I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Truck Turner

tn_truckturnerEverybody knows Isaac Hayes’s music for SHAFT, but he also scored TRUCK TURNER. And while he was at it he decided to also star as Truck Turner. Why not? I guess at one point it was gonna be Robert Mitchum, which would’ve made for a really weird blaxploitation movie.

Under Hayes’s super-funky theme song the movie opens with a montage of vintage L.A. lowlife spots: liquor stores, blood banks, pawn shops, a corner where a bunch of old drunks have an awkward slap fight until a cop breaks it up. And I’m pretty sure those are real dudes. The montage also shows the signs for more than ten bail bonds places, which shows that our man Truck has alot of competition.

Hayes is Mack “Truck” Turner, former NFL player turned bounty hunter. He’s a unique blaxploitation hero because he combines the untouchable superfly type with a complete loser. He’s a bad motherfucker, and can handle any situation, but he pisses off his friends, he’s a total slob and he literally smells like pee. His partner’s middle class wife hates his guts, and with good reason, it turns out. We first see Truck asleep in his little apartment surrounded by empty beer cans and garbage from McDonalds, some pizza joint and Dinah’s Fried Chicken. He has a football trophy, a lovingly displayed copy of The Immortal Otis Redding, and one shirt which he realizes his cat pissed on. But he wears it anyway.

mp_truckturnerHe has a really hot girlfriend (Annazette Chase), but his colleagues tease him about it because she’s a klepto, and currently incarcerated. When she gets out he forgets to meet her, then goes to pick her up with beer on his breath and dirt all over his shirt. She says bitterly that he just wants to buy her beer and screw her, so to sweeten the pot he buys her some fried chicken first. She nibbles on it awkwardly, then gives in when he starts kissing her. It’s straight out of one of those books with Fabio on the cover, man. What a smoothie.

Even when he brings her shopping to butter her up (and play a trick on her) it’s at the discount store. That’s one thing I really like about this movie. It’s not all limos and fur coats, it’s small time.

Another thing I like, it has lots of funny dialogue. When he goes to an Air Force base to pick up a child rapist the officer he has to talk to starts talking up the prisoner’s war record. “Look, Major,” Truck says. “I didn’t bring no violin.”

When he gets back to the bail bonds joint and a guy says, “You guys back already?” he deadpans, “Nah.”

Or when they’re going in to try to pick up this pimp named Gator (Paul Harris), he says “Let’s try to take him alive, okay?”

His partner asks, “How hard?” and Truck says, “Don’t strain yourself.”

There’s also some good laughs that just come from good edits. Like when his prisoner says “You’re a big man while I got these cuffs on,” and it smash cuts to the guy in a field with no cuffs on, Truck punching the shit out of him.

And there’s some weird shit in here too. Always gotta be some weird shit for flavor. There’s a white pimp who wears a cowboy shirt and a rhinestone-covered eyepatch. And there’s a pimp funeral where one of the mourners is a ho with a rainbow afro. And there’s a crazy scene where a topless white ho stabs a guy with scissors. I’m not sure but I think she might be the ho that Scatman Crothers refers to as “Stalingrad Crude.” I don’t know, that might be somebody else he’s talking about. This girl doesn’t really look like a Stalingrad.

And here’s a SPOILER but holy shit, they hang Truck’s cat! That’s some cold shit. I wonder if that’s where they got the idea for hanging the koala in THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE.

Movies of this genre can get dull if they don’t deliver enough action. This one doesn’t disappoint. There’s a good car chase, some shootings, some punchings, and a great climactic shootout in a hospital, a decade and a half before HARD BOILED. But instead of the hero carrying a baby to save it the villain carries a little boy as a human shield. Which I’m against.

Another bit I like is during a big chase Gator runs into a bar and hands everybody there fifty dollar bills to beat up the guys that come in behind him (Truck and his partner), and even though he sneaks out the back they really put some effort into it. They follow the honor system. I think that’s admirable. I think. And that might explain alot of these scenes where dudes get beat up by everybody in the bar, it might be missing the part where somebody hands out money to them.

There are two great performances by two great villains. Villain number one is Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols playing a foul-mouthed madam who puts a bounty on Truck’s head after he kills her man Gator. It’s so weird to see Uhura talking so much shit. She just drips with hatred everytime she spits out that n-word. It’s crazy.

But the main villain is Harvard Blue, a rival of Gator who tries to take Truck out in a bid for control of all Los Angeles prostitution. He’s played as a cold-blooded snake by the great Yaphet Kotto. I know people like to laugh at a pimp and his crazy clothes and all that, but Blue is not that kind of pimp. He’s just a scary one. You don’t laugh at his clothes, you get creeped out by the dead look in his eyes. Just watching you at home you feel like he’s gonna beat you with a coathanger and you’re gonna give him all your money.

