Truck Turner/Black Bullet (1974) ***
Jeez... You know, I can’t believe I’ve made it to review number 205 without writing up a single pure blaxploitation movie. Sure, there was Blacula, but by my reckoning, that one’s a horror movie first, and a blaxploitation flick second. Well, it’s time to rectify that oversight. It’s time for Truck Turner/Black Bullet.
This here is Isaac Hayes’s contribution to the genre, and a worthy one it is. Hayes, naturally, is Mack “Truck” Turner, former football hero turned professional bounty hunter. He and his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks of Shaft and Black Belt Jones) work for a bail bondsman named Nate (Sam Laws, from Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde), scouring the mean streets of Los Angeles for bail-jumping miscreants of all persuasions. Truck and Jerry are the best in the business; their reputation even brings them freelance work from other bail bondsmen. One day, one such man (Dick Miller, from The Little Shop of Horrors and A Bucket of Blood) hires them to bring in a murderous pimp named Gator (The Mack’s Paul Harris), a very dangerous job for which Truck and Jerry are able to wrangle a fee of $1000 dollars each. They’ll earn every penny of it before all is said and done.
Step one, of course, is to find the son of a bitch. To that end, Truck pays a little visit to Dorinda (Nichelle Nichols, best remembered for playing Lieutenant Uhura on “Star Trek”), a prosperous madam and Gator’s girlfriend. Dorinda has nothing to say to Truck, but he and Jerry are still in the area when Gator stops by just long enough for the lady mack to warn him of his peril. A high-speed car chase of the first order follows, as Truck and Jerry tail Gator’s pink Continental clear across town to what appears to be a sewage treatment plant. Gator’s car is a complete wreck by the time he reaches the plant, and the chase continues on foot as the pimp tries to evade his pursuers in the plant’s labyrinthine interior. Gator then sneaks back outside, steals Jerry’s car, and drives off, forcing the bounty hunters to flag down a passing motorist and press him into service to continue the pursuit. After immobilizing the stolen car with a well-placed gunshot to the radiator, Truck and his partner corner Gator in a bar, but the few minutes’ head start the pimp has on them is enough time for him to bribe all the bar’s patrons into ganging up on Truck and Jerry when they follow their quarry inside. Gator manages to escape in the ensuing confusion.
Truck and Jerry catch up to him a day or two later, though, tracking him to his home with the help of a retired pimp named Duke (Scatman Crothers, from The Shining and Deadly Eyes). The bounty hunters stake the place out, but Gator catches on before they can spring the trap, leading to a shootout that leaves the pimp dead and Jerry with a pair of scissors jammed into his shoulder by one of Gator’s whores. The celebratory round of drinks to which Truck and Jerry treat themselves afterwards is richly deserved.
On the other hand, Truck ends up having so much fun that he completely forgets about his other big obligation that day— he was supposed to go pick up his girlfriend Annie (Annazette Chase, also of The Mack, who would then go on to appear in Black Fist) from prison. Her 30-day term for stealing a TV set is just ending, and she expects Truck to be there to collect her. When Truck finally pulls up at the gate, Annie is good and pissed, and our hero actually has to (gasp!) take her out to dinner to calm her down! (Fortunately, she’s a cheap date, and is perfectly satisfied with a six-pack of beer and takeout from Kentucky Fried Chicken...)
Now, with Gator dead, you might expect that to be the end of it. If so, you haven’t seen nearly enough 70’s action flicks. Killing Gator has made Truck two very powerful enemies in LA’s criminal underworld. Dorinda, for one. She uses Gator’s funeral (and holy shit, what a funeral it is!) as a networking opportunity to put out the word that she’s looking for an avenger. And with her stable of girls bringing in over $238,000 a year, she can afford to pay handsomely for the service. The other enemy Truck acquires is another pimp by the name of Harvard Blue (Yaphet Kotto, from Alien and The Monkey Hustle). Blue wanted Gator for himself, you see— the topless blonde hooker who stabbed Jerry over at Gator’s house used to be Harvard’s own personal bitch. Before long, Truck can’t even take a piss without making sure there isn’t a hit man in the toilet first. It’s just a good thing for him that all the enforcers Dorinda hires turn out to be second-rate scrubs.
Harvard Blue is something else altogether, though. He’s got worldwide connections, and he makes use of them now to call in an international team of seasoned professionals— his “insurance company,” he calls them. He offers Dorinda their services in exchange for her girls; Dorinda herself will get to stay on managing the stable after the deal goes down. At first, Dorinda is too proud to consider such a thing, but she reconsiders when she meets Blue’s hit men. By that time, however, it’s already too late for her, though she doesn’t realize that. Her initial stonewalling has convinced Blue that she’s too independent-minded to be trusted, and he cuts a deal with one of Gator’s old friends, a one-eyed, white pimp named Desmond (John Kramer of The Student Teachers), to the effect that Desmond will manage Dorinda’s girls after the transaction is finalized. Dorinda herself, presumably, will be gotten rid of.
This is where it gets serious for Truck Turner and his buddies. Blue takes his Insurance Company to see Nate, whom they proceed to beat senseless until he agrees to call Turner on the pretense of offering him a big job. It’s the middle of Annie’s first night home, though, so Truck is too loaded to do anything but give Jerry a call, and send him over to Nate’s in his stead. It’s a good deal for Turner, not such a good deal for Jerry. The Insurance Company hits him with everything they’ve got the moment he knocks on the door. Then, to make matters even worse, Blue and his boys pay a visit to Truck’s apartment while he’s at the hospital visiting Nate (who, though thoroughly incapacitated and blind in one eye, survived the working-over the Insurance Company gave him). The idea was to kill Annie, but she went with Truck to see Nate, so Harvard settles for trashing the apartment and hanging Truck’s cat, Frances, from a doorframe.
All of which is just a long way of saying, “It’s vendetta time!” And as you might imagine, Truck Turner is not a man whose vendettas you want to be on the sharp end of. Truck gives Blue and the Insurance Company the full Charles Bronson, and by the time he’s through, there isn’t enough left of them to make a Denny’s Grand Slam Breakfast. And just for good measure, he makes sure to settle up accounts with Dorinda while he’s at it.
We’ve got some top-notch ass-kicking of color going on here, and a damn fine cast to boot. The only problem with Truck Turner— and it’s a big one, unfortunately— is that it has real difficulty maintaining its momentum from one set-piece to the next. So long as the fists, boots, and bullets are flying, there isn’t a fault to be found, but the refractory periods in between are a little too refractory, if you get my meaning. On the other hand, Isaac Hayes is delightfully larger than life, Yaphet Kotto is startlingly effective in his unexpectedly serious role as the major villain, and it’s a real hoot to see sweet, lovable Nichelle Nichols cast so radically against type as a vicious, foul-mouthed madam. (“Those two bitches that left better learn how to sell pussy in Iceland,” she snarls as she puts down the near-mutiny among her hookers that follows Gator’s death.) Scatman Crothers is also in fine form in his small role, and the remainder of the cast put in sturdy, if unexceptional, performances all around. With steadier pacing, Truck Turner could have been one of the greatest blaxploitation action films of them all.