Cleopatra Jones (1973)
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Her rival is Mommy, played by Shelley Winters, who gives a subtle, restrained perf...naw, I'm fooling ya, she's re-defining over-the-top as she GNAWS on every single piece of scenery, all in a variety of Eva Gabor wigs. Seeing her rub the bottom of her young girlfriend, and then get her feet rubbed by the same girl...I wasn't sure if I was going to vomit or thank the movie gods that created this.
Plot is virtually unimportant as Cleo battles the fuzz, Antonio Fargas and anyone who gets in her way. Movie is vintage fun and it was nice to see Esther Rolle in a small part. 6/10.
I think Tamara Dobson is absolutely stunning in the movie. Very glamorous and very "tough" (if you disregard the fake fight scenes)and within the context of the movie, she is very smart. Blaxploitation films had their place back in the day (and they still do).
Shelly Winters played a "surprising" role as the villain. If you need to get a handle on this, view the movie, "I'm Gonna to git You Sucka"- Towards the end of the movie, a whole list of actors/actresses, who are thought to be above playing in exploitation movies, are named in various exploitation films. Of course Cleopatra Jones is mentioned.
While the movie can be classified as "cheesy" by many, it does have action, adventure, and romance. The action is non-stop-Cleo is always kung fuing someone or driving the hell out of her Corvette to get away from the bad guys. Also, there a pretty neat scene where she rides a motorcycle up a steep hill to everyone's dismay (if you happen to catch CJ on DVD or VHS, use pause on this scene-it is clearly a Caucasian male, with brown makeup, who is actually riding the motorcycle). The adventure is during the beginning-she is in Turkey blowing up poppy fields. Also, her investigations takes her to various parts of town and she interfaces with various "interesting" supporting characters. And then there is the romantic scene with her and Bernie Casey.
If anything, CJ is a wonderful film to have going if you happen to have a 70's theme party or something.
Tamara Dobson is beautiful, sassy and kick ass as Special Government Agent Cleopatra Jones, enemy to drug pushers everywhere. Her lover's (Bernie Casey - 'Never Say Never Again') half-way house is under threat of closure after a dubious drug bust. Cleo suspects the involvement of a crooked cop (the always menacing Bill McKinney - 'Deliverance'), and local drug big wig Mommy (Shelley Winters as a larger than life lesbian leather queen!). Mommy and her henchmen (one of which is the legendary Paul Koslo - 'The Omega Man') try everything in their power to stop Cleopatra, but hell, look at her moves! her clothes! her Afro! Who do you think is gonna win here?!
A stylish, silly and wonderfully entertaining trash classic. Directed by Jack Starrett ('Slaughter', 'Race With The Devil') and co-written and produced by actor Max Julien ('Psych-Out', 'The Mack'). 'Cleopatra Jones' is a must see for 70s buffs.
1973 was about 5 years past the golden age of the beautiful but unbeatable-in-a-fight female heroine. A total fantasy, but as a middle-aged woman now, I still sometimes ask myself "What would Emma Peele do?" I found the early '70's heroines to be complete wimps compared to the late 60's heroines.
So when the ad campaign hit in 1973 for "Tamara Dobson IS Cleopatra Jones," with the poster of the tall gun-toting Ms. Dobson, I begged and begged to go.
I went downtown with an older woman friend of the family, and the two of us were literally the only white people in the entire packed theater of black people.
In the film. the villains are all white and the good guys are all black. Also, there are many many scenes in which white people are killed by black people. During these scenes, the theater cheered wildly. This is probably not something you would notice watching the film on T.V., but believe me, if you are one of two white people in the theater, it makes a big impression.
There was also a well-written and clever scene in the film in which one of Cleopatra's male assistants is lying in wait for the white villains. When they arrive, he pulls a gun on them and says "Guess what just jumped out of the woodpile?" The older woman who took me to the movie was southern. She thought this joke was hysterical and kept trying to explain it to me several times, with her extremely clear explanations catching the attention of everyone sitting around us. For those of you not blessed by an older southern friend, the phrase "Guess what just jumped out of the woodpile?" refers to the expression "N-word in the woodpile," a southern term for an unpleasant surprise.
