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  • I just saw this film on the big screen (the only surviving 35mm print in the world). I had never seen it on video, so seeing it in a crowded theater was my first experience with the film. As a bonus, the director, Richard Fleischer, the star, Perry King, and Brenda Sykes, who plays King's slave "wench" in the film, spoke before the screening.

    The audience alternated between gasping and roaring with immediately regretted laughter throughout the screening. Nobody laughed for a moment at Susan George's supposedly over-the-top performance. And at the climax -- there were astounded gasps all over the theater. Afterwards, once the applause had died down, the audience filed out, stunned. Everyone looked shell-shocked. I wandered around for a while listening to people murmuring: "I told you guys..." "Best I've seen..." "Totally uncompromising..." "That's how it was..." "Didn't pull any punches..." "Amazing..." "Where did you hear about it?..."

    We had one big advantage over most people who see the film. Most viewers go rent the tape because they read about it in, say, Edward Margulies' and Stephen Rebello's BAD MOVIES WE LOVE (which is how I knew about it). MANDINGO has a huge reputation as a camp classic, so people seek out the video where it can be found. Then they take it home and watch it alone, or with a friend or two, pre-primed to laugh.

    The audience I was sitting with at the American Cinematheque theater had, first of all, read the sober, favorable description in the Cinematheque schedule. Then we'd listened to Fleischer himself talk about how he had refused ten times when Dino de Laurentiis had asked him to film the novel, only to finally accept when he realized how he could do it: "By being totally honest and straight with it." And he was, if you view it without a laugh ready. King and Sykes also spoke calmly and soberly about how hard the shoot was, and how the cast considered it an important film but still had trouble handling the emotions it stirred up.

    Fleischer is hardly a symbolic director, although there's a lot of "found" symbolism in 10 RILLINGTON PLACE, for example. But MANDINGO was an obvious statement of the inhumanity of slave-OWNing, and it constantly used the setting and characters to emphasize the moral and physical disintegration of the Deep South under the self-imposed yoke of the slave culture. That sounds pretentious, but in MANDINGO it's totally straightforward. Moral disintegration leads to moral disintegration. The crime is its own punishment. MANDINGO is an antimatter GONE WITH THE WIND.

    MANDINGO, as Fleischer pointed out, was a huge hit on its initial release. It was also viciously attacked by all but two critics in the United States. (Fleischer admitted that he saved all his reviews, and pointed out mildly that those two reviewers -- who were the only critics to go into the film in depth -- pronounced the film a masterpiece. "I don't know if it's that," he said, "but those two were certainly a breath of fresh air.")

    Because of all the controversy, the film was never rereleased. Nobody at the screening could think of a single time it had been screened between 1975 and August 28, 1999. Perhaps it was screened once or twice, but my point is that essentially no one since 1975 has seen this film with an audience, to feel the reactions of those around the room, to see it on the big screen.

    I think it's really unfortunate that MANDINGO has gotten locked into this "camp" label. The film contains so much depravity that I can certainly see why it was selected as a "camp classic". But that wasn't the intent at all. I've heard this film compared to SHOWGIRLS. But SHOWGIRLS was directed by the bizarre Paul Verhoeven (ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL, BASIC INSTINCT). Of course he was going for camp; he always does camp. But Richard Fleischer? He did 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, MR. MAJESTYK, 10 RILLINGTON PLACE (a real gem), THE BOSTON STRANGLER, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, SOYLENT GREEN. He is one of the most mild-mannered directors alive. He's done bad stuff -- CONAN THE DESTROYER and RED SONJA come to mind -- but in the seventies he was doing his best work. And that would have to include MANDINGO -- to my complete amazement.

    I can't believe how different my experience with this film was from its usual "cult" interpretation. Now I wonder if Otto Preminger's HURRY SUNDOWN is as bad as the Medveds said it was in 50 WORST FILMS OF ALL TIME. I'll have to try to see it for myself.
  • This is an underrated, truly great film on the subject of slavery, sexual hypocrisy and the haunted, hothouse atmosphere of generations of white bad karma in the 19th century deep south. There are some who've commented here who get it, others who don't want to get it because it's just too truthful and disturbing. These folks undoubtedly would prefer a TV sanitized version of slavery as in ROOTS. It's a testament to Richard Fleischer's integrity that he was able to pull this off. All performances are excellent (well, that's not strictly true as Ken Norton stumbles his way through but Fleischer, through his direction and editing gets an adequate job from him), including superb James Mason (one of his most brutally fearless roles as opposed to the nadir of his career as one IMDB commentator puts it). One of the things that's most disturbing about the film is the depiction of the consequences of slavery, racism and hypocrisy on the white race, how it warps son, Perry King's natural tenderness towards Brenda Sykes into a horrifying insecure paranoia that evolves into aberrantly exaggerated jealousy and sexually motivated violence by the climax. And poor Susan George's character is driven totally mad by her husband King's neglect and jealousy and the semingly contradictory tender erotic ministrations of slave, Norton. Mason reaps what he sows at the end and King's upbringing (and inferiority complex) is ultimately too much for him in the end, taking him down the same road to hellish oblivion.

    If one wants to see a truly lurid, exploitive treatment of the same subject (although very entertaining also with a great cast -- Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Yaphet Kotto, et.al.) one should look no further than MANDINGO's sequel, DRUM. However, MANDINGO is different. It does contain some lurid, super charged sexual images and shocking cruelty and violence -- but Fleischer's treatment is matter-of-fact, in-your-face and ultimately totally unpretentious. It walks a tightrope but courageous director Fleischer never stumbles. The gritty, extremely realistic location and production design add to the disturbing ambience. Unflinching, beautifully shot (I saw this in the theater when it was released and at a rare revival screening in 2000) and undeserving of it's pariah reputation.
  • This unflinching, hard-hitting look at slavery is a severely underrated and misjudged film. That's probably because it sheds light onto a tough, painful subject that many people would prefer to ignore or forget; if you're expecting a "slaves-and-masters-are-all-a-big-happy-family" depiction of the life in the mid-19th-century Southern plantations, then this simply isn't your movie.

