The Film Fan Dojo’s celebration of Black History Month continues with a review of one of the most beloved movies from the 1970’s: Black Belt Jones. Fresh off his co-starring role in Enter the Dragon, Jim Kelly gets to live and show us what he can do in his first solo starring vehicle*. Many long time readers know of my personal feelings regarding Master Jim Kelly and for those new to the blog check out my tribute to Jim Kelly, if interested. For our first review in our celebration of African-American martial artists and martial arts movies stars here is Black Belt Jones.
Dojo Review: Black Belt Jones
Director: Robert Clouse
starring Jim Kelly, Gloria Hendry, Scatman Crothers, Mel Novak, Eric Laneuville, Malik Carter, Vincent Barbi, Andre Phillipe
fight coordinator: Robert Wall
*Note: Fred Weintraub and Paul Heller ( the duo who produced Enter the Dragon) also produced Black Belt Jones for Warner Brother pictures.
Plot: Pinkie ( Malik Carter), a low level gangster and hustler, has been ordered by Don Steffano (Andre Phillipe) to seize the Karate Dojo of Papa Byrd (Scatman Crothers) for an upcoming building project. Pinkie inflates Papa’s gambling debt and tries to muscle Papa into signing over the dojo to him. In the ensuing confrontation Papa Byrd is killed and the thugs still don’t have the lease because Papa Byrd has left it to his daughter. Sydney Byrd, a Karate champion herself, track downs Pinkie’s gang after Papa’s funeral and kicks the crap out of them. Black Belt Jones (Jim Kelly), a student and friend of Papa Byrd takes matters into his own hands once he learns the true value of the dojo. The Don and Big Tuna ( Vincent Barbi) pressure Pinkie into kidnapping Quincy ( Eric Laneuville), an eager young Karate student, as a trap to try and eliminate Jones. Black Belt and Sydney go to rescue Quincy and Jones puts on a clinic beating the crap out of Pinkie’s gang. Jones and Sydney learn of Don Steffano’s ultimate goal and align with a police inspector and a gymnastics crew to heist the Don’s own money and pay him what the school is worth. Don Steffano, his thugs and Pinkie’s gang find out what Jones did and chase Sydney and Jones to a car wash to try and eliminate them once and for all.
Action coordinator Robert Wall ( O’Hara from Enter the Dragon) was very aware of Jim Kelly’s strengths as he was not only a former co-star with him but they knew each other from the Tournament Karate scene of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Wall goes on to do a great job in coordinating the fights with featuring Jim Kelly ( I say coordinating rather than choreographing because I was told by Jim Kelly that he had a hand in the choreography but was uncredited). The opening sequence made Jim look like a total badass! He tosses guys around, does ridge hand strikes to the temple, and performs his fast and famous back fist. The midnight dojo fight is good as well and the dialogue makes it that much more entertaining. When you see fight sequence when Jones goes to rescue Quincy, it is obvious that Pinkie’s gang is in way over their heads and don’t stand a chance. Gloria Hendry does a good job as well and really shines in the fight scene at Pinkie’s pool hall. The reactions of the actors and stunt men are priceless s they flop around and make her look good!
Black Belt Jones is a fun and entertaining movie; a true mixture of Blaxploitation and Kung Fu genres. It has a little social commentary, fun fight scenes, gangsters with incompetent henchmen, comedy, Gloria Hendry ( the first black Bond girl), Jim Kelly in his first solo starring role, and the great one-liner: ” My cookie would kill you.” I would have liked to see the Don call in a Kung fu or Karate fighter to challenge Jones so that we had a little more tension in the final fight scene, but that’s my minor complaint. If you don’t own Black Belt Jones go get yourself a copy, it is a great and historic movie to have in your collection. Here’s a bonus: the soundtrack of the opening sequence is a catchy, funky tune ( and the whole soundtrack is cool if you like funky 1970’s music).
If you would like a copy of Black Belt Jones click here to purchase.