One film genre that has always intrigued me was that of blaxploitation. Something filled with civil rights issues, gender issues, as well as tackling crime, while both being grimy and funky at the same time. While it was localized to a short time period, we can still see a lot of the topics that the films addressed as relevant today. Olive Films recently re-issued four blaxploitation classics, COFFY, FOXY BROWN, FRIDAY FOSTER and HAMMER, the first three starring Pam Grier, and the final starring Fred Williamson.
One thing going into these releases, is that they are produced by Olive FIlms, so buyer beware that you aren’t getting a features packed special release. But what you are getting with all the films is a beautiful looking transfer that also sounds amazing, at a decent cost too! As I was the most familiar with COFFY, I didn’t request a copy of it, and now after seeing the other releases, I know that I’ll probably be purchasing it. Still one of my favorite Pam Grier flicks, I’m anxious to see it in its full HD glory.
For the other 3, I’d only seen FOXY BROWN once before, almost 15 years ago, so it was time for a re-visit. And what a funky re-visit that was. I forgot how wacky the beginning of the film is, and how dark it gets later on. The first act of the film and the final feel as if they are from two completely different films, that just happen to include the same actors and soundtrack. Grier stars as the title character, a tough woman trying to watch out for her good-for-nothing brother, while being concerned about the love of her life, someone on a hit list for taking down some organized crime bosses. After losing the ones she loves, Foxy is out for vengeance.
Complete with a small role by Sid Haig, who worked with director Jack Hill in SPIDER BABY and PIT STOP (both available soon through Arrow Releasing), FOXY BROWN doesn’t shy away from any of the blaxploitation tropes. Nor does Pam Grier shy away from exposing herself emotionally and physically. This film is a balls to the wall action flick, and she’s heavy hitting throughout it.
Where FOXY BROWN is wacky, FRIDAY FOSTER treats itself as a more sophisticated film, focusing less on the action and mayhem, and more on the mystery of who’s behind the Black Widow conspiracy leaving a wake of bodies behind it. Grier is Friday, a photographer for a fashion magazine, sent out to cover the arrival of Blake Tarr, the “black Howard Hughes”. Instead of just a hot story, Friday finds herself dodging bullets in an attempted assassination attempt. And when one of the killers shows up around her friend right before her death, Friday takes it upon herself to find out the true scoop.
Grier isn’t handling things alone, as she’s joined by Yaphet Kotto, a kind-hearted detective, Colt Hawkins, who can handle his own in a fight. Spoiler alert: he knocks out Apollo Creed himself, Carl Weathers. While Grier is the reason that most people will get on the boat for this flick, Kotto will keep you on board, with his wit and general nature just make you want to see him succeed. And while Grier was fiery in FOXY BROWN, she is more plucky and inventive in FRIDAY FOSTER.
And with huge cast, including Eartha Kitt and Scatman Crothers, you get plenty of red herrings and victims. Also, good luck keeping the soundtrack (specifically the theme song) from getting stuck in your head for the next few days.
Fred Williamson is BJ Hammer, a blue collar dock worker, who is groomed into a prize fighter boxer after defending a co-worker one day at work. Getting involved with an unscrupulous manager, Hammer soon finds himself deep in a world beyond what he was hoping for. While he’s making decent money and falling for a girl, he’s finding other fighters around him showing up dead after encounters with his current boss.
Williamson is entertaining in this role, as you feel him looking at this world with fresh eyes, yet still knows how to scrap with the best of them. While set in two different worlds, I think that this would be a good double feature with ROCKY, as you get to see two different approaches to an underdog fighter story. HAMMER also includes a solid soundtrack throughout, giving it an overall great listen, where the above films relied heavily on repeating the themes multiple times.
If you are a fan of blaxploitation and just want a great looking copy of these films, then I can’t recommend them enough. Sadly, we don’t get behind the scenes features or commentary tracks that would be very welcome, but at least we can enjoy the films in as close as possible to the way they were intended.