FRIDAY FOSTER: She’s Just All Woman, Lieutenant

Friday Foster (1975) – Directed by Arthur Marks – Starring Pam Grier, Carl Weathers, Eartha Kitt, Paul Benjamin, Yaphet Kotto, Thalmus Rasulala, Jim Backus, Godfrey Cambrigdge, Ed Cambridge, Scatman Crothers, Shawn Stratton, Jason Bernard, and Ted Lange.

“She’s got more balls than brains.”

“She’s just all woman, lieutenant.”

This exchange comes after Friday Foster (Pam Grier) steals a hearse at her friend’s burial service in order to chase after Yarbro (Carl Weathers), the man who had just tried to kill her. Lieutenant Jake Wayne (Ed Cambridge) is furious with Friday for stealing the hearse, but private eye Colt Hawkins (Yaphet Kotto) thinks it’s good for a laugh because he knows this is just the kind of thing that Friday does.

Growing up in central Massachusetts didn’t exactly expose me to a plethora of blaxploitation films. In fact, it exposed me to exactly zero. The closest I ever came was Live and Let Die. I’ve seen bits and pieces of films over the years but I’ve got no problem admitting I’m still pretty ignorant of the genre, so I have no idea if FRIDAY FOSTER is representative of the top of the genre, the bottom, or somewhere in between.

What I do know is that this is a pretty darn good movie, full of great actors, solid action and story, fantastic music, and the incomparable Pam Grier in the lead.

Friday Foster (Pam Grier) is assigned to take pictures of the airport arrival of Blake Tarr (Thalmus Rasulala), the wealthiest black man in the country, with the explicit orders to “not get involved.” This idea of Friday “not getting involved” is a constant theme throughout the film, as man after man tells her to play it safe and Friday ignores them and goes after the story anyway. Two stories collapse together here; the first is the assassination attempt against Tarr at the airport and the second is the murder of Friday’s friend Cloris (Rosalind Miles).

At the heart of both of these incident is the assassin Yarbro (Carl Weathers), who tries to kill Friday while she’s showering, then shows up at Cloris’ funeral, and later kills Madame Rena (Eartha Kitt), a fashion designer. During the first half of the film, it’s the Weathers vs. Grier angle that dominates the film, but FOSTER has much more in store for us. After Yarbro shoots Rena, Colt goes after him and we get to see Weathers and Kotto go toe-to-toe. Surprisingly, the film offs its main bad guy right here as Colt kills Yarbro.

Friday is determined to keep chasing the story, and our small assassination attempt gone wrong film turns into a political thriller that sees Friday pitted between Senator David Lee Hart (Paul Benjamin) and millionaire Blake Tarr. Each of them thinks the other is behind a program called “Black Widow.” Friday’s investigation first leads her to the Senator; she sneaks her way into a high society party and sweet talks the Senator into finding out that the Hart thinks Tarr was behind his own assassination attempt.

Friday thinks that’s a strange thing for Tarr to do, but that doesn’t stop her from sleeping with the Senator.

I love how Friday owns her sexuality like she owns everything else she does in the story. She’s definitely a person who embraces life, whether that’s getting involved in a story, tracking down her friend’s killer, or hooking up with the Senator and then again with Blake Tarr a short while later. Grier plays it all with a sense of passion and fun; even while hot on the case of Cloris’ death, she knows how to use her charms to help her get what she wants, and when the opportunity comes to hop into bed with Hart or Tarr, or trade quips with Colt, she doesn’t let them pass her by.

Importantly, Friday isn’t some kind of super cool badass. She’s a photographer’s assistant working for a magazine and living with her brother. There’s no parents in sight and no parents mentioned; this is her reality and she makes the most of it, but she makes mistakes (she believes what Hart and Tarr sell her about the other) and she gets scared despite her bravery. But while she might turn to Colt for comfort and while she might believe the stories she hears from these powerful men a bit too readily, Friday is always her own woman, always willing to push forward, and always willing to see things through to the end.

There’s plenty of liberated 1970s feminism on display in FOSTER (and we know this because one character tells Colt to get “this liberated woman out of here”) but the film doesn’t force this agenda down the audience’s throat because Friday rarely comes off as “I’m doing this to make a point,” but rather she’s embraced who she is and doesn’t feel the need to hide it. You get the sense that “this liberated woman” is leading the movement by doing, rather than following through mimicry.

There’s a ton of great actors sprinkled throughout FOSTER. Ted Lange shows up as a sweet-talking, gift-giving pimp trying to recruit Friday to his stable of women. Friday smiles and jokes with Fancy but lets him know “you don’t have anything I want” and that “welfare’s not for me.” Fancy assures her that “all the white boys will breaking down your door” but Friday’s not swayed. I like, too, how Fancy keeps giving Friday’s brother Cleve gifts for her, but the kid always keeps them for himself and tells Fancy that he needs to start bringing higher end gifts if he wants a shot. The kid keeps the gifts to sell them on the sly. “You’re a hustla now?” Colt asks him. “New black capitalism,” Cleve replies.

Scatman Crothers shows up as a dirty horndog priest, Godfrey Cambridge as Cloris’ contact man in D.C., Eartha Kitt as a fashion designer, Jim Backus as the white money man behind Black Widow, and Jason Bernard (who isn’t something with big signature roles, but believe me, when you see him show up on screen, you’ll know him) plays Charles Foley, Hart’s assistant who’s really running Black Widow.

Just look at all that talent; FOSTER is always giving you something new to propel the film forward, whether it’s a cameo from someone you know or an action sequence. I’m impressed by how this story starts small and finishes big and I’m impressed with how what starts as a murder mystery evolves into a political film, as Tarr and Hart believe the other is responsible for Black Widow, yet come together in the end when they realize they were both wrong. But mostly, I just love watching Pam Grier and Yaphet Kotto work their way towards a resolution. Kotto is terrific as the super cool P.I., and his relationship with Grier works really well to give this narrative a backbone it risks losing when the storyline shifts after Madame Rena’s death.

FRIDAY FOSTER is 90 minutes of awesomeness.

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2 thoughts on “FRIDAY FOSTER: She’s Just All Woman, Lieutenant

  1. I remember the FRIDAY FOSTER newspaper comic strip this movie was based on as it was the first syndicated newspaper comic strip featuring African-American predominantly. I vaguely recall it being a soap opera type of strip, focusing mainly on Friday’s romantic trials and tribulations with none of the political intrigue and action of the movie. I think I prefer the movie.

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