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For other uses, see Black Caesar (disambiguation).
Black Caesar
Black caesar.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Larry Cohen
Produced by Larry Cohen
Benjamin Fisz
Kenneth Rive
Written by Larry Cohen
Starring Fred Williamson
Gloria Hendry
D'Urville Martin
Julius Harris
Music by James Brown
Distributed by American International Pictures
Release dates
February 7, 1973
Running time
87 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2 million (US/ Canada rentals)[1][2]

Black Caesar (released theatrically in the UK as Godfather of Harlem) is a 1973 American blaxploitation crime drama film, starring Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry and Julius Harris. The film was written and directed by Larry Cohen. Black Caesar is a remake of the 1931 film Little Caesar. It features a musical score (Black Caesar) by James Brown (with heavy input from his bandleader Fred Wesley), his first experience with writing music for film. A sequel titled Hell Up in Harlem was released in late 1973.[3]


Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson) is an African-American who grew up in Harlem, New York City. As a kid, he was brutally assaulted by racist white cop McKinney. The incident led him to a life of crime. As an adult, he joins New York mafia and becomes the head of a black crime syndicate in Harlem. He wages a gang war with the Italian mobsters of New York City and begins to establish a criminal empire, keeping a ledger book of all his dealings as leverage over his business associates, including McKinney.

He meets and falls in love with a singer named Helen (Gloria Hendry) and marries her. She is unhappy as he is violent and rapes her. Eventually his enemies conspire with her, leading to an attempt on his life that leaves him shot and wounded. Killing his would-be assassins, he returns to his office to retrieve the ledger book. McKinney meets him there, and attempts to humiliate him before killing him. Tommy overpowers McKinney and beats him to death. Retrieving the ledger, a badly wounded Tommy returns to the house where he grew up, but a street gang attacks, robs and, presumably, kills him.


The Harlem film sequence was directed by James Signorelli, later to go on to producing films on Saturday Night Live. Some of James Brown's songs used in the film were sampled by prominent rap musicians - Das EFX and Ice-T ("The Boss" which is the background music where Tommy Gibbs is shot while crossing a street corner was sampled for Ice-T's "You Played Yourself", and also for Trick Daddy's "Take It To Da House"). More recently, by The Alchemist for Prodigy's album Return of the Mac. The song is also sampled on Nas' album God's Son on "Get Down".

The film is name-checked in Public Enemy's song "Burn Hollywood Burn"; when the cinema announces the movie to be Driving Miss Daisy, guest rapper Big Daddy Kane suggests leaving, saying "I got Black Caesar back at the crib." Kane makes another reference to the movie in his song "How U Get A Record Deal". Kool Keith references the main character in the song "Keith Turbo" from Black Elvis/Lost in Space: "Take off your shirt; I can see your ribs; Fakin' like Tommy Gibbs."

Larry Cohen originally wrote this film with Sammy Davis Jr. in mind for the title role, but after the success of Shaft, the film was retooled for Fred Williamson.[4]


The movie received a mostly positive reception.[5] In 2009 Empire named it eighteenth in a poll of the "20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've Never Seen* (*Probably)".

Release on DVD & HD[edit]

  • In 2001 it was released on DVD.
  • In 2010 it was digitized in High Definition (1080i) and broadcast on MGM HD.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  2. ^ Samuel Z Arkoff & Richard Turbo, Flying Through Hollywood By the Seat of My Pants, Birch Lane Press, 1992 p 203
  3. ^ Gary A. Smith, The American International Pictures Video Guide, McFarland 2009 p 25
  4. ^ "A Bluffer's Guide To Blaxploitation". Empire. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  5. ^ "'Black Caesar' Cues on Crime Lord:The Cast". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 

External links[edit]