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Exploitation Cinema: Foxy Brown

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Perhaps no other director handled the exploitation genre better than Jack Hill. And perhaps no other actress personified the hard-hitting, hip, and sexy screen diva better than the illustrious Pam Grier. Merge the two and the results are dazzling. 1974’s Foxy Brown features one such mixture of Hill and Grier, combining sex, violence, and social issues to create a brilliantly-constructed movie ideal for Saturday afternoon popcorn munching.

Foxy Brown was originally planned to be the sequel to 1973’s Coffy, but the studio decided to scrap the idea at the last minute. Hill essentially went with the same story anyway, reworking a few of the plot components but keeping the basics intact to assemble the yarn of retribution and mayhem on the rough urban streets. The picture takes an interesting angle in relation to Coffy, using an analogous configuration but working a broader perspective with the material to generate more mainstream appeal.

Grier stars as the title character. We aren’t told what her job is, but we are introduced to her commitment to family as she protects her cokehead brother Link (Antonio Fargas) from certain disaster at the hands of a pair of villains. Soon enough we learn that Foxy’s boyfriend, Dalton Ford (Terry Carter), is an undercover cop. Better still, he’s having facial reconstructive surgery to generate a new identity so that he can be protected from drug dealers after a mission turned sour.

Even with his new face, it isn’t long before Dalton is gunned down. Foxy springs into action, seeking vengeance on her boyfriend’s killers. She infiltrates a call-girl organization run by Steve Elias (Peter Brown) and the evil Miss Katherine (Kathryn Loder) and soon discovers a drug ring that has deep roots in police corruption. Foxy seeks out her revenge, using her wits and sexuality to get the job done.

All of the usual exploitation accoutrements are here. Foxy Brown relentlessly shifts from one brutal set piece to another, stopping only for a brief sexual interval that usually showcases Grier’s notably busty figure.

There is a sense of cruelty here, though, and some might find some of the scenes hard to take. A particularly distressing sequence involving the rape of Foxy at the hands of a pair of heroin-dealing rednecks is exploited to full extent, with racial epithets and a bullwhip “highlighting” the scene. Nevertheless, Foxy gets even just like she always does.

Ethnic tones fill Foxy Brown, giving the movie a sense of depth and drenching it in a time period that deserves assessment. A number of issues forced young black men into various “occupations,” with pimps and dealers comprising the basic makeup of the streets. Foxy’s brother Link sums up the scrape with a rather persuasive monologue that he hopes excuses his dependence on nose candy, but his words truly point to a broader certainty that forms the root for the film’s plot.

While Foxy Brown lacks the pragmatism of Coffy, it does provide more amusement from an exploitation perspective. Note the disengaged penis, for instance, or the ill-fated baddie meeting his finish courtesy of a plane’s propeller. Hill’s movie is stacked with moments that push all of the right buttons, but Foxy Brown also packs a mean stripe that many may not value. Grier’s character is certainly put through the wringer, but Foxy is a survivor and she proves it by coming out on top when it counts.

For a revenge story brimming with sex and violence, you may just want to mess around with Foxy Brown. It may not be as sober as Coffy or as socially conscious as Super Fly, but this film packs a punch and helped establish Pam Grier as one of the sexiest and strongest women of the 1970s.

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