Related Posts with Thumbnails

Friday, February 27, 2009

Truck Turner (1974) review


Isaac Hayes (Truck Turner), Nichelle Nichols (Dorinda), Yaphett Kotto (Harvard Blue), Sam Laws (Nate Dinwiddie), Annazette Chase (Annie), Scatman Crothers (Duke), Earl Maynard (Panama), Paul Harris (Richard Leroy 'Gator' Johnson), Dick Miller (Fogerty), Annik Borel (Stalingrad Crude)

Directed by Jonathan Kaplan

***WARNING! This review contains strong language***

"If anybody asks you what happened, you tell'em you been hit by a truck...Mack 'Truck' Turner."

Modern day bounty hunter, Truck Turner, is assigned to bring in a wanted drug dealer, the nasty 'Gator' Johnson. When Truck and his partner, Jerry are unable to take 'Gator' alive, Dorinda, a foul mouthed madam of a big time prostitution racket takes a hit out on Turner. Rallying all the top criminal minds in LA, Dorinda promises her menagerie of whores to the man that delivers Turners head on a platter. Realizing that snuffing out Truck is going to be a daunting task, callous crime boss, Harvard Blue brings in his own professional hitmen to take down Turner.

Former acolyte of Roger Corman, Jonathan Kaplan directs this raucous and rowdy action picture. Easily one of the most violent and politically incorrect movies ever made, it is also one of the best of the blaxploitation genre. TRUCK TURNER (1974) brazenly defines everything that makes the genre immensely fun to watch. There's lots of 70's swagger, oodles of violence, over the top fashion designs, outrageous dialog and endless charisma from lead Isaac Hayes. Kaplan also directed NIGHT CALL NURSES (1972), THE STUDENT TEACHERS (1973) and WHITE LINE FEVER (1975). He got some mainstream notoriety in the late 80's and early 90's with the suspense thrillers, THE ACCUSED (1988) and UNLAWFUL ENTRY (1992). He later went on to a very successful career directing some of the most popular shows on American television such as ER as well as a 1996 television remake of the classic, IN COLD BLOOD (1967).

Isaac Hayes oozes charisma and sardonic wit in this dynamically crude blaxploitation classic. Amazingly, this was Hayes' only lead role in the genre aside from a terrible film he did in Italy called TOUGH GUYS (1974), an Italo-French co-pro blax-hybrid picture starring Fred Williamson, Lino Ventura and William Berger. Hayes is the polar opposite in that movie when compared with his portrayal of the tough skip tracer, Truck Turner. Truck is a larger than life character and yet he's written as an everyman who makes mistakes and has faults. Even still, Turner's name reaches almost legendary status as seemingly every hoodlum, petty crook and pimp knows who he is and often cringe in fear when they hear his name.

The character of Truck Turner is often compared to Wyatt Earp and the shoot outs are so casually laid out, taking place in broad daylight. The concrete and skyscrapers replace the dusty streets and creaky wooden constructs of the Old West offering the parallel that in Turner's world, little has changed from ages past. One of the most interesting things about Hayes' characterization is that he is different from most other blaxploitation heroes. In the films of Richard Roundtree and Jim Brown, those heroes are seen bedding down a number of women of all races as every female they come into contact with desires them. In TRUCK TURNER, the girls lust for Truck, but his devotion lies with just one woman.

Hayes was a gifted musician as he not only won an Academy Award for the soundtrack of SHAFT (1971), but he also did the score for TRUCK TURNER (1974) as well. Isaac Hayes would later appear in John Carpenter's cult classic, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) as 'The Duke of New York', the violent leader of the psychotic inhabitants of the wall encroached city. In his later career, Hayes snagged a recurring role as 'Chef', on the hit adult animated cartoon, SOUTH PARK. Hayes would leave the series in 2005 after ten seasons when an episode poked fun of scientology, the religion in which Hayes was a devout follower.

