1/8/09

B.L.O.G Presents: Coffy (1973)

There are names synonymous with blaxploitation, John Shaft, Superfly, Fred Williamson, Rudy Ray Moore, but there is only one lady who stands with the giants of the genre. I'm not talking about Theresa Graves or Jeannie Bell... I'm talking about the one and only...
Pam started her movie career in the cult movie niche with a bit part in Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Yet it was her second film, The Big Doll House(1971) where she met another legendary genre film maker, and began a partnership that would produce four great films. Jack Hill, the director of The Terror (with Karloff and Jack Nicholson) and the classic Spider Baby, cast Pam in that film as well as 1972's The Big Bird Cage. At the behest of AIP pictures (who had lost the rights to Cleopatra Jones), Jack wrote a script for a flick featuring a young black woman taking revenge on a gang of drug dealers, and who else to play the lead but Pam Grier. After all who else could play...

Coffy (1973) starring Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui, Allen Arbus, Sid Haig, and Barry Cahill. Directed by Jack Hill.

Coffy (Grier) has a good job as nurse at the hospital, a good boyfriend in future Senator Howard (Bradshaw), and an eleven year old sister in treatment for heroin addiction. No matter how good her life may be Coffy just can't get over her anger at the pushers who got her sister addicted. So she does what she feels is right, and begins to hunt them down. She blows the head off a small time dealer and his junkie friend, but Coffy has bigger fish to fry.

First she tracks down King George (DoQui), the top pimp/dealer in the game, and comes into his employ by passing herself off as Mystique, a Jamaican. George readily accepts her and is excited about the prospect of presenting her to his boss, Vitroni (Arbus). When Vitroni, accompanied by his bodyguard Omar (Haig) sees Mystique at one of King George's parties, he is instantly smitten. A feeling that only intensifies as he watches her start a brawl and beat down every woman there. The big boss takes her back to his place to indulge his passion for kinky and degrading sex, and it nearly allows Coffy to get the drop on him. However she is recognized by one of his thugs who was responsible for the beat down on Carter. Captured and confined, Coffy will soon learn how deep the corruption in her town runs, while others folks learn to run and hide when the baddest one chick hit squad to ever hit town breaks loose. Coffy, she's got a body men will die for- and a lot of them

Pam Facts

--Pam Grier and Sid Haig appeared in all four of Pam's Jack Hill movies together as well as 1973's Black Mama, White Mama. They would return to share screen time in Jackie Brown with Grier as the titular character and Haig as a judge.

--Pam Grier is the cousin of football player Rosey Grier who had an acting career in cult favorites like The Thing with Two Heads and The Glove.

--Pam was the first black woman to appear on the cover of Ms. magazine (August 1975).

--She was born May 26 1949 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Pam is 5'8" and her measurements are reportedly 38-22-36.


The Bug Speaks

There is precious little for me to say here. Anyone who knows anything about black exploitation knows how great this film really is. Jack Hill was of course a master at what he did and provided the film with an excellent style while maintaining his typically minuscule AIP budget. The film does have some minor missteps, mostly having to do with scenes that are poorly lit, but on the whole it has an amazing time capsule feel to it. Paul Lohmann, the cinematographer, would go on to shoot the dreamy western The White Buffalo with Charles Bronson, Robert Altman's Nashville, and the biopic Mommy Dearest. (Also in another film connection set decorator Charles Pierce would become a director of such pictures as The Town that Dreaded Sundown and The Legend of Boggy Creek.)

The performances throughout the film are on par with any of the top drawer blaxploitation films of the era. Pam Grier is perhaps the shakiest performer, but she seems to real and determined, it is easy to let her faults slide. She would give a much better performance in Foxy Brown (which was originally slated to be a sequel called Burn, Coffy, Burn), but her performance was never more earnest in this film. There are several other performers who stand out as well. Booker Bradshaw turns in a fine performance as Howard, the future senator attracted to the wrong side of the law. However I do have to wonder about his character's choice to not only hold meetings, but also own a strip club. I'm not sure that too many Senators go that route. Robert DoQui as King George is not only a sight to see, but an adept performance by a skilled actor. He clearly relishes playing up George's cowardly tendencies and uses them to full effect. Alan Arbus, perhaps most recognized as the shrink that visited the 4077th M*A*S*H, was very entertaining as the kingpin of the drug and skin trade, and Sig Haig makes each of his appearances something to watch as the dastardly Omar.

In the end this is a film that deserves recognition on many levels. The film's plot concerning revenge against drug traffickers was mirrored in 1974's Death Wish to great acclaim, but Coffy did it first. Speaking of firsts, by being the first blaxploitation film to make it to market, Coffy defined the sweet, determined, and utterly vengeful character we would see more of in her own films and others such as TnT Jackson and Get Christy Love. Pam has a unique perspective on her films and was quoted as saying." everyone else can do violence. You know, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, they can all do shoot-'em-ups. Arnold Schwarzenegger can kill 10 people, and they don't call it "white exploitation". (From her interview at The AV Club).

While Pam would get away from films like Coffy with her roles in Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981) with Paul Newman and the Disney feature Something Wicked this Way Comes (1983), she would return to form for the Quentin Tarantino helmed Jackie Brown (1997). While some hailed this film as her comeback (and it is my personal favorite Tarantino), Grier had actually been steadily performing both on screen and stage for years. In 1995, she paired with Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Richard Roundtree and others for the film Original Gangsters, and she also had roles in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey(1991), Class of 1999 (1990), and Above the Law (1988).

Pam Grier is a unique performer. There will never be another female action star who can so balance the tender with the tough. Her films with Jack Hill each have a special feel to them, and none more so than Coffy. If there were such a thing as a required watching list for genre film, this film would go very near to the top. It is nearly a perfect film. With slightly more money involved in it Hill surely could have fine tuned his footage, and perhaps got a better soundtrack for the film. These kind of errors or missteps don't really serve to detract from the film instead giving it the quirky quality that makes it so memorable. If you haven't seen it, see it. If you have seen it, see it again. After you've seen it again, watch some of her other Jack Hill collaborations, and enjoy the special relationship between a legendary director and this weeks B.L.O.G.

Bug Rating


8 comments:

  1. This is the coolest blog I've seen in a while. I'm now a huge fan.

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  2. Thanks Trail, come back and visit the lair anytime.

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  3. I love this movie, definitely in my Blaxploitation Top 5. Great write-up as usual, Bug.

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  4. Excellent Review, for a Classic film, LB! Well done!!

    I never knew that Foxy Brown was originally going to be a sequel to this - interesting. . .

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  5. Rev and Breaker thanks for the comments. Glad you both enjoyed this one I really had fun doing it.

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  6. I agree. "Coffy" is an excellent film. It and "Black Ceasar" are my two all time favorites of the genre.

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  7. Ooh, Coffy. Cool one. I went through a blaxploitation phase awhile back (you gotta love Pam Grier) and this, Foxy Brown and Superfly were my faves. Very nice review. And great look at Grier's career in general.

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  8. Thanks for the comments Steve and Lisa. It warms my heart to know there's so much love out there for Pam Grier.

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