Classic film is not confined to black and white pictures of the ” Golden Age.” Many were glorious imitations of what has been done before, and that is comforting. You will find occasional seismic changes such as the Production Code altering the precode era to the advent of post war film noir. What became known as Blaxplotation film gave way in the upheaval of the early seventies with a push from people who are not represented even today fairly and justly in film. The very best of these, if not without controversy, was FOXY BROWN (1974), along with BLACK CAESAR (1973). They kicked the doors in.
Hey man ..give me five…. don’t give me the jive because FOXY BROWN is alive? Yes.. dust off those white bell bottoms with the tight waist, toss on a patterned shirt and some jewelry that will tip the average persons head over onto their chest and get ready because Jack Hill’s 1974 urban violent Blaxplotation hit film is on blu-ray. Oh yes, and did I mention it’s set to a cool funky soundtrack by Willie Hutch well before the style was readily available?
FOXY BROWN ( 1974), along with SHAFT (1971), and COFFEY (1973) were three essential pillars of what was known as Blaxplotation film. While not exactly a politically correct term, Blaxplotation supposedly was coined by Mario Van Peebles for a series of pictures that allowed Black actors and actresses to do the same thing that white actors at the time were doing in films such as DIRTY HARRY (1971), MAGNUM FORCE (1973) , MACON COUNTY LINE (1974) , and the Charlie Bronson DEATHWISH series. These pictures were targeted for the urban marginalized markets in inner cities who could identify with the people, settings, and situations. I would suggest that the genesis goes farther back to Russ Meyer’s female empowerment film with guns and fast cars; that masterpiece of cool, FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL (1965). Director Jack Hill has the formula going here: the car chase, the drug lords, and the kidnapping and abuse of the lead character. It is how FOXY BROWN does it that is different and stylish.
This film starts with a street hustler named Link Brown, (Antonio Vargas), cringing in a bar full of police officers. He’s trying to wait out a bunch of thugs who want to beat him for holding out on a loan from losses incurred from street gambling schemes. In desperation, he calls his tough sister Foxy (Pam Greer,) to bail him out yet again. Foxy runs some of the thugs into the river in her car. Afterwards, Link pleads to her that he’ll live the straight life if he can hide out at her pad for a while. Foxy reluctantly agrees.
Later, Foxy goes to visit her boyfriend Dalton Ford (Terry Carter) in hospital , an undercover officer who has been investigating the same crime-ring that Link owed money to. The hoodlums thought they’d killed him, but he really ended up in hospital for plastic surgery to give him a new and safe identity. Emerging as handsome Michael Anderson, he and Foxy hope to start life anew. On the streets, they encounter a black gang who beat and run drug pushers out of town. Foxy introduces Michael to the freeloading Link, and Link acts suspicious. Link leaves Michael and Foxy to themselves, but later looks at some newspaper cuttings and adds two and two together. There is an enormous debt to pay … and this kind of information could clear that debt. No sooner does Foxy think her life will be smooth, than Michael crashes through her door, breathing his last and shot to death. With some detective work, the grieving and raging Foxy soon tracks Link down at his girlfriend’s, and as they snort coke she storms in on them. Livid with anger, Foxy won’t kill her own brother, but she does force the identity of Michael’s killers out of him, then forces him to leave the city. And so Foxy is out for vengeance, and she does it well. It seems this way with most action stars pushed to limits.
The evil, sadistic villains in this case, who run the dug empire, are in the persons of Steve Elias (Peter Brown), and Katherine Wall (Kathyrn Loder); who looks a little like Carolyn Jones. Interesting relationship between these two. They feign physical contact,going through the motions only to find that their real love is drugs and the power that they bring. Like most villains, they have a cast of repulsive henchman at their disposal for the dirty work.
Vengeance gets derailed with a series of incidences, such as a graphic kidnap and assault scene at a farm by some good old country boys who keep Foxy happy by shooting her up with drugs. Exacting her pound of flesh in a flaming escape, to being piloted in a plane to a meeting by a young Sid Haig, leading to a firefight and a special personal delivery to the drug lord’s girlfriend Katherine Wall.
FOXY BROWN blu- ray is a feast for the eyes in all its seventies glory. Every fold, every color, every pattern is shown is bright and crisp. The interiors are well done with the bric a brac and odd colors. The night exteriors are well shown, as black levels contrast nicely with the colors. The exterior scenes have a slight haze in them, particularly the country scenes, perhaps having to do with the heat of the day or the smog situation at that time.
Soundtrack wonderfully different for the time of funky guitars with wah wah pedals going and in car chases mixed in. What makes it different is that these films set the pattern for what was heard in TV series of the seventies such as THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and CHARLIE’S ANGELS. The second track mixed in is commentary from director Jack Hill telling us his thoughts on the film. You will be singing the title song FOXY BROWN along with the end credits.
FOXY BROWN blu-ray comes with a good selection of extras for an enhanced experience. Director Hill related how he had wanted FOXY BROWN to be a sequel to COFFY (1973) which also starred Pam Grier. Asher thought he had created a franchise character for a series, but the studio said no. Asher also mentions he was not in favor of the ripoff of the James Bond style of titles for FOXY BROWN that open the picture. A 25 minute look at Blaxplotation cinema is included, called BACK TO BLACK THE BRILLIANCE OF BLAXSPLOITATON. A 19 minute interview with stunt man Bob Minor called NOT A MINOR INFLUENCE, explaining how the film launched his Hollywood career. Theatrical trailers for FOXY BROWN, COFFEY, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, THE BIG BIRD CAGE, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS and SORCERESS plus a slightly longer black and white promo for Jack Hill/Sid Haig film PIT STOP. Quality varies in these selection due to print preservation but still adds to the experience.
The controversy was that FOXY BROWN (1974) perpetuated the stereotypes of Black culture having to do with drugs and violence. This was long before BLACK PANTHER (2018) was on the screen. Women’s groups found resorting to violence overshadowed that Pam Grier’s character was strong willed and was doing necessary work. Much like today, FOXY BROWN (1974) objectifies women, particularly Black women. It is not a reach to say, skin color aside, that without FOXY BROWN (1974) you would not have strong female roles such as Ripley in ALIEN, Sarah Conner in THE TERMINATOR plus the work of the late John Singleton and current film makers like Jordan Peele. There is much work to be done in the on screen portrayal of people other than white and male.
FOXY BROWN (1974 is a good high octane, fun, visceral, story with an undercurrent of “Power to the people.” It is a slice out of time with its colors, music, slang and seventies production values that set a pattern easily seen today with only the music style changing. FOXY BROWN really is as her brother says, “That’s my sister..she’s a whole lotta woman.”