Quite possibly the most amazing and shocking thing about TRUCK TURNER (1974) is the inflammatory performance by Nichelle Nichols who played Communications Officer, Lieutenant Uhura on the original STAR TREK. If she'd ever talked to Captain Kirk the way she does here, she'd of found herself marooned on a desolate planet somewhere in the Seti Alpha System. Spewing forth dialog like "Shut up you junkie whore!", and this wonderfully tawdry oration, "Anybody thinkin' about leavin' here is gonna find my left foot square up their ass, do you understand it?! Those two bitches that left, they better learn to sell pussy in Iceland because if I ever see them again, I'm gonna cut their fuckin' throats!"

Nichols performance quickly spirals out of control plummeting further into the depths of bellicosity nearly stealing the movie away from Hayes in the process. She is so vulgar, so tasteless in her line delivery that the character of Dorinda deserves a spin off series of her own for her effrontery. Nichols creates one of the most belligerent, aggressive and malicious persona's in all of screen villainy. You'll never look at Lt. Uhura the same way again...guaranteed.

Yaphet Kotto defines sadistic in his brutal turn as Harvard Blue. Initially, the audience is led to believe the main villain will be 'Gator' Johnson. But when Truck and Jerry pay a visit to Duke (a pimp who follows an old fashioned style of running whores), they learn that another, even more volatile crime boss is after 'Gator'. Duke tells Truck that 'Gator' stole Blue's woman right out from under him and having felt disgraced, is out to turn 'Gator' into a new pair of shoes. When the frazzle haired 'Gator' is killed in a furious gun battle, Blue makes his presence known during one of the most audaciously hilarious and remarkably tasteless scenes of the entire film.

The scene in question has Dorinda and her flock of trick turning birds attend 'Gator's' funeral. Accompanied by a saddening sax tune, the camera lingers on Dorinda and her whores ("Fort Knox in panties") as if they are mourning the death of a war hero. Then, a slew of pimps and drug dealers flanked by their own call girls approach the open casket and each flamboyantly dressed Mack (they're all decked out in various multi colored clothing) takes his turn dropping a bit of cocaine onto the corpse. The nervous priest shakes his head in disbelief. When Blue steps forward, instead of snow, he shoots a huge loogie down onto 'Gator', irrefutably incensed that someone else has taken his quarry from him. It is here that Harvard Blue assumes the controls as the lead heavie alongside Dorinda.

Kotto, like both Nichols and Hayes, presents himself as an imposing force to be reckoned with. Whereas the other bosses prefer to revel in the somewhat safer climate of their escorts and drugs, Blue likes to get his hands dirty and it's later learned that he was a hit man prior to his ambitions of becoming a major crime boss. One of the best scenes has Truck and his girlfriend, Annie, return home only to find Kotto inside sitting calmly on the couch caressing Francis, their cat. Truck having pulled his .44 magnum on him, Blue calmly gives him a warning to get out of town. Turner then gives him ten seconds to get out of his apartment or he's a dead man. Blue casually walks towards the door haughtily announcing, "Be cool, pussy" then exits the room.

Yaphet Kotto has appeared in many memorable movies. Some of his 70's output include a serious role as a Lieutenant in the ultra violent ACROSS 110TH STREET (1972) and another comic book villain role (albeit on a less violent scale) as Kananga in LIVE & LET DIE (1973). He played yet another detective in the Pam Grier vehicle, FRIDAY FOSTER (1975) as well as a determined slave in the Dino De Laurentiis production of DRUM (1976), the even more offensive sequel to MANDINGO (1975). Kotto also played Parker in the classic horror movie, ALIEN (1979).

Scatman Crothers has a minor role as the aging pimp, Duke. He runs his own stable of prostitutes, but in a far less seedy fashion compared with the Macks of the time. What's interesting about this scene is that Duke's mansion has that Southern plantation look about it. It's almost as if Duke has achieved some form of retribution for the treatment of his forebears obtaining a social status akin to that of the slave masters from a hundred years prior.