Kotto is the second name on the credits so I kept waiting for him. He actually doesn’t show up until 45 minutes in, and he has a classic entrance. He pulls up in a car during Gator’s funeral, gets out, walks up to the coffin, spits on the corpse’s face, then turns around and leaves. Not only that but it’s shot from inside the coffin. This is one of the first movies with a dead pimp POV shot. And still one of the best.

Like alot of blaxploitation heroes Truck does some questionable shit. Despite his success with romancing his girl, Truck is not the same smooth lover that recorded the album Hot Buttered Soul. He just doesn’t know how to be a good boyfriend. I definitely side with him in the sneaky way he protects his girl, but I feel that he could have improved communication in his relationships or something.

More importantly that was fucked up when he called his buddy in the middle of the night and told him to go check on the office and got him killed. Shit, Truck. And you wonder why his wife hates you?

Great movie though. It’s written by Oscar Williams (BLACKBELT JONES) and Michael Allin (ENTER THE DRAGON, FLASH GORDON) and directed by Jonathan Kaplan (NIGHT CALL NURSES, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episodes).

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Friday, February 18th, 2011 at 1:49 am and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

31 Responses to “Truck Turner”

  1. “My ass is in good shape!” – one of the best quotes/line deliveries in all of 70s film.

  2. I remember this as a fun, solid entertaning blaxploitation vehicle for Mr. Hayes, showing that he had decent acting chops asides from the composing gig.

    (I believe this was one of the Kotto movies that John Singleton apparently had Chiwetel Ejiofor watch before FOUR BROTHERS, because he wanted Ejiofor to be inspired by Kotto. Pretty obvious he was.)

  3. I suspect this was one of the big influences on BLACK DYNAMITE. Excellent movie. Love the bar-brawl scene.

  4. I remember seeing the VHS of it in a video store for sale 10 years ago. I wish I had bought it, although I’m against movies with dead cats in it. (Fake or not.) But the trailer looks awesome.

  5. Tell em you been hit by a truck. Truck Turner!

  6. Bold statement: The TRUCK TURNER score is waaaaay better than the SHAFT score.

  7. its also a better movie than shaft.

  8. I think this is still my favorite blaxploitation movie. Just lots of fun to watch, especially if you’re into Star Trek and haven’t ever seen that side of Nichelle Nichols. “We call this baby Colonel Sanders, because she’s so finger-licking good!”

    The cat-lynching is one of the nastiest villainous acts I can remember, too. My wife, who was watching the movie with me once, started howling with rage and sadness at that bit (and then she went “awww” at the end when Truck brought his girlfriend a kitten).

  9. i don’t even have a pithy remark for you guys on this one. sorry.

  10. Pithy remarks are overrated.

    ~In fact the current American political discourse is the Hunt for the next pithy remark.

  11. Two questions:
    1. How come the contents of Truck’s grocery bag are enough to stop the bullet from hitting him? What’s in there?
    2. What is up with that whole “shirtless, but wearing a shoulder holster” look in movies? It doesn’t make any sense to me, because you would wear a gun holster OVER at least one layer of clothes, wouldn’t you, so it’s not likely someone just ripped off everything you were wearing on top and the holster was underneath, is it? Also, you’d probably not willingly go out dressed like that, what with the cold and all, and it seems like if you’re holster is handy, then so would be something you could wear it over. I mean, what’s the context for it here? Anyone?

  12. That’s a good question, Stu. I think in this case it’s a matter of preference for armed sleeping. Truck evidently prefers the holstered gun to the under-the-pillow. Obviously the bedside table is not an option for him, he’d lose his weapon under a bunch of McDonalds wrappers and shit. Plus the cat might knock it over and shoot his Otis Redding record.

  13. Wow, a lot of love for this one. I’ll check it out. Thanks Vern and others!

  14. The Sophisticated Panda

    February 18th, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Ford Fairlane would have been much better if Dice had purchased a new baby koala at the end (like Truck’s kitten), rather then get all meta on us with his ‘you really didn’t think we’d kill the koala, didja?!?’ b.s.

  15. Yaphet Kotto is the man, when I re-watched Alien on blu ray I had forgotten just how awesome he is in it

  16. a hanged cat makes a brief appearance in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Cat’s Cradle,” too, in the part where the narrator is talking about renting his apartment to a nihilist. quite the grand tradition of hanged pets we’ve stumbled upon here…

  17. Edgar Allan Poe’s probably to blame.

  18. Yaphet Kotto’s death scene is astounding, and has got to be a classic in SOME category. The death-jig he does on the stairs on the way to his car, it’s just awesome how it goes… and goes… and the director just let Kotto milk every single second of it. As I recall there was some good music in that scene (well, hell, throughout the movie for that matter) as well. But that death scene… DAMN.

