Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jive Turkey

Yes, the title would make you pick it out of a big box of fifty "Drive-In Movie Classics." Well, right after The Werewolf vs.Vampire Women and Voodoo Black Exorcist. And maybe Slave of the Cannibal God. Anyway, Jive Turkey opens with the admonition that "THIS IS A TRUE STORY" and then some nice footage of city streets and guys in very loud suits as a sub-Curtis Mayfield/low-rent Isaac Hayes/D-grade James Brown number about "the numbers game" warbles on the soundtrack.

And right to the heart of the conflict: The Italian mob and the Black mob are duking it out for control of the rackets. The two heads of their organizations meet in some cheap Chianti joint and tell us pretty much all of the plot you need to know. The other important part about this intro is that it introduces us to one of our most important characters -- really, for our purposes the most important character because Serene is a stunning transvestite hit man. Hit woman. Hit person. Whatever. She dresses like a moonlighting Supreme and kills with her jewelry and her shoes and her Vodka. This glorious bitch is one of the unsung heroes of 70's 'splotation cinema and this film does not have nearly enough of her. Hell, Serene -- played by a queen named Tawny Tan, who may or may not have worked at a drag bar called the Purple Cow with Elvira -- should have had her own sequel and they do set her up for it...
One other point: This film is supposedly set in 1956 -- we know this because it says so on one of the strobe-lit disco-font instruction cards at the beginning. Otherwise we would not, as attention to period detail is somewhere several notches below lacksadasical. The cars are a mix of 50's fishtails and bullet lights with a steady background of early-seventies pussywagons -- which is fine with me, really, as it multiplies the opportunities for looking at some fine automobiles. The characters dress mostly in 70's style and barely any attention is paid to the female wardrobe anyway. However, the men wear a dashing array of wallpaper-print suits with suede pocket flaps or fur-collared coats with wide-brimmed fedoras and high-contrast houndstooth sportcoats with coordinating ascots.
The Black Mob's main office seems to be in a sort of low-level ad agency, while the Italian Mob seems to occupy the real estate of a mildly unsuccessful insurance office. There is lots of footage of people making lists on chalkboards and talking on phones and passing money back and forth. I think this is supposed to teach us about the internal workings of the numbers racket but, given that there's little dialogue over these parts, it just comes across as dull montage (Casino, it ain't). The N-word is used frequently by all sides of the dispute, but this is one of those "no good guys" gigs common to the time. Along the way toward our bloody finale, we have a protracted interlude of sassy Black ladies talking about what they're gonna do when their numbers come up, a game of Russian roulette played in a room whose couch seems specifically chose to hide blood spatter and a psychedelic "Is it over?" opium den climax.
Jive Turkey is far from the top level of blaxploitation movies -- i'd place it somewhere in the mid range. But this movie does have some beautiful cars, some excellent suits and, of course, that glorious bitch of a killer queen who murders with her accessories and her booze.

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