Written by: Michael Den Boer on February 23rd, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1976
Director: Fred Williamson
Writers: Jolivett Cato, Charles Walker
Cast: Fred Williamson, Roddy McDowall, Stuart Whitman, Anthony Caruso, Luther Adler, R.G. Armstrong, Elliott Gould, Mike Henry, Aaron Banks, Robert Phillips
DVD released: March 16th, 2010
Approximate running time: 95 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Code Red
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $16.98
Synopsis: Down on his luck and out of work. A dishonorably discharged Vietnam vet is approached by a mobster who wants to hire him as a hit man. After several failed attempts to reintegrate into society. The Vietnam vet reluctantly embraces his killer instinct one more time.
Mean Johnny Barrows was directorial debut of Fred Williamson (he is also the star of the film), who rose to prominence in the early 1970’s as one of the most in demand actor working in Blaxploitation. Some of his more notable films as an actor include Hammer, Black Caesar, Hell up in Harlem and That Man Bolt. The cinematographer on Mean Johnny Barrows was Robert Caramico whose other notable credits include, Blackenstein, Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural, Eaten Alive, The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington and KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. Mean Johnny Barrows was the first of three films that Robert Caramico worked as with Fred Williamson as his cinematographer. The other two film’s being Death Journey and No Way Back.
The film’s main character Johnny Barrows is fully fleshed out and superbly portrayed by Fred Williamson, who gives his most remarkable performance of his career. If this film was a wall to wall action film like so many of Fred Williamson’s other film’s from this era of his career. The film’s slow build up could be seen as a negative. Being that this film is a more character driven piece the pacing actual lends itself very well to the story at hand. In between the more character driven moments the film does throw into the mix a few action set pieces and some comedy relief that help balance out the more serious tone that is prevalent throughout the majority of the film.
Even though this film has many elements that are commonly associated with Blaxploitation. These more exploitative elements are mostly kept in the background. The film features several recognizable faces like Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes), Stuart Whitman (Shatter) and Elliot Gould (MASH)in an amusing cameo as a homeless person. Performance wise the entire cast bring their A game. Ultimately the film’s narrative never rushes things as it gives the Johnny Barrows character and his plight time to sink in and resonate for maximum effect.
Code Red presents Mean Johnny Barrows in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves this film’s original aspect ratio. This transfer has been flagged for progressive playback. Colors and black levels fare well. Flesh tone look accurate and details generally look crisp throughout. There are no problems with compression, edge enhancement is kept in check and print damage is minimal.
This release comes with one audio option a Dolby Digital mono mix in English. Outside of some minor instances of background noise, the audio sounds clear and balanced throughout.
Extras for this release include a trailer for the film (1 minutes 43 seconds – 4:3 full frame), a interview with Fred Williamson titled “Hammer Time 1″ (19 minutes 5 seconds – 4:3 full frame) and a audio commentary with Fred Williamson and moderators Bill Olson and Scott Spiegel. Besides discussing Mean Johnny Barrows, the video interview with Fred Williamson also covers how he got into acting and various other films that he had worked on. The audio commentary gives a more detailed and informative account about the film Mean Johnny Barrows which covers the story, the casting and various other production related topics. Rounding out the extras are trailers for Death Journey, No Way Back, Stigma, Family Honor, Changes, Challenge the Dragon, Brute Corps, Cry Your Purple Heart Out, The Visitor, Choke Canyon, The Statue, Derby and The Dragon vs. Needle of Death. Overall Mean Johnny Barrows gets a fully loaded DVD release from Code Red, that is highlighted by the audio commentary track with Fred Williamson.