So what did I learn in my trip to the movies?
1) The term "blaxploitation" is totally false. This "blaxploitation" movie seemed to be about blacks who were superior in every way to whites, both morally and physically.
2) It is really scary and uncomfortable being in the minority.
The film opens with a blazing opium field somewhere in Turkey. Cleo Jones, hap-ki-do expert and international do-gooder, returns to America to report on her success as a 'special agent' in her one-woman war on dope. Lesbian drug baroness Mommy (Shelley Winters, fresh from Corman's Bloody Mama) is furious her poppy fields were torched, and threatens an all-out war between the Brothers and the Mothers. One of Mommy's uppity underlings, Doodlebug (Antonio Fargas, best remembered as Huggy Bear in Starsky And Hutch) is getting rich off stealing Mommy's coke, and provides a cautionary moral aside warning against living as a White Man's flunky (Cleo points to Doodlebug's white chauffeur, and asks "What next - two white jockeys on the lawn?"). With a "whacka-whacka" superfunk guitar in the background, Cleo does her chop-sockey routine on the coke dealers and crooked cops, and kicks Shelley Winters' portly ass for her wild overacting in the final showdown. Tamara Dobson as Cleo Jones reportedly stood 6"2, and that doesn't include what must've been the BIGGEST afro in the business! Despite her physical prowess, the script doesn't give Cleo any real motive for her cartoon crusade (unlike the later Coffy and Foxy Brown) and reduces her to a smug self-satisfied cardboard cutout. Add the sloppy direction by Jack Starrett and you get a surprisingly poor release by a major studio.
Take "Coffy", for example - one of the greatest blaxploitation movies ever made, one of the coolest heroines ever, played by the great Pam Grier, loads of sleaze, brutal violence, and one out of two words is the F-Word. The main weakness of "Cleopatra Jones" is that it is an blaxploitation movie without most of the elements that make exploitation interesting, probably because it was intended for wider audiences. OK, there is some mild violence and some mildly crude language occasionally, but explicit violence, as well as nudity, sex and F-Words were avoided. Not that I need these elements in any movie I see, but for blaxploitation flicks from the 70s they're mandatory, in my opinion.
The film is very satirical, however, the villains are simply ridiculous (and most of them quite annoying). Funnily the main villain, a very annoying, but also somehow funny white drug-queen called "Mommy" is played by the great Shelley Winters. Blaxploitation regular Antonio Fargas and Bernie Casey, as well as some others also fit in their roles quite well. The main reason, to watch "Cleoatra Jones" is Tamara Dobson however. Dobson is certainly not nearly as unforgettable as the great Pam Grier in her many blaxploitation roles, but she still makes a great, sexy and super-cool blaxploitation heroine, and that alone makes the movie worth the time! The film is overall pretty funny, and a highly entertaining time-waster. If you're looking for truly great blaxploitation cinema, however, go for films like "Coffy" or "Foxy Brown".
I would like to see ALL of these 'urban action' films. Though from my movie-watching experience, I find that I tend to prefer films from before 1970, these films from the 70's are great too, and are a lot more enjoyable to me than most films I see today.
I sincerely hope that, like in 'Cleopatra Jones', the filmmakers of today could concentrate on actors' presence and stunts, rather than simply go with CGI. I for one would be a lot happier as a cinephile.
But I can't.
The only thing that makes John Shaft the cultural icon that he is, is the fact that he was meant to frighten middle-class white people. Without the whole "black man standing up to whitey's system" aspect, *Shaft* is just another dime-a-dozen, derivative private-eye flick (and the sex scenes, effective in the 70s as a play on the "oversexed black man" stereotype, seem pretty sleazy now).
