Sheba, Baby Blu-ray Review: Blaxploitation, Family Style

After a string of low-budget, b-grade exploitation flicks in which she kicked ass, cracked wise, and stripped down, Pam Grier became, not exactly a star, but a real sensation among people who like a certain type of movie. By 1975, she was ready to move onto other types of films and with Sheba, Baby she made her very last blaxploitation flick.

Now that I’ve seen, all I have to ask is this: what exactly were they exploiting? It certainly is filled with plenty of black actors and comes with a plot straight out of the genre – Grier plays Sheba Shayne a tough-talking, Chicago cop who comes down to her hometown of Louisville, KY to protect her father from gangsters. But with the exception of a couple of fight scenes and a nice boat chase at the end, the action is slow coming, the violence is tame, and the sex scenes are nearly nonexistent. There’s not even any nudity – in a Pam Grief exploitation flick! It’s rated PG for chrissakes.

Once you get past the lack of heavy violence and gratuitous sex, you can settle in to a pretty enjoyable film. Even with her clothes on Pam Grier is electric. She’s a formidable presence with wild chemistry and not just a pretty face with knock-out curves. It’s no wonder Quentin Tarantino remembered her for Jackie Brown and made her a star again.

The plot is very by the books for this sort of thing. Some local gangsters are taking over all the loan company businesses and they try to push Sheba’s father out the door. Stubborn man that he is, he refuses, and the gangsters shoot up his office and rough him up. Sheba comes down from Chicago to help out. The local police are no help, her love interest tries to keep her in check, but once her dad is killed, there is no stopping her. Sheba systematically works her way through the bad guys until she’s chasing after the Big Bad on a speedboat with a machine gun and a harpoon.

There are a few nice scenes including when Sheba attacks one of the hoods inside a car wash and threatens to have his face hot waxed, or another when she lays a guy’s head on a roller-coaster track explaining she’ll let him get run over if he doesn’t talk. William Girdier does a nice job handling the direction and the script keeps things moving with a light, often quite funny, pace.

All in all, Sheba, Baby is an enjoyable, if ultimately forgettable bit of ’70s blaxploitation even if it lacks a heavy dose of all the things one looks for in those types of films.

Arrow Video has once again done an amazing job with this release. The video looks absolutely stunning for this type of b-movie. The colors really pop and the contrast looks better than ever. It’s really quite stunning all things considered. The audio as well sounds great. Like all blaxploitation films, Sheba, Baby comes with an excellent funk soundtrack and the music really percolated out my speakers. Some of the action sounds aren’t quite as good, but they do well enough from a mono soundtrack.

It’s loaded with extras including two audio commentaries (one from the screenwriter, the other from Patty Breen who runs the Robert Girdier website). The first commentary is much more informative than the latter, though Breen fills her’s up with trivia and notes on continuity errors. Then there is an 11-minute talk by film historian Chris Poggiali on Pam Grier’s early career, plus an interview with the screenwriter, and a nice essay on the film in the liner notes.

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Mat Brewster

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