Sunday, April 11, 2021

When We Were Kings

Another of the movies that I had the chance to record during one of the free preview weekends was the documentary When We Were Kings. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 11:00 AM on SHOxBET, as well as a couple more times during the week, so I watched it to do a review on here.

Boxer Muhammad Ali was one of the most famous sporting figures of the second half of the 20th century. Born Cassius Clay, he won an Olympic gold medal, beat Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight championship, went to prison for refusing to fight in Vietnam after losing his title, and came back ultimately to win the title. One of those title fights was a 1974 bout in Kinshasa, Zaïre (formerly the Belgian Congo and today known as the D.R. Congo or Congo, Kinshasa to distinguish it from the other Congo), and that bout is the basis for the documentary.

The fight itself isn't quite the focus; instead it's more about two other things. One is the preparation for the fight, which takes up probably two-thirds of the film; the other is the cultural milieu in which the fight was announced. Ali had become a cultural icon as the charismatic but non-militant Black Muslim who could pretty much charm everybody, and used those gifts to display a social conscience. So going back to the spiritual homeland was a big deal.

Indeed, the preparations surrounding the fight were not just to have a fight, but to have a concert celebrating black music with some of the biggest names in both America (James Brown and the Spinners) and Africa (Miriam Makeba). Ultimately, the concert and the fight were both held, but six weeks apart because Foreman suffered a cut over his eye in training.

Frankly, the whole part of the movie looking at the preparations for the fight were to me the most interesting, being a fascinating look at the logistical difficulties in pulling off an event like this. Promoter Don King had gotten contracts from both Ali and Foreman to fight each other if King could get $10 million in backing so that each boxer could get $5 million. The biggest reason the fight was held in Kinshasa is that Zaïre's then-dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, put up the money as part of a PR blitz to get good publicity for his country. Ali and Foreman, from the archival footage we see, concern themselves more with boxing than with Zaïrean politics, although Ali always looked at the broader picture of the advancement of black people. Contrast that with today, where there's increasing pressure to do sport only with right-thinking political polities and blacklist the rest.

Interspersed among the archival clips of the boxers' preparation are interviews with three figures: writers George Plimpton and Norman Mailer, and movie director Spike Lee. The writers talk more about the actual fight itself while Lee is there to give insights into the broader cultural context. Also intersperesed are clips from the musicians who performed at the concert. Finally, we get to the fight itself, although I'd tend to mention this part less mostly because I'm not the biggest fan of boxing. For those who are fans, there's a good bit of strategic commentary from Plimpton and Mailer. I don't know how accurate it is, not being a fan of the sport.

When We Were Kings won the Oscar for Best Documentary and received overwhelmingly glowing reviews, but I couldn't help but see a few weaknesses. Surprisingly, the music was one. Not that it's bad; in fact, a documentary about trying to put together this concert would be interesting depending on how much archival footage of the principals there is. But in this movie, it feels like it's padding the main story; the movie is already short enough as it is running about 80 minutes before the credits roll.

There's also the lack of present-day interviews. Ali had already been diagnosed with his Parkinsons-like disease, I think, so I don't believe he would have been able to do interviews. But Don King and Foreman certainly were. Indeed, as either Mailer or Plimpton noted, Foreman completely remade his image from what he had in 1974 and became one of the most affable figures in boxing. His perspective on the fight would have been fascinating; instead, the movie is often presented as though Foreman is an afterthought and it should be called When Ali Was King.

Still, there's a whole lot that's interesting in When We Were Kings, and it's more than worth a watch.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Our Worses

Some time back, TCM ran the film adaptation of the W. Somerset Maugham play Our Betters. Not having seen it before, I decided to record it and eventually watch it to do a review on here.

Constance Bennett plays Pearl Saunders, an American heiress who marries Lord Grayston (Alan Mowbray, seen only at the beginning of the movie), in part for his title; he's married her for her money because he's one of those British nobles who have lost most of their money (see Gosford Park for an example). Pearl, now Lady Grayston, decides that she's going to shake up the joint, so to speak, by doing her own thing and causing a general scandal among the members of Britain's smart set nobility

Some years later, Lady Grayston is in the same position as her husband as he's spent most of the money. She's also taken on a paramour in the form of Arthur Fenwick (Minor Watson). She decides to introduce her kid sister Bessie (Anita Louise), who's come over from America, to her new social circle and possibly marry Bessie off into the circle. Bessie, for her part, had a fiancé back in America in the form of Fleming Harvey (Charles Starrett).

