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Cleopatra Jones

Cleopatra Jones (1973)

July. 13,1973
| Action Thriller Crime

After federal agent Cleopatra Jones orders the burning of a Turkish poppy field, the notorious drug lord Mommy vows to destroy her.


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I saw this film the weekend it came out in 1973 in downtown Baltimore, Tamara Dobson's hometown. Although that was 36 years ago, I remember it very well.1973 was about 5 years past the golden age of the beautiful but unbeatable-in-a-fight female heroine. A total fantasy, but as a middle-aged woman now, I still sometimes ask myself "What would Emma Peele do?" I found the early '70's heroines to be complete wimps compared to the late 60's heroines.So when the ad campaign hit in 1973 for "Tamara Dobson IS Cleopatra Jones," with the poster of the tall gun-toting Ms. Dobson, I begged and begged to go.I went downtown with an older woman friend of the family, and the two of us were literally the only white people in the entire packed theater of black people.In the film. the villains are all white and the good guys are all black. Also, there are many many scenes in which white people are killed by black people. During these scenes, the theater cheered wildly. This is probably not something you would notice watching the film on T.V., but believe me, if you are one of two white people in the theater, it makes a big impression.There was also a well-written and clever scene in the film in which one of Cleopatra's male assistants is lying in wait for the white villains. When they arrive, he pulls a gun on them and says "Guess what just jumped out of the woodpile?" The older woman who took me to the movie was southern. She thought this joke was hysterical and kept trying to explain it to me several times, with her extremely clear explanations catching the attention of everyone sitting around us. For those of you not blessed by an older southern friend, the phrase "Guess what just jumped out of the woodpile?" refers to the expression "N-word in the woodpile," a southern term for an unpleasant surprise.So what did I learn in my trip to the movies? 1) The term "blaxploitation" is totally false. This "blaxploitation" movie seemed to be about blacks who were superior in every way to whites, both morally and physically.2) It is really scary and uncomfortable being in the minority.


*The Things That Turned Me on :1 – The music of (J.J.Johnson) as well as the rest of the soundtrack. Actually all my friends just hate that disco music of the 1970s, but I just adore it. The best thing about it is that it has a fine fast rhythm and an orchestral sense in the same time; it's fun, gratifying, and like no other. But the thing that bothers me is that I can't find it unless in movies like that, or at some TV's shows from the 1970s and the start of the 1980s only ! It was real enjoyable part of this era's culture, I miss it powerfully and I don't understand why so many people disdain it just because "it's from the 1970s" !?? 2 – Watching (Shelly Winters) as a lesbian evil drug dealer who talks in filthy language ! Ohh I couldn't believe myself ! First of all it's new character especially when you have on the other hand a woman also as the lead star. Secondly it was like watching (Gary Cooper) as a pimp in some movie ! It's a chance to see Hollywood's icon in something away from all the previous prototypes or the polished clichés that seemed everlasting. It was totally a new image which hit me and succeeded at cleaving me to my chair till the end of the movie.3 – The fact that it's technically dexterous, and how the atmosphere looked so solid. The photography, the direction, the editing and the production were brilliant compared to the same elements at another Blaxploitation movies from the same era. Look at the opening scene or the car chase for instances...That was super. True that the script was nothing but shadows and echoes of another story lines at another flicks and TV's shows but Hey, it's the year 1973, so those folks were quite pioneers particularly when this kind of low budget Action movies ruled afterwards, and made its mark on later ones too.*The Things That Turned Me off !1 – (Tamara Dobson) to begin with. She didn't have that radiate sexual charisma, being close to mannish for most of the time. Moreover how her acting was more terrible than the hairstyle of everybody in the movie!2 – Of course the hairstyle of everybody in the movie !, and (Antonio Fargas) saying "My Hair Is Like A Woman If I Treat It Well It'll Treat Me Well !"..So that's the very much why he got himself killed !3 – (Tamara Dobson)'s alleged beauty !, and the way she impresses every man, boy, Martian in the movie to make them smack their lips and say "what a mama", "look at that" ! OH MY GOD what a bunch of feeble eyes, hypocrites, bad tasting people ! In one word (Pam Grier) was one hot mama who could've been unforgettable (Cleopatra Jones), however (Dobson) could've been fine as (Jones) only !*The Thing That Turned Me on and off !The bizarre outfits of (Cleopatra) ! I think the revolutionary fashion at the time just said a lot about getting revenge on the old modes or the traditional disposition along with the black desire to define a distinct independent character. Here it's some way to assure the dissimilarity of their characters or the uniqueness to be specific. So look at (Cleopatra)'s to know about her and the way they intended to make her look : she's wild as a tiger, as fierce as a fox, yet soft as a deer, and proud as a peacock. That strong animally form wasn't only exquisite as confident sexy figure, but also as a contemporary rebel manifestation of the black community just like those days' Jive talking. So the outfits fitted the dramatic state cleverly and weren't too much to a hilariously comic extent like in (Foxy Brown). I just liked the one at the climax's sequence which (Cleopatra) takes its skirt off to fight freely..WAW that's cool breathing one which I bet a lot of audience loved it back then as quite novel when there was no WWF, or women's wrestling on TV weekly ! However I personally think how it would've been perfect with another woman, despite how (Tamara Dobson) mastered the way character like that moves. Generally every era has for political economical social circumstances a lot of changes and vicissitudes, not to mention how the human taste is that fickle all along to have something fashionable at one time then becomes unfashionable in later time with too many parodies could be more successful than its original ! But nothing can deny that it was (or its parody) in fashion once. So maybe all of my lists' elements here could turn someone on, or maybe all of it may become fashionable again !, or maybe my list of the things that turned me off would turn me on one day.. Hmmm.., or maybe not !

