In Balladeer’s Blog’s fourth look at blaxploitation films from the 1970’s I’ll examine some of the pulp-action heroines. I’ve already covered Pam Grier’s various characters in a previous post, plus I dealt with Syreena, the leader of the black female biker gang in Darktown Strutters in my post on blaxploitation films that transcended their genre. “Sugar” Hill and her legion of zombies were addressed in my Halloween post on blaxploitation horror films. Christy Love is not included because as a television character she lacked the edginess of her big-screen sisters.
4. VELVET SMOOTH (1976) – Along with The Guy From H.A.R.L.E.M. this film occupies the very bottom of the blaxploitation action barrel. It also sports one of the least memorable theme songs from a category of movies known for their kickass songs and music.
Johnnie Hill plays the title heroine, a private eye who finds herself hired by a drug kingpin called King Lathrop to find out who’s behind the masked goons moving in on his territory. The plot jumps all over the place, however, and the film’s efforts at presenting action scenes are utterly ridiculous. The characters move very, very slowly but the scenes are not in slow motion. Instead it’s just that the actors, who obviously weren’t skilled martial artists, look like they’re concentrating so hard on their choreography that their moves are comically sluggish. At other times the footage is simply sped up, which makes the fight scenes look like silent movies or Benny Hill chases.
Adding to the Ed Wood appeal of Velvet Smooth are boom mikes that appear so frequently they should be billed as guest stars in the credits and sets with cheap walls that shake after every door-closing. Rory Calhoun is the regulation actor you’re surprised to see doing blaxploitation and he looks fairly embarrassed by the low-budget hijinx.
Throw in stage blood that looks like spaghetti sauce, cinematography as bland as security camera footage and a cameo by an actor done up to resemble Kojak in an awkward attempt at comedy.
3. BLACK LOLITA (1975) – Also released under the title Wildcat Women this blaxploition flick is actually in 3D, which adds to its cultural kitsch value and its place in Trivia Heaven. What other movie lets you enjoy the majesty of random shrubbery in 3D?
Yolanda Love, a former Miss Black Galaxy, stars as Lolita, but this movie has as little to do with Nabakov’s Lolita as the movie Black Shampoo has to do with Warren Beatty’s Shampoo. Lolita is a singer, and when her uncle is leaned on for protection money by a gangster called the Buddha she springs into action, Pam Grier-style. Gathering a few like-minded femmes fatale Lolita sets out to bring the Buddha and his minions down.
After its initial release this movie was reedited with soft-core porn scenes and the new title Wildcat Women. This was a frequent ploy by low- budget filmmakers of the past so they could cash in on the same basic movie more than once. Unsuspecting filmgoers might find themselves paying to watch the same flick repeatedly and in those pre-internet days there was no quick fan-to-fan grapevine to warn potential suckers off.
The shootouts and car chases are well presented in Black Lolita, and if you can find a copy without the soft-core makeout scenes awkwardly edited in it’s fairly tight and actually makes sense. Such copies are hard to come by, but they clock in at just barely 70 minutes so they go by like the wind. Yolanda Love has much greater screen presence than Johnnie Hill, too, and comes across as a much tougher, grittier character.
2. TNT JACKSON (1974) – Diana “TNT” Jackson is the pulp action heroine of this enjoyable revenge flick. Former Playboy Playmate Jeanne Belle is in the lead role and the script was cowritten by Roger Corman regular Dick Miller.
TNT has been in trouble with the law since she was 13 so when her brother is killed she rejects all help from “the pigs” and sets out to avenge her brother’s death on her own. Traveling to Hong Kong, which is actually the Philippines passing for Hong Kong, Jackson infiltrates the criminal outfit behind her sibling’s murder.
In between martial arts fight scenes TNT beds down with the crimelord’s handsome assistant, banters and outrightly fights with his blonde moll Elaine (Pat Anderson) on her quest for revenge. It’s hardly a spoiler to mention that Jackson wins out in the end and after she kills the main bad guy the film abruptly ends JUST LIKE so many actual Hong Kong kung fu films!
TNT Jackson was intended as a female counterpart to Jim Kelly’s blaxploitationer Black Belt Jones and has some very watchable fight scenes. Bell’s topless fight scene is always mentioned first but the battle in the graveyard is nicely done, too, and the final encounter with the villain is kind of laughable but still memorable.
Director Cirio Santiago was one of the biggest names in Phillipine low-budget filmmaking and does his usual competent but not outstanding job with this movie. TNT Jackson is not up there with any of Pam Grier’s movies but it often gets unfairly trashed and is a fun ride.
1. CLEOPATRA JONES (1973) – Tamara Dobson stars as one of the most famous figures from 1970’s cinema in this explosive movie. She plays Cleopatra Jones, Special Narcotics Agent answerable only to the President, just like Elvis Presley (I’m kidding!).
After overseeing the burning of some poppy fields in Turkey at the film’s beginning, Cleo finds herself the target of lesbian drug kingpin “Mommy” played by multiple Academy Award Winner Shelley Winters, the movie’s official White Actor You Can’t Believe Is Doing Blaxploitation.
Since it will come as no surprise that in the end Cleo wins her war with Mommy, I’ll mention instead the loaded supporting cast, featuring Bernie Casey as Cleopatra’s love interest, Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas as Doodlebug, plus Esther Rolle, Brenda Sykes and Angela Gibbs.
Bill McKinney, the man who got up close and personal with Ned Beatty’s butt in Deliverance, plays a corrupt cop in the heroine’s old neighborhood and Kojak’s boss Dan Frazer plays Cleo’s former boss when she was just a regular cop. Kojak fans will get a kick out of how Frazer’s character gets to impotently whine “Cleooooo” when she refuses to listen to him just like he would impotently whine “Theooooo” when Telly Savalas made up his own rules.
This movie is action-packed from start to finish and spawned a sequel called Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. In that movie Cleo is busting up a drug operation in Hong Kong with Norman Fell as her new direct superior and Stella Stevens as the lesbian drug lord called the Dragon Lady. As the Dragon Lady Stevens runs the casino of the title and is stylish enough and has enough screen presence to have been a James Bond villain. The two Cleopatra Jones movies were so successful that Hong Kong studios tried to imitate the character with Cleopatra Wong.
When the remake of Shaft was a success years ago, many other remakes to blaxploitation classics were prematurely announced and RuPaul was supposedly going to play Cleopatra Jones in a remake of the orginal. That film venture and the proposed remake of Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite flicks fell through and as of this writing may be permanently trapped in Development Hell.
FOR MY LOOK AT PAM GRIER’S MOVIES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2012/03/25/pam-griers-four-best-blaxploitation-films-2/
FOR MY LOOK AT 8 BLAXPLOITATION CLASSICS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2012/03/10/eight-blaxploitation-films-that-deserve-a-closer-look/
FOR MY LOOK AT BLAXPLOITATION HORROR FILMS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2011/10/26/a-very-blaxploitation-halloween/
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.