So Lady Grayston hosts one of those weekend-long parties (again, see Gosford Park) for a couple of her friends and the men in their lives. The Duchess Minnie (Violet Kemble-Cooper) is being pursued by Pepi (a very young Gilbert Roland); Lord Harry (Hugh Sinclair) is there for Lady Grayston to introduce to Bessie; there's a princess (Phoebe Foster) and an American businessman Thornton Clay (Grant Mitchell).

Pepi winds up wooing Lady Grayston and the two go off for a tryst in the teahouse; Minnie is unsurprisingly pissed and sends Bessie to go off and find her sister with Pepi, which understandably pisses off Bessie, who no longer wants any part of this lifestyle. Lady Grayston and Minnie are generally bitches to each other for reasons that I couldn't quite fathom.

The big problem that I had with Our Betters is that it's way too talky, and complicated enough that it could use a second viewing to figure out everything that's going on. The fact that few of the characters are very sympathetic doesn't help either. One high spot is the final scene, with the dance instructor brought from London, who is played as the sort of incredibly stereotypical gay that you wonder how it could have gotten done even in the pre-Code days of 1933.

Our Betters is another of those movies that would probably benefit from being on a box set; I think there are enough adaptations of Maugham's work in the Turner Library (after all, they have The Letter from Warner Bros. and The Painted Veil from MGM) to pull it off. Instead, I could only find it on a standalone DVD from the Warner Archive.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Briefs for the weekend, April 9-11, 2021

Gloria Henry died last Saturday at the age of 98. Older folks will probably remember her for playing the mother on the TV show Dennis the Menace, although I don't think I've ever seen an episode, since I don't know if it's been in syndication in the last several decades, unlike, say, Leave it to Beaver. I also don't know whether it's been on any of the digital sub-channels; I've never seen a promo for it. As for Henry's movies in the 1940s and 1950s, probably the best known would be Miss Grant Takes Richmond (a Lucille Ball vehicle) and Rancho Notorious (a Marlene Dietrich western).

Polish actor Zygmunt Malanowicz died on Sunday aged 83. Probably the one role you'd know him for is as the young hitchhiker who winds up on the boat in Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water.

FXM is always recycling its lineup. Can-Can is still in the rotation, airing tomorrow at 11:10 AM and again on Sunday. I mentioned Conrack a few years back when it got an airing on TCM. But it's a Fox film and back on the FXM schedule, including Sunday at 1:10 PM.

Over on TCM, we're into the H's in 31 Days of Oscar, moving into the I's early Sunday (or overnight between Saturday and Sunday). So we've got Hell's Angels tonight at 10:15 PM; Robert Mongtomery in Hide-Out, which I didn't know got an Oscar nomination, tomorrow at 6:45 AM; and one of those not-so-good movies that got a nomination in the Original Song category, Ice Castles, at 1:30 PM Sunday.

Birthdays include Jean-Paul Belmondo of Breathless fame; he turns 88. Brandon de Wilde was born on this day in 1942, but he died tragically young at the age of 30 in an automobile accident.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks #352: Amateur Sleuths

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This time around, the theme is "Amateur Sleuths", which isn't all that difficult. I just had to make certain that I hadn't used any of my picks recently. Also with that in mind, I decided to go with a theme-within-a-theme and pick three more or less daffy dames doing the sleuthing (well, two of them are clearly daffy, the third not quite so much although the movie is still a comedy):

The Mad Miss Manton (1938). Barbara Stanwyck plays Miss Manton, a socialite known for her practical jokes who finds a dead body. Of course, having played so many practical jokes, the police don't believe her this time, and she has to get a reporter (Henry Fonda) to help her figure out who's responsible for the murder.

Mr. and Mrs. North (1942). Gracie Allen plays Mrs. North, without George Burns as Mr. North, who is instead played by William Post. The return home one night to find a corpse in their closet, and Mrs. North, in true Gracie Allen fashion, starts investigating, and hilarity ensues if you like Gracie Allen.

The Corpse Came C.O.D. (1947). Actress Adele Jergens has a trunk full of costumes shipped to her, only to find the trunk contains a dead body. Journalists and holdovers from the 1930s George Brent and Joan Blondell investigate and try to one-up each other in solving the case. A nice little B movie.

The Gods Must Be Crazy

I first saw the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy many years ago, and hadn't watched it in quite a while. It recently started showing up in the FXM rotation, so I DVRed it to watch again and do a post on it here. It's got another showing tomorrow morning at 3:00 AM, so now's the time for the post on it.

