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Mandingo (1975)

Set on a slave plantation in the Deep South, Mandingo is a sordid wallow in depravity.

Warren Maxwell (James Mason), the ageing owner of the 19th-century plantation, ‘Falconhurst’, puts on the airs of a courtly gentleman but is in fact a brutal, superstitious creature at heart.

Early on, he’s convinced that the best cure for his persistent “rheumatis” is to sleep with his feet pressed against a naked slave child, allowing the foul humours to drain into the boy’s stomach.

Intent on securing the future of his name, Maxwell is eager to marry off his son, Hammond (Perry King), who shows more interest in deflowering female slaves than wooing white women.

Hammond agrees to wed wealthy cousin Blanche (Susan George), reviving the family’s fortunes and its hopes for an heir. But when he discovers on their wedding night that Blanche isn’t a virgin, he vows never to sleep with her again. It doesn’t help when he learns that the culprit is her own brother.

mandingo5Hammond finds solace in the arms of prize slave and “bed wench” Ellen (Brenda Sykes) while his wife turns to Mede (Ken Norton) – a newly acquired slave prized for his fighting ability and robust physique – after her increasingly desperate entreaties meet only silence

Norton, a former prizefighter, dwarfs George’s tiny frame, but her wild eyes and gnashing teeth more than make up the difference.

Contemporary critics damned Mandingo as high-toned trash, a ruthless exploitation of racial stereotypes memorably parodied in a Saturday Night Live skit with O.J. Simpson filling Norton’s role.

But the movie’s offences are hardly unintentional. Seen as a camp classic, Mandingo‘s excesses seem risible. But viewed with fresh eyes, it can credibly be seen as a revisionist history of a particularly savage kind.

Warren Maxwell
James Mason
Susan George
Hammond Maxwell
Perry King
Richard Ward
Brenda Sykes
Ken Norton
Lucrezia Borgia
Lillian Hayman
Doc Redfield
Roy Poole
Ji-Tu Cumbuka
Paul Benedict
Ben Masters
Ray Spruell
De Veve
Louis Turenne
Duane Allen
Earl Maynard
Beatrice Winde
Debbie Morgan
Mrs. Redfield
Irene Tedrow
Big Pearl
Reda Wyatt
Madame Caroline
Simon Mcqueen
Evelyn Hendrickson
Major Woodford
Stanley J. Reyes
Le Toscan
John Barber
Durwyn Robinson
Kerwin Robinson
Stocker Fontelieu

Richard Fleischer