Saturday, 6 September 2008

Coffy (1973)

Jack Hill’s Coffy is a tale of vegeance. Coffy is a black woman whose sister is languishing in a drug rehab centre. Coffy sets out to destroy those she sees as being responsible for destroying her sister’s life. Within the first few minutes of the film two men have ready met violent deaths at Coffy’s hands. And she’s only just started.

In the course of her revenge spree she uncovers a web of corruption and deceit, of crooked cops and sleazy politicians. As director Jack Hill points out in his excellent commentary track, he didn’t want to make his central character a martial arts expert, a professional killer or a superhero. She’s just an ordinary woman pushed over the edge, and she spends the movie in what is essentially a dream state, a kind of warrior trance which allows her to do things she would never consider doing at any other time.

That the movie works so well is due in no small measure to Pam Grier’s performance as Coffy. She’d already established her credentials as an entertaining and charismatic performer in exploitation movies, but Coffy gave her the chance to do some real acting as well. And, despite the outrageous and rather unlikely plot, she makes Coffy a believable and compelling character. In fact the acting in general in this movie is remarkably good by exploitation movie standards. Hill deliberately cast several key actors against type, and they repaid him with wonderful performances.

The movie itself is a fairly violent action thriller, but it never becomes a dumb action movie. Even minor characters have real depth. I particularly like the way Hill sets up characters so that initially they appear to be mere stereotypes (like the pimp King George and his call-girl girlfriend) and then shows us that they’re real people.

This was Hill’s first movie for American International Pictures and the experience as apparently anything but a pleasant one for him. They threatened to fire him several times for spending too much time on developing characters and not enough on action, but he stuck to his guns and had the last laugh when Coffy turned out to be a major box office hit.

It’s a stylish and highly entertaining movie, combining sizeable quantities of mayhem and enormous quantities of gratuitous nudity. The nudity is so gratuitous, and so obviously gratuitous, that it becomes rather amusing. The commentary track is the only significant extra on the Region 1 DVD, but it’s a very worthwhile one. If you’re already a Pam Grier fan I don’t need to tell you to see Coffy. If you’re already a fan of hers, this movie should be mote than sufficient to convert you. Highly recommended.

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