“She’s a dangerous lady, and she’s well put together,” sings Barbara Mason at the top of SHEBA, BABY—a lyric that describes actress Pam Grier as much as the ass-kicking detective she plays in this American International action picture. As Chicago private eye Sheba Shayne, Pam returns to her Louisville, Kentucky hometown (also that of writer/director William Girdler) to protect her father’s loan company from being taken over by black mobster Pilot (D'Urville Martin). A chase through a carnival, a nighttime invasion of the villain’s yacht (a great excuse to put Pam in a wetsuit), and a nasty catfight are among the action highlights.
Pam looks beautiful, of course, with a costume budget that probably could have funded earlier AIP features. This and FRIDAY FOSTER appear designed to glam up Grier, in contrast to her Jack Hill pictures like COFFY and THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, and prep her for a career with the major studios. SHEBA, BABY was her last AIP movie, and though she went on to appear in more prestigious Hollywood productions, she was never a star again. I think it’s because she was the rare actress perfectly suited to the action genre—I think only Angelina Jolie is her equal in combining sex appeal and believability talking trash and throwing punches.
Girdler, of course, never made a very good movie, though he may have eventually, had he not been killed in a helicopter accident at age 31. I like the use of Louisville as a setting, though Girdler could have done more with it. His stock characters and plotting are a disappointment, and he didn’t have the filmmaking skills, as Jack Hill did, to add original touches to his B-movies that would make them stand out in the crowd. Not one of Grier’s better films, but your last chance to see her in tough Action Pam mode.