    "Mandingo" was followed, one year later, by "Drum". They are both far better films than their reputations might make you believe, and they are also handsome, almost sumptuous productions with a far lower "sleaze" quotient than many reviews seem to indicate. They are both worth seeing - preferably as a double bill. (***)
  • Undead_Master21 August 2006
    Warning: Spoilers
    I have heard this film described as campy... I don't see it that way...

    I found it incredibly disturbing because i believed every bit of it. I'm no historical expert, but this had the ring of truth to me. Human nature combined with the institution of slavery would inevitably lead to these exact kinds of situations. When one population completely dehumanizes another population, every excess and taboo becomes acceptable in their eyes. If this kind of stuff (specificly the use of female slaves as sex objects) is not well documented in the history books, that shouldn't surprise anyone. You can bet your bottom dollar that in those male dominated times, such practices were commonplace and probably considered relatively normal.

    Despite the fact that I think this is a great film, I can see why many people would want to bury it or dismiss it. It's just too difficult to accept and it doesn't even have a happy ending. There is no sense that the situation will change in any way.

    I almost wish i had never seen it so i can't really recommend it despite the fact that it's great. Very few people will watch this movie and take it the right way. Many will laugh at it and assume it's a big exaggeration others will find it mean spirited or racist and despicable.

    If it has any flaw, it's that it's too honest. People don't like to watch a movie and be bludgeoned by it. There is no attempt to appease an audience. There is a bit of melodrama, but it's surrounded by so much evil that you can't care about it and I don't think you're meant to. This movie is a slap in the face... Take that into account before you watch it if you choose to.

    On another note... Based on other descriptions, it's possible that I saw a slightly edited copy of this film... Differing versions of the film apparently exist and some have edited scenes. That may account for some of the different opinions expressed in regards to the movie. If there is a more graphic version out there, I doubt my opinion would change. Making it more graphic would not necessarily reduce it's greatness, but on the same note, the version i saw was plenty graphic enough to get it's point across.

    This may be a case (unprecedented??) were the edited version of a movie is actually the better version. I can say for certain that the movie i saw was a great film, and I'll leave it at that.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    To be (a nasty, mean-spirited exploitation flick) or not to be (a nasty, mean-spirited exploitation flick): that is the question! "Mandingo" is pretty much a mystery of cinema on its own. Did the prominent Hollywood crew, with names like Richard Fleischer, Norman Wexler and Maurice Jarre, intend to produce a trashy & sleazy picture … or was it really their intention to bring a harsh yet realistic portrait of the slavery business in Southern America around the year 1840? Either way it was meant, "Mandingo" is a truly impressive and unforgettable film that totally represents the 70's decade! Wexler's screenplay – adapted from a novel by Kyle Onstott – is definitely not meant for squeamish or easily offended people, as it is an honest depiction of how awful and disrespectful the wealthy white "masters" treated their black servants AND considered their behavior to the most normal and common thing in the world. The movie revolves on the plantation-owning Maxwell family, Warren and his son Hammond, and their main occupation is the "breeding" of slaves. Hammond hits the jackpot when he buys a pure Mandingo on the market. This is a physically strong black male he uses for reproducing and trains to become a bare-knuckle fighting champion. Meanwhile, father Warren insists on having a son of his own with the distantly related Blanche, but Hammond is far more sexually aroused by his collection of black "wenches". "Mandingo" is a very powerful film, despite the large amount of exploitative sex and violence, and Richard Fleischer's like-it-or-not narrative style is ultimately confronting! Particularly the harrowing yet accurate little details will have a severe impact on you. For example, the sight of rich white bastards resting their legs on black children or the endless images of obedient slaves being exhibited on markets and getting inspected like ordinary farm animals. Much rather than a sick exploitation film, I think this is a truly insightful and fundamental portrait of one of mankind darkest history pages. Naturally, this film got boycotted due to its explicit content and I can easily understand why most film-committees chose to ignore a production that deals with topics like racism & sadistic rape, but it's a great film that needs to be seen by wider audiences. Just to prove that it's more intelligent than the majority of 70's exploitation films, there's the compelling sub plot of a courageous slave (Cicero) who tries to mobilize his companions in misfortune to revolt against their masters. Richard Fleischer, one of the most underrated filmmakers ever, assures a tight directing and most of the players deliver excellent performances, which isn't so obvious seeing the insane lines they sometimes had to say. The n-word dominates pretty much every dialog and everyone talks with a heavy Southern accent. Ken Norton (as the Mandingo) isn't much of an acting talent, but physically speaking he's definitely the right man for the job. What a handsome fella, he is! The music, cinematography and use of rural filming locations are all splendid as well. In conclusion, "Mandingo" is a fabulously curious 70's highlight and recommend to open-minded lovers of cinema.

    * Note: this comment got deleted once after a complaint raised by another user. Can somebody please tell me what's so offensive about this write-up??
  • In this film, the masterful James Mason plays the plantation patriarch, a Big Daddy you wouldn't want to be owned by. This is undoubtedly THE BEST Film made about the era of slavery in the USA. It puts the sanitised, romantic "Gone With the Wind" to shame. "Mandingo" will make you uncomfortable even in your most comfortable seat. "Mandingo" is a mirror. See your reflection; it will scare the living bejeezub out of you.

    This is a film about power. Racism is about power. When some people have absolute power over other people, they become sadistic and sometimes, the objects of their sadism become masochistic. Absolute power is always justified with ideological rationalisations become dogma, in this case the the dogma that black skin makes a person less than human. Power corrupts the individual's sense of morality. With power over others, one becomes more or less immoral, hardened to a subordinate's suffering. Self-esteem is generated by putting down the one perceived to be inferior and slaves were considered less than human, a notch or two down on the food chain. Slaves were treated as objects of power, like the organic results of animal husbandry, like the commodities you purchase and eat: cattle, pigs or sheep. Thus, having sex with a slave for a 'white' male owner was like breeding new animals for sale with a view to profit. 'White' females, of course, were not allowed to engage in this sort of animal husbandry with slaves. The patriarchal whisper one hears in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" becomes a murderous roar in "Mandingo".

