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HOTTER ‘N’ COFFY MEANER ‘N’ FOXY BROWN!

Fresh off her career defining roles for Jack Hill in Coffy and Foxy Brown, Pam Grier returned to pure Blaxploitation (after turns in Blaxploitation-horror and action), in cult filmmaker William Girdler’s (The Manitou, Abby) ‘Sheba, Baby’…

Grier plays Sheba Shayne, a private eye based in Chicago who is called to her hometown to stop the local mob boss (played by “that bad D’Urville Martin”, Black Caesar, Dolemite) from moving in on her father’s loan business. Aided by her father’s partner, Brick Williams (Austin Stoker, Assault on Precinct 13, Battle for the Planet of the Apes), Sheba finds out that the violent thugs aren’t going go away with a fight. Car bombs, gun fights and boat chases ensue whilst armed with her curves, street smarts and a .44, Sheba is in for a bloodbath!

Grier would appear in three Blaxploitation classics in 1975 (the others were Bucktown and Friday Foster), where she was at the top of her game and genre, with the Los Angeles Times calling her “cool, tough and glamorous – a female fantasy Wonder Woman”, further cementing her status as the first female action star.
(Taken from the Arrow synopsis.)

Video


Unfortunately I don't have the booklet that usually accompanies Arrow releases, so I'm not entirely sure of the technicalities of Sheba, Baby's transfer. However, as with most of the labels other MGM-sourced efforts I'm fairly sure the transfer was licensed from MGM and encoded by Arrow, but I can't say if David McKenzie did the authoring. Whatever the case, the 1.85:1 image is generally very pleasing, delivering a nicely detailed image that preserves plenty of grain. The colour palette is natural and there are no obvious issues with either brightness or contrast, although I have read some complaints that the image is a little too dark. I didn't really find this to be the case though, as nothing is truly crushed by the depth of the blacks, but some of the night time sequences appear to have been underlit. One can't really blame the Blu-ray for something inherent to the  original photography though. I didn't spot any particularly egregious artefacts either, so all things considered this is a pleasing presentation.

Audio


The solitary English LPCM mono audio track sounds period appropriate, which is to say lacking dynamic range and impact. This is not a criticism of the Blu-ray; it's an accurate presentation of the original soundtrack, but said original soundtrack isn't terribly impressive by today's standards. That said, when viewed in context it's still impressive, with convincing dialogue and effects ably backed by a 'funky' soundtrack. With the disparate elements competing for attention in a mono mix you might expect one or more of them to go missing from time to time, but that's not the case. There are no obvious issues such as hiss or distortion to report either; in fact, overall fidelity is good. To make a long story short, the audio definitely shouldn't disappoint.

Extras


As usual, Arrow has assembled a solid collection of bonus material to accompany the main feature. Here’s what you can expect to find in the plackage.

  • Audio commentary with producer-screenwriter David Sheldon, moderated by critic Nathaniel Thompson
  • Sheldon: Baby – a brand new interview with David Sheldon
  • Pam Grier: The AIP Years – a look over the wonder years of the Blaxploitation queen with film historian Chris Poggiali
  • Trailer
  • Gallery featuring rare publicity images and Lobby Cards
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips
  • Booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by Patty Breen, webmaster of WilliamGirdler.com, illustrated with archive stills and posters
  • DVD Copy

Overall


To be perfectly honest, Sheba, Baby isn’t a great film and certainly isn’t on a par with Pam Grier’s previous films, Coffy and Foxy Brown, nor the later Friday Foster. The narrative is disjointed and the performances weak, including that of Grier herself, who comes across as terribly wooden in places. The action is also comically poor at times, although watching Grier strong-arm a number of thugs does have its moments. I can only hope that Arrow’s next Grier release, Black Mama, White Mama, is more to my tastes.

The merits of the film aside, this is another good catalogue release from Arrow Video. The audio-visual elements are strong given the limitations of the source material, while the extras are both fun and informative, adding definite value to the overall package. If you’re a huge Pam Grier fan I can wholeheartedly recommend this release, but if like me you’re only starting to discover her early work I’d suggest starting with one of the aforementioned alternatives.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

 Sheba, Baby
 Sheba, Baby
 Sheba, Baby
 Sheba, Baby
 Sheba, Baby
 Sheba, Baby


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