Monday, January 25, 2021


Black, Bold and Bloody Mean! 

"Anybody ask you what happened, tell 'em you've been hit by a truck...Mac "Truck" Turner!" 

In recent years blaxploitation has been parodied and riffed on so much that the entire genre has sadly become an almost huge joke upon itself and lost in the shuffle is the fact that there are excellent films here along with more artistry at work in them then you might imagine. TRUCK TURNER was released just as the genre was peaking with THREE THE HARD WAY, FOXY BROWN, ABBY, and TNT JACKSON among many others all being released the same year. 

After the massive success of his soundtrack for 1971's SHAFT, it seemed only natural for the composer Isaac Hayes would make the transition to acting, and his role in TRUCK TURNER was immediately preceded by the quirky but excellent TOUGH GUYS which paired him with Lino Ventura (and is overdue for a legit release). And of course, Hayes supplied the soundtrack to both films with his work on TRUCK TURNER soundtrack is great and stands right up there with his work on SHAFT.

Written by Oscar Williams (BLACK BELT JONES) along with Michael Allin (ENTER THE DRAGON) and uncredited help from Leigh Chapman (DIRTY MARY AND CRAZY LARRY), it was originally conceived by American International as a project for a Caucasian actor (Robert Mitchum and Ernest Borgnine were among those considered). It was re-written right before production as a blaxploitation vehicle which according to the informative commentary on the Kino Lorber Blu-ray by director Jonathan Kaplan caught him by surprise. Kaplan also relates that when Isaac Hayes was first shown the script, he objected to the title character's misogyny and the use of the word "bitch" with the result that they took the character in a different direction than most blaxploitation male leads and in turn brought a rather sweet love story into the plot. 

The opening credits start off in the shiny & new office building Los Angeles and then moves to blighted urban streets with endless rows of bail bondman storefronts and were introduced to the title character who on a bit of reverse-SHAFT, lives in a squalid apartment littered with food containers and empty beer bottles.  Hayes is ex-football player-now bounty hunter Mac "Truck" Turner who along with his partner Jerry (Allen Weeks - who was the recipient of the "picking your feet in Poughkeepsie" interrogation by Gene Hackman in THE FRENCH CONNECTION) are hired by a slimy lawyer (the great Dick Miller in a wonderful pink sports jacket) to track down Leroy "Gator" Johnson (Paul Harris ACROSS 110TH STREET) a notorious pimp who skipped bail leaving Truck's friend & bondsman Nate Dinwiddie (Sam Laws HIT MAN). Tracking Gator down, Truck & Jerry participate in a high-speed car chase while pursuing the pimp in a spectacularly staged sequence. 

After Truck kills Gator in a shootout, Gator's "business partner" Dorinda (in an off-the-rails performance from STAR TREK's Nichelle Nichols) vows revenge on Turner thereby setting in motion the main plot of the film. Dorinda who operates her girls out of a swanky Beverly Hills house (with a huge picture of her late partner adoring the living room) gathers a cadre of her fellow pimps (one of whom wears a variety of terrific western shirt/matching eye-patch combos) and offers half a cut of her business to whoever kills Turner. The standout among the would-be assassins is the cold, calculating & very quietly menacing Harvard Blue (Yaphett Kotto).

Nichols as Dorinda is a true force of nature here - not so much chewing scenery but devouring it whole and then spitting it back out. She seems to be gleefully glad to shed her Star Trek image and her long uninterrupted monologues are the highlight of the film as she spews bile at anyone that comes within her sight.  Throwing out lines such as "We call her Turnpike, cuz you gotta pay to get on and pay to get off!" she brings a grin to your face whenever she is on-screen.

The film alternates between bloody squib-filled shoot-outs (Hayes's Turner carries a .44 Magnum in a nod to DIRTY HARRY) and light-hearted moments (there is some genuinely funny stuff here). Although Hayes's acting range is limited, he brings a great presence & charisma to the screen whether being shirtless while coolly dispatching would-be assassins (along with a complete lack of police presence) or sharing some tender (and sometimes funny) moments with his girlfriend Annie (a nicre performance from Annazette Chase THE MACK). Although Week's performance as Turner's partner Jerry has come under criticism from some, I think he is quite good here and his scenes with Hayes show some real chemistry between the two (along with some light comedy) and makes me wish there were a sequel with the pair and Chase's Annie. 

Jonathan Kaplan had started out with Roger Corman on NIGHT CALL NURSES and THE STUDENT TEACHERS (which is my favorite of the "student" and "nurses" cycle) and THE SLAMS with Jim Brown. He worked his way up the food chain later directing WHITE LINE FEVER, HEART LIKE A WHEEL, and MR. BILLION (which deserves a nice Blu-ray) among others then a busy career in TV. In TRUCK TURNER he stages some great action sequences including a prolonged and bloody shootout in a hospital with patients on gurneys being pushed over, an operating room being invaded with exploding blood bags, and a nifty death POV sequence.    

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