Fantastic Fest 2022: “Solomon King (1974, 4K Restoration)”

Long thought to be lost to the ages, the 1974 movie Solomon King has come roaring back in a 4K restoration that showcases all of the movie’s wonderful and ridiculous glory. A gem of the Black cinema craze of the 1970s, Solomon King is a textbook example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Solomon King (writer and co-director Sal Watts) is a business owner, former member of the CIA, and an oil magnate. That’s a hefty list of accomplishments, but things are not all rosy in King’s world. The unnamed Middle East country in which he and his brother Maney (“Little Jamie” Watts) have their oil concession has fallen to a coup instigated by the nefarious Prince Hassan (Richard Scarso). Both the king and beautiful Princess Oneeba escaped the area, with Oneeba fleeing to the US to be placed into King’s protective care. Assassins and rogue CIA agents vex King until he is forced to go on a rampage of vengeance and destruction.

Maybe “rampage” is too evocative of a word. All the grand ideas implied by Solomon King‘s script are undercut by the film’s incredibly low budget. Many of the scenes are nothing but exterior shots with voiced-over dialogue explaining the implied action. The scenes showing Hassan’s palatial castle look like they were filmed inside of a cheesy Indian restaurant. Continuity and logic fall victim to the film’s lack of funding. For example, there is a sequence in which King and his crew arrive at Hassan’s allegedly Middle Eastern country in the desert by coming out of the sea and storming the beach.

Details like that only serve to add layers to the pervasive charm of Solomon King. There is nothing lazy about the movie. On the contrary, one gets the sense that the cast and crew tried as hard as they could to make a kick-ass action movie. It helps that Watts flashes his infectious smile and exudes a good nature while he is on the screen. He makes King a likable character, even when he says and does unintentionally hilarious things.

Filmed in Oakland, Solomon King serves as a vital scrapbook of the town in the 70s. Look at the old cars, the signs on the businesses, the cigarette machines in the diners and clubs. Listen to the incredibly catchy and funky soundtrack. Most of all, check out the fashions (many of which came from a store owned by Watts). The clothes are almost as loud as the engine of King’s bitchin’ sports car.

Using one of the few prints still in existence, Deaf Crocodile Films has made Solomon King look as pristine as possible without removing any of the grit that exemplifies older grindhouse-style movies. It’s a great-looking restoration.

While not on the same level as the Larry Cohen or Gordon Parks movies of the time, Solomon King is nonetheless an important film within the genre. While the main villain of the film is vaguely Middle Eastern in that I-dress-like-Patrick-Wayne-in-a-Sinbad-movie sort of way, he uses white men to recruit young Black men to join his security team. King rails against this activity. “If you keep on this course,” King says in one scene, “you and Uncle Remus will be together in Heaven because they don’t send fools to hell.” King stands strong as his own person, acknowledging the institutional racism present within his own community while refusing to fall victim to it. He doesn’t sell drugs on the side, like some of the heroes of Black urban crime dramas. He’s a successful Black man who isn’t afraid to kick some ass to keep what is his.

For all of the silliness in Solomon King, and there is plenty of that to go around, the movie is deserving of a wider, appreciative audience. Fans of the so-called “Blaxploitation” genre will find tons to like in this movie. Hoisted from obscurity, Solomon King should be a joy for audiences to watch for years to come.

Solomon King premiered at Fantastic Fest 2022 on Sunday, September 25, in Austin, Texas.

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