Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Jones Doesn't Need To Wear A Black Belt For People To Know He Has It

I picked up this 4-pack of blaxploitation films in August, but until this weekend I hadn't gotten around to watching any of them. I'd read an article Greg Hatcher wrote about these four on Comics Should Be Good almost 2 years ago, talking about how they were the sorts of films which inspired Black Dynamite, which I really like, and that was enough to sell me on buying the collection when I happened across it.

So, Black Belt Jones. Jim Kelly plays the title character, and after initially refusing an assignment to infiltrate Don Steffano's compound and steal some incriminating photos, he instead gets drawn into trying to defend the martial arts school set up in his old neighborhood by Pop Byrd (played by Scatman Crothers). Pop owes a little money to the local big man, Pinky, who also happens to work for Stefano, who is interested in owning that property, since there's a big civic development project planned that would make it worth a fortune. Pop won't sell, he ends up dead, but he left the school to "Sidney" (Gloria Hendry), who turns out to be his daughter, not seen since she was a child, who returns looking for revenge, and teams up with Jones to take everyone down.

I was not at all sure how I'd like this, but I wound up enjoying it immensely. The film doesn't seem to take itself entirely seriously, so I didn't have to, either. Which meant I could enjoy the outsized characters. Pinky alternating between calling everyone who opposes him "ants", and accusing them of being communists. The young militants who insist he stop dealing drugs? Commies. The karate students who ask him to remove his shoes as a sign of respect? Commies. And he taught me some slang I'd never heard. He explains to Steffano's men he's bringing in some A-1 Bogarts from San Francisco, as explains this means 'Treacherous {n-word}.' I'd figured, since they were discussing finding Sidney, he meant private investigators, but no. Learn something every day.

The action sequences were pretty. Kelly's agile, so he makes all the leaping around look suitably impressive. I thought Hendry sold her kicks and chops better. She really made them look stiff, like she put some oomph behind them. There's one bit where she saves this kid Quincy from a big goon pointing a shotgun at him. She gets behind the guy and just starts chopping him in the neck repeatedly until he fell down. You could believe Sidney was pissed off. I was curious about how much they invested in throwing people. Lots of people getting hurled through windows. I assume it was all breakaway glass - and it's all shown in slo-mo, so hopefully no one was actually getting hurt - but it looked like it would hurt.

Really enjoyed the theme for the film, by Dennis Coffey. It doesn't seem too complicated, but it's this nice mix of something poppy in someone singing, and then the music has a little more funk, I guess, to the beat. I've been singing it to myself off and on for the last two days.

One of Steffano's guys - who the captions identified as "Blue Eyes" - showed up at Pinky's in this outfit that reminded me of Cyclops' recent hideous costume. The black one with the red lines on it, and the big red X visor/hood/mask? Blue Eyes didn't have the visor, but he was wearing a black suit with red trim, and these pale red shades. I got a good laugh out of imagining he was Scott Summers. Especially when Jones is kicking him in the face during the big car wash fight scene.

I love the fact Jones and Sidney undertake this dangerous mission to get the photos and steal Steffano's money to pay Pop's debt to Pinky, and it only fools Steffano's guys for like 5 minutes. They confront Pinky, yell at him about having his guys flying around stealing stuff, Pinky points out his men are a bunch of fat, stupid slobs, and the mob guys basically respond with, "Oh, yeah. He's right about that." Just funny to go to all that effort for such little gain.

I wasn't sure about the scene with Jones and Sidney on the beach, where they were flirting, then she basically dared him to overpower her, then he;s chasing her around the beach and she's fighting him off? That was a little creepy, especially because it's the middle of the day on a public beach and apparently nobody thinks anything of this guy chasing this woman around, even when she kicks him in the stomach whenever he grabs her.

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