Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sheba, Baby

“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 ex-cop 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 (that baaaad 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, another 1975 release, appear designed to glam up Grier, in contrast to her gritty Jack Hill pictures like COFFY and THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, and prep her for a career with the major studios. After her AIP contract expired in 1975, Grier appeared in more prestigious Hollywood productions (she’s quite good as a murderous junkie hooker in FORT APACHE, THE BRONX), but was never a star again except in JACKIE BROWN in 1997.

Girdler never made a very good movie, though he may have eventually, had he not been killed in a helicopter accident at age 31. Louisville is an unusual setting for an action movie, though Girdler could have done more with it. Outside of an action sequence filmed at the Kentucky State Fair, not much about SHEBA, BABY screams “Louisville,” except the star-struck extras staring at either the actors or the camera. The stock characters and plotting in the screenplay credited to Girdler and producer David Sheldon (GRIZZLY) are a disappointment, and Girdler 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.


Jeremy Richey said...

Beinga Kentucky native, it is the Lousiville connection that I love so much about his films. I can't tell you how many times I have been cruising around Louisville and all of a sudden I will see a spot and think that I remember it from SHEBA BABY or ABBY. Someday, I would really like to get serious and try and track down some of the many shooting locations (I especially would like to find the house in ABBY).

Marty McKee said...

That would be awesome for one of your blog posts, Jeremy. I'd love to see you do it. I only wish Girdler has used Louisville better, at least in SHEBA, BABY, as it looks as though it could take place almost anywhere.