Posts Tagged ‘arthur marks’

detroit-9000-movie-poster-1998-1020196370

 

Arthur Marks has certainly been getting a lot of love around these parts lately, hasn’t he? Recently I more or less politely begged for a long-overdue reappraisal of his fine Pam Grier flick Friday Foster, and today I’m here to spread the good word about what is undoubtedly his absolute masterwork (a term regular readers of this site will know I don’t toss around loosely), 1973’s Detroit 9000.

Honestly, this is one of those movies I probably should have reviewed ages ago, but now’s as good a  time as any seeing as how Lionsgate has recently re-released it on DVD alongside The Mighty Peking Man and Jack Hill’s Swtichblade Sisters in a nifty little package called “Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures Triple Feature,” Tarantino having acquired the rights to all three titles back in the 1990s for the midnight screening/revival circuit. None of the films contain any extra features to speak of, but they do feature nicely remastered widescreen transfers and perfectly serviceable mono sound, and seeing as how the disc retails for under ten bucks from most online outlets — well, how many ways can you say “essential purchase?”

But enough with the free plug for Lionsgate product. What sets Detroit 9000 apart from much of the other blaxploitation fare of the time (a category which this flick may or may not actually fall into — it’s certainly debatable) is the intelligence and extra level of humanity and characterization that Marks, his fine cast, and screenwriter Orville H. Hampton inject into the proceedings. Sure, this is a pretty goddamn violent pressure-cooker of a flick, with uneasy police partners Lt. Danny Bassett (the legendary-in-my-book Alex Rocco) and Sgt. Jesse Williams (Hari Rhodes) tasked with tracking down the armed masked men who ripped off $400,000 from a black-tie fundraiser for ethically-questionable African-American congressman Aubrey Hale Clayton (Rudy Challenger), and okay, Scatman Crothers pops up along the way as — gosh, what a shocker — a crooked preacher-man, and fair enough, some bits of dialogue are “borrowed” directly from Dirty Harry, as is a heavy dose of atmosphere,  but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a slice of B-movie bad-ass-ness worth taking seriously.

60180380

 

For one thing, nobody here is a saint. Both leads are deeply flawed, all-too-human individuals, and Rocco and Rhodes turn in superb performances that bring out all the nuances in the script. This is an intelligent story delivered by intelligent performers with a firm grasp on the surprising subtlety inherent in the material. sure, the old “this is a conspiracy that reaches all the way to the top” angle was predictable even by 1973, but come on — would you honestly have it any other way? Some things become formulaic simply because — well, they work. And Detroit 9000 doesn’t just work, it works overtime, providing a very real sense of the intense political weight being brought to bear on these guys to crack this case open, and crack it open quickly. As long as they find an “acceptable” solution, of course —

And that means, of course, even more stress for our fallible-yet-intrepid twosome, since it’s a lead-pipe cinch that the answers they find aren’t going to be what the higher-ups want to hear. Rest assured, though — in a world where the good guy aren’t so great, the presumed bad guys aren’t necessarily so bad, either (even when they are, if you get my meaning), so definitely expect a few surprises along the way.

PDVD_002

 

Marks, absolute master of pacing that he is, keeps things moving along at a very nice clip here, and there’s never a dull moment — the action scenes are explosive and fraught with drama and tension, but even the quieter moments aren’t so quiet as every word in every off-handed exchange does at least something to propel the main narrative forward. This is a very economical film (both metaphorically and, I’m sure, literally), and the always-resourceful Arthur doesn’t waste a frame. Run to the kitchen or bathroom and you’re guaranteed to miss something — good thing for that “pause” button.

PDVD_021

 

Detroit’s a simmering powder keg of barely-subsumed racial tensions here, as well, and that only adds to the brooding-bordering-on-oppressive vibe that this film captures. Anything could happen at any moment — look at a guy the wrong way and things are gonna blow sky high. Any alliances formed are temporary, purely for the sake of expediency, and susceptible to fracture without a moment’s notice. Buckle up, folks — the road start out bumpy and it only gets bumpier. All of which is fun, of course, but it means you’ve gotta keep your wits about you, as well — and trust me, when the shit hits the fan at the end, you’ll be glad you did.

mighty-peking-detroit

 

There’s no two ways about it, friends — Detroit 9000 (the title refers to a distress code on the police radio band, if you were wondering) is the real deal. There’s no slack in its act. It’s not afraid to get its hands dirty because they were never clean to begin with. Good times are fun and all, but they’re transitory, fleeting; the best times come with a price and force you to remember them, even when it’s inconvenient. This flick is a terrific piece of crime drama from start to finish, but it demands — and takes — its pound of flesh along the way. Get your ass off my blog and watch it right now.

friday_foster_01

So, I gotta ask — how come Arthur Marks’ 1975 Pam Grier starring vehicle Friday Foster doesn’t get a little bit more respect?

