Thursday, September 9, 2010

Film Review: TRUCK TURNER (1974, Jonathan Kaplan)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 91 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Isaac Hayes (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, I'M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA), Yaphet Kotto (BLUE COLLAR, ALIEN, FREDDY'S DEAD, BONE), Scatman Crothers (THE SHINING, FRIDAY FOSTER), Dick Miller (GREMLINS, BUCKET OF BLOOD), Alan Weeks (SHAFT, BLACK BELT JONES), Nichelle Nichols ('Uhura' on STAR TREK), Charles Cyphers (DEATH WISH II, HALLOWEEN, THE FOG), Matthew Beard ('Stymie' from THE LITTLE RASCALS!). Music by Isaac Hayes.
Tag-lines: "Black, bold, and bloody mean!"
Best one-liner: "Anybody ask you what happened, tell 'em you been hit by a truck: Mac 'Truck' Turner!"

If Jack Hill's COFFY is Queen of the Blaxploitation flick, then TRUCK TURNER is King. Originally designed as a Robert Mitchum (!), and then a James Coburn (!!) vehicle, one thing led to another and American International modified it to fit the mold of their other, 'urban' successes like SLAUGHTER, BLACK CAESAR, HELL UP IN HARLEM, et al. It becomes a wild sprint from start to finish- outrageous fashions, hostile language, splurting bullet wounds, and sassy, sassy tambourines.

Isaac Hayes IS "Mac 'Truck' Turner."

What he lacks in acting chops, he makes up for in sheer badassery and wanton cheekiness. The film begins with a very 'Philip Marlowe'-style scene (suddenly the Mitchum connection makes a little more sense). Our charmingly disreputable hero wakes up in his ramshackle L.A. apartment. His cat trots around, playfully. He moves to put on a shirt. It's the place where Marlowe would say something witty and sardonic about the previous night's exploits. Instead, we have: "Francis, I forgot to feed you last night. I'm sorry about that––YOU PISSED ON MY SHIRT! My last goddamned shirt! You punkass son of a bitch! Get your ass offa here!" And he tosses the cat off the bureau.

"You punkass sonofabitch!"

Whew. I think it's safe to say that in the alternate universe where I control the outcome of the Oscars, this would've at least won Best Screenplay. We got an obligatory women's prison scene; Scatman Crothers as a semi-retired pimp who enjoys Créme de Menthes while reclining on wicker furniture on a well-manicured lawn:

a pimp's funeral that involves a procession of increasingly ludicrous costumes (a sequined eye-patch! a rainbow clown wig!):

the most pleasantly surprising hospital scene until BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO:

The sharp-eyed viewer will note that Yaphet Kotto has taken a toddler hostage, then in a display of gratuitous violence knocks over a porter and a wheelchair-bound man– just for the hell of it!

and an oddly transcendent death scene that makes me wonder if Terrence Malick was on set for a day. Then, there's car chases that put films with ten times the budget to shame:

nearly as much beer consumption as WHITE LINE FEVER:

and...Dick fuckin' Miller!

Joe Dante would be proud.

But the real stars may be our villains: Yaphet Kotto (BONE) and Nichelle Nichols ('Uhura' on STAR TREK) deliver bold performances that perfectly alternate between nuanced and over the top. Yaphet, always a treasure, is pimped out in... well, a pimp outfit:

and matter-of-factly delivering brutal disparagements, punches to the guts, and at one point, actually spitting in OUR face!


Nichols rolls in wearing an iridescent white super-flared polyspandex pantsuit with a bikini top:

making exclamations like "THIS AIN'T SEARS ROEBUCK, NIGGAH!" and otherwise distancing herself from the calming presence of STAR TREK's Uhura by delivering brilliant monologues such as the following:
"Your ass belongs to me, I tell you what you can and can't do with it. Do you understand what I'm saying to you? Shut up! Now all you whores sit down, I wanna talk to you. Anybody thinking about leaving here is gonna find my left foot square up their ass, do you understand me? Shut up, ya chunky whore. I'm talking to you!...

...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 fucking throats. Hey! We are a family. And that's what we're gonna stay. Now I got important business out there today. So when I call you I want you to shake yo asses proper, ya hear? HUH! Now get out there and make it look good. And Raquel, take that fucking jacket off!"

Sheer genius. And for those who are still skeptical- I offer these two sublime clips which I've entitled, A. "Naw I'm indestructible!" and B. "What about me?" –"What about you?":



Clearly, this movie deserves five stars.

-Sean Gill

6. BLIND FURY (1989, Philip Noyce)
7. HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951, John Farrow)
8. HIGH SCHOOL U.S.A. (1983, Rod Amateau)
9. DR. JEKYLL AND MS. HYDE (1995, David Price)
11. 1990: BRONX WARRIORS (1982, Enzo G. Castellari)
12. FALLING DOWN (1993, Joel Schumacher)
13. TOURIST TRAP (1979, David Schmoeller)
14. THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973, Richard Lester)
15. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986, John Carpenter)
16. TOP GUN (1986, Tony Scott)
17. 48 HRS. (1982, Walter Hill)
18. ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (2003, Robert Rodriguez)
19. TALES OF THE CITY (1993, Alastair Reid)
20. WHITE LINE FEVER (1975, Jonathan Kaplan)
99 AND 44/100% DEAD (1974, John Frankenheimer)
22. LET'S KILL UNCLE, BEFORE UNCLE KILLS US (1966, William Castle)
23. TRUCK TURNER (1974, Jonathan Kaplan)
24. ...


GuyR said...

Five stars, damn right nigga!

And Kotto's death scene is really gripping.

J.D. said...

Wow, both Mitchum and Coburn were considered for this film?! I'm glad they passed 'cos I can't see anybody else but Hayes in this role. I like watching this film on a double bill with BLACK CAESAR for that stickin' it to The Man vibe that both films give off.

I haven't seen TRUCK TURNER in ages and I had forgotten that Nichols was in it... and that awesome speech she gives. I bet it scandalized all sorts of Trekkies back in the day! hah. I really need to revisit this film.

Awesome review!

Sean Gill said...


Yeah, that death scene is fantastically abstract. It's really almost as if Herzog or Malick stepped on set for an hour!

Nichols is so committed- certainly a bold career move. I would like to have seen those scandalized Trekkies emerging from the theater in a daze, "Shut up, ya chunky whore!" ringing in their ears...

Dan said...

I saw this quite a few years ago and had forgotten all about it.
This review has reminded me just how much i enjoyed it!
I just ordered it for under £4 ($6) which is a real bargain.
Looking forward to seeing it again!