Friday, 5 February 2016

Sheba, Baby (1975)

Pam Grier’s great, isn’t she? A bit like being the Peter Cushing of blaxploitation, she constantly rose above the 1970s AIP material she was cast in, delivering sometimes dodgy dialogue with an integrity and feeling that added to her already considerable star quality.
         SHEBA, BABY, soon to be released on Blu-ray in the UK by Arrow Films desperately needs her talents.

Lovely Pam
         Admittedly, it probably needs Jack Hill as well. The man who guided her through hits like THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, COFFY and FOXY BROWN would probably have given SHEBA, BABY a bit more verve, a bit more energy, and perhaps most important of all, a bit more of an edge.
Instead, SHEBA, BABY is directed by William Girdler. Mr Girdler is best known in horror circles for such movies as ABBY (the blaxploitation version of THE EXORCIST), GRIZZLY (JAWS with a bear) and THE MANITOU (Tony Curtis on full throttle). At the time of his premature death in a helicopter accident obituaries stated that as a director he was ‘just hitting his stride’. SHEBA, BABY is one of his earlier efforts and does suffer from a lack of pacing, editing, and a few problems with image framing in some scenes.

This outfit both came in and went out of fashion during this scene
The plot? Pam’s father runs a loan company that the mob are putting the squeeze on, and she has to take a break from her job as a Private Investigator to come and sort them out. When Dad gets killed in a shoot out it’s time for Pam to get mean (although never as mean as in her Jack Hill pictures) with a final showdown with Mr Big on a lake and a pursuit that involves a speedboat and jet-ski.

Catfight Pam!
Fans of blaxploitation will have seen this one already. If you haven’t checked this one out yet, and are a fan of COFFY and FOXY BROWN be warned - this isn’t as good as either of them. Grier is excellent and once again shows us how rotten it was that she never became a mainstream movie star, as she has all the credentials. No-one else in the cast can hold a candle to her acting-wise, and some of them are so wooden it’s surprising to see them bleed when Pam shoots them. 
         As always, Arrow have gone the extra mile with a movie that probably doesn’t really deserve the special edition treatment. The Blu-ray transfer is fine, but you get the feeling SHEBA, BABY might be better experienced in a grindhouse cinema showing a tatty old print, or on muddy VHS with sound quality of the ‘being recorded through nine mattresses’ variety.

Bad guys. With guns.
There are a couple of nice extras that are actually more interesting than the film. We spend ten minutes with screenwriter and producer David Sheldon who talks about his time at AIP and his work with William Girdler. It’s always amazing (and actually rather pleasing) to discover people like Mr Sheldon can remember events of forty or so years ago with such detail, and the featurette makes for good viewing.
          Equally informative and entertaining is Chris Poggiali’s piece on the career of Pam Grier. Mr Poggiali obviously knows his stuff and delivers it in a relaxed and convivial tone that makes this another worthwhile extra. You also get two commentary tracks - one by Sheldon and another by William Girdler webmaster Patty Breen. There’s also a trailer, an image gallery and a booklet with new writing on the film by Patty Breen.

Arrow Films are releasing William Girdler's SHEBA, BABY on dual disc Region A&B Blu-ray and Region 1/2 DVD on 8th February 2016

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