Candy Tangerine Man and Lady Cocoa are now available on Blu-ray as a double feature from Vinegar Syndrome.

Vinegar Syndrome has been taking initiative on the blaxploitation front lately, kicking things off with new Blu-rays of classic Rudy Ray Moore films including the Dolemite series. Most recently, they’ve released a double feature of 1975 films directed by Matt Cimber, the outrageously wild The Candy Tangerine Man and the lesser known Lady Cocoa (aka Pop Goes The Weasel).

The Candy Tangerine Man

To begin with, if you’ve never read my Cinapse brother Victor’s analysis of The Candy Tangerine Man, it’s well worth reading in its entirety, hilarious and insightful in equal measure.

As for me, I had the opportunity to catch the film at a 35mm screening at the Alamo Drafthouse a couple years ago, and while I can’t say I loved it, I was definitely intrigued and surprised by it, and have since developed a desire to revisit.

At a surface level, The Candy Tangerine Man is about “The Baron”, an L.A. pimp trying to get out of the game, while clashing with the police and other criminal factions. Baron invokes the ire of another competing pimp and his mafia partners when he wins their newest girl in a high-stakes pool game. (As it turns out, his noble reason for doing so defies expectations — she’s still young and he wants to save her from the business before she gets stuck).

As Matt Cimber relates in his introduction on this Blu-ray edition, he was intent on making Baron a conscientious and multi-layered character. In this, he partially succeeds. Baron is indeed an intriguing character, displaying some surprisingly merciful and moral tendencies despite making his living as a purveyor of prostitutes. He’s a Monday-through-Friday pimp with a charming weekend routine: he parks his orange Rolls Royce, swaps his flashy outfit for a casual suit, and drives home in an unremarkable sedan to his wife and kids an hour away in the quiet suburbs of Ventura, where he’s not Baron, but simply Ron: traveling businessman, loving husband, and doting father of two.

But while Baron is a remarkable character, and this dual life element adds to his allure, the movie he’s in is so wildly outrageous that it’s hard to take much of anything too seriously. The film changes tone sharply and frequently, juggling slapstick and drama with moments of pathos, hilarity, action, and shocking body horror violence. This is a movie in which crooked cops try to catch Baron in a solicitation sting operation using an extremely obvious man dressed in drag. Where our hero nonchalantly takes out a pair of attackers using James Bond-esque machine guns secretly mounted in his car’s headlights. In which he disarms another by shredding his hand in a kitchen garbage disposal, only for the dude to come back with a hook mounted on his hand for a rematch.

The bad guys are the foulest sort, displaying extreme racism and misogyny (which is not the same, to be sure, as the film itself being racist or misogynistic). Everyone Baron finds himself up against, including the dirty cops, is in some way deplorable — in fact, this is the skewed landscape that makes Baron the moral compass — he’s the least evil bad guy. He’s far from perfect, but when he storms his enemies’ compound with guns blazing, we know whose side we’re on.

The Candy Tangerine Man is enjoyable on a number of bizarre levels, but probably best approached and understood as a dark comedy with some pointed social satire.

Lady Cocoa

Lady Cocoa is the more conventional and lesser known film in this pairing, telling a smaller, more contained story. Coco (Lola Falana) is a sassy prisoner who enjoys a relatively luxurious existence, thanks to her mob boss boyfriend Eddie. But after doing the prison thing for awhile, she agrees to snitch on him in return for a day of freedom before taking the stand, though her intentions are suspect, perhaps merely a ruse to have some fun on at government’s expense.

Coco is chaperoned by a pair of cops; Ramsey, an older white detective (Alex Dreier), and Doug, a younger black man specially selected for the assignment (Gene Washington). They take Coco to a resort hotel, which includes a casino and shopping areas, and serves as the film’s primary location. Meanwhile, Eddie and his goons are also at the hotel, though whether to observe, eliminate, or spring her is initially unclear.

What drives the film, besides these mysteries, is the unlikely friendship that forms between Coco and Doug. The pair squabble over their different life philosophies, but also find enjoyment in each other’s company. While initially a bit annoying due to her prissiness, Coco is an attractive and likeable character, and Falana is great in the role, sharing a nice chemistry with Washington as the admirably incorruptible Doug.

While still R rated, Lady Cocoa is a much tamer affair than The Candy Tangerine Man, mostly putting aside sex and violence in favor of a more intimate story. Because it’s mostly shot on the hotel site, the film’s scope feels smaller, especially in comparison to The Baron’s sprawling Los Angeles domain. While one might expect this was a budgetary issue, the centralized location was apparently due in part to the Lake Tahoe region’s harsh weather (in the film’s exteriors, you can see that it does look quite cold and snowy).

And the worst part? You know how so many blaxploitation movie have great, iconic musical themes, dripping with funk? This isn’t one of them. The theme song, an unlistenable reworking of “Pop Goes The Weasel” (in keeping with the movie’s original title), is extremely grating. Just awful.

Despite such complaints, there’s plenty to enjoy here, including some understated humor, such as a subtle gag in which a hitman (played by imposing football star Joe Greene) is constantly silently disappointed with his partner. Also — apparently this is some sort of Cimber trademark — another undercover foe disguised in drag. The film’s highlight is a gleefully bonkers chase scene in which Doug, on foot, chases some baddies in a car, even through the hotel itself — and wins.

The Package

Candy Tangerine Man and Lady Cocoa have a arrived on a double feature Blu-ray set from Vinegar Syndrome. rather than splitting the cover, they’ve opted to use a reversible insert to feature classic poster art of whichever film the owner prefers (if you are familiar with VS’s prior Ted Mikels double feature of The Doll Squad + Mission: Killfast, it’s the same general idea), with a “bonus” mention of the other film. The factory default cover is The Candy Tangerine Man.

This method of splitting the art is less effective on the actual discs themselves, which feature the artwork of each of the movies respectively. The discs are Blu-ray and DVD copies of the same pair of movies, but the artwork gives the impression that they split the films. I watched Lady Cocoa in its entirety on DVD, not realizing it was also on the Blu-ray disc (in HD).

With original elements for the films destroyed, this release is scanned from what I assume are theatrical prints. They’re plenty gritty, which fans will probably have divisive feelings about, though perhaps this isn’t as much of a problem when we’re talking about fans of a label called “Vinegar Syndrome”. As someone who loves to view films theatrically on 35mm (including The Candy Tangerine Man a couple years ago), the grit doesn’t bother me — it adds a lot of character. But for archival purposes it really is a shame that we don’t have these in a more pristine quality.

As the included screenshots indicate, the print for The Candy Tangerine Man is splotchy, but the colors look pretty fabulous. It also has a few instances where picture clips a bit, probably indicating missing frames.

Lady Cocoa, on the other hand, is a relatively clean and complete print, but the colors are generally faded and have that familiar red tinted appearance.

Special Features and Extras

Introduction to The Candy Tangerine Man with Matt Cimber
 Matt discusses the film, most notably his inspiration and motivation in creating the character of protagonist The Baron, seeing him as a complex human being with goals and dimensionality rather than merely “a black pimp”.

While not a feature, I also found it cool the the disc’s authoring and menus use the film reels as chapter stops: a nice little nod to a projection-accurate presentation.

While the picture quality isn’t fabulous (and probably never can be), this best-effort production is certainly better than we’ve ever before for this pairing of films from an under-discussed blaxploitation director.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
 The Candy Tangerine Man + Lady Cocoa — [Blu-ray + DVD]

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