Sunday, 3 December 2017

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Coffy (Jack Hill, 1973)

One of the best blaxploitation movies ever made, Coffy was intended as a straight rip-off to MGM's Cleopatra Jones, a big budget follow-up to their previous hit Shaft. On release, Coffy ended up punching above its wait - becoming a huge hit and introduced the world to Pam Grier, the first true American female action hero.

By day, Coffy (Pam Grier) is a nurse. By night, she is a vigilante, hunting down the dope pushers and pimps responsible for killing her sister. One by one, she makes her way up the food chain, only to find that the corruption goes right to the top...

I'll be honest. I still have not seen Shaft. But I've seen Coffy so many times. Written and directed by Jack Hill, Coffy is far better than it has any right to be. AIP movies are known to be cheep and cheerful nonsense, but they rarely rise above the watchable. That's not to say they did not make some great movies, but like all studios, most of their output was garbage.

Though it is pitched as a cheap cash-in, Coffy never feels like it. The title character and her world feel fully realised in a way that few big budget movies are, let alone cheap drive-in fare. The story is fully fleshed out, and the characters feel three-dimensional. The action is on-point, and the plot is filled wiht twists and turns which further develop the central character, and force her to confront the injustice the system has imposed on her.

Pam Grier is magnificent as Coffy. Of course she is a badass, but Hill and Grier shrewdly make her feel like a real human being, rather than a total superhero. In the opening sequence, we witness Coffy use her acting skills and sexuality to get invited into a drug dealer's abode. Once inside, she kills him and his lackey. With most other action movies, the hero would move on with no emotional repercussions. But when Coffy tries to carry on and goes to her job at the hospital, she is too shaky and distracted to work, and has to take a break.

In another scene she goes to interrogate a prostitute about drug dealers. At first she is in complete control - but then the prostitute's bigger, tougher girlfriend turns up and Coffy has to leg it. It's hilarious.

The fact that Coffy is human pays dividends as the story develops. In the end, Coffy discovers that the big bad is her boyfriend, a wealthy man who has sold out his community for a piece of the pie. In typical seventies fashion, Coffy is forced to kill him and then, emotionally destroyed, wanders off into the night.

Coffy is so much more than just an action picture with a female lead. It juggles action with well-developed characters, an interesting plot and a suitably cynical political subtext. It moves fast, has a great sense of humour and a killer soundtrack by Roy Ayers, which literally narrates the movie ('King George, he's a pimp!'). It's amazing.

If you haven't seen Coffy, check it out.


Jackie Brown

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