Okay, I’ll grant you — it’s not Coffy or anything, but Grier plays a feisty, intelligent, liberated woman who’s just as comfortable using her brains as her body to crack the case she’s working; she thinks on her feet (and yeah, okay, sometimes on her back); she mixes it up with the likes of Carl Weathers, Ted Lange (who plays pretty much the best movie pimp ever here), Godfrey Cambridge,  Thalmus Rasulala, Scatman Crothers, Yaphet Kotto and none other than Eartha Kitt herself; and if all that ain’t enough for ya, she gets naked a lot.

And yet — -despite all this, and despite a typically solid, workmanlike job from Marks (who also gave us Bucktown and Detroit 9000, among others), it seems this film is considered one of Pam’s weaker efforts, down there with the likes of Sheba, Baby.

This, dear friends, troubles me deeply.

Well, okay — not deeply. In fact, it’s probably not even fair to say that it “troubles” me at all. Maybe “perplexed” is a better word.  Shall we go with that?

grierrasulala-friday-foster

So here’s the rundown — Grier  plays an intrepid ex-model-turned-freelance photographer named, of course, Friday Foster, who gets more than she bargained for when, one night while trying to secretly catch a few snapshots of a guy named Blake Tarr (Rasulala), the “richest black man in America,” she actually witnesses his attempted assassination! Needless to say she’s soon thrown into a web of intrigue that sees her team up with grizzled P.I. Kotto, attempt to avoid being wiped out herself by hitman Weathers, try to coax the truth out of gay suspect Cambridge, match wits with dirty (in more ways than one) preacher Crothers, fight off the employment advances of — uhhmmm — “procurer” Lange, put up with the deliciously catty egotism of fashion designer Kitt, and eventually blow the lid off a scheme to kill basically every important black person in the country! Throw in none other than Jim Backus, better knows as Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s Island, as a racist politician, and again, I must ask — what’s not to love?

Okay, Pam doesn’t mix it up lady-street-fighter-style with anyone here, relying more on her wits, brains, and undeniable charm rather than her fists, but there’s still plenty of action on offer , and Marks moves things along at nice, snappy pace. There ain’t a dull moment to be had and the whole thing’s pure fun from start to finish. Yet folks seem to think this was the beginning of the end for Pam. I’d ask why one more time at this point, but I really hate repeating myself (too much), and anyway, I have no desire to bore you good folks.

167832_512x288_generated

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that this is a movie with, believe it or not, a certain amount of historical significance, since it’s based on Jim Lawrence and Jorge Longeron’s  newspaper comic strip of the same name — the first syndicated strip to feature an African American lead character. Take that, Boondocks! For whatever reason, the strip’s largely forgotten these days, but I’ve included a brief sample below just to give you a little taste of what it was like.

Friday-Foster-Comic-Strip

Friday Foster is available as a bare-bones, extras-free DVD from MGM/UA as part of their Soul Cinema collection (nicely-remastered widescreen picture, good enough mono sound) and is definitely worth another look if you haven’t seen it in some time — or worth a first look if you’ve never seen it at all. I feel quite confident you’ll walk away as — what was the word  we settled on again? — oh yeah, perplexed as I am as to why this isn’t a better-regarded example of blaxploitation cinema, since it’s got more or less everything you could possibly want and then some.

27616857866_p0_v1_s260x420

What’s not to love? You tell me. I honestly can’t figure it out for the life of me.

"Bonnie's Kids" Movie Poster

If you’re looking for the prototype exploitation film, the one that has it all and then some, then friends, look no further than writer-director Arthur Marks’ 1973 low-budget opus Bonnie’s Kids.

First off, there’s the matter of the title — Bonnie And Clyde, despite being a couple years old, was still doing brisk box-office business at the time — and as the titular Bonnie in this film, the mother of the two protagonists we’ll get to in a moment, is dead, and never so much appears even in flashbacks, this flick’s name is an obvious cash-in attempt to “tie in” with the Faye Dunaway-Warren Beatty classic.

So far, so good. Let’s turn our attention, then, to the advertising campaign. Just take a look at that poster, dear readers — it features the lead actress’s (highly exaggerated, of course) measurements prominently displayed! I ask you, does it get any better than that? Your host thinks not.

Next up there’s the matter of the cast — exploitation veterans all around, from Tiffany Bolling (The Candy Snatchers, The Centerfold Girls) to Alex Rocco (Brute Corps, The Wild Riders) to Steve Sandor (Stryker, The No Mercy Man) to Robin Mattson (Candy Stripe Nurses, Phantom of the Paradise).

And finally, of course, there’s the plot — or rather, the sheer, perverse tawdriness of so many of the plot elements. Bad-news sisters Ellie (Bolling) and Myra (Mattson) Thomas, a small-town waitress and high school student, respectively, live with their good-for-nothing alcoholic stepfather, a guy so foul even his own poker buddies hate his guts and tell him so, frequently. One night after the game breaks up, step-daddy overhears Myra engaging in a little titillating phone talk with one of the many junior Romeo pricks she’s teasing. Slapping the phone out of her hand, he picks her up and hits her, kicking and screaming, to the bedroom. As he attempts to mount her, Ellie walks in and, resisting his charming entreaties to “come over and join them” and “give stepdaddy a kiss, like when you were a little girl” (or words to that effect), she decides, instead, to pull out a shotgun and blow his ass to kingdom come.  And did I mention (okay, I didn’t) that Myra’s phone frolicking takes places after she’s already taken a shower in full view of the leering eyes of both her stepdad’s poker pals and the local cops?