And *Cleopatra Jones* is just another dime-a-dozen, derivative supercop flick. Here, the "black thing" is merely a gimmick. It could have been made with an all-white cast with very few changes.
Even considered purely as an action movie, it fails. Even the cool car chase has some editing problems, and Tamara Dobson, though a stunningly beautiful woman, simply doesn't have the moves for the fight scenes.
About the only really enjoyable scenes are those involving Doodlebug (Antonio "Huggy Bear" Fargas) and his henchmen.
1 – The music of (J.J.Johnson) as well as the rest of the soundtrack. Actually all my friends just hate that disco music of the 1970s, but I just adore it. The best thing about it is that it has a fine fast rhythm and an orchestral sense in the same time; it's fun, gratifying, and like no other. But the thing that bothers me is that I can't find it unless in movies like that, or at some TV's shows from the 1970s and the start of the 1980s only ! It was real enjoyable part of this era's culture, I miss it powerfully and I don't understand why so many people disdain it just because "it's from the 1970s" !??
2 – Watching (Shelly Winters) as a lesbian evil drug dealer who talks in filthy language ! Ohh I couldn't believe myself ! First of all it's new character especially when you have on the other hand a woman also as the lead star. Secondly it was like watching (Gary Cooper) as a pimp in some movie ! It's a chance to see Hollywood's icon in something away from all the previous prototypes or the polished clichés that seemed everlasting. It was totally a new image which hit me and succeeded at cleaving me to my chair till the end of the movie.
3 – The fact that it's technically dexterous, and how the atmosphere looked so solid. The photography, the direction, the editing and the production were brilliant compared to the same elements at another Blaxploitation movies from the same era. Look at the opening scene or the car chase for instances...That was super. True that the script was nothing but shadows and echoes of another story lines at another flicks and TV's shows but Hey, it's the year 1973, so those folks were quite pioneers particularly when this kind of low budget Action movies ruled afterwards, and made its mark on later ones too.
*The Things That Turned Me off !
1 – (Tamara Dobson) to begin with. She didn't have that radiate sexual charisma, being close to mannish for most of the time. Moreover how her acting was more terrible than the hairstyle of everybody in the movie!
2 – Of course the hairstyle of everybody in the movie !, and (Antonio Fargas) saying "My Hair Is Like A Woman If I Treat It Well It'll Treat Me Well !"..So that's the very much why he got himself killed !
3 – (Tamara Dobson)'s alleged beauty !, and the way she impresses every man, boy, Martian in the movie to make them smack their lips and say "what a mama", "look at that" ! OH MY GOD what a bunch of feeble eyes, hypocrites, bad tasting people ! In one word (Pam Grier) was one hot mama who could've been unforgettable (Cleopatra Jones), however (Dobson) could've been fine as (Jones) only !
*The Thing That Turned Me on and off !
The bizarre outfits of (Cleopatra) ! I think the revolutionary fashion at the time just said a lot about getting revenge on the old modes or the traditional disposition along with the black desire to define a distinct independent character. Here it's some way to assure the dissimilarity of their characters or the uniqueness to be specific. So look at (Cleopatra)'s to know about her and the way they intended to make her look : she's wild as a tiger, as fierce as a fox, yet soft as a deer, and proud as a peacock. That strong animally form wasn't only exquisite as confident sexy figure, but also as a contemporary rebel manifestation of the black community just like those days' Jive talking. So the outfits fitted the dramatic state cleverly and weren't too much to a hilariously comic extent like in (Foxy Brown). I just liked the one at the climax's sequence which (Cleopatra) takes its skirt off to fight freely..WAW that's cool breathing one which I bet a lot of audience loved it back then as quite novel when there was no WWF, or women's wrestling on TV weekly ! However I personally think how it would've been perfect with another woman, despite how (Tamara Dobson) mastered the way character like that moves.
