Saturday, January 26, 2013

Truck Turner (1974)

          Blaxploitation flicks came in so many flavors that fans of the genre can have many favorites—best martial-arts adventure, best Pam Grier joint, best Fred Williamson thriller, best installment of Shaft, and so on. Therefore, when I say that Truck Turner is my overall favorite blaxploitation picture, what I really mean is that the movie’s 91 slam-bam-stick-it-to-the-man minutes encapsulate every tacky, wonderful thing I dig about blaxploitation. Other movies in the genre have better moments, and other movies in the genre have better stories, but Truck Turner’s got enough action, murder, pimps, urban fashion, and vituperative vulgarity to make other blaxploitation pictures look wimpy by comparison. Isaac Hayes, of all people, stars as Truck Turner—excuse me, Mack Truck Turner—a pistol-packin’ bounty hunter on the trail of a pimp named Gator who skipped bail. If that synopsis doesn’t get your blood pumping, read no further. But if you’re catchin’ what I’m sendin’ your way, man, then let’s rap a while about this groovy jam.
          Hayes, the deep-voiced soul/funk musician who previously earned his blaxploitation bona fides by composing and performing the Oscar-winning “Theme from Shaft,” made an easy transition to acting with Truck Turner. Even though he’s not the most persuasive thespian—his line deliveries range from phony to silly—Hayes posesses such a strong natural presence, and such panache for investing dialogue with badass swagger, that his lack of real acting ability isn’t a hindrance. Simply put, the dude is cool. So, as the movie progresses, and as Turner’s pimpquest turns deadly, it’s tremendous fun to watch Hayes ice bad men and seduce good ladies.
          Director Jonathan Kaplan, who was slowly working his way up the American International Pictures exploitation-movie food chain, exhibits a slick touch with action scenes and urban culture—Truck Turner is a cartoon, but it’s lively as hell. For instance, where else can viewers see Nichelle Nichols, better known as Lt. Uhura from the original Star Trek series, playing a tough madam? (Here’s Nichols describing her ladies: “These are all prime cut--$238,000 worth of dynamite. It’s Fort Knox in panties.”) And where else can viewers see Hayes square off with the powerful Yaphet Kotto, who plays a flesh peddler named Harvard Blue? Because, ultimately, Truck Turner is all about Hayes striking don’t-mess-with-this-motherfucker poses—he’s at his best when stripped to the waist, wearing just jeans and a shoulder holster, while blowing away hired killers with his cannon-sized .44 Magnum. Unsurprisingly, Hayes also provided the soundtrack for the movie, and his song titles give a good flavor of the movie’s down-and-dirty appeal: “Pursuit of the Pimpmoble,” “A House Full of Girls,” “Give It to Me,” and the extra-succinct “Drinking.”

Truck Turner: GROOVY


FilmFather said...

I agree - hands down, my favorite blaxploitation flick, with Coffy a close second. Truck Turner is great for all the reasons you mentioned - tops being Nichelle Nichols playing WAY against type as the hilariously profane madam. Great pick.

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Tommy Ross said...

wow, you did it again Peter. Gonna have to check this one out (Amazon has used copies as low as $1) Issac Hayes acting AND soundtrack, bounty hunters, madams, Yaphet Kotto AND American International pic??!! It MUST be good!

Tommy Ross said...

Absolutely loved it! 70's-o-rama, GROOVY baby! This flick has it all- action, locations, chicks, music, stunts, even Morris the Cat.. Thanks again Peter, awesome recommendation.

Unknown said...

The hospital shoot out is incredible - and hilarious.

Jocko said...

The Outside Man used to be the champion for the best movie that was recommended to me via this blog. Looks like Truck Turner has won the title. Great movie. If only all other blaxploitation flicks were this good.

Yaphet Kotto makes a worthy adversary and is much more entertaining then the usual evil white supremacist cardboard cutout villains that you usually see in these types of flicks. While it doesn't have the outlandish super heroic powers of a Hero For Hire, Luke Cage comic book, the fun visuals, action, and plot of Truck Turner reminded me of those classic 70s Marvel comics. Right on!

Scott Granneman said...

Harvard Blue didn't skip ball; Gator did.