The Black Cobra

Cost: £2.99 (Play.com)

Tag-line: There’s muscle in his venom and fire in his heart!

Sample dialogue: “I’m not doing it for you. I’m just doing it.”

Going into 1987 Italian crime thriller The Black Cobra, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Fred Williamson is the Black Cobra of the title, given that his name and face are on the poster, and he appears to be referenced in the tag-line. But you’d be wrong. Nobody ever calls him Black Cobra. He’s just plain old Detective Robert Malone. The Black Cobra of The Black Cobra is, in fact, a murderous motorcycle gang intent on tracking down the female witness to one of their crimes, not at all dissimilar to the evil motorcycle gang in early Sylvester Stallone vehicle Cobra. Confused yet?

In a way, this gets me thinking about the Pink Panther franchise (and please bear with me here). If you’ve seen the original Pink Panther you’ll know that Inspector Clouseau was not the Pink Panther. The Pink Panther was a priceless jewel sought after by David Niven. And the sequel, which resurrected the character of Clouseau, was called A Shot In The Dark, with no mention of any brightly-coloured panthers at all. But then to keep the franchise going it became necessary to work the phrase into each title, leading to Revenge of the Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Son of the Pink Panther (eeuch!), much in the same way that the continuing adventures of Detective Robert Malone are chronicled in Black Cobra 2 and Black Cobra 3: Manilla Connection.

Which is all confusing enough before you even get into the deal with the cartoon pink panther, who appeared in the titles of each film before launching a TV career of his own with the Pink Panther Show and it’s ridiculously awesome theme tune. You know the one: “Here he is, the Pink Panther! The rinky-dink panther! And it’s as plain as your nose! That he’s the one and only truly original panther pink from head to toe!” Remember that kid with the car? He was about eight years old! Who the Hell was letting him drive that thing?

Fred Williamson is not impressed with my review so far...

Anyway, what I really want to talk to you about is The Black Cobra and I might as well start with the Black Cobra gang itself, led by gold-toothed career criminal Snake. There’s a scene early on where this gang of supposed bad-asses (who all look like rejects from a Calvin Klein underwear shoot) spy a truck on the beach they like the look of. They immediately concoct and execute a plan to steal the vehicle from its owners, managing to do so entirely without words. If there had been dialogue, however, I imagine it would have gone like this:
SNAKE: All you guys distract the girl while I steal the truck.
GANG MEMBER: How do we distract her?
SNAKE: By RAPING her, obviously.
GANG MEMBER: Ah. Yes. I can see how that might be distracting.
SNAKE: I will then use the truck to run down the girl’s windsurfer boyfriend.
GANG MEMBER: But boss… The girl’s windsurfer boyfriend is out windsurfing. How can you expect to run him down?
SNAKE: Don’t worry ’bout it.

Actually... you know what? Close enough.

In the event, the windsurfing kid does indeed get knocked off his board by a truck, which is something I’ll admit I’ve never seen in a movie before. Doesn’t that sound like something you’d like to see? A windsurfer getting knocked down by a truck while he’s windsurfing? It doesn’t kill him, but the following shotgun blast to the back does. To keep the party atmosphere going, the gang head to a house in a residential neighbourhood, break in and murder the home-owners. However, photographer Elys Trumbo (great name) sees the whole thing go down and runs to the cops.

Fearing for her safety, the authorities draft in Detective Malone to protect her. Actually, you know what? Fuck it. Fearing for her safety, the authorities draft in Detective BLACK COBRA to protect her. There. That’s better.

"Ya daaamn right."

At this stage, Elys Trumbo is still in the hospital, suffering from shock, and I don’t know what the authorities are so concerned about, because they’ve already posted a single uniformed police officer outside her door. And really, in all the action movies and thrillers you’ve seen over the years in which a police officer has been posted outside an imperilled character’s hospital room, can you think of a single instance where that hasn’t worked? Can you? I sure can’t. It’s an absolutely foolproof system that no villain can beat.

Unless you count Snake and his buddies, of course, who take the cop down in a matter of moments. But really, you can’t fault the police. No-one could possibly have foreseen that three drugged-up shotgun-wielding psychopaths would have been able to overpower a single under-equipped beat cop. Luckily, Black Cobra is only a few steps behind and manages to at least save the girl.

"SURPRISE, motherfuckers! I was in the trunk the whole time!"

Now, here’s a few things we know about Detective Black Cobra:

  1. He has a fussy cat.
  2. He smokes cigars.
  3. He hates the noise of a woman crying.
  4. He prefers milk to bourbon.
  5. He thinks criminals are “human garbage” and prefers to shoot them dead whenever possible.
  6. He never knew his parents.
  7. He was adopted by a lonely old man, who ended up getting robbed and killed for seven lousy dollars.
  8. He served a stint in Vietnam, where he won every medal going.
  9. “He’s not a bad guy. His battle with crime goes back a long way.”
  10. He’s got an awesome ‘tache.

That’s actually quite a lot to unpack for the main character, when all anybody really needed to do was go: “It’s Fred Williamson with a gun,” and that would have been enough. We don’t need all this background colour. It doesn’t inform the plot at all, which is as simple and streamlined as it could be. Snake and Black Cobra dance around each other for the majority of the film, before a final one-on-one showdown at an abandoned warehouse (well, it was the 80’s, after all).

None of this is exactly great film-making, but it fairly zips along with a few surprisingly engaging action sequences and clocks in at a lean 86 minutes. The film’s greatest asset (aside from its genuinely bad-ass synth theme) is Detective Black Cobra himself, Fred Williamson. This guy rocks in everything he ever made and the weakest parts of the film are the parts where he isn’t on camera. Even if he’s not the greatest actor in the world, he succeeds because he exudes charisma, confidence and general bad-assery.

PICTURED: Charisma, confidence and general bad-assery. Also: cat.

In fact, you know who Fred Williamson reminds me of (and I mean this seriously)? Jason Statham. The pair of them share the same ability to portray a hard-as-nails, could-easily-whup-your-ass action hero while all the time letting the audience know that they know that what they’re doing is inherently ridiculous.

Before I wrap up, I just want to say a word or two about the quality of the DVD this came on. I’ve watched a fair few films now bought for £3 or less and never seen the cheapness have much impact on the actual film. This time it did. Piss poor transfer with terrible picture and sound quality and – I’m convinced – certain shots actually edited out. Awful, awful DVD. I hope it’s not a problem that persists with the DVD releases of Black Cobra 2 and Black Cobra 3 (which I will inevitably be picking up).

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Beer movie

[John McNee]

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