The Archivist #105: CLEOPATRA JONES High-Kicks onto High-Def

The Warner Archive Collection brings 6’2″ of dynamite to Blu-ray

The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory-pressed Blu-rays. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!

Special Agent Cleopatra Jones (Tamara Dobson) is a globe-trotting, ass-kicking, drug-busting, fabulously-dressing army of one, but trouble in LA brings her home from her international heroics. Her destruction of an international drug source is putting the squeeze on crime queenpin “Mommy”, whose opium fields were razed by Cleo’s latest exploits. Mommy starts some trouble of her own, hiring some crooked and racist cops to plant false evidence implicating a halfway house run by Cleo’s boyfriend, Reuben (the great Bernie Casey).

Besides the personal nature of the attack, the threat to the home also represents an attack to the community, preventing addicts from having a place to find support and try to get clean.

Two-time Academy Award winner Shelley Winters plays the villainous role of Mommy. It’s a deliciously campy, over-the-top performance that’s silly and memorable. Also, astoundingly racist.

Antonio Fargas, aka the busiest man in blaxploitation, also has a cartoonish supporting role as Doodlebug, as one of Mommy’s subordinate bosses who decides he and his men are better off without her leadership, inciting a violent power struggle.

The action includes a combination of hand-to-hand martial arts, gunplay, and car chases, but the PG-rated film mostly takes a campy and comedic tone, a distinction from the other big female-led blaxploitation film of 1973, the much harder-edged and independently-produced Coffy starring Pam Grier. Coffy is undoubtedly the better film, but Cleopatra Jones is far more approachable — an enjoyable romp filled with a cast of colorful characters who aren’t above looking silly and getting a laugh. Some of the film’s most memorable aspects include a firefight in an airport, pair of wisecracking brothers (who are set up as martial artists but never really use it), some assassins dressed as an elderly couple, and one of my favorite action tropes — a wet and wild chase sequence through the LA River.

Cleopatra Jones was directed by Jack Starrett, who also directed Slaughter and the incredible Race with the Devil. The film was followed by a go-for-broke, left-turn sequel in 1975, the absolutely insane (and in my opinion superior) Hong Kong-set Shaw Bros collaboration Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. The film is currently available on Warner Archive DVD, but not yet on Blu-ray. With this first film now making the jump, I’m holding out hope that we’ll see the sequel follow sooner than later.

The Package

Cleapatra Jones comes in the usual Warner Archive packaging, a standard Blu-ray case and classic artwork on the cover. The disc unfortunately doesn’t have any new featurettes or commentaries, but a trailer is included.

Theatrical Trailer (2:57)

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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