Frequent Roger Corman actor, Dick Miller plays Fogerty, the man who gets Truck and his partner their jobs. Miller can be seen in THE HOWLING, GREMLINS 1 and 2, THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960) and A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959) to name a few. Horror fans rejoice when Dick Miller appears onscreen and brings a lot of energy to his roles regardless of how big a part the character plays in the script. Also of interest to horror fans, Charles Cyphers has a brief role as a drunk. He played the sheriff in the first two HALLOWEEN films as well as THE FOG (1979) and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981). Another point of interest is that one of the hitmen Blue hires out is named Joe Dante!

The script gives viewers a lot of characterization and camaradierie between the two skip tracers. The movie sometimes plays out like an 'R' rated sitcom what with all the humorous situations Truck and Jerry find themselves in prior to when Harvard Blue makes his ominous entrance. There's enough foul language and derogatory remarks to fill an entire naval fleet. The dialog, as rude or offensive as it may be, seems natural and compliments the casual conversations the characters partake in. Even the police are smart asses. Jerry is pulled over after Truck goads him into showing what his wife's car is made of. A cop pulls them over and Jerry, seeing that the cop is black, tries to get him to let them off. Upon asking for his license, the cop says, "Damn, what an ugly picture!" This prompts Truck to snicker at his friend just before the cop looks over at him and says, "Whatchoo laughin' at skull bone?!"

Not even the military are above acerbity. There's a hilarious scene at the beginning where Truck and Jerry enter a military base to arrest a pervert and encounter problems from the two guards--"I Tell you what, try us again on Mother's Day, then you see you won't have any trouble gettin' in!" They end up having to break through the front gate resulting in the two guards opening fire on them. Jerry ducks down for fear of taking a bullet to the head, but Truck is more concerned about getting a new tire hoping the guards will take one of them out, "Left rear, goddamnit, hit the left rear."

This type of humor is prevalent from the start of TRUCK TURNER to almost the end. The movie becomes deadly serious during the last 30 minutes once the "Insurance Company" is called in. There are still subtle touches of comic sarcasm, but the tone remains violent during the last half culminating in an incredibly mean spirited shoot out finale inside a hospital. Doctors, nurses and patients all end up either dead or injured during the cross fire.

TRUCK TURNER (1974) is a fiercely entertaining, must-see movie most especially for lovers of 1970's cinema. The time period delivered a lot of curious artifacts that despite lacking big budgets, often times garnered just as much attention, if not more than any other prestigious productions from any number of the major studios. TRUCK TURNER is one such film. Possessing a lot of "Bad-itude", it will hopefully find an all new audience for those open minded to discovering the lost and forgotten treasures of what is easily the most ferociously creative decade in cinema history.


'Gator' to his whore, Stalingrad Crude: "That's your job! Pick up that goddamn telephone you dumb bitch!"

Jerry to Truck after their gunfight with 'Gator': "I could swear that son of a bitch was gonna blow me back to the last supper."

Dorinda describing one of her stable: "She's called 'Turn Pike', cause you gotta pay to get on and pay to get off."

Truck: "Jerry, how come your old lady don't like me?"

Jerry: "Hey now, Truck, you gotta understand...she's a middle class broad...and you a gross son of a bitch."

Dorinda trying to keep her bitches in check: "Come here you little black bitch! Your ass belongs to me! I tell you what you can and can't do with it. Do you understand what I'm sayin'?!"

The Mack named Snow giving Dorinda an early warning: "Dorinda, you're tryin' to piss standing up. You are gonna get a lot of people wet."

Harvard Blue giving Truck his own chance to "jump bail": "The sky's about to open up on your head...better retire...take a vacation...lay on a beach for about 90 years."

Dorinda to Blue about her successful business practices: "I haven't had to sell my pussy since I was 15 and found out I could sell other bitches instead, don't fuck with me Blue, I got along this far without'cha."

Harvard Blue to Nate: "These men sell insurance. And your friend whose name is Truck Turner...his death has just been insured. We want you to call him so he can collect his premium."

