Karma Houdini: Harry De Bauld is a drug-dealing mobster, but everything works out for him. By the end of the film, his daughter has been rescued and his competitor eliminated.
  • Kingpin in His Gym: Whenever Big Daddy isn't attending to some criminal business, he's in the gym pumping iron. Doing endless arm curls.
  • Large Ham: Harry, full stop, to the point where every other actor in the movie appears comatose next to him; justified, as Miami comedian Steve Gallon — already a famous radio DJ, MC, and filthy nightclub comic at the time — was hired for his very boisterous, lively stage presence, and Rene Martinez, Jr. even liked him enough to give Gallon a starring role in his next film.
  • Low-Speed Chase: Al follows Jim to the kidnappers' hideout in the mellowest way possible.
  • Mood-Swinger: Harry De Bauld shifts suddenly between belligerent shouting, sly amusement, and crazed laughter. As if that isn't enough, the volume of his voice rises and falls at random.
  • No Big Deal:
    Sue: "Oh, I almost forgot. You had another call. A guy working for the CIA."
    Kevin Murphy: "Try to hire secretaries who don't almost forget that the CIA called you."
  • No Indoor Voice: As Bill Corbett points out in the intro to the film, Harry De Bauld appears to be unable to control the volume of his voice. A large portion of his dialogue consists of screaming at the top of his voice to people who are a foot or so away from him.
  • Non-Answer:
    Al: "And how'd you become the wife of a president?"
    Mrs. Ashanti: "Oh, that surprised me!"
  • Nonindicative Name/Informed Attribute: Despite the title, the film is set entirely in Miami. Al's connection to Harlem is explained in dialogue.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The African princess sure doesn't sound African. The film even lampshades this fact.
    Al: "Now where does a foreigner pick an accent like that?"
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Big Daddy.
  • Pimp Duds: Several characters, but especially Harry De Bauld's disco-loving henchman.
  • Newhart Phonecall: The film includes several phone conversations, all one-sided.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: "Money, honey!"
  • The '70s: And how!
  • Salt and Pepper: CIA agents David McLeod and Paul Benson
  • Sassy Black Woman: Wanda doesn't suffer fools, even fools who have her tied to a chair.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Jo Ann's reaction to being kicked out of her own apartment for a second time by Al, implying she's done with him.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Unintentionally. Al's conversation with the wife of an African President is meant to explain things like why Al's called The Guy From Harlem, why an African has an American accent, and set up later plot points. But it's all very ham-handed, and most of the "explanations" are really Handwaves, making the whole thing feel like pointless Padding.
  • Shirtless Scene: Every scene featuring Big Daddy. Even when he wears a shirt, he leaves it entirely unbuttoned to show off his muscles.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Averted. Wanda isn't about to start sympathizing with her captors.
  • Stupid Evil: Most of Big Daddy's organization.
  • Tap on the Head: Al's preferred strategy for putting mooks out of commission. He only shoots them as a last resort.
  • The Teaser: Before the opening titles there is a brief sequence setting up both the kidnapping and the "African princess" subplots. Due to poor editing, it looks like the movie starts mid-scene.
  • There Are No Therapists, 1970's style: A few hours earlier, Wanda was tied to a chair and nearly raped. Naturally, Al gives her liquor, fondles her backside, and has sex with her.
  • Title Drop: David McLeod addresses Al as "the guy from Harlem". This is peculiar, because McLeod is also established to be a guy from Harlem.
  • Title Theme Tune/Image Song:
    Get down! Guy from Harlem!
    Feel the rumble! That cat's a bad dude!
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Al likes his New York strip steaks to be cooked well-done, served with J&B Scotch. Hey, he's a detective, not a gourmet.
    Bill Corbett: "Hope you like really tough burnt meat and shitty scotch."
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Big Daddy tries to beat Al with pure strength in their fight.
  • Where Da White Women At?: Somewhat subverted. Al's original girlfriend is white, but their relationship is already on the rocks. During the film Al only has sex with black women.
  • "YEAH!" Shot: The film ends with a freeze-frame of a high-five.