Andrew Leavold

Back in the Seventies, mainstream audiences still reeling from the one-two punch of Shaft and Superfly were subjected to a barrage of ghetto avengers - Black Caesar, Willie Dynamite, The Candy Tangerine Man and the rest - all covering depressingly familiar terrain. Black writer Max Julien (also an actor, playing the lead role in the pimpsploitation classic The Mack) offered AiP his script for a female alternative but passed. Warner was quick to snatch up the rights, and in 1973 foisted the first black superchick onto the American public: Cleopatra Jones.The film opens with a blazing opium field somewhere in Turkey. Cleo Jones, hap-ki-do expert and international do-gooder, returns to America to report on her success as a 'special agent' in her one-woman war on dope. Lesbian drug baroness Mommy (Shelley Winters, fresh from Corman's Bloody Mama) is furious her poppy fields were torched, and threatens an all-out war between the Brothers and the Mothers. One of Mommy's uppity underlings, Doodlebug (Antonio Fargas, best remembered as Huggy Bear in Starsky And Hutch) is getting rich off stealing Mommy's coke, and provides a cautionary moral aside warning against living as a White Man's flunky (Cleo points to Doodlebug's white chauffeur, and asks "What next - two white jockeys on the lawn?"). With a "whacka-whacka" superfunk guitar in the background, Cleo does her chop-sockey routine on the coke dealers and crooked cops, and kicks Shelley Winters' portly ass for her wild overacting in the final showdown. Tamara Dobson as Cleo Jones reportedly stood 6"2, and that doesn't include what must've been the BIGGEST afro in the business! Despite her physical prowess, the script doesn't give Cleo any real motive for her cartoon crusade (unlike the later Coffy and Foxy Brown) and reduces her to a smug self-satisfied cardboard cutout. Add the sloppy direction by Jack Starrett and you get a surprisingly poor release by a major studio.


While it is pitiful black exploitation as we view with 20/20 hindsight, this film marked another of H*wood's strenuous efforts to embrace black actors and actresses on the silver screen. In today's view the glam outfits look ridiculous, but then if you walked the streets in the 70's, the outfits and characters might easily be a collage of reality. Big afros and "to the max" jackets are all hallmarks of the 1970's American style--especially, the Black neighborhood.The metaphorical message means much when taken in its contextual setting. Blacks were fighting for their neighborhoods against the onslaught of "urban renewal" and infestation of drug dealers and pimps, which compared to the 80's now seem a 'walk in the park'. It could be classed as some morality play--where combatants take on the role of the nemesis in reality and the heroine becomes the overcoming and empowered victims in reality.It's "fly".