Sunday, 20 December 2015

Don’t mess with… Foxy Brown (1974)

This is one of those films that, as with Death Race 2000, Shaft and Rollerball, epitomises so many seventies’ attitudes: sex, ultra-violence, revenge on a Grecian scale and all disco-style and funk of substance.

It was the decade of decadence and just getting away with it, using the freedom of the sixties with the developing commercialism of the eighties and beyond. Bubble gum cinema with all the delayed gratification taken out: what you get is what you want and what you want is pretty much exactly what you get.

Miss Grier
You watch this film for Pam Grier and her beauty; her Jackie Brown shows that she’s not quite the actress she will be in a long and substantial career but she’s already good here, holding the narrative together almost on her own.

You watch to see the darker side of drug dealing with Pam’s brother Link – short for Lincoln – Brown (Antonio Fargas as himself basically…) getting in all kinds of trouble in his attempts to monetise the opportunities of supply and demand.

Link on the run...
You also watch for the moral certainties of the time: everything so colourfully black and white. Link’s only a cog in a much larger wheel with the supply fed from a twisted white sister "Miss" Katherine Wall (a superbly-wired Kathryn Loder) who, whilst by day is a millionaires fashion tycoon, by night is pulling the strings on the city’s class A drugs and prostitution.

Helping her maintain this big business is a weirdly-smooth Steve Elias (Peter Brown) who, whilst being the object of Miss Kathy’s infatuation – she loves it when he hurts people – has his own agenda beyond falsified reciprocation. He’s too shallow even for the hollow.

Baddies: Kathryn Loder and Peter Brown
They send their goons Eddie (Tony Giorgio) and Hays (Sid Haig) to extract monies owed from Link who has to call in the aid of big sis. We don’t know quite what Jackie does (a legacy of the film’s origin as a follow up to Grier’s previous Coffy (1973)) but she must do it very well. She can handle herself as the film’s superb sub-Bond title sequence shows: not just cleavage and curves but plenty of kick!

Pam Grier and Terry Carter
Jackie is romancing an undercover detective Michael Anderson (Terry Carter) who is undergoing facial surgery to change his appearance – he needs to infiltrate the drug syndicate and no price is too high. Luckily, bandages removed leave Foxy with a still handsome boyfriend but the effort is sadly wasted as Link quickly recognises his sister’s supposedly passed-on paramour.

Here’s a chance for Link to re-finance and he can’t resist selling his sister’s man down the river exchanging £20,000 in exchange for Mike’s life. Foxy is naturally aggrieved and resolves to avenge her fallen lover just as soon as she’s kicked Link around his apartment.

Under cover (just about etc...)
She poses as a call girl to gain entry to Miss K’s legion of lovelies for lease and pals up quickly with Claudia (Juanita Brown) in order to learn the ropes and dig deeper. Claudia’s trapped in this world and longs to get back to her daughter and Foxy persuades humiliate a well-placed client, Judge Fenton (Harry Holcombe) who is willing to go easy on the gang’s foot soldiers in exchange for favours.

After this there’s no going back and after sending Claudia off to safe haven, Foxy is caught by the syndicate after Link one again fails her, this time fatally.

Juanita Brown, Harry Holcombe and Pam Grier
It’s looking bleak for Foxy who is sent off to the “Farm” to be force-fed heroin before being sold off to sex slavery. She’s tortured and raped by two extravagantly-odd white characters and tied to a bed with a growing addiction in the middle of nowhere, there’s only one way out and that’s flicking the razor blade used to cut the heroin into her mouth, using it to cut her ropes, pulling together a make-shift weapon from some coat hangers that rip the face of one abuser allowing her to immolate the second and make her escape in their car.

Things look bleak until inspiration strikes
The explosive finale only begins there as Foxy enlists the aid of a local black power defence movement in staging an audacious attack on the syndicate’s mansion. Baddies are liquidized by airplane propellers, tables are turned and one character’s manhood is removed as Foxy slips the cold rapier blade of revenge between Miss Katherine’s under-nourished rib cage… metaphorically-speaking.
Fight the power
Dusty verdict: Jack Hill directs with dynamism and sets the standard for not only Blaxploitation but also for female action heroes. The music from Willie Hutch is to this film as Isaac Hayes’ is to Shaft and perfectly encapsulates the sass and the soul of Foxy.

Pam Grier is focused on in an unrelenting way throughout from the funked up title sequence in which we appears in fuzz-toned multi-colours and in triplicate as if one copy was not enough. She’s a clothes horse throughout showcasing cat suits, deep-cut cleavage and endless flares - "a whole lot of woman" whose sexuality is a pure extension of her attitude.

You can frown and focus on the marketing aspects but the actress emerges as proudly as her character and you can see why Quentin Tarantino was so keen to make Jackie Brown for her 20 years later.

Foxy Brown is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Amazon and elsewhere it is genuinely "Superbad” in the seventies sense!

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