Truck Turner Review
There are few artists who have offered a greater influence over the genre of soul music than Isaac Hayes. James Brown, possibly but bar a number of admittedly great songs, Brown has been trading on his reputation for longer than he took to build it up. Hayes, on the other hand, was there at the birth of the influential Memphis-soul sound of Stax-Volt and has been involved with early developments in disco and rap. From the release of 1969's superb Hot Buttered Soul, 1971's score from the movie Shaft and that same year's Black Moses, Hayes was offered the title role in 1973's Truck Turner, for which he also delivered the soundtrack album.
Hayes stars as Mac 'Truck' Turner, a tough bounty hunter who gets assigned to bring in the toughest of those who jumped bail. When the courts use him to bring Gator (Harris) back in for trial, Turner shoots him dead, an act than understandably angers Gator's girlfriend, Dorinda (Nichols), a brothel madam with a long list of hitmen in her rolodex. Dorinda offers all her ladies - $250k of merchandise - to whoever can kill Turner and a ruthless killer, Harvard Blue (Kotto), steps up to the head of the line to take first shot. Whilst Turner is sprung like a low-rider, ready for any attempt to take him down, can he still be cool as downtown Los Angeles gets shot up around him? More importantly, will he be back to his woman's place in time to put the '45 down and make sweet love...
After reviewing a number of blaxploitation movies for DVD Times, including Black Mama, White Mama and Black Caesar, this is much more like it. Hayes had never acted before, and only intermittently since, including taking the role of Chef in South Park, but he turns in such a relaxed and confident performance in the title role that one wonders how much better Shaft would have been had Hayes not only scored the movie but taken the lead role as well. The early scenes in the film are terrific, employing an episodic structure to build Turner's character - gentle in the sack, tough on the job, naturally - but does so with so much humour that you'll have to be professionally awkward not to be won over by it. Hayes is effortlessly cool with the combination of height, shaved head, beard and shades - shown to best effect by the gatefold LP release of Black Moses - charming every lady in the movie. No matter that his girlfriend's complaint that, "You could at least have bought me flowers" on her release from prison is met with a, "I got us some beer!", she gets in the car regardless! Hell, I'd understand it if my wife did too! When blaxploitation gets mentioned, it is characters like Turner that come immediately to mind and with just cause - this is as funny, smart, action-packed and effortless as you expect such movies to be and it is around Hayes' great performance as Turner that the movie revolves.
Regarding the rest of the cast, Yaphet Kotto does a good job as the reckless hitman Harvard Blue, comfortable with making enemies regardless of who they are but it is Nichelle Nichols as the furiously foul-mouthed Dorinda who both impresses and shocks in equal quantities. Anyone whose only exposure to Nichols has been through Star Trek will be immediately taken aback at the lack of clothing she wears here for, whilst it's true that the skirts she wore were short, here her dresses are short, low, cut and snipped to such an extent that if your imagination fancies a night off, let it go! And the language? Needless to say, it's unlikely that a troop of sailors would be so profane and her rants wouldn't be out of place had they been sampled, cut up and synched to a Dr Dre instrumental on The Chronic.
It's partly this aspect of the film that works best, in that there's a rhythm throughout that connects the dialogue, the action, the score and moves the film on from scene to scene. That the only point in which this rhythm drops is in the final shoot out gives it a tension that has greater impact than would otherwise be the case. If that sounds like a criticism, it's not - this might have all the realism of Ice Cube's It Was A Good Day but that's surely the point - shootings, women, beer, bar brawls and run-ins with the law - daft but so much fun, it's hard not to resist.
Truck Turner has been anamorphically transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and looks fine, with the transfer flattering the sun-kissed city streets and the murky interiors of clubs and bars. With such great early-seventies livery on display on a range of apparel that is both wide of trouser and of lapel, one would expect that the DVD transfer may have muted these colours somewhat but not a bit - the DVD has captured that sense that some of these clothes have to be seen to be believed, particularly those worn by Yaphet Kotto!
Truck Turner has been transferred with its original mono soundtrack intact and sounds good, if a little lacking in bass, which is noticeable given the score provided by Isaac Hayes. Still, it does carry the silky grooves perfectly well and is bright and pushy throughout.
Truck Turner, in line with other releases in the MGM Soul Cinema range, is presented with only one extra:
Theatrical Trailer (2m21s, 1.85:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a terribly grainy trailer but effortlessly captures the essence of the film along with some choice dialogue from Nichelle Nichols that has been bleeped in the most terrible fashion. Still, the trailer does make good use of the Isaac Hayes soundtrack as well as his presence in the film.
This extra is not subtitled.
This is great fun and in taking on a number of these films to review, I was disappointed to find that most of them are slight rehashes of existing movies. Truck Turner, on the other hand, is everything that the blaxploitation genre ought to have been - punchy, funny, funky and with a smooth rhythm underpinning the movie. Whilst not quite the high point of the genre - that honour belongs to Rudy Ray Moore's Dolemite, which hilariously and breathlessly disproves the notion that rap braggadocio started with hip-hop - Truck Turner is a fine piece of work nonetheless. Whilst Dolemite remains unavailable on DVD in the UK, this is as good as blaxploitation on the format has got so far on Region 2. If you only buy one example of the genre on Region 2, make it Truck Turner.