The Gods Must Be Crazy has three main story lines, more or less. The first one, and the one that's the genesis for the movie's title, involves the Bushmen of the Kalahari, in what is now northeastern Namibia (at the time South West Africa, a colony of the apartheid-era South Africa). They're presented as having an idyllic life, which was out of date even for 1980 when the movie was released, and probably never true as life in humanity's more primitive days was, to use the words of Thomas Hobbes, nasty, brutish, and short. The Bushmen are presented as living in harmony with nature, in small family units with basically no posessions other than what they can carry on the back.

But then, somebody in an airplane flying overhead drops a Coca-Cola bottle out of the plane, with it falling to the ground and not breaking, one family, with father Xi (N!xau), finds it and finds this hard clear thing is useful for a whole bunch of purposes. But everybody wants to use it, leading to the entirely human emotions of jealousy and possessiveness, along with violence. It's decided that this will never do, so they have to get rid of the "Evil Thing", and the only way to do that is to throw it off the end of the world.

Several hundred miles to the south is Johannesburg, South Africa. It's a city born of white European civilisation, with all of the difficulties and stresses that come with modern life. One resident is Kate Thompson (Sandra Prinsloo), who works at a local newspaper. Her life is stressful enough that, having read an article about the severe shortage of teachers in Botswana, she decides she's going to pull up stakes and go to Botswana for a while to teach. Elsewhere in Botswana is Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers), doing doctoral work on the migration patterns of elephants that requires his collection samples of elephant droppings and analyzing their chemical composition. Andrew is asked to pick up Kate at the bus stop, but Andrew is notoriously awkward around women.

Several hundred miles north of the Kalahari is some African country which has been decolonised and has a black president who is opposed by some self-styled liberation group led by Sam Boga (Louw Verwey). He leads a coup against the current government, but it fails, only killing a couple of cabinet ministers and only wounding the president. The legitimate army goes after Boga and his men, who try to flee to Mozambique (at least, that's what it sounded like they were saying), which seems rather far away. Their route takes them through Botswana, as does Xi's route. So eventually, the people in all three plotlines are going to come together.

The Gods Must Be Crazy is a fun movie, as it deftly handles three disparate plots before bringing them all together. There are things that some people probably won't like, especially the attitude towards the Bushman, which as I said at the beginning was outdated. It also leans too much on the "noble savage" trope, to the point that it posits no violence whatsoever amongst the Bushmen. But I think part of this is deliberately exaggerated to present a contrast with white westernized life. Some of the comedy is turned slapstick by speeding things up, which may not appeal to some viewers either. There's also the dubbing of Prinsloo (and, I think, Weyers, although Prinsloo's is much more noticeable).

But the good vastly outweighs the bad, here, I think. But the situational humor mostly works, as does some of the dialog, notably a line from Steyn's assistant about marriage. I was also somewhat surprised to see Thompson having a black colleague at the newspaper, since I would have guessed that was a no-no under apartheid. (I suppose the character might have been a dark-skinned Indian, or a mixed-race Coloured.)

If you haven't seen it before, I strongly recommend taking a look at The Gods Must Be Crazy.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Years of Color

One of the movies that I hadn't seen before this years 31 Days of Oscar is The Green Years. It's going to be on TCM tomorrow at 1:45 PM, and fortunately, I had it on the DVR to watch and do a review here.

Robert Shannon (played by Dean Stockwell as a child) is a young boy circa 1900 whose mother moved to Ireland to get married, but she and her husband have both died, leaving poor Robert an orphan. His family is mostly living in Loganford, Scotland, so the people who took care of Mom at the end of her life ship Robert off to that family.

The patriarch of the family is Papa Leckie (Hume Cronyn), Robert's maternal grandfather, married to Mama Leckie (Selena Royle), even though there are two great-grandparents around, known as Grandma Leckie (Gladys Cooper) and Grandpa Gow (Charles Coburn). There are also a couple of adult children who are Robert's aunt and uncles, but they mostly move out, having grown up, only to return now and then.

There are all sorts of conflicts right off the bat. Papa Leckie works for Loganford's sewer department, hoping to get a promotion when his boss leaves. Meanwhile, he's a severe penny pincher, to the point that it annoys everybody else in the house. Papa is more or less waiting for his father-in-law to die so he can get his hands on that sweet sweet insurance money. Grandpa Gow is also disliked intensely by Grandma Leckie, since Gow is a bon vivant and inveterate teller of tall tales who also has a taste for the drink.

