Sheba, Baby - Blu-Ray Review - Arrow Video
Release Date: 8th February 2016 UK, 9th February 2016 US
Format: Blu-Ray & DVD
Starring: Pam Grier, D’Urville Martin, Austin Stoker Directed by: William Girdler
SYNOPSIS (by Arrow Video):
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.
REVIEW (by Jon Cross):
I am huge fan of Pam Grier.
She is my first lady of cinema and my movie Queen.
I cannot understate my love, admiration and fandom for the one and only Pam Grier.
Not for some immature reason because she's incredibly sexy and beautiful (although she is both those things) but because, from her first movie on, she treated exploitation movies like they were every bit as deserving of her energy, efforts, talent and passion as any other film, transcending out of their, sometimes highly questionable intentions, to deliver excellent, believable and empowering performances.
She is bold, determined and never once feels like she is being exploited. She owned her performances, owned her body, owned her race and owned each and every role with strength, intelligence, glamour and humour.
She's also an incredible actor and screen presence, able to do that Hollywood star trick of being both subtly and crucially different in each role while remaining passionately and charmingly, Pam Grier.
Also she's insanely cool, kicks ass, is a humanitarian, a women's activist, an African American activist, an animal rights activist and she once stared into my eyes and grabbed a handful of my beard. TRUE STORY.
So, now that all my gushing and praise is out of the way, what about Sheba, Baby? Well, is it a classic Pam Grier vehicle and a must see? Sadly not, really. Is it fun and still worth a watch? very much so. The synopsis above, that was written by the promotional dept. of Arrow Video (I presume) declares this to be a return to 'pure Blaxploitation', well I am not sure what that really means. To me, Blaxploitation is a handy, if completely inaccurate way to describe and era of popular genre films at the start of the 70s that starred, predominately African American actors. Within that umbrella term they made gangster films, westerns, horrors, social commentary, action, martial arts movies and more.
Sheba, Baby is a straight forward action film through and through. In fact it has way more in common with the action film boom of the 80s and 90s than it does with any of the films people may think of as 'Blaxploitation'. If you changed Pam's character Sheba Shayne to Max Shayne and made it Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Gary Daniels, Jeff Speakman, Dolph Lundgren (or pick your 80s, white male action star of choice) then the film really wouldn't be that much different. There's a bad guy who, through his various henchmen and rent-a-goons, killed the wrong man and a family member has come looking for revenge. I would say that apart from a flamboyantly dressed, lower level, hood that Sheba 'carwashes' for information and the driving funk soundtrack there's nothing particularly Blaxploitation about it.
Your enjoyment of the film, therefor comes down to a) how much you like Pam Grier and b) how much you like, by the book, predictable action films, the kind of which, that, for the last 15 years have, routinely, gone straight to video and starred the same list of white guys I recited earlier.
I enjoy Sheba, Baby for what it is and because I am a fan of action films and Pam Grier but I also acknowledge it is not one of Pam's best or most thrilling films. It's fairly well shot and there are some stand-out scenes: The aforementioned carwash, the pushing a hoods head on the rollercoaster tracks and the waterski/boat chase, to name a few, but I would never suggest if someone wanted to get into this era of film-making that they start here. This is for Grier completists only.
As Sheba Shayne Grier is charming, sexy, resourceful, determined, funny, kick ass, vulnerable, emotional and no nonsense. Her love dalliance with Austin Stoker's Brick Williams is a neat reversal of even today's, horribly out-dated, Rom Com gender stereotypes. He chases her, not the other way round and she makes it clear that she is a sexually liberated woman who doesn't have to settle down with or marry a man to have fun with one. It's funny that we walk around in 2016 thinking we're all advanced and enlightened when movies, if anything, in their treatment of women, sex, power, action etc. have reversed so far back that even Doris Day would be embarrassed to put her name to some of the scripts out there. Hollywood could certainly learn a lot about gender politics and liberated ideas from even a film as light and shallow as Sheba, Baby.
Pam Grier handles the action and the strong arming like a pro. There's no crazy gun fights or martial arts to speak of but she always does the physical stuff pretty well.
The supporting cast are ok. No really strong personalities or stand outs among them but no real duds either. I have seen Sheba, Baby a few times at this point and I find something more to enjoy with each passing watch. As, I think, Chris Poggiali, mentions in one of the, surprisingly few, extras, that despite the film advertising her as a private eye and despite being a private eye, this isn't a detective film of any kind and she's far more of a sleuth in Friday Foster than she is here.
Lastly the Blu Ray disc then. Well the picture quality and sound are excellent, bright, clear and relatively free from grain. It's only really the extras here that let it down and that's, mainly, due to a lack of Pam. The AIP years (which could easily use their own documentary) get a 10 minute run through with just a guy talking to the camera and a few clips. The commentary and interview with David Sheldon are ok but, again, a bit dry.
Just as the film is only for Pam Grier completists I would say so, sadly, is this disc.
If you're genuinely interested in Blaxploitation films and Pam Grier I would suggest:
Baadasssss Cinema - A Bold Look at 70's Blaxploitation Films from 2003
Machete Maidens Unleashed from 2010
Our video of Pam Grier talking at the Lincoln Center
Pam Grier's book Foxy: My Life in Three Acts
We have also covered many of the films of the era on the website.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
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
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
Cat No: FCD1210
Duration: 90 mins
Subtitles: English SDH
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1