    In "Mandingo" we see realities of absolute power's affect on the social psychology of a society. Even after more than a century of time, American society, especially the South is still scarred by the psychological damage which simmers under the surface of smiles, whiskey fueled tears and freshly mown lawns.

    "Mandingo" is a must see. It's better than "Glory", although "Glory" would be an appropriate second on a double feature bill with "Mandingo". "Mandingo" is even better than "Burn" and much better than "Roots". The acting is superb. The screenplay is magnificent. The cinematography is choice. Yes, this movie is violent; but slavery was a daily violence on the lives of those who suffered it. Face it. Yes, there is sex in this movie: squirm in your seat as you feel a touch of titillation. Yes, there is abuse on all levels from pedophilia to outright murder. But the abusers aren't comic book level bad guys; they aren't Jokers on the set of "Batman". They are the ruling class of the Old South. Sometimes their humanity shows through. Sometimes bad guys are ever so well ensconced in the the rituals of polite society that they come across as the upholders of civilised behaviour. That they are also enmeshed in a daily life organised around the exploitation of those who produce their wealth speaks volumes about the quality of their humanity and our own social relations of power today.

    Get "Mandingo" however you can. Show it to your friends. Discuss it after you see it. Get ready for the movie experience of a lifetime. Forget about "Basterds"; forget the demented, ultra-violent comic fantasies of Quentin Tarintino. Forget about the sanitized films of the Antebellum Age. See "Mandingo". See the hard truth about chattel slavery and then do some reflection about how power over others functions to generate a generalised state of dominance and submission in the social relations of the here and now, wherever you live on this planet.
  • I can see why this was controversial, and no doubt it would be if it were released now (2013). It's stunningly unlike Gone with the Wind. The style is extreme Southern Gothic, (not to be confused with camp). Some shades of Tennessee Williams but goes beyond where he dared. The dialogue is a bit difficult, and DVD has no English subtitles, but you'll be rewarded if you stick with it. (No need to understand every word). I agree that Tarantino was influenced by it but his approach to the subject matter is very different. Mandingo stands on its own as a major work of the 1970s and it's certainly a film that deserves to be better known. Striking photography and music throughout. This film panders to no one, nor does it simplistically tell the viewer what to think about anything. We have the feeling we're on our own with this. Maybe it's no accident that that feels liberating. Fasten your seat belts and see it.
  • I just watched Mandingo and can't for the life of me figure out why this film would get any critical reviews. You can't criticize the truth unless you yourself are part of the lie or involved in hiding the truth or you just want to ignore the truth and live in a fantasy world. Like those freaks that refuse to acknowledge the holocaust really happened or say it wasn't that horrible. This film hits you with the truth about 1840ish slavery with a vengeance, shocking, sickening, and uncomfortable as it should be. It doesn't sugar coat the South and especially the Deep South with shades of romantic Gone with the Wind feel sorry for us we lost our culture nonsense, but shows in detail all the dehumanizing, sickening, savage racist attitudes that existed in the south at that time. The buying and selling of human beings should be as sickening and repulsive as it gets and left to me this film would be mandatory viewing by all high school students in this country to help them understand the barbarism of slavery and how it's residue still affects and infects this country to this day. If you get a chance to rent or view this film a note of advice, be prepared for the truth!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Mandingo is one of those films like Birth Of A Nation, or Triumph Of The Will in which one is forced contemplate objectionable content all the while reluctantly allowing mitigating qualities. That's not to say that Fleischer's exploitative film, hardly an artistic landmark, is at anything like the same level as those masterpieces, although he had an interesting and varied career. He was responsible for low budget noirs (Armoured Car Robbery, 1950), Disney classics (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, 1954), intelligent biblical drama (Barabbas, 1962), war epics (Tora! Tora! Tora!, 1970) as well as science fiction (Soylent Green, 1973) each made with equal professionalism. These are films that are still a pleasure to re-encounter, and continue to hold up as solid entertainment. Mandingo stands out as his most controversial work, and in these politically correct times is seen infrequently, even more so the sequel Drum, 1976 - not by Fleischer.

    For those used to the cosy image presented of the old American South, Mandingo will come as a slap in the face. Falconhurst, where most of the action takes place, is far removed from the comforting, romantic world of say, Gone With The Wind (1939). So inflammatory is the subject matter of this film that Fleischer apparently refused several times when Dino de Laurentiis asked him to direct. It is reported that Fleischer finally decided to accept the job only on the basis of his film 'telling the truth'.

    With, or without, the salve of supposed historical accuracy, Mandingo was a huge hit when it came out, although few critics liked it and tellingly it was never reissued. It still retains a strong camp reputation, dividing audiences between those who value its revisionism and those who smell exploitation. None of the director's initial hesitation is apparent on the screen, as his work plunges into the excesses of slavery with gusto. On one level Mandingo is a racist, sexist, violent melodrama. But it is also one of the first films supposedly to show the slave-south as it was: as a casually cruel society harbouring an odious institution, one that debased human relationships at every level. (Interestingly, there's an echo of such a slave-based society in Soylent Green, where women are commonly sold as part of a rich apartment's contents and termed 'furniture'.)

    Starring as the grouchy patriarch Warren Maxwell, James Mason appears uncomfortable both in and out of character. Playing Maxwell as afflicted with a rheumatic foot, the actor also suffers professionally, being handicapped with a dubious southern accent. More familiar in suave, dapper and civilised roles, Mason here plays a shabby bigot who meets an abrupt end. Although he makes the best of it there is a distinct feeling that he is playing beneath himself, a star at the dog end of an illustrious career, as the opening 'haemorrhoid scene' only serves to illustrate.