Robert's entrance into the family also means that there's another mouth to feed. He shows quite a bit of aptitude at school, to the point that Papa will consistently point out later that he made a big sacrifice by not pulling Robert out of the Academy at the legal school-leaving age but letting him go on to graduate. Also complicating things is that he's Catholic, his Mom having converted while the family back in Scotland having remained whichever Protestant denomination they were.

So that's more or less the first half of the movie. The second half opens after several years have passed and Robert is about to graduate from the Academy. He's grown up and Dean Stockwell is obviously too young to play the ~18-year-old Robert, so he's now played by Tom Drake. He's got a best friend who's relatively well-to-do and can go off to university, and a girlfriend who's got a good enough singing voice that she might have a shot at a scholarship to the conservatory. As for Robert, he's in line to take the examination to get a scholarship to go to university with the aim of studying medicine and become a doctor. But there's a catch: Papa Leckie is going to have to sign off on it, and dammit, he only sees Robert as a source of revenue, so it's off to the local boiler factory for Robert, Papa having no qualms about crushing his grandson's dreams.

Thankfully, despite being three generations older than Robert and having had a lifetime of heavy drinking, Gow still hasn't dropped dead. He's the one member of the family who has always been kind to Robert (well, Mama Leckie has generally been on his side too), and even at this advanced age he's going to do all he can to try to fulfill Robert's dream, because, after all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

The Green Years is the sort of movie that MGM was good at making, and the polish that MGM could put on a movie like this really shines through. Now, a lot of it is probably nonsense; Coburn has a truly awful beard and I don't know that any two characters have the same Scottish accent. But, minus a couple of musical numbers since the studio was trying to promote Beverly Tyler, it's amiable enough. It runs a bit long at just over two hours, though, so be warned.

The Green Years did get a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection, but the TCM Shop has it on backorder, while Amazon has it listed as avaialble to buy from a bunch of non-Amazon sellers. Make of that what you will.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Errand Boy

It's been a couple of months since the last time I popped in one of the DVDs from my Jerry Lewis box set, so recently I decided to watch The Errand Boy.

The movie starts promisingly enough, with a montage of how Hollywood makes movies, with pretty much nothing being real. We then move to Paramutual Studios (spelled this way as an obvious referent to Paramount which released the movie), ron by the Paramutual family which is headed by Tom (Brian Donlevy), with his wife Helen (Kathleen Freeman) also on the board). Apparently, the studio is doing well at the box office, but is not making as much money overall as it could because there's some sort of money wastage occurring on the lot that they can't figure out.

So, the board hires an analyst to watch the doings at the lot to determine where that money is being wasted, but the analyst says that he can't do the job, because everybody will recognize him. They need somebody secret that nobody will suspect of being a glorified spy. Thankfully for the board, trying to paste up a billboard just outside their office window is one Morty Tashman (Jerry Lewis). He is, as you can guess, thoroughly incompetent at the job.

The Paramutuals decide he'd be perfect for the spy job, and hire him on the spot, with him to report to Dexter Sneak (Howard McNear). Dexter, for his part, puts Morty into the studio messenger/errand service, where Morty's unsuspecting boss will be Grumpy (Stanley Adams).

At this point, the plot stops dead in its tracks, and we get an excuse for a bunch of sketch comedy from Jerry Lewis. We never really learn what's causing the leak in the studio's finances, and, to be fair, that's not really the point of the movie but more of a macguffin. But in any case, it's hard to give much of a lengthy synopsis to The Errand Boy.

Unfortunately, the sketches on the whole don't work as well as in the earlier The Bellboy, and with a relatively plotless movie unlike Cinderfella, the movie winds up being a lot less than perhaps it could have been. Some of the skits do work well, such as one the studio water tank, but others either don't work (the wacky-named characters whose names nobody can pronouce), and others are just oddly out of place (the juvenile basketball team).

The Errand Boy is a movie that's good to have as part of a box set, but I don't think it's ever going to be remembered as one of Jerry Lewis' finest hours.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Strictly Ballroom

Another of the movies that I had the chance to record during one of the free preview weekends is Strictly Ballroom. It's going to be on again multiple times this week, starting with 10:00 PM today on The Movie Channel (three hours later if you only have the west coast feed), so I sat down to watch it and do a post on it here.

The movie starts out in mockumentary fashion, with Shirley Hastings (Pat Thomson) talking about her son Scott. Shirley was big in the field of competitive ballroom dancing back in the day, and she stayed in the field after her competition days were over, having a son Scott (Paul Mercurio) and training him to dance, along with running a school of ballroom dancing. Scott apparently caused controversy at a district-level competition, by diverting from the traditional steps and doing his own thing, which caused a scandal in the cloistered world of competitive dance, and caused a breakup with dance partner Liz (Gina Carides).

