Ron Lewis (John Daniels) is a pillar of the African American community, a mild mannered businessman with a nice house in the San Fernando Valley, a beautiful wife and two loving kids. But at night Ron travels to downtown L.A. and adopts his alter ego of the Baron, the most feared pimp on the Sunset Strip. However, as Three Six Mafia was to teach us more than thirty years later, it's hard out there for a pimp. His ladies are holding out on him, the mob doesn't want him trespassing on their turf, and he's being hounded by two racist cops who want him put out of commission for good. It's up to Ron to engineer one last big score so he can put his Baron persona to rest permanently.
Thus begins Matt Cimber's THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN, one of the wildest and most entertaining of the short-lived blaxploitation genre. Logic and believability were never essential components of blaxploitation films bu they were popular because they gave black audiences a chance to see themselves on screen in positions of power while they brought The Man to his knees (even though most of these films were made by white filmmakers, like this one). However, by the mid 1970s the genre was running on fumes and many of the remaining films descended to the level of self parody. CANDY TANGERINE MAN manages to straddle a very fine line between drama and comedy. While Cimber throws in a few touches that clue the audience in to the ridiculousness of the premise (such as the Baron's car, which is equipped with retractable machine guns to more effectively dispose of his enemies), most of the film is played straight so we end up genuinely involved in the Baron's plight.
Most of the credit for the success of the film has to go to the committed, sympathetic performance of John Daniels. The script doesn't do the film any favors in that is almost completely sidesteps the question of why a normal guy like Ron would choose to live a double life as a pimp. However, Daniels manages to silently convey during his scenes at home that while he loves his family he feels stifled by suburban life and needs to live a more exciting existence. Still, he chooses to become a pimp, a career choice not every audience member is going to be able to get behind. The character does manage to show his moral center in a nicely played early scene where he attempts to buy an underage runaway from another pimp in order to put her on a bus back home. As far as pimps go, he's one of the nicer ones. He even gives his hookers the weekends off.
Cimber keeps the film moving at a good clip, never allowing it to overstay its welcome and giving it a genuine sense of period flavor. This is surely helped by the "hookers and blades of the Sunset Strip," who are credited as playing themselves in the film, as well as a terrific score by the funk band Smoke. CANDY TANGERINE MAN was a sizable hit in 1975 but has fallen into almost total obscurity since then. A shame, since it's a classic of the genre and deserves to be discussed along with better remembered entries like SHAFT and SUPERFLY. Of course those films had major studios behind them while CANDY TANGERINE MAN was released by the now defunct Moonstone Entertainment. It had a brief release on VHS in the mid 1980s but has since become very hard to see. If you're at all interested in checking out a wild example of 1970s exploitation it's worth the effort to track down a copy.
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