Henley is supposed to have used the term (an abbreviation of “mackerel”) in a translation of Villon. The Mack is built on the useful model of Howard Hawks’ Scarface, and shares with its original a decided originality. Even knowing Hawks, there is an element of unpredictability in Campus’ film which really pays off at the end (a kind of transposition sometimes criticized when literary works are involved).
The first few minutes are enough to cue the alert that this is going to be a great film, but certain details in the handling only prepare the mighty shocks which follow, such as Goldie (Max Julien) inculcating his girls at the planetarium as president, chairman and king of the universe in a lifetime contract. The charmers stare at starbanks weaving in and out under his control, they repeat his grinning gobbledygook.
Where the structure really towers is in its forceful ambiguities. By controlling minds, Goldie is able to forswear the mack’s usual manhandling. This eventually leads to the crisis when a rival’s girl “chooses” him.
The mirroring complications of the plot deserve and really require analysis. Goldie’s brother (Roger E. Mosley) is also involved in “cleaning up the streets” after his own fashion. Two Oakland detectives (Don Gordon, William C. Watson) have their own game.
Richard Pryor, an excellent actor, plays Goldie’s chum, who in the opening jumps a fence and leaves him staring up from an overturned car at the two detectives, and later follows him enthusiastically in his rise to mackereldom.
All of the performances are spirited and acute, imbued with underworld ambience and well-directed. The unexpected ending gives a psychological variant of the Scarface motif which principally bears on the mack’s line of work.