    Less can be said for Susan George, called upon to play a frustrated and vengeful wife. For those with a nose for such things, her eventual dalliance with Mede (pronounced 'meat') is an all too-predictable event, their climactic miscegenation amongst the most exploitative elements in the film. George pouts and plots appropriately, but her sensuality is overwhelmed by the brutality that surrounds her and her nudity is mild.

    Perry King, who plays Mason's son Hammond, had a brief career in films before he disappeared into anonymity and television in the 1970s. Interestingly, in the same year he also appeared in another cult flick, The Wild Party. In the present film as the conscience-stricken offspring, he manages competently enough, without making much of an impact. Impaired by a limp, his physical handicap suggests something of his inner doubts - although in terms of sexual morality, at least, he is as hypocritical as everyone else.

    As Mede, the 'mandingo' in question, ex-boxing champion Norton is at the centre of the film, brooding darkly at the injustices around him. Is he secretly hatching plots against his white masters we wonder? For a long time his motives and potential are in doubt. At first, the humiliation he experiences at the slave market (the old lady scrabbling in his loin cloth a defining moment) and later his involvement with the secretly literate blacks suggests that Mede is a dynamic character, even a black Spartacus. He takes obvious pride in the fighting skills, which allow him a limited sense of independence, although his self-contained rage and violence is continually understated. Even when upbraided by Cicero for "killin' another black man" he seems more sheepish towards his accusers than angry at the system. His continually postponed revolt is what gives the film much of its tension. It is unfortunate then that Mede's ultimate "No, Masser." at the end, although expected, is less a long-awaited declaration of rebellion than a resigned withdrawal from service into self-defence. The older Cicero, a supporting character, is noticeably angrier and more radical. One need only recall a film like Schepsi's The Chant Of Jimmy Blacksmith, where the revolt of the repressed is made explicit, to see how restrained the lead in Mandingo is. Mede's final violent acts, done almost in sorrow at his master's failings, are ultimately much less cathartic than natural justice and the audience demands.

    In short, Mandingo posits a society worthy of overthrow and then denies the audience the satisfaction of seeing it effectively opposed. While this allows scope for exploitative images of lust, humiliation and punishment, the final result is curiously inconclusive and gives the film a disturbing nature. One is left with a rush of dead and dying bodies, resolving nothing outside of plot strands. The big boiling cauldron into which Mede topples, pierced with a pitchfork epitomises his constant agony. It also stands as representative of the hell the film has represented so excruciatingly for its participants, while offering no immediate prospect of salvation. Mandingo's audience are left contemplating the need for real justice, or face having blithely enjoyed the degradation on its own account. No wonder this uncomfortable film is rarely seen today.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    What the f did I just watch? This had to be one of the most uncomfortable movies I've ever sat through, yet perfectly elucidated the sickness of the old south and of other places worldwide where the slave trade flourished.

    The storyline keeps you squirming uncomfortably the entire time. At no point is there even a hint of joy in the film, except perhaps when the german widower is examining the slave for sale (to be her sex toy) and perhaps Perry King's onscreen affection for his slave Brenda Sykes.

    The full starts jarring, grows more and more uncomfortable, and ends in a depressing orgy of sadness and violence. This movie is not "exploitation" in any sense of the word, but a powerful, depressing drama that burns a hole in your brain.

    A handful of far right conservatives have sought to whitewash slavery, and the American civil war. This movie brings all of that down to earth and perfectly elucidates how ugly slavery made slaveholders and society in the deep south.

    Burn every confederate monument, this is the sickness that a brutal bloody war was fought to end.

    Also notably, Quentin Tarantino was compelled by this film and obviously drew inspiration from it for his fun violent Django Unchained.

    But, wow, Mandingo is something else. A great film but one of the most uncomfortable hour and 50 minutes I've ever sat through.
  • Quentin Tarantino has called Mandingo one of the few big budget exploitation films Hollywood has ever produced, and you can definitely see a lot of this film in his Django Unchained. I'm not sure I'd go as far as calling this an exploitation film, but it's certainly startling at times and deals with the subject of slavery without backtalk or ambiguity.

    The movie takes place in Deep South prior to the American Civil War. Slavery is at its highest bloom and it's just as bad as you've probably heard. First night rights are freely exercised, slaves are just one step above animals, sold like cattle and while they're not beaten daily – they still need to work, and it's not like you beat your cows daily, either – it doesn't take much for them to incur the wrath of their masters.

    The movie is also notable in that it uses the term 'mandingo' somewhat correctly. The term referred to any slave of the highest quality and not just to those who fought against one another. Though even that fighting might be a myth. The movie tells the tale of one particular manor, its owners and the pair of mandingo slave that were brought there, one of them to be trained as a fighter.

