Chester Himes is up there with the greats of Selby, Bukowski, Algren and Fante, carving a slice of American life. This is a film version of Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed heroics in action, all set within 1950's Harlem. The sets are sumptuous, and full of retro 50's fashion, passion and belief. Early on we are taken to the Undertakers Ball, where the late Screaming Jay Hawkins belts out Yellow Coat and Put a Spell on You to an assembled cast of Harlemites who dance the macabre. This sets the scene for the gore.
The story is based on the tension between North and South Blackness, as well as the sexual frision of the femme fatale who hooks up with Jackson. The story of love over gold resonates throughout the picture. Not sure how this plays out in real time
The film shifts between the comedic to the very dark, with an initial expose of deep south racism, illuminating our two bungling police officers, who are out to capture our fixed stare gangsters. Meanwhile, as the film progresses, the body count steadily rises according to the dictates of pop goes the weasel.
Whilst Himes's other books details life as a full range of the 40's/50's, this one says little about the graphic world the black communties inhabited. Racism and exploitation are backdrops rather than main events. A story of deceit, double cross, it is bound in graphic violence and cuss. It is not a film to watch with the kids, even though it has funny moments.
The film composition is excellent, the stars shine intensely on the set and sitting down to inhabit the world within this film is well worth the effort.