rover (Mwako Cumbuka), a drug dealer / user, walks into a nightclub. He finds his Pusher, Sugarman (Morris Buchanan), and tells him that there is a “piece of tail” waiting in his car. Although Sugarman initially resists, he goes out to the car after some gentle persuasion and sees Coffy (Pam Grier) – a beautiful, buxom and strikingly sexy woman who says she’ll do anything for a ‘hit’. The three of them go back to the pusher’s apartment.
While Grover is in the kitchen shooting up, Coffy and Sugarman are getting hot and heavy in the bedroom. Coffy asks Sugarman to turn the light off – as he does so, she pulls a shotgun on him and says “This is the end of your rotten life, you m.....f.....’ dope pusher!” Then she blows his head off.
Grover is still in the kitchen. Coffy goes through, still armed with the shotgun, and gives him an option – either she shoots him as well, or he shoots up with the syringe she’s got in her hand and OD’s. Either way he’s pretty much dead. What’s her reason for killing them both? Her sister Lubelle was a dope addict by the time she was 11, and the pusher and the user were responsible. “Her whole life is gone. She can never get it back, and you’re living real good. That ain’t right!” Coffy explains. She gives him the injection.
A doctor is carrying out an operation in a hospital theatre, but his assistant doesn’t know what she’s doing. He asks for someone who DOES know what they’re doing – “Where’s Coffin? Get Coffin in here!” he shouts. Enter Coffy in her job as a nurse. Unfortunately she’s no good either, as she’s stressed out after killing the pusher and his accomplice, so the doctor sends her out too. While she’s outside, trying to calm down, two policemen come into the hospital reception to give the doctors some information on the murder / OD that took place earlier that night (the one that Coffy was a participant in!). One of the officers is Carter Brown (William Elliott), Coffy’s ex-boyfriend and childhood sweetheart. While they talk, he asks her out again on a date but she refuses – as Carter says, she’s got a new man, a “phony politician”. Nevertheless, Coffy agrees to take him on a trip the next day. They go to see Lubelle in a medical centre, being treated for her addiction. There are several young girls there, all addicted to drugs.
When they leave, Coffy tries to raise the subject of whether it’s right to kill drug dealers – Carter points out that they are simply the last link in a chain of people that starts off with farmers in “Turkey, or Vietnam”. Does Coffy mean everyone in that line should be killed off? Coffy points out that the reason these people still manage to operate is because the police are “in for a piece of the action”. Carter drops her back home.
Coffy’s politician boyfriend Howard Brunswick (Booker Bradshaw) has sent a limo to pick her up so they can meet in a club (that he has just bought) for dinner and drinks. When Coffy arrives, Howard is talking to Deputy Commissioner Ramos. They are discussing politics, but Ramos has to leave as he’s got “hippies to beat up”. Meanwhile, a photographer is circling the club, taking pictures of happy couples. Unfortunately, she inadvertantly takes a picture of a suspicious looking man named McHenry, (Barry Cahill), who has been watching Howard, Ramos and Coffy. McHenry takes offence at this and follows her into a back room where he threatens her until she destroys the negative.
Back at the table, Howard announces to Coffy that he is now Congressman Brunswick. They go back to Howard’s apartment to celebrate, and they make love. During sex, Coffy flashes back to the murder of the Pusher.
Later that night, Coffy arrives at work. After a brief incident in the parking lot, she meets up with Carter, who takes her back to his place for a friendly chat and a coffee (pun intended) before she starts her night-shift. Coffy, eaten up by guilt, is just about to confess to the murders when Carter’s phone rings. It’s Mack, his policeman partner, asking if Carter is going to be in on a ‘deal’ he’s got going with Arturo Petroni (Allan Arbus), a Las Vegas gangster who’s moved in on the black drugs racket. Carter refuses to go ‘on the take’, and tells Mack that he will tell his superiors if Mack goes through with it. On the other end of the phone, Mack shakes his head towards two men sitting in a car who immediately start the engine and drive off.
Coffy asks Carter what it was all about – he says he’s just blown his “piece of the action”, and then tells her about Petroni, and mentions a pimp named King George (Robert DoQui) . Before he has a chance to finish, two masked men smash the door in. Carter tells Coffy to hide, and is then beaten by the men (who use baseball bats). Coffy tries to intervene, but she gets attacked too and knocked out. The men then continue to beat Carter around the head and then leave (but not before one of them rips open Coffy’s blouse and gropes her breasts). Carter is left brain damaged and in a coma.