The big competition, eventually leading to the Pan-Pacific Championship, is coming up fairly soon, and Scott needs a dance partner. Offering her services is Fran (Tara Morice). She's part of Australia's Spanish community, who emigrated to the country in the years immediately after World War II, at least as I understand it. So she's still got a father and grandmother with one foot in both Australia and the old country. But we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit, as the bigger problem is that she's one of the beginners at the dance school, and with her big glasses doesn't look the part of a ballroom dancer at all, which probably wouldn't work so well in competition.

Still, Scott decides to dance with her, mostly because he's reached the level of being passionate about doing the dancing he wants to do, which isn't necessarily the dance that everybody else would want him to do. So there's a lot of pressure on Scott from his mother, as well as from Kendall, the nominal owner of the dance school. On Fran's side, there's a lot of bigotry from the more established dancers, as well as pressure from her own family who aren't so sure of these non-Spanish dances with somebody not of the Spanish-Australian community.

Eventually, however, Scott comes to be accepted by Fran's family, and learns about his own parents' history with the Pan-Pacific, just in time for the big competition. Apparently, a lot of the judging is based on reputation, and it's tough to do well if the judges have already decided who they think is good based on past reputation. And will Fran even dance in the competition? Will Scott put in his own steps?

There's a lot good in Strictly Ballroom, which takes one of the basic universal storylines, that of tradition versus modernity, and updates it deftly by putting it into a relatively new setting of competitive ballroom dancing. (I distinctly recall my local PBS station running some shows of such competitions in the late 1980s or early 1990s, around the time Strictly Ballroom came out.) However, I had a lot of problems with the movie, or more specifically the direction by Baz Luhrmann.

There's a lot of artificially gaudy color, which reminded me of some of the camerawork in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. To an extent, that fits in with the movie in that the way the competitors make themselves up for the competitions (in part, I believe, to capture the attention of the judges who are not always up close to the dancers on the other end of the dance floor) does look highly stylized. But I felt Luhrmann overdid it, to the point that it became intrusive and took away from the story.

The other big problem I had was that Strictly Ballroom gave off a strong vibe of what led to Variety's "Stix Nix Hick Pix" headline, only in an Australian context (of course I, being American, may have a completely wrong view of Australia here). It felt a lot like Luhrmann playing the part of a sophisticated metropolitan, saying "Look at these icky lower-class people from the sticks trying to get ideas above their station with their ballroom dancing! Aren't they so déclassé?" It gets tedious as fast as Douglas Sirk's movies do. Reading the Wikipedia article on Luhrmann, it seems he grew up with a ballroom dance teaching mother in the rural part of New South Wales, so I can't help but wonder if it's personal with him.

Still, there's definitely a lot of Strictly Ballroom that's interesting and definitely worth a watch.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

A Farewell to Arms (1932)

I'm not the biggest fan of Ernest Hemingway, and perhaps that colors my view of the 1932 adaptation of his novel A Farewell to Arms. It's going to be on TCM tomorrow afternoon at 6:15 PM, so you have a chance to watch and judge for yourself.

Gary Cooper plays Lt. Frederic Henry, an American who decided he was going to go off and have some adventure by taking part in World War I on the Italian front as an ambulance driver. He's stationed with Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou), a surgeon who has fallen a bit for one of the British nurses, Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes), but not anywhere near the opint of it being serious.

Frederic meets Catherine, and sure enough the two fall in love, even though both of them know how forbidden this is. Catherine's best friend Ferguson (Mary Phillips) isn't so sure about the romance. Eventually, Catherine is assigned to a hospital in Milan, well behind the lines, so that she won't be able to see Frederic any more.

Frederic and his crew go on a mission that takes them close to the front lines, where they're going to have to hunker down in a basement while the Austrians are dropping bombs. One of those boms hits close enough to the house Frederic is in, resulting in substantial leg injuries. He gets sent to the hospital in... Milan. Gee, who could have guessed?

So of course Frederic and Catherine meet again, and they get secretly married by a priest, something which as I mentioned before is highly against regulations. Now being married, they can actually have sex, which serves here to facilitate the plot point of Catherine getting pregnant, because you didn't think Frederic was going to get pregnant, did you? Frederic is malingering and a nurse, finding all the alcohol he's been imbibing, sends Frederic back to the front. Catherine goes off to Switzerland to have the baby.

