Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
Cleopatra Jones (1973)
Warner Bros. Home Video | Review by Dan Taylor

Cleopatra Jones starring Tamara DobsonBlaxploitation was big in the early 70s as producers realized that urban, inner-city audiences would line up around the block to see flicks starring black heroes, black supporting actors, and white villains (who invariably got their comeuppance at the hands of Jim Kelly, Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Richard Roundtree or any of the other stars of the day). Somewhere along the line, someone got the idea of having a feminist blaxploitation film with a female hero, and assumed that it would do big business. Well, CLEOPATRA JONES did enough business to warrant the sequel CLEOPATRA JONES & THE CASINO OF GOLD, but in light of other classics of the day like SHAFT and BLACK CAESAR, this PG-rated actioner is strictly run-of-the-mill video store fodder.

Tamara Dobson (a strikingly beautiful, 6'2" black woman whom you'll recognize from CHAINED HEAT) stars as the title character, a special government agent who begins the film by destroying a field of poppy flowers. This doesn't sit well with "Mommy", a female crimelord played by a not-quite-obese Shelly Winters. Obviously, director Jack Starrett told ol' Shell' that the scenery was a freshly cooked Virginia Baked Ham and she should "go nuts." In other words, Shelly's WAY over the top.

In order to get back at Cleo, Mommy has the B&S House busted. This is bad since it was sort of a halfway house for wayward youths, it was run by Cleo's boyfriend Ruben (played by the ever-reliable Bernie Casey), and she gets extremely pissed off and sets off to find out who did this to her friends.

The upshot? Cleo gets 72 hours to find the culprit and restore order before the police clash with Bernie and pals on the streets of LA.

While the flick isn't a complete waste of time on the level of STRANGELAND, everything is handled just a tad too heavy-handed. Plus, the action scenes are totally comic book ... they're just not violent enough. CLEO also suffers from the problem that it's INCREDIBLY DATED! The clothing is vintage early 70s, and the dialogue runs along the lines of, "No matter how many times I see a cat go through withdraw it's still a heavy trip." Every other line is punctured by phrases like "mama," "cat," "cool," "baby," "man" and "jungle freak."

Cast is populated by numerous familiar faces, including Antonio Fargas as "Doodlebug" (he would later come to fame with an equally ridiculous nickname as "Huggy Bear" on 'Starsky & Hutch'), Michael Warren (former UCLA basketball player and 'Hill Street Blues' star), Albert Popwell (supporting roles in several DIRTY HARRY films, particularly the criminal on the receiving end of the famous "Do you feel lucky punk?" speech), and several people who would later pop up on episodes of 'That's My Mama,' 'Gimme a Break,' and 'What's Happening.'

Flick is fairly dull, and main curiosity value comes from seeing Dobson kick the shit out of several generic white villains. Not violent enough, too talky and too dated for my taste.


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