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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Friday Foster (Blu-ray)
Friday Foster (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // R // June 9, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted June 29, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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Friday Foster (1975) was for all intent and purposes, genre star Pam Grier's last blaxploitation film as well as her last for American International Pictures (AIP), where she spent most of her early career. Loosely based on the 1970-74 comic strip of the same name, illustrated by Spanish artist Jorge Longarón, the movie is entertaining but forgettable fluff, a bit tamer than Grier's earlier blaxploitation films while still pushing all the expected buttons. It's notable mainly for its all-star cast of great African-American talent: Yaphet Kotto, Thalmus Rasulala, Julius Harris, Eartha Kitt, Godfrey Cambridge, Scatman Crothers, Ted Lange, and a pre-Rocky Carl Weathers, as well as for its brief, dramatic role given to character star Jim Backus.

The high-def transfer, licensed to Olive Films from MGM, looks good though the disc has no extras at all.

Friday Foster (Grier) is a glamorous ex-fashion model from Harlem now working as a magazine photographer. Perhaps deliberately timed with the movie's Christmas Day 1975 opening, the story opens on New Year's Eve, when Friday's editor, Monk Riley (Julius Harris) orders her to shoot the arrival at LAX of "the black Howard Hughes," Blake Tarr (Thalmus Rasulala). Unfortunately, this means Friday can't attend fashion model friend Cloris Boston's (Rosalind Miles) New Year's Eve party, even though she's clearly desperate to speak to Friday about something.

At the airport, Friday arrives just in time to witness a fierce gun battle, with several would-be assassins, including Yabro (Carl Weathers), trying to gun down the black billionaire, who's wounded but survives. One of the assassins, mortally wounded, turns out to be Cloris's boyfriend.

The movie follows Friday's investigation of the crime, and its larger plot to assassinate leading African-American politicians. She's joined by breezy private eye Colt Hawkins (Yaphet Kotto), with clues leading them to Washington D.C. and possible suspects that include fashion designer Madame Rena (Earth Kitt), gay underworld figure Ford Malotte (Godfrey Cambridge), and handsome older U.S. Senator David Lee Hart (Paul Benjamin).

Blaxploitation movies of the ‘70s seem to fall into several categories. Some of the best were written and/or directed by black filmmakers such as Gordon Parks (Sr. and Jr.), Melvin Van Peebles, Ossie Davis, etc., and a few younger generation white filmmakers, notably Jack Hill (who directed some of Grier's best genre films). Other Blaxploitation movies tended to be directed by older, more journeymen white directors such as Jack Arnold and, in this case, Arthur Marks, who also helmed Detroit 9000 (1973), Bucktown (1975, also with Grier, Rasulala, and Weathers), The Monkey Hu$tle (1976, with Kotto), and J.D.'s Revenge (also 1976). Marks followed in his father's footsteps as an assistant director in Hollywood beginning in the late 1940s, eventually becoming a frequent (76 episodes) director and producer of the original Perry Mason TV series. It was there Marks met busy writer Orville H. Hampton, who had worked on scads of ‘50s genre films (Rocketship X-M, The Alligator People, The Atomic Submarine), before turning to television, including numerous Perry Mason episodes.

That connection brought Marks and Hampton together for Detroit 9000 and Friday Foster, but Hampton had a credit that must have caught Marks's eye: an obscure but ambitiously ahead-of-its-time feature film called One Potato, Two Potato (1964), starring Barbara Barrie and Bernie Hamilton as a biracial couple. This, of course, was at a time when such relationships were still illegal in 16 states. (However, co-writer Raphael Hayes claimed to have completely written Hampton's original script.)

As for Friday Foster, it's unexceptional though has all the genre iconography one expects from a picture like this: plenty of violent action sequences (including one genuinely startling phone booth murder), footage of Grier naked in the shower and making love to several different men, some comedy relief and, first and foremost, black actors in empowering roles.

Besides Grier, Yaphet Kotto seems to be having a whale of a time playing Friday's amused ally; he's really fun to watch. Eartha Kitt is extravagantly theatrical as the fashion maven, though her hamminess suits the part.

Blaxploitation films are sometimes criticized for what's perceived as negative black stereotypes viewed through the prism of white filmmakers, but the only politically incorrect character in Friday Foster is a "loveable" pimp, Fancy Dexter, played by Ted Lange, shortly before he boarded The Love Boat for many years. Complete with pimpmobile, garish wardrobe, and a quartet of "bitc-, er...girls," as he calls them, Fancy is depicted as colorful and underhanded but essentially harmless and even amusing, arguably a dangerous characterization of that not-so-amusing profession.

Jim Backus, as Enos Griffith, a mysterious king-maker type, was struggling with ill-health and typecasting, which is probably how he wound up in a film like Friday Foster, but at least it afforded him a straight role that, for a change, wasn't riffing his Mr. Magoo/Thurston Howell III characters.

Like all Blaxploitation movies of the period, the budget is adequate but obviously cheap, not much more than the average network TV movie of the era. This looks about par with a couple of Kojak or Streets of San Francisco episodes. The limited budget rears its head in amusing ways, such as the fact that all the audience ever sees of the magazine is Riley's office and just one other employee, a white rival/co-worker. And while much of the story is set in D.C. and includes some nice footage shot there, the climax all too clearly was filmed amongst the emblematic scrubby terrain of Southern California.

Video & Audio

In 1.85:1 spherical Panavision with original theatrical prints by Movielab, Friday Foster looks pretty good, not great, in high-def. The transfer probably could look a bit better than it does, but overall it's a reasonably impressive job. The DTS-HD Master Audio, in 2.0 mono, is likewise adequate. Region A, no subtitle or alternate audio options, and no Extra Features.

Parting Thoughts

Superficially entertaining, Friday Foster falls squarely in the middle of the Blaxploitation canon, fun viewing mainly for its cast. Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.

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