Review: Foxy Brown

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Throughout the 1970s, Jack Hill directed a whole bunch of classic exploitation movies that managed to transcend what might seem to be the inherent restrictions of the genre, giving movies that mainstream audiences might see as ‘disposable’ a real substance. Hill was able to take something as unpromising as Swinging Cheerleaders and create a smart, witty comedy… and he was able to make the critically dismissed Blaxploitation genre into something astonishing. His work in the genre is without question the best it had to offer, and while his blaxploitation masterpiece remains Coffy, but Foxy Brown, once again showcasing the amazing Pam Grier, isn’t far behind.

Like Coffy, Foxy Brown is a brutal, relentless revenge shocker, with Grier as the title character who has a waster, drug-dealing brother Link (Antonio Fargas) and an undercover cop boyfriend (Terry Carter), who we first meet after he’s undergone plastic surgery and a name change to Michael Anderson to escape the attentions of the drug gangs he’s busted. Unfortunately, Link has debts that need paying, and exposes Anderson’s real identity to drug kingpin Steve Elias (Peter Brown), who orders the cop’s murder. Foxy immediately declares war on the gang, and infiltrates the ‘modelling agency’ / prostitution ring run by Elias and Miss Katherine (Kathryn Loder) in order to bring them down. This sees her helping a prostitute escape the clutches of the gang – and ruining an attempt to corrupt a judge in the process – only for her to be captured, raped and beaten by Elias’ gang. But you can’t keep a woman like Foxy Brown down for long, and she escapes, setting out to destroy everyone involved with the gang.

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Originally planned as a sequel to Coffy, Foxy Brown follows much the same template – the powerful, no-bullshit woman taking down sleazy drug dealers in scenes of remarkable violence – even now, some of the brutality and death scenes are pretty hardcore. One death, with a villain chopped apart by airplane propellers, is astonishingly nasty, and Foxy’s use of coat hangers as improvised weapons in her escape is remarkably gruesome. The film also has one of cinema’s earliest castration scenes – sensitive male viewers be warned!

Hill certainly doesn’t hold back from the exploitative nature of the story – there’s plenty of nudity dotted throughout the film, most of it gleefully gratuitous. Grier herself gets several topless scenes, which is certainly no bad thing, though of course she’s much more than just eye-candy. I don’t think there has ever been a better action heroine in cinema than Pam Grier – sexy, seductive and savage, she dominates every scene she appears in and is utterly convincing as both a sympathetic heroine and an unstoppable killing machine. It’s notable that while blaxploitation cinema remains widely dismissed by most critics, it was – alongside other allegedly low rent variation of exploitation movie – far more willing than mainstream Hollywood to break the mold. It’s amusing to see critics talking about modern action heroines as if they are something new, when the likes of Grier were kicking ass decades ago, when no ‘respectable’ movie would offer lead roles to women – or, for that matter, to anyone black. Exploitation movies were willing to go there, and Jack Hill in particular blazed a trail that it would take Hollywood another three decades to begin to catch up with.

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Of course, Foxy Brown is very much of its time – the wild 1970s fashions (Grier gets to go through a variety of outlandish outfits and wigs during this story), the funky music, the amazing title sequence, the sometimes cringeworthy Black Power dialogue. But none of this hurts the movie – one the one hand, the nostalgia trip is a lot of fun, and on the other, the film is powerful and intense enough to transcend any idea of being dated.

Foxy Brown is another great Jack Hill exploitation movie – witty, sexy and brutal, the film is a master class in action cinema and this new edition looks incredible. Not to be missed!

DAVID FLINT

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