Foxy Brown (1974)

Director Jack Hill doesn't have a huge catalogue of films to his name but there's some undoubted gems in there. You've got such worthy cult titles as Spider Baby, Coffy, and The Big Bird Cage. Foxy Brown is no exception to this must-view list. Pam Grier offers her presence, gorgeous looks and attitude yet again as the heroine of the title, which has been said to be a sequel at one stage to Coffy. However last minute re-writes produced the Foxy one that fans of Blaxploitation cinema know and love. Bring that inimitable seventies icon, Antonio Fargas, into the mix and you've got a winner all-round. There's also a surprisingly vicious streak to the film that could never be replicated with today's mainstream films, but more on that later.

After some supercool psychedelic credits, wherein we hear Willie Hutch's unforgettable soul-funk Foxy Brown theme and see Pam dancing and kung-fu kicking in all sorts of costumes, we first meet street hustler Link Brown, played by Antonio. Cringing in a bar full of the Fuzz, he's trying to wait out a bunch of thugs who want to beat him for holding out on a loan from losses incurred from street gambling schemes. In desperation he calls his tough sister Foxy (Pam) to bail him out yet again. Foxy runs some of the thugs into the river in her car. Afterwards, Link pleads to her that he'll live the straight life if he can hide out at her pad for a while. Foxy reluctantly agrees.

Later, Foxy goes to visit her boyfriend in hospital. This is Michael Anderson, an undercover officer who has been investigating the same crime-ring that Link owed money to. The hoodlums thought they'd killed him, but he really ended up in hospital with plastic surgery to give him a new, safe identity. Emerging as handsome Dalton Ford (Terry Carter), he and Foxy hope to start life anew. On the streets, they encounter a black gang who beat and run drug pushers out of town. Foxy introduces Dalton to the freeloading Link, and Link acts suspicious. Links leaves Dalton and Foxy to themselves, but later looks at some newspaper cuttings and adds two and two together. There is an enormous debt to pay ... and this kind of information could clear that debt.

No sooner does Foxy think her life will be smooth, than Dalton crashes through her door, breathing his last and shot to death. With some detective work, the grieving and raging Foxy soon tracks Link down at his white girlfriend's, and as they snort coke she storms in on them. Livid with anger, Foxy won't kill her own brother, but she does force the identity of Dalton's killers out of him, then force him to leave the city. Foxy is out for vengeance.

Katherine Wall (Kathryn Loder) is the head of the crime-ring. With her sometimes lover Steve Elias (Peter Brown) they ordered Dalton's death. With her new-found information, Foxy poses as a hooker to penetrate the gang's prostitution racket, which often smoothes things over with corrupt judges presiding over their cases. Bluffing her way in with a stunning, revealing dress, Wall gives "Misty" a chance. On her first job with the decadent Judge Fenton (Harry Holcombe) Foxy meets Claudia, a drug addicted hooker. Claudia misses her son and husband and when they turn up trying to get her to leave the hooking business, Elias beats Claudia's husband up and chases him away. Foxy's even more determined to bust things open for Wall and Elias. Once she and Claudia meet up with the Judge, they insult and humiliate him, leaving him trouserless and locked out in a hotel corridor. Foxy hides Claudia at a butch dykes bar. After getting Foxy's location from him, Elias and his men blow Link away with a shotgun, shooting him twice - a great, hammy death scene for Fargas - and slash his girl's throat with a straight razor. See what I mean by the film having a mean streak? It gets worse, though.

Later on, Foxy goes to retrieve the depressed Claudia but the dykes are having none of it - they want to keep Claudia for themselves. A barroom brawl erupts and Foxy fights her and Claudia's way out with bar-stools. No sooner are they out of the bar than Wall and Elias's men grab them both. They put up a valiant fight, with Foxy slashing one of the thug's faces with a glass, but to no avail and Foxy is knocked out. Claudia is carried off and we never see her again. The next scene we hear Foxy being tortured - off-screen, but it's something nasty - by the slashed hoodlum at Wall's lair. To complete her revenge, Wall commands her minions to shoot her captive full of heroin and send her off to "The Ranch", their off-site drug lab. That's just what they do to the struggling Foxy.

When Foxy wakes up in the drug-haze, she's tied to a bed in some godforsaken hovel, with two hick-like men doing nefarious deeds around her. Escaping briefly, she's lassoed by one of the rednecks, drugged, raped and abused by one bald-headed goon. Things are looking bad, but she's still resourceful in this pitiable situation. Using a razor, she cuts herself lose and slashes one with a fork, and sets her rapist on fire while he works under a car. Foxy dissapears and contacts the local gang that ousts pushers in her neighbourhood. She then makes contact with Hays (Hill regular Sid Haig), the drug-ring's pilot, and seduces him into flying her in his small plane along with the ring's drug delivery to Mexico. Foxy and Hays meet up with Elias and his goons. Foxy hides while Hays lands and makes the delivery, but suddenly Ms. Brown is in charge of the plane! She propeller-blades one hoodlum to death, and the street gang turn up and help her decimate the others. As they hold Elias captive, Foxy puts her final vicious act of vengeance into play. One of the gang members wields a large knife ... and Elias screams.

Sometime later Foxy turns up with a mysterious package to deliver personally to her nemesis, Katherine Wall. Wall herself screams as she spots the object in it. Will Foxy survive the final confrontation as she stands before a heartbroken, yet equally ruthless enemy? Will the street gang play a part in the conclusion, or is it curtains for our vigilante heroine?

As you can see, this film gets mean! Foxy goes through Hell to reach her fate at the end and is determined to dish out some of that Hell to her tormentors. Just about everyone suffers in some way, whether death finds them or not. There's a lot of plot going on, just what happens at "the Ranch" would be enough to fuel some films. This is a blaxploitation classic though, and the rape-and-revenge aspect is just one among many retributions and plot convolutions we need to experience. Technically the film's in good hands, with great photography and music. Willie Mutch aside, the soundtrack has the required soul and funk needed by any film of this genre. Hill is in good form with his writing and direction, the lines Foxy spits out are too many to repeat but you need to hear them! Of course, Pam is the engine of the film and acts out her vengeful anger, sorrow and sensuality in equal measure. Her scene posing in the yellow dress as hooker "Misty" would make any red-blooded male jaw drop. The other actors all contribute nicely, with Peter Brown as Elias being vicious but also with a touch of weakness and uncertainty. Kathryn Loder as Katherine Wall also rises to the occasion, at times playing almost operatic in her villainous intensity. Fargas is Fargas, who know what you get with the old Antonio and he delivers the goods with an enjoyable performance. Haig's part is pretty much a cameo but worth a smile with his usual bluster on display.

Perhaps Foxy Brown isn't quite the coherent achievement that Coffy is, but it's still required viewing for any fan of seventies cinema, blaxploitation cinema or just Pam Grier cinema! It has to be admitted though that to this reviewer's mind, Ms. Grier in any film is a guarantee of must-see status.

© Boris "Superbad" Lugosi, 2006.

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Review written: 07/01/2006 21:57:49