This months film is a flick called Black Belt Jones. This film dates back to the heady days of the seventies . . . 1974 to be exact. These were the days of the blackxploitation films. Understand that unlike other films with blacks as the leading characters were basically vehicles filled with racism, these films put blacks in a light that was positive and tackled topics African-Americans wanted to talk about. Consequently, their budgets were quite small and viewers with myopic vision see them as crap. This one stars Jim "The Dragon" Kelly who starred in Enter the Dragon (1973) with the mighty Bruce Lee. This Film and Enter were directed by Robert Clouse. Kelly was also in 3 The Hard Way with Fred Williamson (directed by distinguished Black Director Gordon Parks). Also in it is Scatman Crothers who cannot be forgiven for Bronco Billy and Gloria Hendry who appeared in Live and Let Die, where she kissed Roger Moore, and that was taking a chance in the early seventies. She also appeared in many Blackxploitation films (though she is no Pam Grier).
The video tape box is adorned with a cool black and white drawing of people kicking ass. At the bottom it says "He clobbers the mob as Black Belt Jones." Yes it is a bad film, there are a lot of things in it that will make you think it's racist, but you have to remember, this was far better acting that some step and fetch butler or something. It was shot in California and the filmmakers make no mistake about letting you know that things are shitty where the characters live. Here's the synopsis.
The movie opens with a really big, gas guzzling car pulling up to some mansion, supposed to be a winery. There are a lot of typecast mafia types around and a lot of fat extras wearing dirty T-shirts . . . no Academy Award for costume design here. They take this guy to a winery, check out a big briefcase of cash and one of the mafia guys tries to talk hip. Then they knock this dude out and seal him in a wine cask. That Mad Dog really packs a punch.
Turns out, the guy they kill is a government agent, so they decide that Black Belt Jones is the only man who can get into the winery. Jump cut to a parking lot where some world leader from South America is about to get whacked. Of course this leader has no body guards or police escort, but hey, this is L.A., if you're not a rich white guy, you're out of luck. But then some funky music comes on and Jim Kelly starts kicking ass. While this is going on, the credits are rolling, but they do not interfere with the karate action. Highlights of this fight scene are two different bad guys having their heads slammed through windshields of cars and someone getting shot in the ass. The downside is, that for an action hero, he drives a really crappy car. Oh, and he punches a lot of guys in the nuts. So far, one kill (mafia guys) and 6 asses kicked (and one shot). Lessons learned in this scene. Hire a cool karate brother to protect you.
We reach the first break in traditional films with a major black star. Whitey isn't depending on Jones to infiltrate a black organization, he needs him because he's good, not black. Major departure. Jones says he won't do it, but we all know he will. Now we cut to a Karate school, where Scatman Crothers runs it trying to bring local kids up with respect and dignity. Here we do have some stereotype smack talking scenes with this really fat woman. The paradox we see here is that even though he is trying to help these kids have good values, he's a womanizer, and a gambler. Odd. Then, to quote from Pulp Fiction, "some heavy, pipe hitting niggers" roll into this local drug dudes place trying to stop the flow of dope on the streets. You'll see an early appearance of Ted Lange, who played Issac on the Love Boat. Then the mafia dudes tell Pinky he needs to get Pop Birds (Scatman) property for the Don. Seventeen minutes into the film, we've reached the major plot point. Not bad for a low budget film that could have filled the entire show with fights. We had character development, clear definition of the good guys and bad guys, and a good fight scene.
Fight number two erupts when Pinky tries to take the school. The kids and Jim's assistant kick major polyester ass. Then we got Belt (as he's called by the chicks) at his beach house with hot chicks of various races and hair colors. Another departure, he has a nice pad and color doesn't mean a damn thing to him when it comes to women.. Then Belt and his friend start giving Scatman shit about setting a bad example for the kids. Then his pal, the one in the tan ghei threatens to leave but Jones convinces him to stay because of the kids. They know Pinky is going to start something, so they set up a trap. Fight three erupts with Jones kicking all of their butts with the lights off. Worst fight of the film because you couldn't see most of it. Check out Jones' Afro. Wow! Oh, and Pinky beats Scatman to death trying to get him to turn over the school to him and find out who Sydney is. You know who's going to pay.
Turns out Sydney was Papa Bird's daughter that he hadn't seen in like 20 years and that he willed the school to her. This is where we get our first glimpse of hot Gloria Hendry. She seems like a hard ass. Already wants to know who killed her father. Then Pinky has to talk to the Don, who says Pinky has to come up with 250,000 dollars. Pinky tells the Don that he's bringing in some Bogarts, what are Bogarts . . . in to deal with the problem. We meet the Bogarts and they leave. We have Papa Bird's funeral and Quincy, one of the kids, takes her to a hotel, but she makes him stop at Pinky's place. There she kicks some serious ass of the non-Bogarts. Quincy tells Belt and Jones goes to see her. Pinky and the bogarts find out about Sydney and they go to the Karate school. Ass kicking ensues, but this time the bad guys win. To top it off they take Quincy. Highlight of this fight . . . head being smashed through a water cooler.
Belt finds out so both him and Sydney, who knows how to handle a gun, find out why the Don wants the karate school. Belt comes up with a plan that will do the job for the Feds and take care of the Pinky having Quincy deal. He gets those hot beach chicks, Charlene, Miri and Pickles and they all start a training regimen for the job. Let's just say that it involves a trampoline, a Polaroid camera and a grappling hook (sounds like a porno film).
They hit the Mob vineyard while the leaders are having some demented pasta slurping session. Much ass is kicked, even though most of the guys they fight are those fat slobs in the dirty T-shirts. They get the photos the Feds wanted and an ass load of cash. See where planning comes in handy.
Jones gives Pinky the cash and then they go back on the deal. Another fight scene, which is pretty weak ensues. Pinky has bagged ass but Jones does kick some guy through a window, then he tops it off by knocking like nine guys out of windows. Much candy glass was used in these scenes. Then he pulls a fast one on both Pinky and the Don, but I'll let you find out what that is on your own. However, apparently the way of celebrating the duping of Ghetto gangsters and Mob weasels is to get some fast food.
After a bit of script padding involving Jones and Sydney doing the mattress mambo on the beach, the Mob and Pinky work out their differences and they all go after Jones. Finally hitting the climax of the film, it turns out to be quite a stupid one. There is a car chase involving Jones' Gremlin and the Mob in their Cadillacs. The final fight is at some garbage truck car wash. Really stupid and really a big let down considering the bulk of the fight scenes we had seen earlier were above average and at times quite original in their technique and location. Credits roll and you realize why Jim Kelly never saw the kind of cash or films that far less skilled fighters like Norris and Van Damme make . . . one bad movie can kill your career. And why wasn't he in Original Gangsta's?
Okay, here's the gouge. There are many fights
in this film, though some seem very cheesy by today's standards. A lot
of oversensitive white people, will call this film an example of film stereotyping,
but they are saying that so that nobody can say that they are racists.
Like most of the bad films GDI owns, it can be found in the $9.99 bin at
Suncoast. All in all, it's not a bad film.