Based on the best-selling book, Mandingo
is a shocking look at plantation life in the Deep South. Mede (Ken Norton) is a slave whose master, Hammond Maxwell (Perry King), intends on keeping him as a prizefighter. As Maxwell focuses his attention on his wenches and Mede's brutal training, his neglected wife (Susan George) turns her passions towards Mede himself. The sordid doings explode across the screen as Mandingo plays out its savage and dramatic story.
Up to now Legend Films has been a company mainly known for its colorization technology. (Ray Harryhausen used its system to apply a wash of tints to his 1957 20 Million Miles to Earth. ) But Legend also has a DVD division that has just grown larger with the licensing of 32 vintage titles from Paramount Pictures, a welcome development in light of Paramount s apparent reluctance to exploit its studio library. And none of these Paramount-Legend films, this purist notes with relief, are in need of the company s primary service: all were originally filmed in color, a few even in the glorious three-strip Technicolor process.[...]
The big title in this first group is Richard Fleischer s 1975 Mandingo, a back-alley parody of Gone With the Wind based on a lascivious 1957 best seller by Kyle Onstott. All that dewy-eyed antebellum melodramas so carefully repress returns here with a vengeance. James Mason, wallowing in a deep Dixie accent, is Warren Maxwell, the run-down proprietor of a run-down plantation whose two great concerns in life are finding appropriate breeding partners for his prize female slave, Ellen (Brenda Sykes), and his only son, an Adonis with a gimpy leg played by Perry King.
Maxwell s efforts at human husbandry go luridly awry when the partner he finds for Ellen the former heavyweight champion Ken Norton as a fighting slave begins a culturally unthinkable relationship with a not-so-shrinking Southern belle, played by the British actress Susan George. With its scenes of incest and infanticide (at no additional charge), Mandingo can hardly be accused of taking a sober, dignified approach to its subject, but when the historical context is itself obscene, transgressions are justified. That the film is still a hot potato more than three decades after it was made is a tribute to its undiminished power to provoke. --Dave Kehr of The New York Times