Directed By: Fred Williamson
Starring: Fred Williamson, Roddy McDowall, Stuart Whitman
Tag line: "Brutal!..Blasting!..Blazing!"
Trivia: Co-star Elliott Gould came in for a half-hour's work to help out his MASH co-star, improvising his part on the spot
Actor Fred Williamson, who starred in movies like Black Caesar and Bucktown, has also worked behind the scenes on a number of films. And while I was lukewarm on Joshua, a 1976 western based on a screenplay he penned, his directorial debut, the action / crime flick Mean Johnny Barrows, was, at all times, an entertaining watch.
After receiving a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. army for striking his superior officer, Johnny Barrows (Williamson) returns home to Los Angeles. Once there, he’s approached by mobster Mario Racconi (Stuart Whitman), who wants to pay Johnny to rub out his family’s competition, namely Don Da Vince (Anthony Caruso) and his two sons Carlo (Mike Henry) and Tony (Roddy McDowall), who’ve been trying to peddle drugs in nearby neighborhoods. Hoping to live a normal life, Johnny turns down Racconi’s offer and goes to work at a local gas station. Unfortunately, his boss, Richard (R.G. Armstrong), is a cheapskate, and following an argument over his meager paycheck, Johnny finds himself unemployed and in desperate need of cash. Convinced by a pretty blonde (Jenny Sherman) to give Racconi another chance, Johnny throws on a slick white suit and sets out to eliminate the Da Vince family. What he doesn’t know is there’s a traitor in the Racconi organization, one who's setting Johnny up to take a very big fall.
For a fair portion of its running time, Mean Johnny Barrows is an exciting grindhouse-era crime film; one scene in particular, where Williamson jumps out of a van brandishing a pair of shotguns, is exploitation gold. In addition to the action, Mean Johnny Barrows features a strong supporting cast, including Stuart Whitman (quite good as a Mafioso), R.G. Armstrong (who made a career out of playing bastards like the one he portrays here), and Anthony Caruso. Even Roddy McDowall, who at first seems like an odd choice to play an Italian crime boss’s son, holds his own as the shifty Tony, and keep an eye out for Elliot Gould, who pops up briefly as a street bum (appearing as a favor to Williamson, his co-star in Robert Altman’s MASH, Gould ad-libbed his single scene, resulting in one of the film’s funniest segments).
With plenty of thrills and some blood-drenched shoot-outs, Mean Johnny Barrows was the perfect vehicle for Fred Williamson, who, this time around, gets the job done on both sides of the camera.