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Black Belt Jones (1974) June 12, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Action, Blaxploitation, 1970s films, Bad Films , add a comment

Director: Robert Clouse  Cast: Jim Kelly, Gloria Hendry, Malik Carter, Scatman Crothers  Action Director: Robert Wall  Territory: USA  Production Company:  Sequoin Films

I thought it was probably time to mix it up a little with another 70’s Blaxploitation movie.  Black Belt Jones is an ultra low budget wisecracking movie with eye-rollingly corny dialogue, some dodgy editing and a couple of performances so wooden they present a fire hazard.  But it also has heaps of funny lines (both intentional and otherwise), a full-on funky score and that authentic 70’s atmosphere that just can’t be recreated. 

Robert Clouse was a bit of an oddity in that he scored such great success with Enter the Dragon and then went on to direct one cinematic turd after another.  From the films I’ve seen of his (by no means his entire catalogue – I’m not a masochist) this is by far the sloppiest – and yes, I’m including Game of Death here.  Either he had next to no time to shoot or he genuinely didn’t care about certain things like actors accidentally talking over each other or delivering their lines in a very stilted manner.

The plot involves a Mafia plot to take over a small Karate school run by Poppa Byrd (Scatman Crothers, who looks like he’s infinitely relieved to be killed off part way through the movie), as the land will be invaluable for an upcoming renovation.  The Mafia enlist the help of local black drug dealer “Pinky” Pinkus (Malik Carter, who gets most of the movie’s best lines - and some of the best shirts), who sets about “persuading” Pop to hand over the business but is thwarted by Black Belt Jones (Kelly), who previously refused to try to infiltrate the Mafia’s impregnable fortress.  When the inevitable happens and Pop is killed, the business is handed to his estranged daughter Sydney (Gloria Hendry), who is put under the protection of Jones (known as “Belt” to his friends – seriously!).   But Sydney reveals that she, too, was taught how to fight at the age of three by Pop, and the pair take on the Mafia and Pinky’s gang.

This year's essential menswear

Clouse poached a couple of personnel from the previous year’s Bond movie Live and Let Die for this – Gloria Hendry played Rosie Carver, and one of Pinky’s henchmen played “Whisper”.  Hendry becomes a tough talking bad-ass in this (she can make you look like a sick faggot, apparently), and though her moves are more the result of editing than ability, she does bring a certain amount of class to the film.  Jim Kelly does more to impress in this than he does in, say, The Black Samurai, but he still doesn’t come across as A-Grade superstar material, and is doubled a few times for the more acrobatic moves.  The man apparently responsible for the action choreography is none other than Bob Wall, and he can be spotted behind the wheel of one of the cars at the end.  Also in attendance is a kid I always remember as a petty thief from a largely forgotten Dracula spoof called Love at First Bite.  It turns out his name is Eric Laneuville, and he went on to bigger and better things, including directing several episodes of The Best Television Show Ever™, Lost.  How about that?

Kelly hated mobile phone users on trains.

Back to Black Belt Jones, it’s the dated dialogue and outrageous clothes that are the real stars of this show and make the viewing experience worthwhile.  Some of the dialogue is intended to be funny, and surprisingly some of it is pretty effective.  The scene in which Sydney is put down by Jones and told to “do the dishes or something” is predictable but funny nevertheless.  And the 70’s slang is always going to raise a smile with everyone calling each other “brother”, “cat” and so forth.  You dig?

This film appears in the top 50 worst movies of all time according to some list or other, which I just take to be another recommendation to watch it.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day this gets re-released with the full “Quentin Tarantino Presents” treatment as I’m sure it’s right up his alley.  For now, sadly, it remains unavailable on DVD in a legitimate form.

Black Samurai (1976) May 11, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Action, Blaxploitation, 1970s films, Bad Films , 8 comments

Director: Al Adamson  Starring: Jim Kelly, Bill Roy, Marilyn Joi  Territory: USA  Production Company: BJLJ International Corp.

Agent of D.R.A.G.O.N Robert Sand (Jim Kelly) is ordered by his shadowy bosses to save his own girlfriend from certain death at the hands of the ruthless drug lord Janicot who has kidnapped her and is holding her hostage in a tower.  Although he’s on holiday at the time, Sand grudgingly agrees to save her.  What a guy.  Blah blah voodoo rituals blah villain has own personal army blah blah blah overwhelming odds etc etc.  You know the story.

There certainly are a few revelations in this film.  The first is it’s apparently based on a novel by a guy called Marc Olden, and amazingly some of his books appear to be still in print – even after this film.  The second is that this Blaxploitation picture is a bit of a departure for the director, who was more at home in the horror/ B-movie field.  A quick glance at his filmography makes me want to go and see his films, with titles such as: Blazing Stewardesses, I Spit on your Corpse! (You’ve got to include the exclamation mark or the title just doesn’t have the impact), Lash of Lust, Blood of Ghastly Horror, Dracula Vs Frankenstein, Horror of the Blood Monsters and Satan’s Sadists.  Sadly, I understand he was murdered and hidden under the floor of his own bathroom in the 90s. 

Anyway, the film.  Everyone should know by now I like the occasional “bad film” and I don’t think they come any worse than this.  It’s utterly utterly hopeless.  The acting is some of the worst I’ve ever seen, with some delightfully bad dialogue thrown in.  The open-air end fight is strange, too: the trash talking dialogue between the two combatants seems to have been dubbed on later from a small room.  There are also some crazy ideas in here – a couple of wrestling dwarfs and an attack vulture to name but two.  But rest assured, there’s more where that came from.

Kelly hated it when the staff forgot to wear their name tags.

You’ve just got to love an organisation that calls itself D.R.A.G.O.N – you can’t help thinking of the head of the organisation sitting around at a board meeting saying, “I want an acronym, and make it sound TOUGH!” And of course we never get to find out what D.R.A.G.O.N (God, I hate typing that) stands for.  Or what it does…

Jim Kelly was expected to be a big star of the seventies after his “introduction” in Enter the Dragon, but when he made stuff like this, it’s not hard to see why it never happened.  That being said, Kelly himself is reasonably OK most of the time – it’s just the film itself that’s a stinker.

Sadly, the only currently available version of this film has many problems.  The transfer is awful.  Sub VHS, even.  Secondly, it seems to be quite badly cut (either that or the editing is worse than I thought).  There even appears to be some dubbing or obscuring of swearwords in places too.  If someone were to remaster this in its uncut form, stick a “Quentin Tarantino Presents” sticker on it and put it out on sale, I think we’d have a winner on our hands.  But presumably Jim Kelly will be too busy lookin’ goood on the tennis court to do any promotion for it.

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