The stage is set for Coffy to take her revenge…
Don't forget that Coffy is now available to order on Widescreen DVD using our special 70s search device... [See DVD section or click here for more details]
By: Jimmy Green
With more than a little help from moden movie luminaries like Quentin Tarantino, movies like "Coffy", “Foxy Brown” and their 'Blaxploitation' brothers and sisters have, at last, started to reach the mainstream acceptance and credibility that cult movie followers have afforded them for years.
Often supremely violent, the almost exclusively '70s genre was specifically targeted at a young, black audience with a thirst for "strong black heroes" (Jack Hill). The genre seems to have officially started with Melvin Van Peebles' Watts riot-inspired "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" (1971), a film that showed unprecedented black defiance and sexual prowess and was "dedicated to all the brothers and sisters who had enough of The Man." As much of the inner city theater audience at the time was black, the independent film made lots of money, was praised by black groups and paved the way for a multitude of movies made on shoestring budgets offering strong hero figures and cultural identity to their audience for the first time.
Sadly, it wasn't long before mainstream Hollywood studios could smell the unmistakeble scent of money...
Copying the formula, they hired black directors like Gordon Parks ("Shaft") and wasted no time unleashing a torrent of seedy, violent movies, full of precisely tge ingredients that made life so hard in the cities. Frequently, the recipe involved the same strong, black hero who "beat the system, regardless of what side of the law they operated on."
But, as is always the way with white Hollywood, soon the righteous visions of the early films had been replaced with empty vessels, cynically cashing in on just another audience sector. With the market saturated with these formula productions, by 1975, Blaxploitation had burned itself out.
Coffy is probably Pam Grier’s greatest black action film from the 1970s. It’s certainly better than the same director’s ‘“Foxy Brown’, which was unpleasantly misogynistic, and it’s a great deal more enjoyable than patchy, uneven fare such as ‘Black Mama White Mama’ or ‘Friday Foster’.
Pam gives a great performance that borders on the effectively hysterical at times, and although it is reasonably obvious that she was young and this was one of her early roles, her unpolished performance enhances the film rather than detracts from it. This is no glossy Hollywood production – this is gritty and brutal. On a purely visual level, Pam is also looking mighty fine…something that is integral to the plot.
The strange thing about this film is that although it was written and directed by a white man (Jack Hill), it is a very subversive take on racial and sexual attitudes. Maybe certain aspects of this were coincidental, although in interviews Hill has pointed out that certain things that take the Black point of view as opposed to the white point of view were included by design. “Is it (reverse) racism?” he has asked the interviewer in interviews. “I plead guilty if it is. So what? It’s a good yarn.” (Interview from “What It Is…What It Was”, Martinez, Martinez & Chavez; Miramax Books / Hyperion Paperbacks 1998)
Without wanting to give more of the story away (although the above only really deals with the first half hour), let’s look at Coffy’s character. She’s a beautiful, buxom, sexy woman, and she uses this to get what she wants. Unlike in ‘Foxy Brown’, she isn’t explicitly sexually abused in this film. Aside from the brief sequence when the thug grabs her breast (as related above), the manipulative sexual activity that takes place is on her terms and is for her reasons. She uses her considerable charms to achieve her goals. Although the male characters may get what they want in the short term, it ends up with Coffy getting her goals accomplished at the expense of the men who treat her as a piece of meat. The idea of a woman just accepting what is happening to her is not a strong one in this film – Coffy is powerful, avenging her sister’s drug addiction and then her friend’s hospitalisation.
The methods she uses to do this are pretty brutal, too – without giving too much away in terms of plot developments she uses both razorblades and broken bottles to get the desired effect from the people she needs to ‘control’. The film isn’t adverse to showing violence quite graphically – in the opening reel we see a man’s head blown clean off his shoulders! In this way, it’s got more in common with a comic book than a glossy Hollywood blockbuster. This is an asset to the film’s main success (and this is a credit to both Pam Grier AND Jack Hill): it balances gritty and violent action, sometimes implausible plot twists and believable emotional reactions to make a coherent whole. However, there is one plot device that could very well make contemporary audiences feel rather uncomfortable: one character is effectively ‘lynched’ by being tied to the rear bumper of a car and then dragged along. The resulting bloody mess of remains and ragged, torn clothes is very uncomfortable viewing.
There are moments of tenderness that gel the whole mixture together: for instance, the relationship between King George and his ‘old lady’ Meg (Linda Haynes), or Coffy’s relationship with Carter. King George’s relationship with Meg is one of the real emotional cores in the film: her reaction when she realises that he’s going to sleep with Coffy; her need to be with him after she’s injured; his promises to her before he leaves to go and see Petroni’s henchmen… all of these scenes are touching, even though they are essentially between a pimp and a prostitute.
