Last of the Monster Kids

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

BLAXPLOITATION MONTH: Friday Foster (1975)

Pam Grier starred in a number of films for American International Pictures, making some of her most famous films for the studio. But all good things must come to an end. With blaxploitation going out of fashion, “Friday Foster” would be the last A.I.P. movie Grier would star in. The studio itself wouldn't last much longer, being absorbed by Filmways by the start of the next decade. “Friday Foster” was based off the first comic strip to ever star a black character. The strip had already ended by 1975 and has now faded into obscurity. The movie adaptation isn't Pam's most well known film but it's still better known then the comic that it spawned from.

Originally a model, Friday Foster is now a fashion photographer for Glance Magazine. While her editor has her taking pictures of pretty dresses, Foster desires to report on more serious stories. That big story comes to her when she witnesses the attempted assassination of Blake Tarr, the wealthiest black man in America. Afterwards, Friday's best friend is murdered. A conspiracy is closing in on her, targeting her next. She teams up with a private detective and uncovers a secret plan nestled within the black power movement.

“Friday Foster” is a little different then Pam's other characters. Unlike the vigilantes and private detectives she previously played, Friday is mostly a normal person. She has a mischievous little brother, regular friends, and a boss who gives her shit. Instead of working with the criminals around her, she's at odds with them. A notable scene even has her trash-talking a local pimp. Even though Friday is more grounded, she's still a tough, capable hero. Twice, Foster steals vehicles so she can track down a potential lead. By the end, she's smashing milk jugs over people's heads and picking up guns to defend herself. Pam is great at projecting a sense of toughness. She always has been. Yet there's also something satisfying about seeing her play something closer to an ordinary person.

As the blaxploitation genre started to unwind, “Friday Foster” hearkens back to the earlier days of “Shaft.” The film features the hero uncovering and attempting to untangle a convoluted plot. As Friday uses her feminine wiles to get information, a senator tells her that Tarr planned his own assassination. Later, Tarr informs her that the senator is scheming against him. In the last act, Foster uncovers the truth. That an outside element is plotting against both men, hoping to undone the entire black political movement. The bizarre twist? The villain is also black, in the employ of a barely glimpsed white mastermind. All his henchmen are also black. Never once do the black heroes strike back against a white oppressor. It shows how much things had swung back by 1975. Directly portraying white authority as the enemy, as the Man, was becoming less prevalent.

Even though it's root are in a romance based comic strip, “Friday Foster” still features some surprisingly big action sequences. The assassination attempt on Tarr results in a tense shoot-out in the cramped confines of the plane hanger. An especially memorable sequence has Friday's detective friend chasing the hit man across rooftops. Both men are shown making running leaps in-between the buildings. That fight also concludes with a bloody shootout. In its last act, “Friday Foster” really piles on the action. A heavily armed party attacks a black community center. Pistols, machine guns, and even a grenade launcher are employed in the massive fight. It's a far bigger ending then anything previously glimpsed in AIP's other blaxploitation titles.

Another example that “Friday Foster” was, perhaps, a slightly pricier affair then usual is its supporting cast. This cast is filled with many well known black actors of the time. Yaphet Kotto plays Colt, the detective working with Foster. Kotto has fantastic chemistry with Grier, the two often trading very charming dialogue. Carl Weathers, a year before “Rocky” made him a star, plays the mostly silent hit man, a part nicely utilizing his intimidating appearance. Thalmus Rasulala plays the millionaire Tarr, who is simultaneously charming and stern. Eartha Kitt is nicely flashy as the fashion designer friend of Friday, who provides a major clue. Scatman Crothers has an amusing small role as a less then virtuous priest. For a low budget film, it's an impressive line-up of well known talent.

Despite being based on a family friendly comic strip, “Friday Foster” confirms to the R-rated standards of the time. The violence is bloody. Profanity is frequent. Drugs and prostitutes feature in the story. Pam has two love scenes and a gratuitous shower scene, not that anyone is complaining. The film's script is decent but not the main attraction. The soundtrack is fantastic too, a collection of amazingly funky basslines and grooving wa-wa sounds. But what really makes “Friday Foster” worth seeking out is its excellent cast. Seeing such a talented collection of performers play off each other makes for a really entertaining film. Pam didn't save the best for last but “Friday Foster” is still a good time. [7/10]

[X] Afros or Sideburns
[X] Brothels or Pimps
[X] Churches or Pastors
[X] Funky Soundtrack
[X] Homophobic Caricatures
[X] Inner-City Setting
[] Night Club Act
[X] Plot Involving Drugs or Organized Crime
[X] Racist Authority Figures
[] Sticking It to the Man
[X] Sweet Love Makin'
[X] Use of Street Slang

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