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Her rise to cinema greatness began as receptionist at the legendary American International Pictures. Director Jack Hill realized she had star potential and took her to the Philippines to make her name in classic women prison flicks. When she got back to America, she was a free woman and still told people to take a seat as the lead of three films for American International Pictures. Now these three are coming out on Blu-ray so you can adore Pam Grier in high definition. Coffy, Foxy Brown and Friday Foster show her in the lead with an “I’m going to take care of this” attitude.
Coffy (1973) reminds us that there were more roles for a black actress than being a hooker or the help. Grier is a nurse who moonlights as a crimefighting avenger. You’d think she had it all with a great job at the hospital and a boyfriend on the verge of being a Congressman. But she’s dealing with the trauma of her little sister being screwed up by bad drugs. She’s out to destroy every dealer, pimp and kingpin responsible. She’s willing to forget her healing nature and break out a sawed off shotgun. Her vengeful nature gets elevated when a childhood friend gets in trouble for refusing to take money from a mobster (M*A*S*H*‘s Allan Arbus). Can Coffy keep it together long enough to smash those that destroy society? Coffy is a masterpiece of the era as it dares to expose the real way that hard drugs get into the veins of the kids. Pam Grier is masterful as she goes undercover to get close to her victims. She’s willing to play to drugged up hooker to get close enough to kill the evil pimp. Arbus should be commended for being the first man to impersonate Christopher Walken nearly four years before Walken would arrive on the scene. When he seduces Grier, Arbus predicts The Continental sketch on Saturday Night Live. Also along for the ride is Grier’s old women prison co-star Sid Haig. He’s slick as a mobster hitman who really wants another taste of Grier.
Foxy Brown (1974) was her follow up with a similar tone yet a completely different character from Coffy. This time she’s dating a federal agent who has to undergo major plastic surgery. She’s likes her man’s new look. But she has a major frustration in her life with a hustler brother (Starsky and Hutch‘s Antonio Fargas). Fargas is always in trouble with the man. Why? Because he’s dealing dope. When mobsters take out Pam’s boyfriend, she naturally suspects her brother has snitched him out for a price. But after giving him a sibling beating using hot lead, she gets a hotter lead as to the real killers. She must infiltrate a modeling agency that’s really the front for mobsters. It’s run by the uptight Miss Katherine (Kathryn Loder). Can she get her revenge before being sniffed out? Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects) returns for yet another pairing with the fine Pam Grier. Why didn’t these two marry? Also in the cast is Terry Carter from Battlestar Galactica. Director Jack Hill makes a revenge drama that’s equal to Coffy in both action and sizzle of Pam Grier. Willie Hutch’s soundtrack once more makes the film feel like a big production while it was made on a shoestring.
Friday Foster (1975) let Pam Grier slide into the role of a photojournalist. This was based on a newspaper comic strip that seemed to come to an end around the time the film went into production. This is an extremely important film since it adapted a comic strip that starred a black female lead with a black actress. The production brought together many of the leading actors of the era and a few that were on the path to being iconic. Friday works for a major magazine. Her editor (Live and Let Die‘s Julius Harris) assigns her to cover the landing of a mysterious private plane. Also showing up for the arrival is Carl Weathers (Rocky) with a greeting part of a few guns. The passenger is the really rich Thalmus Rasulala (Blacula). When Grier publishes photos of the ambush, she also finds herself a target of the killers. She gets protection from Yaphet Kotto (Alien). But does she really needs protection when she’s able to take care of herself? Ultimately Friday uncovers a plot that goes all the way to the top in order to keep a powerful black man down. Among the conspiracy is Eartha Kitt (Batman), Godfrey Cambridge (Watermelon Man), Jim Backus (Gilligan’s Island), Scatman Crothers (The Shining) and Ted Lange (The Love Boat). Friday Foster is important culturally since it starred a black actress and was adapted from a newspaper comic strip that featured a black character in the lead. That’s still a rare event for the 21st Century.
Pam Grier continued to have an active career over the decades in movies and TV shows. She isn’t stuck in the ’70s. She established herself as a cinema force. Her work in Coffy, Friday Foster and Foxy Brown are rare in releases from today’s Hollywood studios. When was the last time an action film came out with a black woman in the lead? Halle Berry as Catwoman in 2004 might be the answer. Even when they let Zoe Saldana star in Colombiana, she played a Colombian and not an American citizen. Pam Grier broke stereotypes of what characters a black actress could portray on the screen. Sadly so few others have been allowed to follow in her footsteps. While Coffy, Foxy Brown and Friday Foster aren’t being sold as a boxset, it’s hard to imagine only having to chose one. How can you resist the goddess that is Pam Grier in glorious 1080p?
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic on all three films. The Blu-ray transfers bring out the beauty of Pam Grier on the screen. There prints look fine for films were shot on a low budget and fast schedule. The audio is DTS-HD stereo. The mix is fine for hearing Pam’s sweet voice, the soulful scores and the buttkickings.
No bonus features.
Coffy, Foxy Brown and Friday Foster made Pam Grier a cinema icon with her fearless ways on screen. The movie remaining entertaining action four decades later. All three deserve a space in the National Film Registry.
Olive Films presents Coffy. Directed by Jack Hill. Starring: Pam Grier, Allan Arbus, Sid Haig & Robert DoQui. Rated: R. Running Time: 90 minutes. Released: June 9, 2015.
Olive Films presents Foxy Brown. Directed by Jack Hill. Starring: Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas, Sid Haig & Peter Brown. Rated: R. Running Time: 93 minutes. Released: June 9, 2015.
Olive Films presents Friday Foster. Directed by Arthur Marks. Starring: Pam Grier, Ted Lange, Eartha Kitt, Jim Backus & Scatman Crothers. Rated: R. Running Time: 90 minutes. Released: June 9, 2015.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.