    It's a tough movie to sit through if you're squeamish and while it's not overly gluttonous in its depictions of violence, like Django Unchained is, it doesn't shy away from them either or pull its punches. A very good movie to check out if you liked Django and/or are looking for a darker historical piece.
  • This film, despite some controversy about it's biracial sex scenes when it was initially released, seems to have faded from memory. Given the degree of sex, violence, and unadulterated exploitation of slavery in the antebellum South, that's a surprise, because I saw this flick nearly ten years ago and STILL can't forget it! Those whose image of the old South has forever been defined by GONE WITH THE WIND as romantic and chivalrous and pick up this movie in the video store(the cover art on the box resembles that famous pose with Gable and Leigh)thinking they're about to be trasported to Tara ought to run like Hell! James Mason and his lame son Perry King live on a plantation and own slaves body and soul. Well, at least the body part, as we see when Mason strings an errant slave upside down, strips him, and pattles his butt with a perforated paddle. Son King takes a more tender approach, as he sleeps with the female slaves, especially Brenda Sykes, whom he takes as his mistress. However, he marries Susan George to provide an heir, and presents her with a ruby choker. He also gives Sykes the matching earrings. When George learns of the relationship(Sykes wears the earrings while she serves dinner to George and King on their first night at the plantation), and Kings learns George has slept with her brother, the marriage hits the skids. George drowns her sorrows in lots of sherry and lots of Ken Norton, a slave Perry has purchased specifically for fighting other slaves for betting. George becomes pregnant, and when the baby comes, it hits the fan! It's hard to believe that anyone in 1975 could see this film as anything but exploitation of a very dark period in American history. Didn't anyone cringe at the sight of King going in to "take pleasure" from a female slave in a bed and the woman groans, "I too black for you", or Ken Norton standing stoically on the auction block of a slave sale while an old woman gropes around inside his loincloth? The video edition of this film I saw was from the early eighties, when movie studios did their transfers from the first worn-out prints the could grab, and may have had a muddy, faded look because of this, but it's hard to believe this thing came from a major studio. You'd certainly wouldn't know it from the production values, because the film looks as if the filmmakers didn't spend a penny more than they had to(we're treated to interior scenes inside a plantation house curiously devoid of furniture). With all these setbacks, it's hard to understand why this movie hasn't garnered even a semi-cult following. If you're in the mood to be offended on all levels and don't treasure some romanticized Hollywood image of the old South, grab MANDINGO.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In Richard Fleischer's richly imagined and deliciously baroque slave melodrama, the Old South is presented as a prison of the body and soul for both slaves and masters, in which both black and white inmates transgress the bars of their mutual cage, with catastrophic consequences. Set on a decaying plantation presided over by a rheumatic patriarch (a devastating portrait of human corruption by James Mason), the story has the heir apparent son rejecting his new white bride (who he is shocked to find is not a virgin) and finding refuge in the arms of his black "wench" mistress, with whom he shares moments of intimacy unavailable to him elsewhere. In turn, the wife chooses to manipulate her husband's prize Mandingo slave into bed, setting all of them on the road to a devastating tragedy.

    Mandingo is a film about bodies: bodies as commodities, bodies as skin colour, bodies as objects and subjects of desire, bodies as instruments and recipients of violence. The old South is a patriarchal, property-owning and white supremacist hell, but the inhabitants are possessed with sexual and emotional desires which chafe against the ideologies of their time and place. The scenes in which the white heir shares tender moments with his wench, or the white wife seduces the Mandingo are complex and intense scenarios. In sophisticated ways, they push their characters into attempting to create transgressive selves whilst at the same time temping the viewer to desire transgressively. All of the bodies of the four leads - Perry King, Brenda Sykes, Susan George and (especially) Ken Norton are eroticised by the camera and served up before the viewer as icons of sexuality; in this way, it is all the more ironic that the centre of power is the decaying body of James Mason's patriarch.

    The film shows consciousness, love and hatred being created and deformed in a corrupt society. Black is set against black, but a nascent awareness that this is unjust is beginning to blossom in some of the black characters (and even, dimly, in the white heir); sometimes the old ideologies re-assert themselves, nowhere more than in the tragic denouement, when the white master kills his wife and prize slave, insults his beloved wench and ends up shot himself, all because of his double standards are revealed when the wife gives birth to a mixed race child (murdered in its cradle by the whites); white women were expected to be exemplars of race purity, even whilst their men copulated with female slaves. Susan George's Blanch comes across as a neurotic, sadistic nymphomaniac but it is clear that she is a victim of patriarchy - abused by her brother, sold by her father, shunned and eventually murdered by her husband. She in turn metes out physical abuse to her husband's wench and compromises the Mandingo man. But this latter is a compromise which compromises us all, as the image of the huge and beautiful black man on top of the slim and pale white woman is indelibly erotic, and even though this is not a pornographic film, the implication of a huge black penis sliding into this woman is built intrinsically into the scenario, for the shock, delectation and seduction of the audience.

    Mandingo is complex, violent and sometimes luridly melodramatic. The characters speak in a rich and textured language full of demeaning imagery and Gothic cadences. It's a huge film, made with all of the resources of a major Hollywood studio - yet its a down and nasty film about an ugly era of history, an era of history which is part of what made America what it is today.
  • Mandingo seems to divide it's audience strongly between love and hate and that's not really surprising; the film features some real nasty elements and the way that it's all done with a highly quality 'period drama' sort of style means that it will likely miss it's supposed intended audience - although it seems to have found a good fan base among exploitation fans. The film is liable to shock modern audience for its racial themes and strong racial tone; it didn't bother me all that much to be honest as it suits the film within it's context and helps to enforce its exploitative nature, which in turn makes Mandingo more powerful. The film takes place in the south of America during the 1840's and the main focus of the plot is on slavery. White farm owner Hammond Maxwell one day discovers the fighting talent of one of his black slaves and soon decides to toughen him up for battle with other slaves. He's sympathetic with his slaves and soon becomes affectionate with one of the women, which doesn't sit well with his wife Blanche who, for revenge, forces the top fighter to sleep with her.

    Anyone going into this film expecting a serious look at slavery will be either disappointed or annoyed (maybe both), but if you go into it expecting some nasty exploitation, you might find a lot to like. The film gives an unflinching look at a more primitive society and it actually more shocking for its tone and implications than the events that take place in it (although the film does include plenty of racism, torture and rape scenes). The way that the film depicts the black slaves as animals makes for uncomfortable viewing and the way that society was segregated into 'white masters' and 'black slaves' is always enforced on the viewer. The performances sit better with the exploitation side of the film rather than the serious drama side as none of them are particularly brilliant; although the three leads do fit into their roles well. Overall, this is clearly not a film for everyone and I'm not in any way saying that the film's bad reputation is in any way undeserved; but Mandingo is certainly an interesting film and I would say it is at least worth seeing.
  • "Mandingo" is truly an amazing movie. One would think that this is as close you can get to actually seeing the slave-owning south on film.

    "Mandingo" is probably lumped into the "cult/camp classic" category because this is a film no one would dare make today, unless the slaves got a major comeuppance at the end. They do not here. This film is a brutal look at slave owners and their slaves which will leave the audience gasping. Some of the lines are so daring by today's politically-correct standards, there's no doubt they'd get a lot of laughs. Kind of how 1977's "Fight For Your Life" gets laughs with all it's over-the-top racism, only not in such abundance. Sure to get some laughs is hearing the English actor who played "Bently" on "The Jeffersons" talk all nasty.

