by Tuna

The term "Mandingo" refers to an African group which seems to be especially suited for brawling with bare knuckles and servicing neglected southern belles. In this case, the designated Mandingo is played by the former heavyweight boxing champion Ken Norton (Wikipedia), who in real life was a pretty good brawler with the knuckles padded. He fought Muhammad Ali three times, with all three fights going the distance. Norton won the first in a split decision and broke Ali's jaw in the process, thus winning the championship and handing Ali only the second defeat in his illustrious career. (Ali's only previous loss had been to Smokin' Joe Frazier.) Ali won the rematch on another split decision, and a highly controversial one at that. Ali won the third fight three years later when Norton got far ahead and "coasted" too early. All cards showed Norton ahead 6-2 after 8 rounds, but he managed to blow a 15 round decision - unanimously!

Norton took time off from boxing in between the second (September 1973) and third (September 1976) Ali fights, and it was in this period that he made two much-reviled exploitation films about slavery, this one and its 1976 quasi-sequel, Drum. After that period, Norton returned to the ring and would eventually be named the heavyweight championship one more time - on a technicality. The reigning champ would not fight Norton, who was the #1 contender, so the WBC stripped Leon Spinks of the title and handed it to Norton. Norton lost that paper title in his very first defense, so he retains the rare honor of having been champion without having won a fight! Whether his reign was based on a mere technicality or not, the fact remains that Ken Norton was recognized as the world heavyweight champion both before and after having starred in Mandingo and Drum, and in three fights he battled Muhammad Ali to a standstill. In terms of qualifications for this part, Norton was no actor, but one must concede that the man knew what to do with his fists.

His athletic abilities were not restricted to fisticuffs. He was one of the greatest high school athletes in history, if not THE greatest. He was a champion in pretty much every track and field event. He won so many different events in an Illinois track meet that he single-handedly forced the state to enact a rule change which limited any participant to three events. (It's still called the "Ken Norton Rule.")

The Southern Belle in need of his manly services in this film is played by Susan George. Her lame husband, who spends most of his time having sex with slave girls, is played by Perry King, and her crotchety father-in-law is played by James Mason.

This film was banned by the Catholic church. Usually, being banned by the "Legion of Decency" was the mark of a must-see film, but not in this case. One reviewer noted: "Every once in a while you stumble upon a movie that leaves you completely speechless. You sit in stunned silence with only an occasional "My God!" escaping from your lips. "Mandingo" is such a movie, a film that's so hilarious and hysterically offensive that it's a wonder that African-Americans nationwide didn't storm Paramount studios and slaughter the executives who green-lighted it." Take away the slave-impregnating and prize fighting and there would be nearly nothing left of the tedious 127 minute running time other than slave-whipping and slave-boiling. I doubt that this film can even be defended as an accurate look at slavery. After all, slaves were valuable property, and nobody in his right mind treats valuable property this badly. I found the film not only offensive, but boring as well. I found no character worth knowing, and saw no reason for the film to have been made.


* widescreen anamorphic

* no features







40 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)


5.4 IMDB summary (of 10)





  • Full frontal nudity from Debbie Morgan, Brenda Sykes, Laura Misch Owens
  • Breasts from Reda Wyatt, Susan George, Debra Black
  • Full frontal male nudity (unheard of in 1975) from Perry King.

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Take your pick. It is a film that repulses most people. Others argue that such an impact is indicative of very strong filmmaking.