Thursday, June 9, 2011

Foxy Brown (1974)

One of the things that sets Jack Hill apart from his exploitation bretheren is his ability to both go way over the top with the melodrama and maintain a wry sense of humor. He doesn't make comedies exactly, but he doesn't play the material as seriously as a heart attack either. Above all, his films are entertaining as hell. And this is probably why Foxy Brown has become such a cult classic: it has a playful sense of humor. It also has a strong female character at its center played by the great Pam Grier who is, indeed, "one hell of a woman".

Foxy Brown was originally intended to be a sequel to Coffy, which was a successful film but for some reason the studio opted against making a sequel. Nowadays studios plan to make sequels before the movie comes out and then make a bunch even if nobody saw the original! But this explains why we never know what Foxy Brown's job is: she was supposed to be a nurse. Now her brother (played by the great Antonio Fargas) is a drug using motherfucker, which is more important to the story. Fargas might not be the greatest actor and Grier was not yet the actress she would later become, but they were both already interesting to watch. This is something else I learned about low budget exploitation filmmaking directly from Jack Hill: Your actors don't have to be good if they are really interesting to watch. Sometimes that's even better. A perfect example of this is Robbie Lee in Switchblade Sisters: she's not so much acting as gritting her teeth and yelling, but damned if you can take your eyes off of her.

Pam Grier, meanwhile, was an actress who just needed time to learn her craft, but again had the charisma to carry a film. Here, she's Foxy Brown, a woman whose boyfriend is an undercover narc who has undergone radical plastic surgery to change his face and avoid the drug dealers who want to ice him. The problem is Link, Foxy's brother, who is in trouble with the dealers and looking for a way to rectify that situation. You can imagine what happens, although it's still a pretty shocking betrayal in the film. Link is clearly in the grip of drug addiction and the film is pretty heavily anti-drugs (or at least hard drugs) with the message that drugs are a new means to enslave the black community. It's a pretty heavy message for an exploitation film, but totally legitimate.

Now, Foxy has to get revenge on the white motherfuckers who killed her man. At the top of the heap is Miss Katherine, who runs a brothel among other things. She's played by Kathryn Loder, who definitely embodies the Hill type of villian- again, it's not great acting so much as being able to chew the scenery like it was Juicy Fruit. In order to get her vengeance, Foxy goes undercover as a hooker in the mob's brothel, dive bombs a drug shack with an ultralight plane, gets help from the always great Sid Haig, and there's a lesbian bar fight for no good reason aside from general awesomeness. It's pretty clear why Foxy Brown is such a cult classic- it's just a hell of a lot of fun. It's also, incidentally, a movie about the sort of smart, strong, badass woman that they still don't make many films about.

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