Pam Grier in Coffy (1973)


(director/writer: Jack Hill; cinematographer: Paul Lohmann; editor: Chuck McClelland; music: Roy Ayers; cast: Pam Grier (Coffy), Booker Bradshaw (Howard Brunswick), Robert DoQui (King George), William Elliott (Carter Brown), Allan Arbus (Vitroni), Sid Haig (Omar), Barry Cahill (McHenry), Ruben Moreno (Ruben Ramos), Linda Haynes (Meg), Lee de Broux (Nick), John Perak (Aleva); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert A. Papazian; Orion Home Video; 1973)

“The film totally revolves around Pam and she carries the film with a lethal and sexy punch.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer-director Jack Hill (“Spider Baby”/”Switchblade Sisters”), a low-budget B-film auteur filmmaker who is an exponent of the Roger Corman-style of quickie filmmaking, hits the blaxploitation jackpot with this AIP made film he wrote with Pam Grier in mind as the lead. It was the role that catapulted her into being the first black female superstar of modern times.

It opens with Denise Bridgewater singing “Coffy is the color of your skin.” Coffy is Pam Grier, a dutiful nurse by day (there’s one scene of her at work in the hospital) and an avenging angel at night, killing the drug kingpins, pimps and crooked politicians who directly or indirectly caused her 11-year-old sister to be ruined for life with a heroin addiction and who also destroyed the rest of her family with drugs. In the opening scene Coffy masquerades as a prostitute to hookup with two smalltime drug dealers and pimps, and uses a shotgun to blow the drug dealer’s head off and then injects a large amount of heroin into his underling so he has OD’d. Coffy then goes after the big boys, as she poses as a Jamaican prostitute to hookup with big-hatted pimp and pusher King George (Robert DoQui). He gives her as a gift to the racist big white boss, Vitroni (Allan Arbus, ex-husband of noted photographer Diane Arbus). Coffy goes after them with a vengeance and then discovers her politically ambitious and smooth talking councilman boyfriend Howard Brunswick (Booker Bradshaw) is full of beans about helping the black community, as he’s involved with the Man and drug kingpins. She was mistaken in giving up her caring and honest policeman boyfriend Carter (William Elliott) for this phony, as Carter was the only good character in the film. When he gets killed by the thugs, she has another reason to go after them.

The film totally revolves around Pam and she carries the film with a lethal and sexy punch, giving it whatever acclaim an exploitation film of this cheesy nature can muster; after all it’s primarily an excuse for escapist entertainment and that it does accomplish. One can get their kicks watching Pam use her smarts and expose her well-endowed chest to turn the table on the baddies. There are catfights among the harem of prostitutes, a bobby pin is ingeniously used as a deadly weapon, razor blades in Pam’s Afro come in handy during a fight, shotgun blasts to the crotch are the norm and in an ugly scene that’s a reminder of the country’s racist past there’s a black pimp dragged in a speeding car by white racist mobsters while tied with a noose around his neck to the back bumper of the car.

When Pam gets her revenge and confesses it was like a dream, the film concludes with the lyrics “It’s not the end, it’s the beginning.” I guess vigilante justice is here to stay, but the blaxploitation film didn’t have a long run as it ran into opposition from the NAACP and was only a short-lived treat for audiences that were cheered on by its frankness and a chance to see blacks as underdogs fight back against whitey in a Hollywood film.