Refashioning the 1940s Warner Bros. gangster picture for the 1970s blaxploitation era, Larry Cohen once again plumbs the depths of American racial tensions with Black Caesar, a crime saga suffused with socio-political resentment and enlivened by James Brown’s classic soul-funk soundtrack. While freelancing for the mob, shoeshine boy Tommy Gibbs suffers a brutal beating at the hands of crooked cop McKinney (Art Lund), only to return to his Harlem neighborhood years later as a vengeful thug (Fred Williamson) intent on becoming a criminal kingpin. Rising to power by both blackmailing McKinney with incriminating ledgers and rubbing out the Italian mob’s top dogs (culminating in a swimming pool body-dumping scene shot at Cohen’s Beverly Hills home), Tommy’s ascendancy also necessitates a repudiation of his stereotypical parents (his mom a docile maid, his father an absentee stranger) and an adoption of the very methods employed by his light-skinned enemies. His downfall is ultimately the result of his role-reversal conversion into a “white nigger,” a transformation handled with blunt inelegance by Cohen (whose direction is viscerally rough-around-the-edges) and Williamson (whose performance has a charming crudity). A seething portrait of the psychological and emotional trauma begat by society’s inequity, the film reaches a climax of vulgar, vicious fury when Tommy paints McKinney in blackface, forces him to sing minstrel songs, and then beats him to death – a fitting act of revenge that Cohen, by intercutting the scene with flashbacks to McKinney thrashing Tommy as a kid, depicts as the gangster’s act of self-loathing-fueled self-flagellation.