    Perry King is Hammond, the slave owner's son, and he actually has a bit of a heart where the slaves are concerned. He and "Mandingo" (actually his name is "Mede," evidently a "Mandingo" is a name for a "breed" of strong/fighting slave) become friendly. Hammond also has a favorite female slave "wench" who he falls for. And he marries cousin Susan George, who is very bitchy and shows the slaves no respect. Mede is played by Ken Norton who is obviously not an actor but who looks the part.

    The film has a sleazy realism to it. Even the plantation looks like a mess - the outside is all ragged and the inside isn't much better, and this is a rich man's plantation. This is definitely not "Tara."

    Not to repeat the plot, but many amazing things happen, and there are plenty of incredible scenes. The big fight scene between Mede and another slave is especially bloody and brutal. The ending certainly won't anyone feel all nice and cozy. There are many familiar 70's movie faces all over the place.

    This is a film that has kind of disappeared in the realm of today's political correctness. But seeking it out isn't tough, as it has to be seen by anyone with an interest in non-PC cinema, or any kind of "forbidden" movies.
  • In slave-owning Louisiana, Hammond Maxwell (Perry King) is a dutiful son managing his family's rundown plantation and its slaves. He is considered kind compared to other slave owners but he is still fully involved in the institution. He has sex with his slave Ellen and takes a liking to her. He marries his cousin Blanche but their marriage is troubled from the start. From his father, he gets obsessed with purchasing a Mandingo, a slave gladiator. He buys hulking submissive Mede (Ken Norton) who he hopes to turn into a fighter.

    It's fascinating how times have change. This is comparable to 12 Years a Slave. While 12 got Best Picture, this got panned. The violence and brutality is matter of fact. There is nothing special in the whipping and the raping. They are everyday occurrences. Even Hammond is not out of the ordinary. He still has some of his humanity which only makes this even darker and more real. Back in '75, this brutal depiction of slavery was probably too much for many and was ahead of its time. It doesn't turn it into melodrama. It lets the audience exist in the dark times. Tarantino sees this as influencing his Django Unchained. It is missing more from the slaves' side of their existence. It would probably be better to have both Hammond and Ellen as protagonists. It needs to get inside the slaves' mind. Despite that, this is still a shocking and compelling movie.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Loved by some, hated by many, this searing antebellum Southern Gothic melodrama about the inherent barbarism and inhumanity of slavery in the deep South circa 1840 reigns supreme as one of the single most startling and unflinching sleazoid epics to ever ooze its way onto celluloid. The fact that established director Richard Fleischer and respectable actor James Mason joined forces with major studio Paramount to produce such a raw, harsh and gritty expose on the slave trade is amazing in and of itself. Granted, this picture certainly isn't pretty or pleasant by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly lives up to its notorious reputation and delivers a potent lingering sucker punch right to the gut.

    Cruel Warren Maxwell (marvelously essayed with deliciously nasty brio by Mason) runs his plantation with a proverbial iron fist. His handsome and more compassionate son Hammond (a fine Perry King) gets married to spoiled belle Blanche (a gloriously histrionic Susan George mangling a Southern accent), but falls for tender slave girl Ellen (an affecting performance by Brenda Sykes). Moreover, Hammond buys beefy stud Mede (brawny heavyweight boxer Ken Norton) and trains him to become an unbeatable champion fighter. Meanwhile, the neglected Blanche has a extramarital fling with Mede. Director Fleischer and screenwriter Norman Wexler take the stereotypical romanticized vision of the Old South and completely turn it on its ear by relating the sordid narrative in an unsparingly lurid and sensational manner: Incest, torture, sex, degradation, beatings, miscegenation, nudity (even King goes full frontal!), infidelity, and murder are all served up hot and graphic in this fascinatingly warped and depraved cinematic brew. Even the most hardened aficionado of in-your-face base and trashy exploitation fare should be pleased by such savage highlights as a little boy being used as a foot stool, a pregnant woman having a miscarriage after she's sent flying down a steep flight of stairs, a ferocious no-holds-barred fighting match, and Mede being boiled alive in a huge pot of hot water by an enraged Hammond. The cast really sink their teeth their juicy roles, with stand-out supporting work from Richard Ward as cowed house servant Agamemnon, Lillian Hayman as cheery maid Lucretia Borgia, Ji-Tu Cumbuka as angry, defiant slave Cicero, Ben Masters as Blanche's evil heel brother Charles, Roy Poole as the cold Doc Redfield, and Paul Benedict as slimy slave trader Brownlee. Cinematographer Richard H. Kline gives the movie a properly rough and grainy look while Maurice Jarre's neatly varied and melodic score likewise does the trick. Muddy Waters sings the excellent bluesy theme song "Born in This Time." A true landmark of big budget grindhouse cinema at its most unapologetically seamy and twisted.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In 1840s Louisiana, James Mason is the bigoted owner of a Southern plantation, and Perry King and Susan George play his oversexed son and daughter-in-law. King ignores George and has an affair with slave Brenda Sykes, while George gets even by having an affair with slave and heavyweight fighter Ken Norton. My question is how did Ken Norton get into the 1976 sequel Drum? At the end of this movie, Norton is shot by King and falls into a cauldron of boiling water. Then King pitchforks him! That will probably forever be a mystery that will not be solved.

    I liked this movie, but it's not for all tastes.
  • This movie is a disturbing look at the realities of the antebellum South. And yes, I do believe the depictions and events in this movie are realistic. Such atrocities are well-documented. Both the movie and the book contain graphic violence, sex, and rape. The movie is sometimes difficult to watch, but it's worth watching, for anyone who ponders the evils of humanity and especially the history of the U.S. during the 1800's. The acting and film quality aren't upper echelon. The dialogue is sometimes excessively histrionic. But that's not what's so good about this movie. It's gritty, realistic, and brutally honest.

