Review: Foxy Brown (1974)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #788

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: April 5, 1974
Sub-Genre: Blaxploitation
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $500,000
Box Office: $2,460,000
Running Time: 94 minutes
Director: Jack Hill
Producer: Buzz Feitshans
Screenplay: Jack Hill
Cinematography: Brick Marquard
Score: Willie Hutch
Editing: Chuck McClelland
Studio: American International Pictures
Distributors: American International Pictures, Arrow Video (Blu-Ray)
Stars: Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas, Peter Brown, Kathryn Loder, Terry Carter, Harry Holcombe, Sid Haig, Juanita Brown, Bob Minor, Tony Giorgio, Fred Lerner, H.B. Haggerty, Boyd ‘Red’ Morgan

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Willie Hutch “Theme of The Mack”

[2] Willie Hutch “Theme of Foxy Brown”

[3] Willie Hutch “Ain’t That (Mellow Mellow)”

[4] Willie Hutch “Give Me Some of That Good Old Love”

[5] Willie Hutch “Theme of Foxy Brown (Reprise)”

If you asked me to list the five most influential female in modern cinema, then Pam Grier would undoubtedly figure and more than likely be sitting pretty at the very top of the pile. You see, not only did she have to contend with being a woman in a man’s world when she cut her teeth in acting at the turn of the seventies, but she also belonged to an ethnic minority and opportunities were thin on the ground back then for black Americans to land roles of any great stature. Grier is quick to point out that she is of mixed ancestry and this includes African-American, Hispanic, Chinese, Filipino and Cheyenne Indian heritage. But with the Blaxploitation movement gathering pace in the early seventies thanks to Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Gordon Parks’ Shaft, she was just the kind of role-model the black community so desperately needed.

Two men in particular were instrumental in grooming this Nubian queen to become arguably cinema’s first female action hero. The first is Roger Corman, whose production house launched her career with cult women in prison movies the likes of The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage, and later, the Godmother of all vigilante flicks Coffy. The other is exploitation daddy, Jack Hill, who directed all three of the above movies and also the one we’re here to discuss today. However, let’s just get this clear from the offset, Grier’s success is ultimately down to one person alone and that person is Grier herself. Striking, sexy, sassy, strong-willed, and just plain stupendous top to bottom – she opened some fairly hefty doors, not only for strong black women with attitude, but also ladies in general. As a product of the seventies myself, the best way I could honor this hot chocolate mama was to adorn my bedroom walls with her unmistakable voluptuous curves.

I was the first one performing cartwheels when Quentin Tarantino honored her majesty by casting her as his lead for his under-appreciated 1997 crime thriller Jackie Brown and she repaid his faith by earning a Golden Globe Award nomination for her role as the no-nonsense flight attendant. Despite spending the best part of twenty years out of the limelight, she stepped up to the plate with that playful twinkle in her eye and reminded us that not a damn thing had changed during the interim. Certain things cannot be trained and Grier’s greatest strength as an actress has always been her instinct, plain and simple. It was evident the very first time I had the distinct honor of watching her ply her trade and is the reason why she remains just as influential to this day.

It was never about “The Negro” sticking it to “The Man” for Grier and she only wished to be judged by her character, not the color of her skin or her generous measurements. There were plenty of class crusaders making a noise around the time that she rose to fame but Grier simply let her performances do the talking and left the jive-talking to those spoiling for a fight. When you consider how providential this spell at the summit was for her and the reputation that preceded her, it’s all the more refreshing that she considers herself blessed for the opportunities that came her way. Never sidetracked by bloated ego, it is her unending gratitude for being crowned the Godmother of them all that truly makes her special. In case you haven’t guessed already, I’m something of a fan of this woman’s craft.

When Foxy Brown arrived in 1974, it was actually the black community who struggled to know how to receive it. African-Americans were beginning to make in-roads socially, politically, and culturally, where her heroine appeared at odds with the image of how a black woman should conduct herself publicly. It wasn’t her vengeful wrath that got folk talking, but her willingness to pose as a call girl and disrobe for the camera that rattled cages. However, every time it appeared as though she was being made a patsy for objectification, she reminded the audience just how unshrinking she was when it came to exacting revenge on those who took her lightly. If the bad guy’s wished to ogle her delicious brown breasts then more the fool them as they’d be less likely to spot her knuckles in transit and that suited her just fine.