Generally every era has for political economical social circumstances a lot of changes and vicissitudes, not to mention how the human taste is that fickle all along to have something fashionable at one time then becomes unfashionable in later time with too many parodies could be more successful than its original ! But nothing can deny that it was (or its parody) in fashion once. So maybe all of my lists' elements here could turn someone on, or maybe all of it may become fashionable again !, or maybe my list of the things that turned me off would turn me on one day.. Hmmm.., or maybe not !
When her boyfriend's (Bernie Casey) halfway house for recovering drug addicts is under threat from crooked cops, Cleopatra suspects Mommy is behind it all and decides to kick ass with her kung fu moves and driving her fast Corvette Stingray.
Tamara Dobson is certainly statuesque and glamorous as a blaxploitation female version of James Bond but Dobson lacks the screen sensuality and charisma of Pam Grier. However Shelley Winters more than compensates with a scenery chewing performance as the lesbian Mommy appearing with several different types of wigs and in one point clad in leather.
The plot is rather so-so but Warner Brothers certainly put some money in this movie as it benefits from better production values and has good pacing.
The metaphorical message means much when taken in its contextual setting. Blacks were fighting for their neighborhoods against the onslaught of "urban renewal" and infestation of drug dealers and pimps, which compared to the 80's now seem a 'walk in the park'. It could be classed as some morality play--where combatants take on the role of the nemesis in reality and the heroine becomes the overcoming and empowered victims in reality.
Cleopatra Jones (Tamara Dobson) is a U.S. special agent fighting the international drug trade who is summoned back to Los Angeles to combat the evil machinations of Mommy (Shelley Winters), a drug lord with an explosive temper and a vaudevillian personality. Mommy uses her contacts in law enforcement to put the squeeze on a neighborhood center that helps recovering addicts which just so happens to be run by Jones' proud and defiant lover, Rueben (Bernie Casey). But Mommy has more to worry about than a super-stylish fed. One of her criminal underlings, Doodlebug Simkins (Antonio Fargas), is rebelling against her rule. That dispute is what ultimately gives Jones, Rueben, the karate-chopping Johnson brothers (Caro Kenyatta and Albert Popwell) and a whole African-American neighborhood of butt-kickers the chance to take down Mommy once and for all.
If you're wondering where this flick fits in the "blaxploitation" spectrum, the cops here are all white and they're all basically decent guys except for one racist who's laughed at more than feared and gets what he deserves in the end. This story runs on white guilt instead of black pride.
Though she's the star and the title of the show, Cleopatra Jones is a passive bystander for much of the plot. The story largely turns on the ambition and tribulations of Doodlebug Simkins while Jones mostly saunters into situations, dishes out beautiful smiles and beatings with equal relish and then is on her way again. Tamara Dobson has such a striking presence, however, that you barely notice and don't care.
Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, this is a fun romp that doesn't carry a lot of social or cultural weight to it. It's not going to make you think about much, unless it's the sheer awesomeness of Jones' sports car. It's so compact and low to the ground, the driver's side roof has to swing up so she can get in and out with her headgear or gorgeous afro intact. If you're looking for a gentle introduction to "blaxploitation" cinema or just a good time, give Cleopatra Jones a try.
This movie has some similarities to COFFY and FOXY BROWN, as all three films are about an angry woman's attack on the drug trade. One major difference was that in these two Pam Greer films, the title character wasn't a special agent--just a vigilante wanting to rid the world of dope fiends. Dobson, unlike most other blaxploitation heroes works for "the Man"! Another difference is that Ms. Dobson manages to keep her clothes on throughout the film! The final difference is that, believe it or not, Greer's films were a lot more believable, as Dobson can do ANYTHING and is practically Wonderwoman--whereas, Greer is just really, really mad!! Heck, one of the victims even calls Dobson "Wonderwoman"!
Overall, this film is far less gritty blaxploitation and more like an episode of "Get Christie Love" or "Charlie's Angels"--the music, the plot, the acting--the whole package. I wonder if Aaron Spelling had anything to do with this project!!