Thursday, 13 August 2015

No.33. PAM GRIER - Part IV: FOXY BROWN (1974)


Once Jack Hill and Pam Grier hit their stride as an effective team of writer/director and actor muse with COFFY, of course they would do it again. What is exploitation if it doesn’t make use of a winning team? For that matter, a wining formula is one to which all of Hollywood aspires.

Knowing that black audiences found in Grier a strong non-tokenistic female action heroine to cheer on, Hill distilled her appeal into a full-blooded vigilante hell-cat with FOXY BROWN. It was originally meant to be a direct sequel to COFFY but when AIP nixed that idea, hasty changes had to be made and there was no time for example to establish what job Foxy had compared to her previous role's nurse duties.

FOXY BROWN is a fun action vehicle though with some relishable dialogue and vengeance mayhem for Grier to savour. This is signalled from the start as she is telephoned by our old Blaxploitation friend Antonio Fargas as her brother ‘Link’. His nervy hustler persona is perfectly suited to playing her ne’er-do-well sibling who can’t stay out of trouble and needs help in being extracted from mobster bad debt repercussions. With a sigh, Foxy gets out of bed (giving us the first of many unnecessary but welcome boob shots), reaches for her pistol and rescues him. She does this by mounting the pavement in her car, having Fargas get in at speed, plummeting face-first through the sun-roof and depositing one of the tenacious hoods who clings to the hood into the harbour.

Shady Fargas cannot resist easy opportunity. His lack of self-awareness is over-shadowed by a burning desire to channel his creative energy: “You tell me what I’m supposed to do with all this ambition?” he moans. He justifies his scheming against what he sees as black social failure all around him, including Foxy’s lover Michael Anderson (Terry Carter) whom he denigrates as a ruined informer, when he is in fact an undercover federal agent who’s undergone plastic surgery to enable him to go incognito back on the streets. Foxy visits him as he’s completing his recovery and almost administers some non-medicinal TLC before a nurse spoils it. Link spoils things even more by treacherously informing on Anderson after Foxy tries to hide his old identity. The mob shoots Anderson to death and Foxy threatens to kill her spineless scum-bag brother when she finds out he was responsible for the tip-off. “You think you’re back in with these people? They got a stick of dynamite up your ass and the fuse is burning!” She has a solution to rectify the situation:
“The only way to handle these smart-ass hoods is with a bullet in the gut!”

Foxy leaves her apartment, having roughed up Link and his girlfriend like the Angel of Death. “That’s my sister – and she’s a whole lotta woman”, he mutters fearfully.

Foxy herself now goes undercover to get revenge, posing as a hooker for a ‘modelling agency’ run by the curiously androgynous villain Miss Katherine (Kathryn Loder). Her first customer is a corrupt judge who likes black women: “The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice”, purrs Foxy before  dispatching the “pink-ass corrupt honky judge!”. Lines like these are scattered like Blaxploitation pearls throughout the script.

Foxy cuts like a scythe through the forest of gangsters, stopping off for help at a lesbian bar that is murkier than the dock-side dive in AIRPLANE. “I got my black belt in bar-stools” she rages during a brawl. She enlists the help of a pilot in the unlikely form of genre familiar Sid Haig. I say unlikely because aside from his dress sense of floppy hat and bushy beard making him resemble a boho painter, he refers to his skills as an airplane ‘driver’. (Surely a scripting or actor’s line faux-pas).
Foxy flies to the henchmen’s lair, where she ‘propels’ one hood into dismemberment by gunning the plane at him, and for good measure cuts off the penis of Miss Katherine’s lover. Back home, fetchingly leather-clad and bouffant of afro, she completes her mission by visiting the brothel madame and presenting her with her partner’s bottled appendage and then shooting her with the pistol she concealed in her hair.

Overall, FOXY BROWN pushes all the right buttons for sheer crowd-pleasing no-brainer fun. The executions and one–liners Grier delivers are a bravura answer to the male vigilante figures sparked off by Charles Bronson, but with more humour and the uncommon sight of a woman (and a black woman at that) in the driving seat. 

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