“She’s brown sugar and spice but if you don’t treat her nice she’ll put you on ice!”

Straight off the bat, Foxy makes it abundantly clear that she’s not the kind of chick to go out looking for trouble. Whether or not it finds her however, is another thing entirely. Right now she’s chill, but that’s all about to change as her cross-to-bear sibling Link (Antonio Fargas) hits sis up for a teensy-weensy “favor”. He seems to have gotten himself into a spot of bother while out on his evening errands and is in the process of trying to shake off the attention of a bunch of heavies looking to teach him a lesson that, by all accounts, appears long overdue. Family being family, Foxy is in no position to ignore his frantic pleas and, while making it crystallized that she’s not best pleased at playing the role of Baby Brother’s Keeper, she grabs her keys and swings by for an eleventh hour bail out, like she’s just popping out to the local 7-Eleven.

Foxy and Link may share a bloodline and have once gestated in the same womb, but that’s where any family resemblance ends. Sporting a bodacious booty that may well possess its own orbit, Foxy is a picture of serenity painted seemingly by the gods during the height of one of their creative flourishes. Unflappable in a fix, she takes it all in her stride and appears practically unshockable when it comes to her drug pushing brother’s latest lowlife antics. That doesn’t mean she has to like it and Foxy has no trouble imparting a few “home truths” in the vague hope that her peanut-headed sibling will one day heed her numerous warnings and clean up his sorry act.

If Foxy’s tight ebony punnet provides all of your daily five in one serving, then Link’s skinny black ass is the fast food equivalent and offers absolutely no nutritional value. He’s the kind of vermin that would rat out his own flesh and blood in the blink of an eye, if it meant saving his own skin. Hell, he’d do it for a gram of coke and twenty-dollar bill to snort it through, as his vision only ever extends to the next fix and repercussions nary figure into such simple calculation. So what’s a sister supposed to do? Turf this lost cause out on the street and be laying flowers on his grave by the weekend? Not our Foxy.

You see, there’s no question that Foxy Brown is a strong black woman, that much we know already. But she also lives in hope of a better world and refuses to surrender that ideal. Link may be a tad “misguided”, but Foxy lives by the rule that we all have the capacity for change and sees no reason why her brother won’t eventually grasp it also. While I’m digging the positive mental attitude Ms. Brown, it’ll take a darn sight more than spit and polish to make this particular ass turd smell any less funny. Okay, so I guess it wouldn’t hurt freeing up the couch for a couple of nights, on the condition that he gets his affairs in order pronto and ceases shitting on her doorstep.

The last thing she needs right now is her man, Michael (Terry Carter), treading in do-do straight after returning home from hospital. Keep this on the down low, but it’s actually her long-term lover Dalton beneath the silicone and he’s undergone extensive plastic surgery and a change of identity after snitching on some big time local drug barons. If loose lips sink ships, then Link’s feeble flappers are a depth charge waiting to happen. Perhaps he won’t notice the uncanny resemblance. Maybe two and two aren’t that easily lumped together when you possess the I.Q. of a bar stool. Besides, even if Link did manage to join the dots, surely he wouldn’t sell his own sister down the river right? You ever seen The African Queen? No reason it just feels strangely relevant at present.

I’d love to tell you that Foxy fetched a handsome price but, the truth is, Link’s currently rubbing the profits into his gums as we speak while her boyfriend’s laying dead in the gutter. There’s nothing like a sprinkle of happy dust to get one battle ready in the sack and, as a man of questionable moral fiber, the burden of guilt doesn’t appear to be making Link flaccid. Perhaps when he’s approaching the knee trembles with tonight’s chosen ho, he could scream out “I love you sis and I’m sorry” but I regretfully inform you that my money’s on “Call me Shaft bitch!”, with a side bet on “Yabba Dabba Doo”. Time to kick this hollow-cheeked Herbert to the curb Foxy and go grab yourself some of that fiery retribution stuff that’s currently all the rage.

No prizes for guessing who’s indirectly responsible for the death of your soul mate Foxy. What am I thinking? You were on the trail before Michael’s death rattles had subsided and it leads straight back to partners in crime, Steve Elias (Peter Brown) and Miss Kathryn Wall (Kathryn Loder). It’s not so much that killing isn’t their style, more that it needn’t be their problem with so many hoons on their books to do the dirty work for them.