  19. Ok… I have a problem… I’ve watched the first forty minutes, and so far I’m liking the film… but I don’t understand a word the characters are saying. (OK, that’s an exaggeration, I sorta get one word in three.) Seriously, it’s worse than being in Liverpool. Have you ever BEEN to Liverpool?

    That minor quibble aside, it’s great!

  20. Paul’s post reminds me of something Gary Oldman once said, regarding American audiences complaining about British accents being hard to understand: that nobody in turn saw fit to subtitle Goodfellas.

  21. A great movie, and makes me wish Hayes had made more in the same vein.

    Also, I think technically, this movie invented Boba Fett.

  22. THIS is the guy who did the voice of “Chef”? Damn.

    Well, I don’t understand a word of what happened or why, but I gotta say still enjoyed this one. And holy shit does Yaphet Kotto have a long death.

    I was slightly disappointed in the brothel owner’s death though. It’s like “The Big Knockover” but without the “You shoulda known! Didn’t I steal a crutch from a cripple?” final line. Not sure why it’s riffing on Dashiell Hammett there, but I guess the whole PI thing makes for a natural influence in a story about a bail-dodger chaser.

    Short verdict: if I can find a version with subtitles, I might buy it.

  23. Vern, great movie & review. If you have not already I would highly recommend checking out the films or Fred Williamson. BUCKTOWN, is a great one but there are a number of them that are worth checking out.

  24. Fujibayashi – damn, I meant to mention that scene, but maybe it’s best not to spoil it. Yeah, it’s great, not just his performance but also the filmatism, the way they attach a camera to his head as he stumbled around. I wonder if they got that idea from another movie or if it was invented for Truck Turner? I can’t think of an earlier use of that technique. Anyway, it’s great. Best slow death besides Lee Marvin’s in THE KILLERS.

  25. The camerawork in Kotto’s death scene is similar to a technique used in Frankenheimer’s ‘Seconds’, which has some of the most effectively creepy cinematography of any ’60s film — if you watch the clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peeu69C8kh8 you’ll see a good use of it around the 3:15 mark.

    And while we’re at it, the cat-hanging bit was also used in ‘Straw Dogs’. Not complaining about the homages, either- if you’ve got Frankenheimer and Peckinpah informing your bounty hunter Isaac Hayes vs. foul-mouth Uhura and her mercenary pimp squad movie, that can only make it better.

    Two other things about ‘Truck Turner’ that I love: the hilariously flimsy dummy they use in the scene where Truck’s partner gets shot, and the fact that they play up the “please don’t damage my precious car” angle and then the worst it gets is a dinged-up grille, instead of being completely destroyed like they usually are with that kind of foreshadowing.

  26. I loved Kotto’s death scene as well, but it wasn’t just for the camerawork and Kotto’s insane stumble-walk when he’s shot in the back (although they’re both great). You guys know that as far as I have a “thing”, sound design and scoring is “it”.

    What I particularly love about this one scene is that, while most of the movie takes place using a strong score and “busy” soundwork (crowds, traffic, etc) Kotto’s death-walk takes place in almost complete silence. Visually, it could be as ridiculous, as, say, Boromir’s in “The Fellowship of the Ring”. (Also referred to as “how many arrows must be shot through a guy’s chest before he allows himself to fall over?”) What lends it the gravity that it has isn’t the camerawork or visuals, it’s the sound.

    Actually, continuing with the same comparison… when Boromir dies, it’s scored with the same orchestral phrases that are heard throughout much of the film. To me, this totally destroys the tragedy of the moment – it just looks and sounds absurd. Can you imagine what Kotto’s death would have been like if they’d have done the same thing there, and scored it with the same type of music that they’ve used for the rest of the movie? IMO the impact would be completely lost.

  27. John Frakenheimer’s SECONDS is a terrific little gem.

  28. “Also referred to as “how many arrows must be shot through a guy’s chest before he allows himself to fall over?””

    Hmmm…I guess I shouldn’t point out that in the book it takes something like 28 arrows to put Boromir down…

  29. I believe TT to be the Lord of the Rings of blxploitation. One humble man and his friends brought into the middle between warring nations… it’s pretty epic.

  30. I decided to beef up my blaxploitation repertoire, so I purchased this and a nice little MGM box called THE BEST OF SOUL CINEMA, featuring 3 Pam Grier movies. (COFFY,FOXY BROWN,BLACK MAMA,WHITE MAMA).Time for a jiveass turkey like myself to get with the program

    TRUCK TURNER is in my opinion a much more fun movie than the original SHAFT-movie. There´s a lot more crazy shit and action in this( as Vern has mentioned). And there are so many quotable lines in this movie it´s like THE LAST BOYSCOUT of blaxploitation.
    “Before you get that piece, your ass is air-conditioned!” Great stuff. And this movie should have had fuckin´sequels, it´s that good!

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