Posts Tagged ‘Bernie Casey’

Movie Reviews 301 – Cleopatra Jones (1973)

June 3, 2017

Lets just start by being clear on one thing. Tamara Dobson is no Pam Grier and Cleopatra Jones is no Coffy. That in a nutshell summarizes this mid seventies sub genre of blaxploitation flicks featuring chic but tough ghetto savvy women that kick ass and drop jaws at the same time. But just because Cleopatra Jones may not be the best entry in the genre but it is not to be dismissed either. In an odd way the imperfections are part of the charm making this one worth your while as long as expectations are kept in check.

The lavish intro zooms in on a camel caravan in the remote desert which I assume was designed to lure audiences into thinking that this Cleopatra may have more of an exotic Egyptian link than the poster would have us believe. But the illusion is shattered when a whirling helicopter enters the panorama and then lands and we get our first glimpse of our enchantress Jones (Dobson). With a assembled delegation that looks like a United Nations cast of generals, suits and arab nobility, Cleopatra oversees an order to have a military jet fly in out of the blue and before the eyes of the shocked contingent strafes and torches a field of poppies.

Her remark “That’s $30 million of shit that isn’t going into some kids veins.” sets the course of the film firmly as an anti-drug message movie which then shifts the action into Jones’s home-turf of a Los Angeles ghetto being torn from within by the scourge of drugs. Cleopatra is a special agent secured by the President of the Unites States no less – her id card says just that – working to rid the world of narcotics but especially in her home hood where the local addict recovery house is run by Reuben Masters (Bernie Casey), Cleo’s beau.

Part of Cleo’s problems are rogue cops giving Reuben a hard time but that is nothing compared to “Momma” (Shelley Winters) a local drug lord who was to receive some of the drugs that would have been made from that desert crop. This is where the movie starts to show some of it’s loose threads as Winters’ portrayal of Momma sticks out like a sore white thumb and whose every appearance in the movie shifts the otherwise gritty mood to farcical comedy with inept goons. It’s just  jarring and does gel with the tone of the rest movie at all.

Thankfully other characters ease the pain, the real standout being Antonio Fargas (“Huggy Bear” to Starsky and Hutch aficionados) as Doodlebug, one of Momma’s street distributors mounting a coup and incurring the wrath of Momma. Doodlebug is the real thing, cocky and corny and prideful of his Afro coif but ruthless at the same time.

Speeding along in her signature Corvette and wearing more fur than an entire Eskimo village’s wardrobe Cleopatra has to placate the cops, rescue the recovery house and put Momma in the doghouse and do all that looking mighty fine. A few acting debacles aside – including Dobson herself to a degree – there are enough muscle car chases and crashes and Jive Talkin to complete the blaxploitation checklist promised. One last notable missed opportunity is the unsatisfying funk score as the producers opted to mimic some of the ghetto hits of the time instead of using ‘the real thang’. Well, ya can’t have every thang, I guess.