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February 2016

Sheba, Baby

cast: Pam Grier, Austin Stoker, D'Urville Martin, Rudy Challenger, and Dick Merrifield

director: William Girdler

90 minutes (15) 1975
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Arrow blu-ray region B

RATING: 6/10
review by Ian Shutter

Sheba, Baby

A follow-up to Coffy (1973), and Foxy Brown (1974), this is another vengeful crime thriller starring Pam Grier, queen of the 1970s' short-lived blaxploitation cycle. Here, she's a private detective working in Chicago, where ex-cop Sheba Shayne of 'Racker & Shayne' appears to be the brains and the muscle of the investigative partnership. Called back home to Kentucky, Sheba flies into Louisville to visit her dad, Andy (Rudy Challenger, from another Grier vehicle, George Armitage's Hit Man, 1972), and finds out that he's in serious trouble with a gang of crooked rivals in the money-lending business.

Threats and a beating escalate to a car-bombing, and 'little Andy' - as her father calls her - gets involved some inevitably violent action, sorting out Louisville's crime boss. With her dad's partner Brick (Austin Stoker, who went on to co-star in Carpenter's Assault On Precinct 13, 1975) in tow, Sheba gatecrashes a loan shark's midnight pay-off at a 'train museum' in the local railway yards. A shoot-out in her father's offices results in more than one tragedy and, in case viewers fail to notice the importance of a hospital deathbed scene, there's a song of narrative commentary on the soundtrack to drive home the plot points of steadfast defiance and grief.

Location shooting at a street funfair adds a colourful backdrop to one chase sequence. Sheba wangles an 'invitation' for her best-dressed self to a mobsters' party on a motor yacht anchored on the river, where she quickly abandons her undercover recon, starts a catfight on the bad guy's boat, and ends up jumping overboard. Returning, in a blue wet-suit, our unstoppable heroine sneaks back onto the yacht only to get caught by the suspicious villain, aptly named Shark (Dick Merrifield), and locked up below decks in the engine room.

Stuck in a vicious underworld of wealthy financiers, where insurance risk might only result in a theatrical murder, Sheba defies the odds against her and survives until the cops and US Coast Guard arrive. She steals a jet-ski to catch up with the fleeing Shark and puts an end to the finale's speedboat chase with a well-aimed spear-gun. This is a superbly executed, dialogue-free action sequence building up to a punch-line moment with a spectacular, and justifiably fatal, explosion.

Ahead of its time, for the era that gave us the original Charlie's Angels (1976-81), this is a quality B-movie with an solid leading performance from Grier. Despite some risibly crass stereotyping and jive comedy, the movie's gunpoint confrontations are enlivened by sarcastic one-liners that Grier always delivers with casual aplomb under competent direction by William Girdler - perhaps best known for his final picture, cult horror The Manitou.

The fine restoration job on this blu-ray is commendable and the disc extras include short biographical featurette, Pam Grier: The AIP Years (11 minutes) by cinema historian Chris Poggiali, and a 15-minute video interview with producer David Sheldon.



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