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Film / The Guy from Harlem

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

Dubbed by Grindhouse Cinema Database as Blaxploitation's Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Guy from Harlem is an outsider art "masterpiece."

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:

  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: In addition to being a Large Ham, Harry tends to place emphasis on the wrong words and syllables.
  • Acrofatic: The squat, man-boobed mook does a lot of jumping and tumbling.
  • Actor Allusion: Harry is played by Steve Gallon, and is basically playing his "Wildman Steve" persona during the film.
  • Afro Asskicker: Al Connors sports a substantial fro. So does his secretary, and Mrs. Ashanti, Wanda De Bauld, and about a half dozen others. However, the "asskicker" part is an Informed Attribute, since he (and his opponents) exhibit the fighting skills of normally well-behaved toddlers showing Grandma what they "learned" in their first "Kids Karate" class.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Every other man wants to ravish the nearest female, including the protagonist. After all, they are in a Blaxploitation movie, which means that every woman, especially every black woman, is utterly irresistible.
  • Alternate DVD Commentary: The film was plucked from obscurity by the RiffTrax team, who recorded a comedic commentary in 2012.
  • 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?
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: The Mook watching Wanda pulls a revolver out of his waistband, spins the cylinder, pretends to shoot Wanda twice, and then sticks it back in his waistband. All with his finger on the trigger. note 
  • Artistic License – Law: Al is hired by the CIA to protect the wife of an African head of state. For one thing, the CIA doesn't operate within the United States because that would be treading on the FBI's turf (but maybe that's why the CIA has to subcontract to a Guy from Harlem). For another, the FBI wouldn't be involved either, because protecting the family members of visiting dignitaries is one of the jobs of the State Department.
  • Attempted Rape: One of the mooks guarding Wanda tries to rape her, but Jim arrives and pulls him off.
  • Batman Cold Open: The film opens mid-conversation between a white mook making inappropriate, racist-tinged sexual advances towards Harry's daughter Wanda, and gives a clumsy Info Dump on the attempt to kidnap an African dignitary's wife.
  • Blaxploitation: And how. It heavily features afros, attempts at kung fu / karate, has a detective as a main lead, and every woman is a foxy damsel in distress. It's exactly the kind of film being made fun of by Black Dynamite, except it's not in on the joke and is played completely straight.
  • Bloodless Carnage: When Jim is shot in the back, no wounds are visible. He simply topples over.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Harry's son hands Al a manilla envelope which Harry states contains a quarter of a million dollars. Also a gallon bag of white powder that he says is half a million dollars in cocaine, which is slightly more believeable.
  • 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.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Both of the cases Al takes are orchestrated by Big Daddy. For bonus points, since the African Princess plot gets dropped the instant it's resolved, there's no need for Big Daddy to have had anything to do with it.
  • Conviction by Contradiction: Al was able to deduce that the maid bringing their food was really a man in disguise simply because he couldn't smell the steaks he ordered.
  • 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?!
  • Department of Redundancy Department: There are so many scenes in which exposition or information is given, it cuts away, and then the same information is given again, as if the film editor never went back and watched the entire thing from start to finish to make sure nothing had been accidentally repeated. In particular, Al and the "wife of an African chief of state" gives her backstory to him twice, almost word for word. The worst offender is in the first scene when the kidnapped girl is demanding to know when she'll be freed, it cuts away, and then she repeats the exact same line and Jim gives her almost the exact same response.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: After getting an astonishingly detailed description of Big Daddy (whom somehow nobody has ever seen) from Harry, Al encounters a 6'2" muscular guy with curly blond hair and bands around his wrists working out in the gym... and walks right by him. The film does not clarify the question of whether Al knew it was Big Daddy but didn't want to tip him off, was too distracted by the task at hand to look closely, or really is just a bad detective.
  • 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!"
  • Drugs Are Bad: Wanda ran away from home in protest after her father started dealing drugs.
  • Dull Surprise: Most of the cast appears to be on Valium. Even Wanda doesn't show much reaction to being kidnapped and almost raped. No one seems to be at all invested in the movie's plot except for Al, who's almost comically mellow; Harry, who explodes into bouts of yelling or raucous laughter, and Big Daddy, who comes off as very aggressive.
  • End of an Era: From a meta-perspective, the height of the blaxploitation genre ended in 1976, and this knock-off communicates that.
  • Excuse Plot: The entire subplot about the protection of an African dignitary's wife has zero effect on the plot, and exists just to give Al an age-appropriate woman to have sex with. It doesn't even achieve softcore status, however, making the entire subplot moot even as an excuse plot.
  • 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.
    • Twice.
  • 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.
    Mike Nelson: And take a shower for once, it smells like baked milk in here.
    • Al himself is not exactly in peak physical condition. His chest is reminiscent of a recently plucked turkey.
  • 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: His tough even for NYC neighborhood has endowed him with allegedly ace investigative ability:
    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. The opening scene does have the racist mook inform Wanda that they're also going to kidnap an African dignitary's wife.
  • Hammerspace: Harry De Bauld is shown to have entrusted his son with a bag containing half a million dollars in cocaine and a manila folder with $250,000 in cash the first time they visit Al, while he himself brought along a headshot of his daughter and an envelope containing $5,000, just in case Al asked about pay up front... and all of it is carried in their inside jacket pockets. The Rifftrax lampshades this heavily.
    Kevin Murphy: (As Harry) "I carry envelopes of all denominations on my person. One's full of blood diamonds — you really should've aimed higher."

    Bill Corbett: He walks slowly because he's carrying the equivalent of Brazil's GDP at all times.