    As I watched, I realized that maybe things haven't changed so much since those times. Racism and sexism are still very much alive. You can easily compare the attitudes and behaviors depicted in this film with things that go on in our society today. Some people have commented that Blanche was "oversexed". I find that a rather hilarious statement. They obviously don't get the feminist subplot of this movie. The way it depicts and breaks down racism and sexism and shows exactly why they're faulted ideologies is why I love this movie so much!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    What makes this an infamously guilty pleasure, and an extremely politically incorrect movie, might not have been intentional. Perhaps the writers wanted to show slave owners in the deep South exactly how they were, or how they hadn't been betrayed in other films or TV shows – as completely unapologetic and comfortable with their lifestyle.

    For instance, James Mason's plantation owner Warren Maxwell laying his feet on a slave kid's chest to get rid of his rheumatism. This is but one example of how MANDINGO takes racism to a completely new level – since owning slaves was legal, it's shown in a workaday fashion.

    But after the first fifteen minutes of blunt dialog there's a pretty decent story involving Warren's son Hammond, played by Perry King, who reluctantly marries his cousin Blanche, brought to life with vicious melancholy by STRAW DOGS ingénue Susan George. Blanche is jealous of her husband's slave "wench" and, basking in rueful isolation within the dilapidated mansion, she throws a violent tantrum that's quite chilling.

    The real stuff occurs when Hammond purchases a Mandingo Fighting slave, Mede. Real life boxer Ken Norton proves his worth as an actor and is especially good in the intense fight-to-the-death scenes that make you forget about all the other stuff, unfairly categorized by film historians as camp cinema… Perhaps they were just too stunned to take this seriously, and too ashamed to really enjoy it.

    Either way, this is a film that could have only come out of the 1970's. That alone makes it truly worthwhile.

    For More Reviews: www.cultfilmfreaks.com
  • Even some thirty years after its release,the motion picture Mandingo is mainly but not to be compared with films like Birth Of A Nation,or Triumph Of The Will that be contemplate objectionable content of the material while reluctantly allowing mitigating qualities relating to the vast subject matter and to this day,it still gives shock value. In spite of what some may say about Richard Fleischer's exploitative film,since it is still hardly a artistic landmark,and it not on the same level as his other masterpieces,although he has a brilliant career as one of Hollywood's most talented directors. This was the man who was responsible for some of the greatest films ever to be released from Hollywood. He was responsible for crime dramas(Armored Car Robbery,1950) (The Don Is Dead,1973),psychological thrillers(10 Rillington Place,1971) (The Boston Strangler,1968),Disney classics(20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,1954),historical dramas(The Vikings,1958),(Barabbas,1962),and the dramas that inflict the horrors of war(Tora! Tora! Tora!,1970),westerns (Between Heaven and Hell,1956),(Bandido,1957),(Che!,1969),musicals (Doctor Dolittle,1967),(The Jazz Singer,1980),and well as science fiction,(Fantastic Voyage,1966),and (Solvent Green,1973). Each of these movies were made with great professionalism since these films are still a pleasure to encounter and still holds up and some of the best entertainment value anywhere. However,Richard Fleischer's most controversial work,Mandingo still holds the title some 30 years later and still is as shocking as ever.

    Mandingo is very much a pulpy,lurid antebellum potboiler that really turns the fantasy world of a classic romanticized film like Gone With The Wind inside out,and to put in bluntly a slap in the face. For those used to the cozy image presented of the American South,this wasn't a Garden of Eden before the fall,but this was a nightmarish version of slavery that at the time audiences never seen,and the horrors of cruelty and in treatment of human beings became one of the most graphic and tarnished chapters in American History. Here this is a version of the Old South,which is nothing more than a turn on,where everybody seems to be sex-starved,slightly mad or depraved,or sometimes just plain knuckle headed. James Mason,in the nasir of his career,is a campily eccentric white massa,a slave breeder determined that his handsome randy young son(Perry King)settle down and provide the family with a new heir. King's got other things on his mind though,mainly a pretty slave wench(Brenda Sykes),his one true love. But he must contend with his daddy's wishes and soon courts and weds Southern belle Susan George,who is not all she seems,having very early on been deflowered by,of all people,her brother.

    When King turns a cold eye to his new bride,the lady seeks vengeance by lending to her bed to a good,faithful Mandingo slave(Ken Norton),who in fact has been so good and so faithful that he is now rewarded with the Old South's most prized possession:this blonde,light-eyed white woman! During the seduction scene,director Fleischer works hard at heating up the audience which the infamous sex scene was the center of the entire movie in which the scene almost became too close to an "X" rating at the time this film was release. This was in the year 1975,were the envelope was pushed into even deeper depths here,especially in a movie where the majority of the subject matter was presented. Later on in the story,the bride bears Norton's child,who is promptly done away with. Then Norton,young master King's favorite(on the plantation,Norton's a fighter of uncommon strength,a winner of all of the matches the master sets him up)receives yet another reward for his handiwork once his paternity is revealed(and this is towards the end of the movie):he's thrown into a huge caulderon of boiling water,then has a pitchfork shoved into him! These are but a few of the horrors in this gaudy terror of a film. There are several scenes that were shocking to watch:there's lynching and incest and molestation,blacks treated like animals by their white counterparts,in the depiction of slave auctions,since life on the plantation wasn't easy....it was living hell. Let's not forget lots of interracial sex,and the film had as many nude black women as the envelope was pushed even further into detail. Also to look out for,actor Paul Benedict,aka Mr. Bentley from The Jeffersons as the slave trader. Even,after thirty years after its release,its still shocking entertainment and very well politically incorrect,and for the year 1975,that is a lot to say about a movie that really angered a lot of its audiences-mainly African-Americans,who went to see it.
  • "Mandingo" is a mainstream, big-budget exploitation film obsessed with black bodies. Almost everything is about this fetish, which through enslavement, is principally sadomasochistic. There's the sex scenes, which are always interracial, always focused on the black body, whether male or female, and always under the power dynamics of them being raped. There are the examinations of them during slave trading, their beatings, the belly of the boy being stepped on for the supposed curing properties, the mulatto offspring, and the prize-fighting, too. The marriage of the white masters and, indeed, almost all of the white characters' conversations are focused on black bodies--the control, jealousy, raping and selling of them. There's very little here that subjects the slaves to anything beyond objectification of their bodies. Meanwhile, those of the white masters tend to be perceived as crippled in some way--the rheumatism of the father, the bum knee of the son, the loss of virginal purity of the wife. Through this system of voyeurism and the cinematic gaze, the spectator is forced into the uncomfortable position of identification with the white masters.