Catherine writes to Frederic, but Rinaldi, in a total dick move, intercepts the letters and, instead of censoring them, has them returned to sender without Frederic ever knowing Catherine has been writing him! Frederic, meanwhile, has been writing to the hospital in Milan, but of course Catherine is no longer there, and didn't leave a forwarding address. Eventually Frederic decides he's going to resort to desertion to find Catherine, with tragic results.

Apparently there's more going on in Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms than there is in this movie, which might explain why the 1957 film version runs almost two and a half hours. This one is a shade under 90 minutes, but even that feels long since the movie is overly talky. Cooper and Hayes do about as well as you can expect with the material, but the script certainly doesn't help them. Hayes, in particular, is not well served by the finale.

Still, A Farewell to Arms is the sort of movie you'll probably want to check out for yourself.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Blaxploitation and... Road House?!?

Sometimes when I'm watching movies, my mind goes off in strange directions. Today was one of those times. Last night I watched Friday Foster, and as I was thinking about the movie on one of my weekend walks with the dog, some odd things finally hit me.

Pam Grier plays Friday Foster, a former fashion model turned photographer for Glance magazine, a magazine for the black demographic run by Ford Malotte (Godfrey Cambridge). On New Year's Eve, Friday gets a couple of calls. One is from a friend Clorils, a fellow fashion model and friend of Friday's who begs Friday to help her, as something is seriously wrong. But Friday has already gotten another call, from her boss, telling her to go to the airport to cover the arrival of Blake Tarr (Thalmus Rasulala), the only black billionaire in America, who is known as the black Howard Hughes, as he's not just wealthy but famously reclusive.

So Friday goes to the airport to get pictures of the arrival, evading security to do so. It's a good thing that she does evade security, as when Tarr does step off the plane, he's shot and wounded by a couple of men dressed as cops, led by Yarbro (Carl Weathers), who in the resulting melee does catch sight of Friday. So now her life is in danger.

Still, Friday covers a fashion show led by stylish black couturier Madame Rena (Eartha Kitt), in which Clorils is one of the models. Unfortunately, Clorils gets stabbed and killed during the show and when the police investigate they find dope in her apartment, even though Friday knows fully well that Clorils would never have been a dealer and that someone is setting her up.

Clorils was a jet-setter, going off to Washington on the weekends where she met, among others, Sen. David Lee Hart (Paul Benjamin). So she and her detective friend -- who unsurprisingly becomes her boyfriend by the end of the movie -- Colt Hawkins (Yaphet Kotto) head off to Washington to find out about the mysterious "Black Widow" conspiracy and whether Sen. Hart might have had something to do with trying to kill Tarr at the airport.

Now, as I was watching, I found myself thinking that Friday Foster seemed a bit more muted than Grier's earlier movies. And then it hit me. A lot of the blaxplotation movies reminded me of Road House (having just blogged about it) in that you watch them to see the lead character kick ass as much as you would for the plot. Getting sex appeal (depending on whether you prefer to look at women like Grier or guys like Swayze) helps, too; how much the movie is grounded in reality is entirely secondary.

Friday Foster, however, felt different in tone. There are chase scenes and the big shootout at the end, but Grier isn't kicking butt the way she does by putting razor blades in her afro in Coffy. Instead, it felt more as though the filmmakers were trying to go for a bit more serious vibe the way that other 1970s conspiracy theory movies did, such as Soylent Green or The Parallax View. (Thankfully, however, Friday Foster doesn't have the tedious focus on evil big business in cahoot with the government to hurt the little guy that other conspiracy movies did in the 1970s.)

Now, Friday Foster doesn't always work as it tries to straddle two different genres, but it's always interesting. The problem isn't a lack of Grier being bad-ass, and certainly not a lack of nudity (we see models disrobing and changing outfits, as well as Grier and Kotto taking a bath together). Instead, I think it's the writing, which gave the characters a lot of bad lines, and wildly uneven acting. Eartha Kitt, in particular, seems to be in a completely different movie, but her line deliveries are hilariously over the top. And what Ted Lange (later the bartender on The Love Boat) is doing here as a pimp is beyond me. And as always, never mind the continuity problems. (As with Road House, the signs of California filming, such as the mountains ostensibly in the Potomac valley, are all over the film.)

People who are looking for traditional blaxploitation aren't going to get quite so much of it in Friday Foster. But they are going to get a movie that's fascinating for a whole bunch of other reasons. Despite its flaws, I really enjoyed it.