    Harry: "Wait a minute"? That's MONEY, honey!
    Bill Corbett: (As Harry) "Straight from my navel!"
  • 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?
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: When one of Big Daddy's goons is caught by Jim trying to rape Wanda, his excuse is "She looked horny."
    Mike Nelson: Never a good thing to have to say to your boss.
  • 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 Al walks past a character who exactly matches the description (and later turns out to be Big Daddy) 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.
  • Incoming Ham: Harry's initial appearance has him casually stride into the office, bang on the desk of Al's secretary, and yell, "Good mornin', good-lookin'!" His return to the film is even less subtle, as he just comes from nowhere, makes a bizarre laughing sound, and bellows "WANDAAAAAAA, HOW ARE YA, BABY" as loud as he possibly can right into his daughter's face.
    Kevin Murphy: (as Wanda) "Daddy, you just made my ears bleed!"
  • Informed Ability: Al Connors is considered a Memetic Badass because he just happened to have lived in upper Manhattan, but nothing in the film backs up his skills. He fights like a six year old (fortunately, so do his opponents), is constantly horny (again, so is every other male in the film), and has astoundingly bad detective skills. Really, the only reason he consistently gets the drop on the bad guys is that they're even dumber than he is. invoked
  • Insistent Terminology: Mrs. Ashanti is always described as "the wife of an African president / head of state". It is never specified who that African president is, or what country he's from. (Harry only further complicates things by calling her "that African queen", due to Steve Gallon ad-libbing most of his own dialogue.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Because it's never directly established that they're in an open relationship, we have to assume Al openly cheats on his girlfriend Jo Ann and even has sex with two different women on her bed before she dumps him. It's especially notable that one of said women he cheats with was recently threatened with rape, yet he has no issue boozing her up and porking her.
  • 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. It's an Actor Allusion; as Miami comedian Steve Gallon note  was hired for his very boisterous, lively stage presence. Rene Martinez, Jr. even liked him enough to give Gallon a starring role in his next film.
  • Leave the Camera Running: The film includes many prolonged shots of characters sitting and doing nothing, walking across rooms, etc.
  • Like Father, Unlike Son: Wanda wants nothing to do with her father due to his illegal activity. Well, some of the illegal activity. She's apparently fine with the stuff that isn't drugs.
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: The film attempts to make Al into one, but he comes across as an awkward horny asshole instead, going as far as cheating on Jo Ann with two different women in her apartment.
  • Low-Speed Chase: Al follows Jim to the kidnappers' hideout in the mellowest way possible.
  • Male Gaze: Possibly an unintentional example, but after Wanda puts on a nightgown, Al can't seem to stop looking at her breasts.
  • The Mole: When Al goes to check on Ashanti, the hotel masseuse, knowing that Al could come back any second, heads over to the window and flashes the thugs waiting outside a broad, obvious, high sign, which Al sees when he walks in.
  • 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.
  • Mook Chivalry: The Mook who is about to shoot Al in the back yells his name out first, giving him time to dodge out of the way.
  • Newhart Phonecall: The film includes several phone conversations, all one-sided. As expected, this does not make for gripping cinema.
  • 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. Unfortunately, most prints have film breaks that skip her reply.
    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.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Harry. "That's money, honey!"
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Averted, surprisingly. The goon who tries to rape Wanda fares no worse than the rest of Big Daddy's gang.
  • The '70s: And how!
  • Sassy Black Woman: Wanda doesn't suffer fools, even fools who have her tied to a chair, and especially fools who have her tied to a chair and make sexual come ons. Unless it's Al. Then she's fine with it. So, apparently, is her dad.
  • 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. Though she does still let him stay there with another woman.
  • 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 schemes. Kidnapping Wanda De Bauld has at least some strategic value, given that Big Daddy is using her to try and force his rival Harry out of business. But then his gang does an agreed-upon coke deal with Harry, allowing Al to shadow them and rescue her. Meanwhile, attempting to abduct / kill Mrs. Ashanti seems to have no goal whatsoever. Even if they'd pulled it off, it would've only gotten the CIA on the gang's tail. And that's not even accounting for what should be a major diplomatic incident with a sovereign nation and the US. And having the leader's spouse be a former US citizen. He even challenges Al to a showdown at a predetermined time and place, which leads to Harry's men swarming and overpowering his own. And that's not even getting into the people that make up his organization...
  • Suddenly Shouting: As mentioned before, Harry's voice randomly goes from normal speaking voice to shouting at the top of his lungs and nearly blowing out the (often visible) boom mic in any room he's in.
    Harry: I came here to see Al Connors.
    Bill: (pretending to be Harry) I'm hoping he can HELP me CONTROL the VOLume of my VOICE!
  • Tap on the Head: Al's preferred strategy for putting mooks out of commission. He only shoots them as a last resort. The worst example might be the guy at the compound when he rescues the first girl; he grabs his arm and holds it to the ground, then kind of just smushes the guy's face and head into the grass. The guy is struggling, then just goes limp, but Al literally doesn't do anything like choke him out or hit him in the head to knock him out.
  • 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.
    • Al refers to himself as "The Guy from Harlem" as well. He could have been "The Man from Harlem," or "The Dude from Harlem," or "The Brother from Harlem," or even (given the era) "The Cat from Harlem," but no, he's just The Guy... which, given the level of overall badassness he displays in the film, almost makes this a case of Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • 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-donenote , served with J&B Scotchnote . Hey, he's a detective, not a gourmet.
    Bill Corbett: Hope you like really tough burnt meat and shitty scotch.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The official trailer basically showed scenes from the last 5 minutes of the film.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Big Daddy tries to beat Al with pure strength in their fight.
  • Where da White Women At?: The film both plays it straight and inverts it — 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.
    • Not long after in the film, his boss gives him a What the Hell, Hero? — and his response? "She was looking kinda horny."
    • 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.
  • "YEAH!" Shot: The film ends with a freeze-frame of a high-five.