    It's no wonder so many people find it offensive. It's as though we're co-conspirators in the exploitation of slavery--crippled by the fetish. Perhaps, it's even disconcerting that so many continue to defend the picture, whether gleeful from the outrageous excess of it all, or ignoring the narrative's soap-opera histrionics to consider it realistic because slavery was brutal, after all, or somehow ignoring the narrow focus and positioning of the spectator within the sadomasochistic fetishizing to consider this the 1970s version of "12 Years a Slave" (2013)--it's not. There are only fleeting moments where Agamemnon, Ellen and Mede assert or begin to discover their subjectivity by defying the "peculiar institution," but for the most part they comply with their stereotypical, subjugated roles as toms and "wench." "Mandingo" is obscene, but it's interesting to consider why we feel the way we do about it, whether or not we enjoy it and what that may say about us.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Richard Fleischer's Mandingo is a terrifying, thematically labyrinthine portrait of slave-owning America's moral and psychological wretchedness, positing a corruption so deep that generations won't succeed in washing the stain away (and haven't). Reduced to a plot summary or recounting of "high points", the film sounds lurid and exploitative, and has often been dismissed or mocked as such. But in its embrace of melodrama and what's sometimes labeled "scenery-chewing" acting, it digs painfully deep into the sick underpinnings of the culture - one in which the economic model demands that the humanity of the slaves be denied, and yet in which their presence makes that impossible, generating hypocrisy upon perversity. Physicality and sexuality lies at the centre of the madness of course - the absence of imprisoning formal structures makes their relationships with black women more satisfying to the white men than those with their wives, to a degree that's all but formally admitted and embedded in the culture, with the consequent flow of children being regarded as so much by-product; in contrast of course, the prospect of male black sexuality crossing the colour line is the ultimate horror (and a white woman who invited this would merely be sacrificing her right to go on living). But at the same time, the film takes us deep into how the white males project their own physical inadequacies onto their prize "inventory" - a prizefighting scene goes on virtually in agonizing real time, forcing us to confront the depth of the investment in blood and brutality and enforced submission. Indeed, the whole film is unnervingly direct and visceral, seeped in its time and place, even as the viewer inevitably looks for broader parallels or redemptions. But the only organized revolt depicted here is rapidly extinguished, and the ending suggests no immediate prospect of sustained resistance or relief, only of continuing madness in shifting configurations.
  • I think this movie is not only entertaining but lends a look into the past present and future. those who have not seen it are missing a lot. It should be on DVD. why isn't it???? when you go to the large medium or small stores that sale or rent movies, ou see this large selection of movies to buy or rent. so many of them are unknown junk. somebody's making sure that they are available. It's ridiculous. However, try to find MANDINGO, no luck. I have it on video tape. I purchased it severa years ao. And I watch it now and then. I still enjoy seeing it because I constantly discovering thing in the movie that I didn't see previously. And that's fun! Someone with some power or authority should do something about that , and GET IT ON DVD...DVD...DVD !!!!!!
  • It's very easy to see why this film wouldn't sit well with some people, black and white alike. Its vision of an ugly, vile, racist South is pretty hard hitting and memorable. It seems there is no depth to which it won't sink. The critics were plenty vocal about their dislike, while in actuality the film became an unlikely box office success. Nowadays it's seen by some as a camp classic, which is understandable given how theatrical it gets. It's essentially a period soap opera that happens to wallow in a lot of trash - there's violence, sex, and nudity, both male and female. It's based on a novel, by Kyle Onstott, and a subsequent play, by Jack Kirkland. The hilariously cast James Mason drawls his way through the role of a bigoted plantation patriarch in 1840s Louisiana, with Perry King playing his son. Among the story threads are the hideous envy that Kings' lowly wife (an over the top Susan George) shows towards the "wench" (Brenda Sykes), whom King is rather sweet on, and Kings' acquisition of a slave (the appropriately cast Ken Norton) whom he hopes will achieve tremendous success as a fighter. It's simply a hoot to see this cast - also including Richard Ward, Lillian Hayman, Roy Poole, Ji-Tu Cumbuka, Paul Benedict, and Ben Masters - sink their teeth into this melodramatic material, given unflinching and straightforward filming by Richard Fleischer and shot by Richard H. Kline with an accent on the unglamourous. Maurice Jarres' score is extremely flavourful and adding to the appeal of the soundtrack is the presence of the great Muddy Waters, singing "Born in This Time". The pacing is very unhurried, allowing us to really feel the discomfort of such scenes as slaves being stripped naked and whipped on the behind, or the sight of Mason resting his legs on a young slave boy hoping that the kid will absorb the rheumatism out of his body. One thing is for sure, and that's that "Mandingo" is the kind of experience you don't soon forget. One way or another, it affects you, and if anything it deserves some respect for not whitewashing the attitude of the times, revealing every sordid aspect of slavery and also giving its victimized characters a measure of dignity, and hope, in the face of total domination. The actors certainly play this for all that it's worth; Norton, in the central role, may not possess much in the way of acting chops, but he still has a quietly powerful physical presence. All in all, audiences should find it...interesting, to say the least. Followed a year later by another Onstott adaptation, "Drum". Eight out of 10.
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