Blue to his hitmen friends: "You don't know Truck Turner like I do. He's like a bull dog with eyes up his ass...we just cut him loose."

On August 10th, 2008, Hollywood lost one of its most charismatic and influential personalities. Isaac Hayes died of a stroke in Memphis, Tennessee. Hayes will likely be best remembered for his Academy Award winning theme song for SHAFT (1971). His star turn in TRUCK TURNER (1974) will no doubt be his most memorable role and further indicative of his musical prowess. Below is my Ode to Truck Turner. Told in a similar style to those amazingly descriptive and wonderfully cheesy trailers, this is my salute to one of the best blaxploitation movies of the sensationally savage 70's; TRUCK TURNER (1974), immortalized by the great Isaac Hayes...gone but not forgotten.


Mack 'Truck' Turner, a modern day bounty hunter on the mean streets of LA.
Packin' a .44 magnum, he makes 'Dirty Harry' look like 'Dirty Mary'.
Prowlin' the concrete jungle for scum and bail jumpers.

Whether he's breakin' a jaw
or bendin' the law
Truck Turner brings'em in
then hits the streets and starts all over again.

The mob wants to put him on ice
Now that ain't nice
But Truck's gonna make'em all pay the price.

Stickin' it to the man
that's Truck Turner's plan.
He ain't no fool
He's breakin' all the rules.

When Turner's in town
you best hit the ground.
When the guns are blazin'
and the bullets are flyin'

he's got the pimps and crooks
cryin', dyin', testifyin' and super flyin'
I ain't lyin'

That ain't no jive
Truck Turner brings'em in dead or alive.
He's black, bad and super sweet
killin' punks and sweepin' the ladies off their feet.

The Mack daddies want him dead
but Truck gives'em all a bullet in the head.
They try to take him down
but Turner puts'em all six feet underground.

Bail jumpers beware,
Turner don't care.
You best show him some face,
or he'll be kickin' yo ass all over the place!

The review was representative of the region 1 MGM DVD.


Sean M said...

Hey the whole of this movie is on youtube so along with BLACULA i watched this earlier today and can concur with Brian that this is an absolute must see!

It's such a shame that this is Isaac Hayes only role in the Blaxploitation genre because he really is that good.It's also great to see Yaphett Kotto in a big boss role outside of LET AND LET DIE because he is equally superb here.Yeah i too was definitely shocked by Nichell Nichols but i have to say it's her best performance.

Great action,humour and music throughout so easily a 9 out of 10.

I noticed BLACK CAESER is also on youtube so this'll probably be my next stop in this genre.

venoms5 said...

TRUCK TURNER is in a class all by itself, Sean. I can't really think of any other blaxploitation movie that is as much fun as this one. This one is my all time favorite.

Hayes is in Duccio Tessari's TOUGH GUYS (1973), but that movie is awful. It's the only Italian blaxploitation hybrid.

Hayes is also in a supporting role in the blaxploitation parody, I'M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA.

Sean M said...

Well i've not even scratched the surface yet (maybe 5/6 films including the SHAFT films) but so far this is my favourite too.

Forgot to mention how brilliant i though the hospital shoot-out is.Truck was warned by his dying buddy that Blue would do the unexpected but still i was totally caught out by this brutal finale.

venoms5 said...

I know right! It seemed nobody gave a damn that there were injured people lying about nor patients that were having operations performed on them. One of the most enjoyable aspects of TRUCK TURNER is just how lovingly tasteless it is.

Sean M said...

Finally got round to getting the dvd of this and it's great to see this classic blax enhanced on a widescreen tv.

I forget to mention before just how brilliantly brutal Hayes is in the fisticuffs scenes.In fact as good a punch up as you'd see anywhere!

May just have to check out I'M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKER.

venoms5 said...

This is my all time favorite blaxploitation movie, Sean. I'm glad you got yourself a DVD of it now. This one never gets old. It's a shame Hayes didn't do more in the same vein, or even a sequel to this one. Lude, crude and socially unacceptable, TRUCK TURNER is cinema trash at its finest!

Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.