According to Jack Hill, when the production company AIP was saying “All (the audience) want is action, action, action”, he’d reply “No, that’s not it. You’ve got to have real humanity. That’s what people respond to.”
There are also some surprising, arresting moments, some with unusual racial connotations and some with unusual sexual morality connotations.
When the white prostitute that Coffy visits pulls a knife (and Coffy breaks a bottle in retaliation, ready to cut her face) – we find that the woman’s pimp is a black woman, which is certainly a surprise when we see her walk into the room for the first time.
King George has a white valet at his hotel, and all the servants are white. No mention is made of this at all, and even though George’s main ‘old lady’ is white, this is never an issue (not even as a status symbol for George, unlike the Pusher at the beginning of the film who boasts that he’s “even got white tail!”).
All the call-girls that King George keeps are happy, well-rounded and attractive. In direct contrast, all the men that they are expected to ‘service’ seem seedy and unpleasant…mention is made of a brief encounter one of them had with a businessman during the lunch break “under his desk”, and when one girl gets an assignment she responds with “Oh no! Not the fat one again!”
Finally, the film also has a very important awareness of the wider contexts of the time. Not only is the issue of race unexpectedly being exploited for monetary gain as part of the story by certain main characters (I don’t want to give too much away, and it's not by whoyou may think - another subversion!), but there is an important plot point early on that shows the police force being corrupt, on the pay-roll for criminals and attempting to murder any police officer who refuses to go along with the corruption.
It’s important to remember that Coffy came out in 1973, the same year as Serpico was released: politics, rather than principles, were the name of the game in the early 1970s.
I don’t think I’m going too far to say that Coffy remains an important sociological text if only for that reason. If you haven’t seen it yet, seek it out!
“Coffy” was made as a direct response to Warner Bros’s “Cleopatra Jones” (also 1973). The producer of “Cleopatra Jones” had originally gone to AIP to make it, then had a better offer from Warner Bros and made it there instead. AIP then made “Coffy” almost in retaliation, which made a similar amount of money at the box office but was more successful from a financial point of view. According to Jack Hill, “Warner spent ten times as much on advertising and publicity (for Cleopatra Jones), and more than twice as much making the movie.”
Charles Napier was to be cast in the movie, but apparently he felt that it was too ‘racist’ (i.e. towards the white characters) and didn’t appear.
Pam Grier contributed some of the ideas for the script – notably, the razor blades / cat fight sequence. She was also influential in helping Jack Hill with the dialogue.
“Foxy Brown” was originally a sequel to “Coffy”, until the sales department at AIP decided that a sequel wouldn’t make any money. The script to ““Foxy Brown” (which was known as “Burn, Coffy, Burn” up until that point) was then changed so that Coffy’s character was known as Foxy Brown. According to Jack Hill, that was the only change to have been made to the script – the rest is exactly how it would have been as a sequel to “Coffy”.
The film was a big hit in Japan, despite AIP not catering explicitly for a foreign market. The Japanese distributors were so desperate for the film that they were willing to pay $20,000 (the going rate at the time) to generate a new print of the film for exhibition.
“Coffy” is one (among many) of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite films. In a 1998 interview, he said “The film that just knocked my socks off the most was “Coffy”, from the moment she shot the guy in the head with the sawed off shotgun and his head exploded like a watermelon. I had never seen that before and then it just got better from there. Pam Grier was just like an incredible badass, she was just so great. “Coffy” is one of the greatest revenge movies ever made…It’s almost impossible to watch “Coffy” with an audience and not have them get caught up in the movie. When the film opened, people were standing on their seats screaming at the top of their lungs for her to blow away those guys…I think I appreciate “Coffy” even more now. It still holds up.” (“What It Is, What It Was” by Martinez, Martinez and Chavez; Miramax Books / Hyperion Paperbacks, 1998)
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Excellent score by Roy Ayers - one of the best soundtracks of the 1970s. All together now, "Coffee is the colour of your skin... Coffy is the world you live in..."
1. Coffy Is the Color
2. Pricilla's Theme
3. King George
5. Coffy Sauna
6. King's Last Ride
7. Coffy Baby
8. Brawling Broads
10. Shining Symbol
11. Exotic Dance
12. Making Love
13. Vittroni's Theme -King Is Dead
14. End of Sugarman
Soundtrack Available: On CD
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