Retro Review: ‘Coffy’
Any movie fan worth their weight in celluloid knows that Pam Grier is quite possibly the most badass actress in cinematic history. For much of her early career her looks had her typecast solidly in exploitation flicks, but in 1973 Grier was given the lead role in Coffy, a landmark of the black cinema movement of the 1970’s. This film has gone down in history for breaking ground with it’s prominently casting of a African American woman in the starring role.
After her sister dies from a heroin overdose, the nurse known as Coffy decides it to take matters into her own hands to stop the drug trade in her city. Using her physical chops in combination with her seductive nature, she takes down various dealers and traffickers, and with each thug she takes down she works her way up to the main heroin supplier in the city. Throughout her journey of vengeance she gains the attention of local crime lord Vitroni who sets out to stop Coffy’s one-woman quest through any means necessary. Finding herself in far deeper waters than she ever planned on, Coffy has to increasingly rely on her wits and those around her, especially her police officer friend Carter, to help her survive this dangerous game.
The opening moments of Coffy give us everything we need to know about this cool as ice vigilante. She uses her power of seduction on a blustery drug dealer, tempting him away from all the other women at his disposal. Once she has this guy where she wants him, Coffy rewards his gullibility with a shotgun blast to the head. From the start the audience realizes this heroine is unafraid of using her natural sex appeal as a weapon, just like she is unafraid to use weapons as weapons. Writer/director Jack Hill knew all along that actress Pam Grier was the only woman who could pull this role off. Prior to this the actress was known for her roles in the exploitation and underground flicks like; Twilight People and the Big Bird Cage. With her turn in Coffy, Grier proved that she had all the talent and star power in the world and could carry a film on her own. The actress has a true screen presence which dominates every scene she is in leaving no doubt of her star power. Not only does she prove to be a smooth as silk ass-kicker, but in the moments she is Coffy the caring nurse there is a believable almost vulnerability she brings to the role which is often overlooked but goes a long way towards endearing her character to the audience.
The movie is a realistic pulp affair which takes viewers into the seedy world of the illegal drug trade, from high rise penthouses to seedy back alleys. Director Jack Hill holds nothing back. Though many may find the premise of the movie unbelievable and it is all rather slick and stylish it is presented in a way which feels very real and grounded. Even the supporting cast is largely made up of grizzled looking people, most notably cult favorite actor, the late Sid Haig.
Up until this point African American cinema had largely been the stomping ground of macho male leads like; Richard Roundtree, Rudy Ray Moore, and Fred Williamson; but in Coffy Pam Grier proved she was every bit as tough and cool as those cats. This movie is now seen by fans and critics alike as one of the watershed films from the blaxpoitation boom and in cinema as a whole. In launched the career of it’s leading lady who became an icon of cinema who is still a fan favorite to this day.