Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Film Appreciation - The Baddest One-Chick Hit-Squad That Ever Hit Town!

Cody Hamman plays favorites while giving the Film Appreciation treatment to 1973's Coffy.

Growing up, I was familiar with actress Pam Grier from her roles in films like Above the Law, Class of 1999, Escape from L.A., and Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, but I didn't know the movies that had made her a legendary star. I knew she had done some incredible things in the 1970s, but I hadn't seen those movies. I knew Pam Grier, but then again I didn't really know her... Not until I saw writer/director Jack Hill's 1973 blaxploitation classic Coffy.

It was when I watched Coffy that Pam Grier became one of my all-time favorite movie stars.

Grier stars as Flower Child Coffin (you can see why we just call her Coffy), a woman who seems to have it all together. She's a capable nurse, she's good friends with a police officer ex who still carries a torch for her, and she's dating a city councilman who is planning to run for Congress. But she comes from a family of hustlers and drug addicts, and she has been heartbroken to see her eleven-year-old sister fall prey to the same old dangers, getting hooked on pills and heroin and ending up in a rehab center. Coffy is so devastated by this that she has even embarked on a mission of revenge.

Coffy would like to see the death of anyone it takes to get drugs off the streets, from the street pushers all the way down the line to the "poor farmer in Turkey or Vietnam" who harvested the crop. When we're first introduced to her, she's pretending to be strung out so she can lure a pusher and his lackey, who is apparently directly responsible for providing her sister with drugs, to their deaths. She shoots one and gives the other a fatal overdose, and I don't know how any viewer could help but become smitten when a busty, afro-sporting Pam Grier pulls out a sawed-off double barreled shotgun, delivers the line "This is the end of your rotten life, you motherf-in' dope pusher!", and fires it directly into the villain's face.

Coffy shows some remorse in the aftermath of these murders, but when her good cop ex gets brutally beaten for not taking bribes and getting involved with drug-running criminals, it strengthens her resolve. Mobster Arturo Vitroni and a flashy pimp called King George become her top two targets.

The first stop on Coffy's quest to bring the bad guys down is to get information from one of King George's former girls, a woman named Priscilla who is played by Carol Lawson - an actress I know much better as Carol Locatell, the name she had when she played the unforgettably foul-mouthed and trashy Ethel in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning twelve years later. Unfortunately, Lawson/Locatell only has one scene in this film.

Putting on a Jamaican accent, Coffy then infiltrates King George's business, becoming his latest girl-for-hire and instantly stirring up a whole lot of trouble. She causes trouble within the ranks of the King's women - his #1 girl Meg is extremely jealous of her, leading to a knock-down cat fight with multiple wardrobe malfunctions - and also between King George and his business associate Vitroni.

Once Vitroni realizes that Coffy is bad news, she ends up having to deal with his henchmen, one of whom is played by iconic character actor Sid Haig. Grier and Haig had already worked together three times before this, in The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage, and Black Mama White Mama. (Both of those "Big" movies were directed by Jack Hill.) She also discovers that she has enemies in places she never would have expected.

With weapons hidden in her afro, Coffy makes her way through this dangerous world with a badass attitude and scrappy fighting skills. If there were a less capable actress in the title role the whole thing could fall apart, but Grier effortlessly carries the film on her shoulders and shines brightly while doing so.

Coffy is a sterling example of an exploitation grindhouse/drive-in movie; its fast-paced and fun 90 minutes are full of violence, nudity, politically incorrect dialogue, questionable situations, and excellent '70s-style music. My favorite character in the movie aside from Coffy herself is Robert DoQui's King George, and that largely has to do with the song that kicks in on the soundtrack as soon as he appears in his ridiculous pimp outfit, the lyrics letting us know that this is one cool dude.

This is my favorite blaxploitation movie and has one of my favorite actresses in the lead. Coffy is pure, joyful entertainment.

No comments:

Post a Comment