Fred “The Hammer” Williamson stars as “Boss” in this blaxploitationy inverted “Blazing Saddles”

By on November 28, 2018

There’s a new sheriff in town and he goes by the name “Boss” in Fred Williamson‘s raunchy blaxploitationy western comedy Boss, released in theaters in 1974, nearly a full year after the comedy classic it was likely inspired by, Mel Brooks‘ iconic irreverent comedy Blazing Saddles.

Boss is now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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Boss — which was originally released under the title Boss N*gger and hereafter we’re going to simply refer to the film by the title it goes by now — was actually considered by some to be the third film in a trilogy of movies starring Williamson, ex-pro football player — he played for the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, and Pittsburgh Steelers — turned actor/writer/director/producer, etc.

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Williamson — who had already starred in a couple of crime flicks, Hammer (1972) and Black Caesar (1973) — wrote the screenplay for Boss, which was preceded into movie theaters by 1972’s The Legend of N*gger Charley and 1973’s The Soul of N*gger Charley, two films which had both starred Williamson.

Both films had attempted to cash-in on  the popular early ’70s blaxploitation genre as well as referencing the popular mid-Sixties spaghetti westerns that were mostly shot by Italian directors in Almeira, Spain, in the late ’60s.

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Boss follows the same formula of both N*gger Charley films— dropping Wiliamson into a Old West setting with all the added blaxploitation tropes, like wearing black leather Shaft jackets — but Boss was actually developed to be more of a stand-alone film, a raunchy revisionist comedy-western.

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“Boss” (Williamson) and his sidekick “Amos” (D’Urville Martin) are a couple of bad motherfuckers, former slaves turned sharp-dressed bounty hunters in the post-Civil War west.

On a dead body they find a letter from the mayor of a dusty old frontier town called San Miguel (the sets were reused from 1970’s Cheyenne Social Club) which which authorizes the person carrying it to become the new sheriff, on the recommendation of a villainous gang leader and escaped fugitive named “Jed Clayton” (William Smith, the ultimate ’70s movie tough guy).

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Boss and Amos decide to take the job — as the sheriff and his deputy, respectively — much to the horror of the white racist townsfolk (who all look like a bunch of modern-day Trump supporters) and their corrupt mayor (R.G. Armstrong).

Boss and Amos — D’Urville Martin starred in and directed the immortal Dolemite the same year Boss was released — quickly establish a “Black Law,” which includes feeding the poor Mexican children who live on the outskirts of town.

They also declare a decree against using the word in the original title (not “Boss,” the other one), and anyone heard hurling the racial epithet in town is fined twenty dollars every time they’re caugh, and since the townsfolk use the “n-word” pretty liberally, the fees start addin’ up pretty gosh darn quick.

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Boss also features lovely Barbara Leigh as “Miss Pruitt.”

The Georgia-born actress — who is probably best known for Sam Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner (1972) although we’re partial to her performance in Roger Vadim’s Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) — was also Steve McQueen’s ex-girlfriend, and speaking of McQueen, that’s his gun from TV’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” that Williamson’s Boss is packin’.

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Read more about Boss below.

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Boss was directed by writer-producer-director Jack Arnold, who for much of his career, particularly in the 1960s, worked mainly in dramatic television, directing episodes of popular TV shows like “Peter Gunn,” “Dr. Kildare,” “Rawhide,” and “Gilligan’s Island” (he also won an Emmy for directing a 1966 comedy special starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca).

As far as features go, Arnold was all over the cinematic map with his film choices, lensing varied selections that ran the entire gamut from sci-fi and juve fare to melodramas to westerns, and everything in-between.

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A list of a dozen or so more of the movies Arnold directed leading up to 1974’s Boss would have to include his 3D creep-out Creature from the Black Lagoon (1955), the giant-spider-on-the-loose sci-fi horror romp Tarantula (1956), the juvenile delinquent drugs-in-high-school saga High School Confidential (1959), the Peter Sellers comedy The Mouse That Roared (1961) and the Bob Hope romantic comedy Bachelor in Paradise (1961).

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We don’t mean this in a particularly demeaning way, but Arnold’s directorial choices here may be one reason that Boss feels a lot like an early ’70s made-for-TV movie, and since this is really Williamson’s project — he wrote the screenplay and co-produced the film in addition to starring in it — it’s entirely possible that Arnold was brought on board to keep the film on budget and on schedule, skills he was frequently singled out for.

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As we said above, Williamsons’ screenplay for Boss was likely inspired by Mel Brooks’ iconic irreverent comedy Blazing Saddles, only you have to imagine a similar plot set-up, but one that’s inverted, so that the black sheriff is now chasing after white bad dudes.

If you’ll recall, Brooks’ movie concerns a black sheriff who rides into town to find that most of the townsfolk are not too happy that he isn’t white.

Boss treads over some of the same terrain, playing up the racial epithets being yelled at him for solid laughs, although we suspect that this film isn’t going to get as many laughs today as it did back in the ’70s.

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Boss‘s success at the box office led to more film projects for Williamson, including writing, directing and starring (with Richard Pryor and James Brown) in the even more obscure Adios Amigo.

Watch Boss on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.