Director: William Girdler
Script: William Girdler (Story by David Sheldon & William Girdler)
Cast: Pam Grier, Austin Stoker, D’urville Martin, Rudy Challenger, Chris Joy, Dick Merrifield, Mo Downes
Running time: 90 minutes
Sheba Shayne (Pam Grier) is a hard-boiled private investigator working in Chicago with her lazy business partner. She receives a letter telling her that her father is seriously ill so she heads back to Louisville, where she grew up and where her father still resides.
On getting there she discovers that her dad’s business has been targeted by a local businessman/gangster who wants the land that her father’s office sits on so he can complete a massive, and highly lucrative, property deal. Her father has been beaten up trying to stop three thugs from smashing up his offices. When someone tries to blow Sheba’s car up, with her in it, Sheba decides enough is enough and goes after the perpetrators, especially when the cops turns out to be as useless as a shower without water. They tell her to ‘Stay out of it Sheba’, to which she responds ‘That’s your job’!
Ms Shayne then follows up various leads to discover who’s really behind all the intimidation aimed at her family. After dunking an ex-bomber’s head in chlorine, and forcing another man to undergo a car-wash without the protection of a car, Sheba finds out a name and ends up visiting a rundown fairground where she has a violent encounter in a spooky funhouse. Finally she discovers that she’s after a man known as ‘Shark’ so she goes to his party boat to level the playing field once and for all…
Sheba, Baby is a decent Blaxploitation movie from the mid-seventies, when Pam Grier was on top of her game and proving that men weren’t the only people who had formidable acting chops in the action genre – she seems to be doing a lot of her own stunts for one thing! Here she plays a sassy ex-cop who has little time or respect for the male of the species; for their laziness (in the case of her fellow PI), for their stubbornness (as in her dad), or for their badges (the lacklustre cops that she used to work with). But she also gets to demonstrate her sensitive side and the scene where she’s in the hospital with her poorly dad is a very tender and heartfelt one.
The film, like many from the era, has dated somewhat, particularly in the case of its language and its fashions, but that’s also part of its charm. Words like ‘Jive’, ‘Sucka’, ‘Nigga’ and ‘Man’ are bandied about like they’re going out of fashion, which I guess they kind of were. Sheba, in particular, has some very quotable lines such as when she corners a street hustler and says: ‘You’d better talk before I put my number one foot down your number one mouth’.
As per usual with characters brought to life by actress Pam Grier, Sheba is a strong, independent woman, who’s not afraid to put herself forward to get into the fray, but is also smart enough to choose her battles wisely, and sensitive enough to help others in need. It’s a pity that the character of Sheba didn’t get another outing. Funnily enough though, another character from the 1970s Blaxploitation universe is referenced during the film, namely that of ‘The Human Tornado’.
Arrow Video have done another ‘bang-up job’ with the sourcing of a good print and cleaning it up, since the picture quality is sharp and the sound clear, at least for the most part.
Arrow Video are distributing Sheba, Baby on DVD and Blu-ray. As per usual with Arrow Video there are some decent extras on the disc including:
Audio commentaries with writer David Sheldon, and with Patty Breen.
A 15 minute interview where the producer and scriptwriter discuss the film. Apparently the filmmakers had a two picture deal with AIP – Sheba, Baby (aka Honour) was one and Slaughter was the other. William Girdler sadly died years later in a helicopter accident; the producer reckons he could have been the next Steven Spielberg! Girdler also worked on the likes of the black version of The Exorcist, namely Abby, and also Three on a Meathook, which was inspired by the life and crimes of notorious serial killer Ed Gein.
Pam Grier: The AIP years (12 mins) – Film historian, Chris Poggiali, chats about Pam’s early career and how the film Cleopatra Jones kick-started her career. Disappointingly her promising career never really took off in the way she had wanted it to and she was relegated, in the main, to playing supporting characters.
Trailer (2 mins) – a funky trailer replete with rhyming voiceover.
Gallery of 19 stills from the film.