So we’ve already got bare teenage boobs, voyeurism, phone sex, attempted rape, implied child molestation, pseudo-incest, and bloody murder of a (sort of) family member — before the opening credits even roll!

From there’s things just get sleazier. Ellie and Myra split town and seek out their rich uncle, Ben, a fashion-industry mogul who puts them up on his expansive ranch-cum-estate and has a little plan : a couple of his —ahem! — “associates” (the aforementioned Rocco and Scott Brady) are arranging to pick up a package he’s sending them at the local bus station, but first Ben needs  someone to drop the package off, and the thugs he’s dealing with need someone to pick it up and bring it to another bus station, where it will be shipped to the one they intend to pick it up at (unnecessarily convoluted? You betcha). Ben enlists Ellie’s help to bring the package tothe drop-off-spot, a relatively seedy motel, and the two sorta-gangsters hire a dim-witted private eye (Sandor) to pick it up from her and take it to the Greyhound terminal for shipment.

At this point the two sisters, pictured as essentially inseparable in most of the film’s advertising, are split up — for the rest of the movie. While the main plot revolves around Ellie and her newfound PI boyfriend opening the package to discover a half-million dollars in cash, at which point she decides their best bet is to make off with it, the film turns back to Myra solely, it seems, to keep the sleaze quotient high.

The two we're supposed to thank God Bonnie stopped after

Not that Ellie’s story is, you know, classy — there’s plenty of pure, unadulterated raunchiness going on there, including gratuitous nudity (Bolling, a prototypical good-lookin’ 70s blonde bombshell bares almost all, I’m willing to bet, in every single movie she was ever in), amoral (we’ll get back to that word shortly) theft from a family member, the (temporary) selling out of her new boyfriend in order to get a shot at all the cash to herself, and the calculated making-up with the guy (guess he’s a real sucker) when she needs his help. Oh, and there’s accidental murder along the way, too — the two toughs kill the wrong couple in another motel room and Ellie and her beau mistakenly do away with the guy she’s trying to catch a ride off in her attempt to abscond with the cash by herself (it’s a long story).

But geez, our gal Ellie is positively a candidate for sainthood compared to her kid sister.

Back at Uncle Ben’s, Myra is busy bedding an older ranch-hand more out of boredom than anything else, stealing trinkets from her aunt, and teasing said aunt, a lecherous older lesbian, with her teenage charms in order to woo stuff out of her when she realizes that outright theft probably won’t be necessary.

And now we get back to that word amoral again. It’s pretty clear that either one of Bonnie’s little darlings will do whatever it takes to get them selves ahead, and when the aunt who’s taken a shine to young Myra is — uhhhmmm — “dispatched” from the ranch, in a truly shocking manner, the younger sister shows no more qualms about it than the elder does in selling out the guy who’s been risking his as for her.

And that streak or amorality plays all the way through to the film’s conclusion, when Ellie and her fella finally come face-to-face with the two small-time gangsters (and by the way, Rocco and Brady’s characters are the obvious prototypes — there’s that word again,  I guess amoral isn’t the only “Pee-Wee’s Word of the Day” in effect here — for John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s cons in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction) who’ve been on their tails, precluding the happy reunion of the two sisters (I’ll spare the specifics, since you really need to see this flick) at the end — and Myra, true to form ,brushes off the nixed meeting with astonishing nonchalance.

"Bonnie's Kids" DVD from Dark Sky Films

After years of clamoring from fans, Bonnie’s Kids has just been released on DVD from Dark Sky Films. For a so-called “Special Edition” it’s pretty light on the extras, but there are theatrical and TV ad spots included, and he disc features a fairly comprehensive interview with Arthur Marks (who also gave us exploitation gems like Bucktown and Detroit 9000 among other exploitation gems). The remastered anamorphic picture looks great and the mono audio track is crisp, clean, and largely distortion-free. A commentary would’ve been nice, but on the whole it’s a fairly solid little package.

There are better drive-in/grindhouse movies than Bonnie’s Kids, but few that tick off so many boxes on the unofficial comprehensive exploitation checklist. It’s sleazy, it’s violent, it’s surprisingly dark in tone and nihilistic, and there’s very little by way of pure filler in its 105-minute run time. Whatever you’re looking for in a B-movie sleazefest, this one;s got it, along with plenty you probably quite frankly weren’t looking for. You certainly couldn’t make a film anything like this today, it’s a sheer product of its time.

You’ll enjoy it, and hate yourself for enjoying it. What more could you possibly ask for?