A hidden Blacksploitation gem that embodies the 70’s prison film.
Each week, I hit the Crow and pick up various volumes of Drive-In Trash-O-Rama a collection of trailer from the 60’s and 70’s of mostly exploitation fare. Something Weird Video put these collections out in the early 2000’s and they are simply priceless.
Adam and I are addicted to these things
The point of all this is to tell you about Penitentiary, a film that I discovered thanks to those collections.
Penitentiary is the story of Too-Sweet (Leon Isaac Kennedy), a black man who ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time when he is caught up in a brawl at a diner in the middle of nowhere. Flash forward six months and Too-Sweet finds himself in a men’s penitentiary with some pretty heavy hitting brothers that want to make sandwiches out of this fresh meat.
You’ve got gang boss Jesse Amos, Magila Gorilla, and the uber psychotic two toothed Half Dead – who also happens to be Too Sweet’s cell mate. You’ve got the queens led by super queen Sweet Pea and then you have Jesse’s Bandits who enforce life on the block. Luckily, Too Sweet has picked up some street fighting skills throughout his rough and tumble life and proves that he can handle his own. The action is great, specifically in the initial fight between Too Sweet and Half Dead to establish their “Realness” as cell mates.
Too Sweet’s fighting skills gets the attention of the higher ups and they talk him into training as a prison prize fighter with the prison’s token elderly prisoner Seldom Seen. That’s his name – Seldom Seen. Too Sweet begins his hardcore training montage in the hopes that he can get the attention of a rival prison warden who might be able to get him paroled early.
With all these violent inmates roaming around, the beastly warden Arnsworth (played by fat-guy character actor Chuck Mitchell) decides to establish a boxing tournament and to each division winner comes one conjugal visit from a woman of their choice in a trailer in the yard. Unsurprisingly, this gets the cell block fired up beyond all fucking Hell.
Think about it. You are incarcerated and the warden tells you that you can bone a woman,if you win a prize fight. Then they say “If you don’t have a woman, one will be appointed for you!”. So it’s a guaranteed lay!
What makes this whole prison tournament so great is that they decide it’s a good idea to invite the female prisoners to the fights. This gets out of control quickly with ladies showing off their goods to the men across the ring, talking mass shit to the fighters, and sneaking off to the restroom for secret trysts. An inmate called “Pretty Red” hides in the ceiling and awaits the first female prisoner to appear in the toilets. He is met with Peaches a female inmate who is looking to get some as much as he is. As the fights progress, the two continue to meet in secret in the bathrooms and their scenes together are just hilarious. They break up the heavy hitting perfectly and what starts as just two people getting some turns into a bathroom orgy by the end of the film.
Too Sweet was not the only fresh meat to enter the prison, he is accompanied by Eugene “Genie” Lawson (played by Thomas Pollard) who is quite the hot head himself and proves to be quite the competitor in this tournament, but alas, a loss for Genie knocks him out of the game and he pledges his allegiance to Too Sweet.
In an attempt to take Too Sweet out of the running, block boss Jesse Amos has his Bandits pull a classic cell block shanking, but it goes a wry when Genie throws himself in front of the shank blade intended for Too Sweet. So now shit is on. Jesse Amos is going down and Too Sweet is the brutha that’s gonna do it – in the ring.
The final fight between the two men borders on exhausting. Lightning fast punch combos carry the battle in the initial rounds eventually turning into a last man standing punch for punch stand off to decide the winner. After fifteen rounds of hell, Too Sweet comes out victorious and is granted his parole. He is chosen to represent the warden as his private prize fighter and is allowed to take the ailing Seldom Seen with him. Too Sweet is granted his freedom and walks into the desert distance a free man.
What’s so great about this movie is that it’s literally action packed and full of emotion. This is one of those exploitation films that you can feel director Jamaa Fanaka’s electricity and drive to make the best movie possible. I get this movie, it’s not a so bad it’s good type of flick. The cast is solid and real making motivations seem less ridiculous and more driven by the story. If you can catch Penitentiary, do it, you won’t be disappointed!