Thursday, October 11, 2007

Coming attraction: ‘Mr. Untouchable’

In a few weeks, all eyes will be on “American Gangster” and Denzel Washington’s portrayal of former Harlem drug dealer Frank Lucas.

But a documentary opening October 26 tells the tale of Leroy “Nicky” Barnes, the true heroin kingpin of 1970s Harlem.

It’s called “Mr. Untouchable,” and it features Nicky Barnes himself... talking from the shadows, because he’s now in the Witness Protection Program. And how that came to pass is best discovered by watching the movie.

“Mr. Untouchable” is a fascinating social history of the black underworld, told mainly by ex-players. For example, members of the Nicky Barnes organization recall Frank Lucas’s crew disdainfully as “the country boys” because of how they dressed and spoke. The Barnes crew prided itself on “sophistication.”

I’ll be writing more about “Mr. Untouchable” in the coming weeks. For now, you can watch the trailer:

16 comments:

Bay Radical said...

Huh, I've never heard of Leroy Barnes, which just goes to show that I should be spending more time with major players in the heroin trade.

I'm pretty fascinated by his West Coast counterpart Felix Mitchell though.

Comb & Razor said...

i'm looking forward to this movie much more than American Gangster.

i'm currently reading the book Mr. Untouchable, which is a bit of a drag, though... it's kinda shallow and sensational and the writing is reminiscent of "street lit." i really hope the movie doesn't have the same vibe.

Bay Radical said...

And that American Gangster movie looks really bad - Russell Crowe's NY accent sucks and come on Hollywood, in 2007 is it still impossible to make a movie about a black man without revolving the whole story around a white guy?

Undercover Black Man said...

Comb & Razor: I think you'll be satisfied with the documentary. Interesting, human characters... themes of ambition, male bonding, jealousy, petty vengeance... a real sense of time and place.

Bay Radical: I'm still hoping for the best from "American Gangster."

Comb & Razor said...

I think you'll be satisfied with the documentary. Interesting, human characters... themes of ambition, male bonding, jealousy, petty vengeance... a real sense of time and place.

sure hope so, because that's what the book lacks... most of the time he seems to be talking about the fly threads he's wearing, the wheels he's rolling in and the primo tail he's pulling, with the occasional odd name-drop (like Sean Combs, whom he recognizes as "having a great set of pipes" when Diddy was still in diapers).

Andrew said...

I've heard American Gangster is quite good, and since it'll play where I live a hell of lot sooner than Mr. Untouchable, it won't really be a matter of choice. By the way, Cuba Gooding Jr. has a small role in American Gangster as Nicky Barnes. Good or bad choice?

RC said...

Hard to believe Barnes is still alive and apparently roaming around in some town, maybe mine. The trade in the seventies, compared to today, was rather quaint. I think around 1986 things began to go nuclear. The onset of crack seems to have made shooting more popular.
Although that Westies gang, they were always somewhat competitive in the cut-throat department.

Invisible Woman said...

Cuba Gooding is Nicky Barnes? Hmmm
UBM-did you see it already? Did you know there is a screening in L.A. tomorrow and Monday? Let me know...

Undercover Black Man said...

You mean "American Gangster," IW? That I haven't seen. "Mr. Untouchable" I saw a screener copy of.

Are you gonna be in L.A.?

estiv said...

I remember the photo of Nicky Barnes that appeared on the cover of the Sunday New York Times magazine sometime around 1977. Calm, looking straight into the camera, dressed in a very expensive suit, looking for all the world like a stockbroker. The headline was something like "N.Y.'s biggest heroin dealer." I remember thinking about the kind of balls you had to have to agree to appear on the cover of that magazine with that headline and be okay with it.

By the way, comb & razor, I'd bet that if the average stockbroker wrote a memoir, it would be mostly about wheels, threads, tail, and celebs. Highly successful businessmen don't tend to be deep once they start talking, whether their business is legal or illegal. Donald Trump might not want to see Nickey Barnes as a colleague, but...

Comb & Razor said...

By the way, comb & razor, I'd bet that if the average stockbroker wrote a memoir, it would be mostly about wheels, threads, tail, and celebs. Highly successful businessmen don't tend to be deep once they start talking, whether their business is legal or illegal. Donald Trump might not want to see Nickey Barnes as a colleague, but...

i feel you. i just wanted... a little bit more of the man than the (self-)image, y'know?

it's still an interesting read, anyway.

Undercover Black Man said...

I remember thinking about the kind of balls you had to have to agree to appear on the cover of that magazine with that headline and be okay with it.

You know who else saw that New York Times Magazine cover, estiv? President Jimmy Carter.

And that was when things started turning to shit for Nicky Barnes.

justjudith said...

thanks for the heads up, david. i'm sure i will enjoy this much more than american gangster.

The Pop View said...

This from David Poland:

[In American Gangster] you get Cuba Gooding, Jr in a smaller than expected role as Nicky Barnes, a rival to Frank Lucas back in the day. Interestingly, veteran documentarian Marc Levin has made an excellent documentary on Barnes – Mr. Untouchable - that is also due out at the end of this month from Magnolia. And a lot of what Frank Lucas does in American Gangster, Nikki Barnes takes and is given credit for in the doc. Moreover, when you start looking at the competing stories - Lucas profiled by New York Magazine and Barnes, a star for The New York Times – you can get a bit of whiplash trying to figure out which one did what. For instance, in Mr. Untouchable, Barnes mentions Frank Lucas as a country bumpkin who spoke crudely and always sounded like a farmhand. To the contrary, in American Gangster, Frank Lucas is consummately low-key and smooth and makes the mistake of wearing a fur once. Both men are given credit for giving out turkeys at Thanksgiving, as Bumpy Johnson had before them.

Undercover Black Man said...

Thank you, Pop View. From the various organized-crime books I got lying around, Nicky Barnes is described as the man. I guess that's because of his direct mentorship by the Mafia. (I assume Lucas's connection circumvented the Italian mob.)

The legend most associated with Lucas is the shipping of drugs from Southeast Asia in soldiers' coffins (or body bags... or bodies themselves).

One of the big legends associated with Barnes (used in the movie "New Jack City") was making the female drug-factory workers work naked, so as not to steal any powder.

your motha said...

for all of you ignorant people out there like bay radical saying he's never heard of Nikki Banres(WOW!). Nikki Barnes's real name is Cuba Gooding Jr. Like the book said, he is Mr. Untouchable. naw but really Nikki Barnes was also an official kingpin. He'll never be better than Frank Lucas though. Tell Nikki he can fuck with with Frank when he makes a million a day! Frank Lucas had Harlems back soN! and Harlem had his