Their “modeling agency” specializes in the servicing of any congressmen in the area, looking to get a load off after a hard day sitting on their fat asses and is basically a front for all manner of shady dealings. Bounding in with all guns blazing is asking for more heat than even a firecracker like you can handle as a pair of kingpins like Steve and Miss Kathryn are bound to be well protected. Which begs the question – how much space do you have in that wondrous Afro of yours?

Nice trick Foxy, and I simply must say, that’s an adorable ickle firearm you’ve got there. Better yet, it shoots real bullets. Bullets that could pass through a goon’s skull like sperm through a tissue and turn the tide swiftly in your favor, should such be required. Of course, you don’t wish to go off half-cocked when you can bide your time and see how the other half lives before the big snuff out. We’re not stupid enough to have bet against you getting your revenge in the end (Link already beat us to the bookies); but the fun has always been in the journey undertaken and I’d know that cheeky twinkle in your eye anywhere. You’re looking to partake in some shenanigans aren’t you Ms. Brown? Well then, you go girl, and I’ll slather any delicious chocolate sprinkles you leave in your wake.

Lest we not forget that you are but one woman. One breathtakingly striking, impossibly sexy, obscenely sassy, strong and independent black woman bearing a shoulder chip the size of one of Richard Roundtree’s biceps. But still but one woman. May I be so bold as to suggest a little noodle usage? Again, I should hang my head in the shame locker for expecting you not to have this shit in hand way before the penny drops in my basket.

Foxy has already hooked up with the friendly neighborhood watch committee who also happen to be proud footsoldiers of the Black Panther Party, and the brothers are only too willing to lend a hand, should she require such. If only she knew a man with a pilot’s license, then she could woo him into flying her sweet cheeks to Mexico, where Steve and Miss Kathryn’s next consignment of drugs is set to arrive and foil their dastardly plan.

Well, wouldn’t you know it. If it isn’t our old friend, Sid Haig. Actually he currently prefers to be called Hays but I’d know those wonderfully pitted features anywhere. Don’t worry Sid, your secret is safe with me. That said, given that you’ve shown up in practically every exploitation flick since the birth of the movement, I’d say that a low profile is looking decidedly unlikely at this point. Never mind that, I’m just thrilled that you made an appearance and, thanks to your complete obliviousness as to Foxy’s true intentions and the bulging erection in your pants that auto-piloted us here, she’s now within sniffing distance of her hard targets and not about to let this chance go begging.

Make no mistake, Foxy Brown belongs to one woman and one woman alone. While it’s always great to shoot the shit with Haig and Juanita Brown delights as doomed call-girl Claudia, it’s our leading lady who we can’t seem to take our eyes off for a solitary second and she whose presence elevates this way above the usual exploitation fare.

To be fair, Loder’s Miss Kathryn is a gloriously operatic villainess, oozing all manner of malicious intent and sadistic impulse. But ultimately it’s all about Foxy, just as it damn well should be. She positively purrs authenticity as our heroine, prowls like the lioness of cinema that she is, and everything outside of her personal space is rendered pretty much superfluous as a result.

If you’re a fan of Blaxploitation cinema, then Foxy Brown has the lot plus change. From outrageous outfits and huge ‘fros, to jive-talking, gun-toting hoodlums, psychedelic credits, and a superbad score from Willie Hutch, it’s all present and correct. Sure, some of the dialogue and delivery is laced with cheese but I always was a whore for dairy and, over forty years on, Hill’s brand of cheddar has matured rather splendidly.

However, it’s Grier who makes my milk curdle and Foxy’s secret ‘fro holster that makes me curse my Anglo-Saxon heritage the most. Majestic, iconic and positively dripping with cool, she’s a whole lotta woman for damn sure and I’m not just speaking of the ample bust and booty combo either. Above all else, her purpose is greater than her pain, and there’s a message I’m sure we can relate to. Now if you wouldn’t mind terribly clearing up Foxy, I’ll leave you to take out the trash.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Read Jackie Brown Appraisal
Read Death Proof Appraisal
Read Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Appraisal
Read Beneath The Valley of The Ultra Vixens Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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