Tuesday, September 3, 2013

In short: Friday Foster (1975)

Photographer Friday Foster (Pam Grier) stumbles into the job of shooting the secret return of The Richest Black Man In The World™, Blake Tarr (Thalmus Rasulala), to his native USA, but instead witnesses and photographs a murder attempt on him. She manages to take a picture of the only of the would-be assassins (Carl Weathers) who escapes the combined firepower of Tarr's bodyguards and the police. Friday'd love to follow up on the story, but her boss Monk Riley (Julius Harris) does disapprove of his people involving themselves in things. Which does awaken a few doubts in me regarding the noteworthiness of his magazine.

The escaped killer also just happens to be involved with Friday's close friend Cloris (Rosalind Miles), whom he kills at a fashion show of eccentric designer Madame Rena (professional eccentric Eartha Kitt). If her boss wants it or not, Friday is going to investigate this killing for sure, even if her private eye friend Colt Hawkins (Yaphet Kotto) is the only help she can get.

Little does our heroine expect that she'll uncover (without doing much actual investigating) a particularly absurd conspiracy by The Man to keep African-Americans down.

It is true, Arthur Marks's Friday Foster, an adaptation of the first US newspaper strip featuring a black woman as its main and titular protagonist, is one of the minor efforts among AIP's blaxploitation films starring house (and every sane person's, too) favourite Pam Grier. The film's plot is paper thin even for an exploitation film, the conspiracy our heroine uncovers without actually having to do much work for it (champagne soaked evenings with middle-aged black men don't count as work, I think), nor having to do much thinking for that matter, is just plain stupid, and if you've come either for complex political subtext or classic blaxploitation outrageousness, you've come to the wrong film.

However, there's something political in, and something to be said for, the film's willingness to be lightweight, its lack of the cynicism that runs through a lot of blaxploitation films. I'm not saying this cynicism was wrong or untruthful when it comes to talking about the actual political situation of black America in the 1970s, I'm just saying that from time to time, it's good to see a movie in the genre where political cooperation between different groups and unity instead of breaking into micro-factions are treated as a good thing that might even help produce change in the larger world. Of course, being the deeply silly film it is, Friday Foster makes this argument (I'm using the term loosely) by way of a preposterous gun battle but then I didn't exactly expect a debate.

Apart from that, Friday Foster is a diverting action comedy, with pretty much every character actor you'd look for in a blaxploitation movie expect Ossie Davis in one silly role or the other, and a main cast that hits the lightness appropriate for a film that sees its heroine steal a hearse and later the truck of a milk salesman. Everybody on screen is clearly in on the fact that they're in something rather fluffy, yet everyone seems to have fun with the film's inherent silliness, as did I.

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