Sunday, July 5, 2015

Isaac Hayes gets down in the ghetto as TRUCK TURNER

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Director: Jonathan Kaplan

Cast: Isaac Hayes, Yapher Kotto, Nichelle Nicols, Alan Weeks, Scatman Crothers, Dick Miller

Kino Lorber / Region A / Rated R / 1.85:1 (1080p) / DTS audio / 91 minutes

Extras: Audio Commentary by Director Jonathan Kaplan / "Trailers From Hell" with Ernest Dickerson / Q&A at The New Beverly Cinema with Jonathan Kaplan, Stunt Man Bob Minor, Hosted by Joe Dante / Theatrical Trailer / Radio Spot

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In the late sixties to early seventies, NYU film student Jonathan Kaplan was working at the Fillmore East–Bill Graham's live rock and roll venue in the East Village, Manhattan–and doing part-time film editing on the side. It was during this time that he got a call from Roger Corman to direct 1972's Night Call Nurses on the recommendation of one of his professors, Martin Scorsese. Yes, THE Martin Scorsese. The movie was such a hit that Corman had him close out the "Nurses Trilogy" (which started with Stephanie Rothman's The Student Nurses) with The Student Teachers the very next year. He kept it in the family working with Roger's brother Gene on his next film The Slams, a blaxploitation action flick starring the rugged Jim Brown.

Kaplan broke away from the Corman boys directly while still working with American International Pictures (AIP) with his next feature Truck Turner, starring another badass black man in the form of the velvet voice of R&B/soul crooner Isaac Hayes. By now Kaplan had made his bones in the black/urban action sub-genre and Hayes had already written the classic theme song to Shaft in 1971 and starred in Duccio Tessari's Three Tough Guys with blaxploitation icon Fred Williamson. So this pairing was a match made in exploitation movie heaven. But not only did you have these two fly motherfuckers, the cast also included Yaphet Kotto (Friday Foster), Nichelle Nichols (in-between the Star Trek TV series and the first movie), Scatman Crothers (The Shining) and stand-up comedic legend Richard Pryor.

Hayes plays and ex-football-turned-bounty hunter Mac "Truck" Turner who has the street rep of being someone you don't want to tangle with, along with his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks). They get a call from a bail bondsman whose very dangerous client, a violent pimp named "Gator", has skipped out and no one else will take the case. But Truck and Jerry are happy to fleece the guy for about five times their normal rate to track down the bad guy. After finally catching up with him, they end up having to shoot him and his girlfriend after she stabs Jerry. This doesn't sit well with Gator's "House Mama" Dorinda who runs the girls for him (a very curvaceous and sexy Nichelle Nichols) and she decides to have a meeting with the other area pimps and hire them to take out Truck. The usually non-violent ho-runners find out the hard way that the job is a little more than they bargained for until Blue (Kotto) brings in some hired guns, the "Insurance Company".

If you are familiar with Jonathan Kaplan's other works, you know that he is an exciting director with a flair for the action sequence, especially car chases and brawls. Truck Turner is jam-packed with a thrilling string of action set-pieces that will keep you on the edge of your seat and enough goofy humor to keep it a rollicking good time. I tried to jot down a small list of great quotes but there were just too many great quotable lines to keep up. "Truck Turner ain't exactly a 'poop-butt', ya know!" Like a lot of the blaxploitation films of the day, everyone throws around the word "nigger" enough to make Jay-Z blush. The language back then wasn't nearly as politically-correct as it is now in general, especially in these "urban" action movies. Isaac Hayes and Nichelle Nichols stand out in this pretty stellar cast. Hayes is the seminal smooth, badass lady's man and Nichols steams up the screen in every scene she's in.

Truck Turner was released on a single-disk "Soul Cinema" DVD from MGM a few years ago and a double-feature DVD with Fred Williamson's Hammer as well. Those were the same transfers that were a nice step up from the VHS but still lacked any sort of nice detail or cleanliness. The soundtrack on those DVDs are also very flat and dodgy. Now in the age of high-definition remasters, we can have our funky Isaac Hayes soundtrack and jive-turkey ass kicking in glorious DTS sound and 1080p HD! Kino Lorber via their KL Studio Classics line has given us another fantastic blaxploitation classic with a much-needed and beautifully done re-release on remastered Blu-ray, like they did with Cotton Comes to Harlem. I am very much looking forward to what comes next from them and hope they continue with their stellar work on the restoration of these very important movies.

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