Sunday, January 29, 2023

Solomon King, Restored on BluRay

Solomon King was the kind of hero we always need more of. He was a CIA-trained private detective and petroleum-drilling entrepreneur—sort of like the “blaxploitation” Matt Houston, who inevitably found himself swept up in Middle East intrigue. Fittingly, it still mostly plays out on the streets of Oakland in producer-director-star-everything-else Sal Watts’ long-lost, but now rediscovered and restored Solomon King (co-directed with Jack Bomay), which releases Tuesday on BluRay.

Comparisons to Rudy Ray Moore’s
Dolemite are apt, because Solomon King really was a passion project for Watts, who even provide the wardrobe from his chain of hipster fashion clothiers. King is also a bit like Dan Freeman in The Spook Who Sat By the Door, because both took their paramilitary training back to their old neighborhoods, but King is a total capitalist. The film opens with King’s brother Manny (played by Watts’ business partner, but not biological brother, James Watts) in an unnamed Persian gulf nation, showing Princess Onneba their vastly improved drilling operation, when terrorists strike.

Manny manages to safely escort her to Oakland, where King will protect her. Soon, they become full-fledged lovers, but King somehow also manages to find himself in the arms of Samaki Miller, a CIA officer his old boss O’Malley assigned to work undercover as a singer in King’s nightclub, to keep an eye on him.

The restoration worked wonders on the film, but there are still drop-out jump cuts. We’re basically missing an early love scene, but by and large, the restored
Solomon King is a smooth viewing experience. Maybe most importantly, it sounds great. For years, the film was best-remembered for the soundtrack, released on Watts’ label, of course. It is indeed the kind of up-tempo instrumental funk (plus Miller’s number, recorded by Helena Hollins) you expect. Probably, its best-known musician would be guitarist Arthur G. Wright, who lays down a cool groove.

Frankly, both Wattses have a Rudy Ray Moore kind of thing going on, because the two of them often look they are running out of gas during their action scenes. Nevertheless, Sal and James Watts both have tongue-in-cheek charisma that serves the film well. Likewise, as Samaki Miller, Samaki (also) Bennet provides a lively romantic interest for King. Plus, Louis Zito is an appropriately serious and craggy white guy, portraying O’Malley.

Solomon King
is not the greatest blaxploitation film (we all have our favorites, for individual, idiosyncratic reasons, like The Dynamite Brothers), but it is fun. The Cannon-esque commando action also helps distinguish it from its contemporaries. Recommended for its soundtrack and its eccentricities, Solomon King releases Tuesday (1/31) on BluRay (and it airs late night Friday—early A.M. 2/4, on TCM).