Both Aaron and Angela come from strikingly similar backgrounds; she doesn’t see her father that much (he’s a trumpeter out in L.A.) and her mother moves around from city to city (Atlanta, N’awlins) due to her wanderlust. With Aaron, it’s his mom that lit out early on; a dancer, she moved to Paris and left him behind with his bitter, alcoholic father (Moses Gunn). Ike James was an All-American in college and played a few years of pro football before being sidelined with a career-ending injury…now he runs a bar/rib joint called Ike’s All American, and spends his evenings drinking and reliving his past gridiron glories via a slide projector.
Aaron Loves Angela was the final feature film directed by Gordon Parks, Jr. before his death in a plane crash in 1979—an important figure in the area of “Blaxploitation” movies (Gordon also helmed Superfly and Thomasine & Bushrod), Parks was following in the footsteps of his famous father, Gordon, Sr., an author/photographer whose Renaissance man activities also included the direction of important films such as The Learning Tree (1969) and Shaft (1971). Aaron Loves Angela is considered by many to be one of the best of the genre, featuring fine performances from the leads and a serviceable script that only falters when it adds an unnecessary drug dealing subplot into the mix.
Her co-star Hooks had also demonstrated he wasn’t too shabby when it came to emoting, appearing in the Academy Award-nominated film Sounder (1972). Hooks is best remembered here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear as student hoopster Morris Thorpe on the CBS-TV series The White Shadow; he later became a respected film and TV director with features like Passenger 57 and episodes of boob tube favorites like St. Elsewhere and Prison Break to his credit.
Beau involves himself in a Mafia drug deal that goes sour, and involves Aaron so the movie can have an interesting payoff, I guess. It doesn’t completely wreck the film, but I was so wrapped up in the nice chemistry between Hooks and Cara’s characters that I thought it was a distraction.
There are also solid supporting turns from Ernestine Jackson (as the senior Hooks’ old lady, who inducts Hooks, Jr. into “the way of all flesh”), Leon Pinkney (as Hooks’ comic relief buddy) and Charles McGregor. Basketball legend Walt Frazier appears in a cameo (and demonstrates why he should not quit his day job), as does José Feliciano—who provides the songs for Aaron’s soundtrack (several co-written with Janna Marlyn Feliciano). This sleeper had been on my “see” list for a while now, and it was definitely worth the wait…though I was a little disappointed that The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ made do with a non-letterboxed version of the film.