Fox in a Box: Featuring Pam Grier
February 27, 2006
Jack Hill, William Girdler,
Starring: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert Doqui, William Elliott, Sid Haig, Peter Brown, Terry Carter, Antonio Fargas, Austin Stoker, D’Urville Martin, Rudy Challenger, Christopher Joy,
Fox in a Box essentially repackages three vintage Pam Grier Blaxploitation films that had been previous released separately but now with a bonus disc that pays tribute to this enduring cinematic icon. Watching these movies reinforces what an incredible force of nature she was (and continues to be). She was a gorgeous-looking heroine who was tough, sexy (with an irresistible, voluptuous figure) and the brains to back it up. She got her start with B-movie mogul Roger Corman who cast her in women in prison movies, The Big Bird Cage (1971) and The Big Doll House (1971). But it was her starring roles in Blaxploitation movies that cemented her reputation and made her the icon that she is today.
Grier’s breakthrough film and the one that firmly established her as the Queen of the Blaxploitation genre was Coffy (1973). She plays a nurse by day and a vigilante by night who is tired of all the drugs claiming young lives in her neighbourhood and so she decides to do something about it. The opening scene sees her posing as a junkie so that she can get closer to the drug dealer who got her little sister hooked. Coffy confronts the dealer and blows his head apart with a sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun and forces his junkie sidekick to shoot-up a lethal dose of heroin.
Her friends include a black beat cop and her lover, a black congressman. The cop is incorruptible and so, he’s beaten close to death by thugs (“It doesn’t look so good, Coffy,” the doctor tells her, “Brain damage.”). This is the last straw for her and she decides to take down the whole drug racket once and for all. Coffy infiltrates the organization posing as a high class hooker from Jamaica named Mystique and makes the scene in a low cut red dress that shows off her impressive cleavage.
Coffy features an eccentric cast of character actors, like horror genre veteran Sid Haig as a menacing bodyguard for the head of the dope syndicate, played by Allan Arbus who showed up on T.V. as the more sensible psychiatrist on MASH. Perhaps, one of the most memorable scenes in the movie is a girl fight between Coffy and several jealous hookers at a swanky party. Of course, someone gets their top ripped off during the fight and when one girl tries to rip out Coffy’s hair she gets a wig full of razor blades for her troubles!
Foxy Brown (1974) was originally intended to be the sequel to Coffy but the studio didn’t think that sequels would do well and made changes at the last minute. Foxy (Grier) rescues her no-good brother (Fargas) from loan sharks only to have him snitch out her boyfriend (Carter), who was an undercover narcotic’s agent, to the crime syndicate for her troubles. He’s killed and Foxy decides to get revenge by infiltrating the syndicate as, you guessed it, a hooker (this time around named Misty Cotton) and work her way up the drug food chain.
In typical Grier fashion, she plays a woman who knows how to take care of herself and those she loves. In the opening moments of the film she rescues her brother in a daring chase that has her toss one thug into the water with her car. She even visits her man at the hospital and provides her own kind of physical therapy before a nurse interrupts them.
There are plenty of fist fights, shoot-outs, car chases, nudity (it only takes six minutes into the film for Grier to take her top off) and hilariously dated “hip” dialogue. Best of all, we get to see Foxy stick it to the man as she destroys a drug syndicate controlled by white racists. Beyond all of this, Foxy Brown really does try to address problems plaguing the black community. Early on, Foxy’s brother complains that he sees all kinds of wonderful things on T.V. and wants them too but how is he supposed to with his limited means? She can’t give him a good answer and it is this scene that lingers long after the film ends.
With Sheba, Baby (1975), Grier started using her fame and clout to gradually move away from her exploitation roots to a more respectable kind of action film. This movie sees her as female James Bond type, Sheba Shayne, a tough private investigator. When her father’s loan business is threatened by the local mob, Sheba returns home to help him out and put the bad guys away, permanently.
Grier is obviously much more in control of her career and image at this point in time. She looks more polished – gone is the afro and cheesy ‘70s outfits for a more upscale look. This results in a slightly toned down version with the gratitutous violence and nudity virtually non-existent. She probably (and rightly so) figured that she was beyond that stuff. Despite the presence of Austin Stoker (who was so good in John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13), Sheba, Baby lacks Jack Hill’s hip, slang-filled dialogue in favour of a more bland approach without his dynamic camerawork and kinetic editing but it is still pretty entertaining fare.
On the Coffy DVD there is an audio commentary by writer/director Jack Hill. He had already worked with Grier on two films and convinced the studio that she was the only one for the role. He even wrote the role specifically for her with the intention of creating a female character who survived by her wits and sexuality. Hill remembers the implicit racism of the studios and how he had to fight against it, not to mention also against certain film critics of the time. The filmmaker praises the actors and their contributions to the movie in this decent track.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
Hill returns for another commentary on the Foxy Brown DVD. Despite Grier’s success, Hill had work with the same budget he had on Coffy but this time Grief was paid a bigger salary leaving him with less money to make a better movie. So, he pulled off every cinematic trick in the book to cut corners, like using stuntmen as actors. He provides some good anecdotes about making this movie.
There is also a theatrical trailer.
The Sheba, Baby DVD features a theatrical trailer.
Also included is a bonus disc with two featurettes. The first one, “Pam Grier: Super Foxy” features several celebrities praising Grier and her career. Rapper Foxy Brown talks about how she wanted to carry on the actress’ legacy. Actress Vivica A. Fox and The Roots’ Black Thought talk about how she inspired them while Common praises her “strength and beauty.” There are lots of clips from her movies but only the three in this set.
Finally, there is “Blaxploitation to Hip-Hop” that examines the influence of the genre on the Hip-Hop of today. The funky, soulful music of these movies was a huge inspiration and is still sampled by artists today. One commentator points out that most Gangsta rap is merely the Blaxploitation of today as both are based on the streets. Rap artists of today are also fascinated by the fashion in these movies and their rebellious nature.