Starring: Bernie Casey, Sam Wells, Betty Waldron and Pam Grier
Rated: R Crime/Drama
Based on the novel, Jack’s Return Home, authored by Ted Lewis, Hitman is a “Blaxploitation” film centering upon the main character, Tyrone Tackett (Bernie Casey). Tackett is a professional hitman who has returned to Oakland to solve the murder of his brother, Cornell. In trying to discover the truth behind the murder, Tackett easily moves among other figures of the criminal underworld, including members of a local Italian mob, producers of adult films, hustlers, gamblers, henchmen of a local Black mobster, dogs and even a lion!
With the help of his late brother’s buddy, Sherwood Epps (Sam Wells) and a lover with hidden motives (Pam Grier), Tackett is determined to get justice and he “aims” to deliver it … personally!
Jack’s Return Home was first the basis of Get Carter, a British crime film starring Michael Caine, Ian Hendry and Britt Ekland. Released in the United Kingdom in 1971, it was not an immediate hit. Its plot was considered too convoluted and the characters were considered too violent and amoral; however, it did turn a respectable profit. Although Get Carter was not promoted well by United Artists, its distribution company in the United States, MGM, shifted focus. The studio gave producer Gene Corman the script, who gave it to director George Armitage, who was unaware that the untitled script was Get Carter. Armitage, who is White, decided to adapt the script to be set in the Black community.
In order to be genuine, cross-culturally, in directing the revised script, Armitage spoke with Corman about possibly selecting Casey, a Black man, as director of the forthcoming film. Because Casey had never directed a film, Corman declined their offer. However, Armitage actively sought to have authentic aspects of Black life in southern California and viewers can experience this, from the hip dialogue to fashion to activities, such as dogfights and drive-up eateries and even Watts Towers.
Similar to its English predecessor, Hitman has become a cult classic. Perhaps time will be as complimentary to it as it has been to Get Carter, which was designated as one (#16) of the Top 100 British Films of the 20th Century by the British Film Institute.