Sheba, Baby (Arrow Video, PG)

Basically, everything about the production falls flat.

Sheba

By 1975, Pam Grier was sick and tired of playing the same type of scantily clad tough chick in movies. She had already put out the two films that defined her in the 1970s—Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974)— and her star power had quickly grown larger than API’s reach as a low-budget film production company. It had been nearly five years since Grier was sent by her agent for casting on The Big Doll House, and Jack Hill hired her after a reading with Roger Corman’s approval. At this point, Pam Grier was mentioned in the same conversations as Barbra Streisand. Grier had made it and had a much greater influence on her roles than ever before. This time, she wanted to a play detective with blouses that stayed buttoned. As a result, we have perhaps the tamest Pam Grier movie yet—Sheba, Baby—that would serve as one of her final films with AIP and one of her last roles in the Blaxploitation era which was winding down at this point.

In Sheba, Baby, Grier plays Sheba Shayne, a private investigator from Chicago whose fierceness isn’t limited to her wardrobe. Sheba’s father (Rudy Challenger) finds himself in danger when a local gang tries to pressure him into selling his business. Her father’s refusal results in a shop full of bullet holes, leading Sheba to return home to Louisville to protect her father. Soon she traces the event back to a gangster named Pilot (Dolemite’s D’Urville Martin), who confesses that the real baddie is some totally removed rich white guy on a yacht (isn’t it always?). Also of note is that her father’s business partner Brick (Austin Stoker of Assault on Precinct 13) provides a romance angle, and Jackie Brown fans will be pleased to see a scene between the Stoker and Grier that is duplicated in the Tarantino’s classic.

Sheba, Baby is probably one of the least discussed Pam Grier films and with good reason. Basically, everything about the production falls flat. There’s absolutely nothing memorable about William Girdler’s direction of Sheba, Baby’s by-the-numbers plot. Luckily, it’s never dreadful watching the film in the way it should be. The humdrum dialogue is made bearable by a capable cast; Grier can bring vibrancy to just about anything. The highly formulaic plot actually helps the film too, as scenes never overstay their welcome. It’s not a miserable experience watching Sheba, Baby, but you’ll certainly forget it quickly.

Unless you are a die-hard Pam Grier fan, there really isn’t much for you to enjoy here. That being said, Arrow has gone to great lengths to make Sheba, Baby look great. The restoration is the quality you’d expect from them, and the special features are far more intriguing than the film itself. Girdler died in 1978, so the features lean heavily on the film’s producer and co-scriptwriter David Sheldon. Arrow conducts an interview with Sheldon on his working relationship Girdler where he offers some interesting insights. He laments the death of Girdler, saying that he firmly believes that Girdler could have been the next Spielberg. (A baffling claim, as Girdler’s filmography makes him seem more like an opportunist than a pioneer in filmmaking like Spielberg. He even seems to capitalize on the popularity of Jaws with his 1978 film Grizzly.) There’s also a commentary track that is basically a longer form of the interview, but it seems to work better as a 15-minute feature. The second commentary track must be the best part of the release. It features Patty Breen, webmaster of williamgirdler.com, who boasts that she knows the film better and seen it more times than Quentin Tarantino—a bold claim she quickly backs up. Not only is she an expert on the film, but she’s absolutely giddy to share all her insights, making it a very engaging commentary. Other special features include a retrospective of Pam Grier’s time with AIP lead by film scholar Chris Poggiali, a trailer which features alternate takes of scenes in the film and a stills gallery. | Cait Lore

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