Blaxploitation films are a type of genre that I get a kick out of. They are wild, gritty, full of nudity, and beautiful women. The last movie that checked all those boxes off was Coffy, which also starred Pam Grier (Coffy Review). It was a film full of boobs, violence and jive talking dudes getting blasted away by the righteous Pam Grier. I was hoping that the tradition would continue with Sheba, Baby, but unfortunately, Pam Grier was at a point in her career where she wanted to broaden her acting abilities and refused to do the movie if there was any nudity. (That sound you’re hearing is my heart breaking.) Due to those demands, Sheba, Baby comes off as a blaxploitation flick with hardly any violence, no nudity, and a light-hearted approach. However, it’s not a poor film by any means, but rather a fun time waster, but a large part of me feels that it could have been much more than just that. Read on to see if you agree…
DISCS: 2 (1 Blu-ray, 1 DVD)
RUN-TIME: 91 mins
ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1
AUDIO: LPCM Mono
PRODUCTION DATE: 1975
RELEASE DATE: Feb 9, 2016
HOTTER ‘N’ COFFY MEANER ‘N’ FOXY BROWN!Fresh off her career defining roles for Jack Hill in Coffy and Foxy Brown, Pam Grier returned to pure Blaxploitation (after turns in Blaxploitation-horror and action), in cult filmmaker William Girdler’s (The Manitou, Abby) ‘Sheba, Baby’…
Grier plays Sheba Shayne, a private eye based in Chicago who is called to her hometown to stop the local mob boss (played by “that bad D’Urville Martin”, Black Caesar, Dolemite) from moving in on her father’s loan business. Aided by her father’s partner, Brick Williams (Austin Stoker, Assault on Precinct 13, Battle for the Planet of the Apes), Sheba finds out that the violent thugs aren’t going go away with a fight. Car bombs, gun fights and boat chases ensue whilst armed with her curves, street smarts and a .44, Sheba is in for a bloodbath!
Grier would appear in three Blaxploitation classics in 1975 (the others were Bucktown and Friday Foster), where she was at the top of her game and genre, with the Los Angeles Times calling her “cool, tough and glamorous – a female fantasy Wonder Woman”, further cementing her status as the first female action star.
Much like all the other Pam Grier films of the time, she plays a tough as nails woman seeking revenge. The film starts off introducing us to her private detective character Sheba Shayne, who learns of her father being harassed by a group of tough guys. She heads to her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky to help out and quickly becomes involved in taking down the baddies by herself, constantly refusing help from her past lover Brick Williams, played by Assault on Precinct 13‘s Austin Stoker.
Sheba, Baby cuts out most of the elements that make a blaxploitation film remarkably delectable. You’ll have the prerequisite cat fight, but gone is the in your face nudity. There are plenty of guns fights and loads of action scenes, yet the grittiness is missing, replaced with a light-hearted vibe. The villains in the movie come across as caricatures, playing everything up to the point where the goofiness is boiling over. However, much of that isn’t a terrible condition, as you’ll definitely produce a laugh or two during certain purposely funny scenes.
The flick has plenty of enjoyable moments; most notable is an extended chase scene through the Kentucky State fair, with plenty of onlookers watching the action and looking straight into the camera (a running theme in this movie). In the final scenes, Pam Grier storms a boat and takes on the lead henchman, resulting in an exciting boat chase, which is all wonderfully shot. The movie certainly doesn’t lack on exciting, albeit gritty-less moments.
It’s completely understandable why Pam Grier wanted to diversify her roles and cut back on the blatant sexualization of her looks. No blame is being put on her for that, although when the decision comes at the cost of making a movie that isn’t as entertaining as the previous efforts (Black Mama, White Mama, Coffy, Foxy Brown), someone should have stepped forward and said something, anything to make this movie a grittier, non-PG experience. Funny enough, though, the choice of making the movie PG actually worked for their benefit, making the movie quite successful, therefore, what do I know. Either way, in my opinion, Sheba, Baby is a pleasurable movie, but one that lacks the heart and soul of previous Grier films.
Arrow Video is the go-to company for fantastic looking blaxploitation flicks, having previously released Coffy and Foxy Brown, with an upcoming release of Black Mama, White Mama. Sheba, Baby is no different from their other efforts, featuring audio and video that is borderline perfect. The video for Sheba, Baby provides a clean picture, intact grain, wonderful blacks during night scenes and no noticeable damage. The audio fares just as well, with a LPCM Mono soundtrack providing plenty of depth and clear dialogue.I wouldn’t go so far as to say Sheba, Baby is jam packed full of special features, nevertheless, what you do receive is welcome. You’ll notice two commentaries for the movie, one with Producer/Writer David Sheldon and another with Patty Breen, who is the webmaster for Director William Girdler’s site. She is quite knowledgeable about the movie and claims to have seen the movie more times than you can imagine, therefore, she is right choice to sit down and discuss the flick.
In addition to the commentaries, you have a 15-minute interview with the aforementioned David Sheldon. There are plenty of interesting tidbits provided on the writing and producing for the movie and his rocky relationship with Director William Girdler. The next interview is with film historian Chris Poggiali, which runs 12 minutes. He goes into detail on Pam Grier’s work with American Internation Pictures. It’s a short, but sweet interview. Rounding out the features is a trailer, gallery and booklet. Noticeably missing from the features was an interview with Pam Grier.
– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
– Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
– Audio commentary with producer-screenwriter David Sheldon, moderated by critic Nathaniel Thompson
– Audio commentary with Patty Breen, webmaster of WilliamGirdler.com
– Sheldon: Baby – a brand new interview with David Sheldon
– Pam Grier: The AIP Years – a look over the wonder years of the Blaxploitation queen with film historian Chris Poggiali
– Gallery featuring rare publicity images and Lobby Cards
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips
– Booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by Patty Breen, webmaster of WilliamGirdler.com, illustrated with archive stills and posters
Sheba, Baby is the result of an actress who wanted to try something new, but failed to observe that she was already doing the right job. The movie fails to deliver a gritty experience, but it does provide a fun one, which in the end, is the best we can ask for. The Blu-ray from Arrow Video is once again, top shelf quality. Recommended for fans of Pam Grier, provided you fancy your blaxploitation pleasant, but light on nudity and violence.