From the plastic pitchfork of Petey Wheatstraw (the Devil”s son-in-law) to the hypnotic melody of “Sweet Sweetback”s Baadasssss Song,” the film genre known as “blaxploitation” exploded into American theaters in the 1970s, ushering Richard Roundtree into stardom and stealing Jim Brown away from Cleveland. Whether these films were pure trash, racial rage or painfully overblown stereotypes can be debated until Ron O”Neil wins a Golden Globe. What will always remain true blue, youngblood, is that these films have given us some of the biggest heroes be they P.I. or pimp, that ever walked the ghetto with a white boa and cane.
And one man towered above them all.
With his powder-blue gi (replete requisite bell-bottoms), ten-gallon afro and the mite to match, Black Belt Jones was the single baddest mamma-jamma ever to lace up a pair of platform shoes. Jim Kelly, best known for his work with Bruce Lee in “Enter The Dragon,” plays the titular character in his eponymous (and only) outing on the big screen.
The mafia, it seems, has its eye on Pop Byrd”s karate studio. Pop, as played by Scatman Crothers, is a wise (and wise-cracking) sensei who takes care of the inner city youth while teaching them to channel their inner warrior. The mafia, lead by Don Steffano, try to strong-arm Pop into giving up his studio and accidentally kill him. Enter Black Belt (which is apparently his real name, though his friends call him BB), ready to avenge the death of his loving master. He joins forces with Pop”s current group of karate-loving youths, as well as Pop”s daughter Sydney. Thankfully, Sydney is a karate master herself.
The fists and the furious action culminates in an all out Battle Royale between the mafia and the karate kids at a car wash. BB and Sydney may be a little soapy, but they still know how to kick some serious multi-colored techno-jive ass to some of the sweetest sounds this side of Curtis Mayfield.
Jim Kelly is tougher than rawhide and cooler than a Fresca on a hot Alabama night. He brings just the right amount of tenderness and salty power to a complex role. BB is not some erstwhile vigilante, but a real man that struggles with his tremendous physical prowess and his love of the ladies. Gloria Hendry smolders as Sydney, who knows how to be sexy while showing the mafia the error of its ganster ways.
The real ranch dressing on the carrot sticks, though, is smooth as satin Scatman. Pop is a tough old codger who knows how to throw a flamin” kick or chop a board in so many pieces it knows only one thought, “Damn, “ole Pop Byrd musta cut me in two.” Scatman honed his skills later that same year in the fine children”s show “Hong Kong Phooey.” There, Scatman voiced a dynamite dog that took down evildoers with a hard-hittin” karate-chop to the neck. Yeah, Hong Kong Phooey, the number one super-guy.
“Black Belt Jones” may not have taken home the Oscar, but if there was an award for Best Pimped Out, Super-Smooth Action-Adventure Kung-Fu Epic With The Hippest Star This Side Of Rudy Ray Moore, than get you damn hands off that, fool, this gold is for BB.