Sheba, Baby: Staring Down The Barrel Of A Gun
Article by Aaron Haughton
Pam Grier was such a hot commodity in the 70s that just having her name associated to a title would pretty much guarantee a profit. Sheba, Baby, released at the height of Grier’s 70s career, was no exception and would go on to become a box-office success; however, the film would ultimately fade from memory, forced to live in the shadows of Coffy and Foxy Brown due to the film’s toned down and tamed thrills.
In the film Grier plays Chicago P.I. Sheba Shayne, who returns to her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky when she learns that her father’s life and business is being threatened by dangerous thugs. The man posing the threat is a local underworld leader who wants to buy the old man's loan company against his will. Teaming up with her father's partner, Brick (Austin Stoker), Sheba goes head to head with the mobster in a fight for her father's life.
The film is ridiculous, over the top, dated, and rough around the edges, but it’s also one of the most grounded and mature films to surface from the blaxploitation movement. In a lot of ways, Sheba has a verve similar to Jackie Brown, which mainly shines through Grier and Stoker’s complex and bittersweet relationship. It’s slow to get moving and plays a little soulless and flat, but as it wears on, the film begins to exhibit enough personality and flavor to make for a decently enjoyable and surprisingly charming experience.
A lot of the charm can be attributed to Grier, who carries this film like a fur around her shoulders with her usual cheerful abundance of stamina. She’s not at her best here, but has some really great moments (as seen in her first real shootout with the thugs at her dad’s business). She brings a natural attitude to her performance, a staggering amount of complexity to her character, and gives Sheba an effortless air of cool that never comes off as forced or cocky. Her beauty is as radiant as ever without being on full display, which proves she doesn’t need to stoop to nudity to demonstrate her overflowing sex appeal. Despite all the shortcomings of Girdler’s inadequate script, Grier manages to make Sheba into genuinely compelling and complicated character.
The film is surprisingly bloody for a PG film, and has a number of good shootouts, but the action and thrills are noticeably weaker and less crisp than some of the genre’s other offerings. The film clearly would’ve faired better in the hands of Arthur Marks or Jack Hill, but Girdler delivers the goods on a number of occasions, with some breakneck chases, gritty shootouts, and speargun finale. His direction is bit rough and unfocused at times, and he never manages to maintain a consistent pace or give the film a distinctive visual flair.
His screenplay is patchy with plot holes like Swiss cheese, but its major fail is never adequately explaining why the thugs are trying to shutdown a bunch of black-owned businesses. The film is sprinkled with silly moments like this that can make or break the film, depending on what you're looking for.
As far as action films go, Sheba is a lightweight, but as a comedy, it delivers a few powerful haymakers. that are elevated by some vibrant side characters, like Christopher Joy’s Walker, who is the true champion of this film. An early moment of hilarity comes in the form of a “surprise” car bombing, which the bad guy reveals to Sheba’s father — making it not much of a surprise at all— that the device is set to explode 10 seconds after starting the car. The phone call is incredibly convenient, considering Grier just got her father's keys and is en route to the vehicle. Luckily, the 10 second delay on the explosion gives Sheba’s father and his associate plenty of time to save her and drag her to safety. The film is sprinkled with little moments like this that add a bit of levity, whether intentional or not, to this pretty threadbare film.
Sheba may lack the sleazy allure of the Jack Hill/Pam Grier team-ups that came before it, but it still packs a bit of a punch. It may not be the best Pam Grier film or the most thrilling piece of blaxploitation cinema, but its still extremely enjoyable despite all it’s flaws and is well deserving of a watch. And, the great news is that the full film can be streamed via YouTube here.
Rating: 3 pleading thugs outta 5.
What do you think? What's your favorite part of Sheba, Baby? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always remember to viddy well, sucka!