Coffy is a 1973 American blaxploitation film written and directed by American filmmaker Jack Hill. The story is about a black female vigilante played by Pam Grier who seeks violent revenge against a heroin dealer responsible for her sister's addiction.
US film poster
|Directed by||Jack Hill|
|Produced by||Robert Papazian|
|Written by||Jack Hill|
|Music by||Roy Ayers|
|Edited by||Chuck McClelland|
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
|Box office||$2 million (US/Canada rentals)|
A nurse, last name "Coffin" but usually referred to as "Coffy", seeks revenge against the people responsible for her younger sister Lubelle's heroin addiction and the widespread violence that exists in her city. Under the guise of a prostitute willing to do anything for a drug fix, she lures a drug pusher and a mob boss to their residences, killing them. After the killings, Coffy returns to her job at a local hospital operating room.
After her shift, Coffy’s police friend Carter offers to drive her home. Carter is a straight-shooting officer who is not willing to bend the law for the mob or the thugs who have been bribing officers at his precinct. Coffy doesn't believe his strong moral resolve until two hooded men break into Carter's house while she's visiting him and beat Carter severely, temporarily crippling him. This enrages Coffy, giving her further provocation to continue her work as a vigilante, killing those responsible for harming Carter and her sister.
Coffy's boyfriend, Howard Brunswick, is a city councilman. Coffy admires Brunswick for his contributions to the community. Brunswick announces his plan to run for Congress, and his purchase of a night club. Coffy is pleased with these developments.
Coffy's next targets are a pimp named King George, one of the largest suppliers of prostitutes and illegal drugs in the city, and Mafia boss Arturo Vittroni, a criminal associate of George's.
Coffy questions a former patient of hers, who is a known drug user, to gain insight into the type of woman King George likes and where he keeps his stash of drugs. Coffy shows no sympathy for the drug-addled woman and is abusive to her as she looks for answers. Coffy is on a mission of revenge and no one will stand in her way. With the information she gets from the woman, Coffy tracks down George and poses as a Jamaican woman looking to trick for him.
George is immediately interested in her exotic nature and hires her. One of the prostitutes becomes jealous when she sees King George taking an interest in Coffy. Later that day, Coffy and the other prostitutes get into a massive brawl. Coffy wins out, which attracts mob boss Vittroni who demands that he must have her that night.
Coffy plans to murder Vitroni and just when she is about to shoot, she is overtaken by his men. She lies and tells Vitroni that King George ordered her to kill him, which makes Vitroni order George to be murdered. Vitroni's men kill George by tying him by the neck from their car, which they drive through an open field.
Coffy then discovers Brunswick, her clean-cut boyfriend, is corrupt when she's shown to him at a meeting of the mob and several police officials. He denies knowing her other than as a prostitute and Coffy is sent to her death. Coffy uses her sexuality to seduce her would-be killers. They try injecting her with drugs to sedate her, but she had replaced the illicit drugs with a sugar solution earlier. Faking a high, she kills her unsuspecting hitmen with a pointed metal wire she fashioned herself and hid in her hair.
Running to avoid capture, Coffy carjacks a vehicle to escape. Coffy drives to Vitroni's house, murders him, and then goes to Brunswick's to do the same. He pleads for forgiveness and just as she is about to accept, a naked white woman comes out of his bedroom. Coffy shoots Brunswick in the groin. The film then closes with Coffy walking along the beach having avenged her sister.
According to writer/director Hill, the project began when American International Pictures' head of production, Larry Gordon, lost the rights to the film Cleopatra Jones after making a handshake deal with the producers. Gordon subsequently approached Hill to quickly make a movie about an African-American woman's revenge and beat Cleopatra Jones to market. Hill wanted to work with Pam Grier, whom he had worked with on The Big Doll House (1971). The film ended up earning more money than Cleopatra Jones and established Grier as an icon of the genre.
Coffy is notable in its depiction of a strong black female lead (a professional nurse), something rare in the genre at the time, and also in its then-unfashionable anti-drug message.
Cast and roles
- Pam Grier - Coffy
- Booker Bradshaw - Howard Brunswick
- Robert DoQui - King George
- William Elliott - Carter, a police officer
- Allan Arbus - Arturo Vitroni
- Sid Haig - Omar, a henchman of Vitroni
- Barry Cahill - McHenry, a police officer
- Lee de Broux - Nick, a police officer
- Ruben Moreno - Ramos
- Lisa Farringer - Jeri, one of King George's girls
- Carol Locatell - Priscilla (credited as Carol Lawson)
- Linda Haynes - Meg, one of King George's girls
- John Perak - Aleva
- Mwako Cumbuka - Grover, Sugarman's henchman
- Morris Buchanan - Sugarman
- Bob Minor - Studs
The movie received a mixed reception. Karen Ross wrote that it "let black audiences enjoy the sight of heroes kicking the white system and winning even while condemning the violence and recognized the implausibility. It allowed blacks the ultimate escape to cheer on the heroine that fought corruption and crime and then leave the theatre to be blighted by the racism in society." Variety wrote, "Jack Hill, who wrote and directs with an action-atuned hand, inserts plenty of realism in footage in which Pam Grier in title role ably acquits herself." Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four, praising the film for its believable female lead and noting that Grier was an actress of "beautiful face and astonishing form" and that she possessed a kind of "physical life" missing from many other attractive actresses. Gene Siskel gave the film zero stars out of four and called it "a stupid movie" with a "wooden performance" from Grier. Fredric Milstein called it "very well-made, very filthy and obscenely violent," adding that director Hill "elicits convincing, interesting performances from everybody except Miss Grier, who reads her lines rather stiffly and childishly and who shouldn't be able to fool anyone — especially not the Prince of Pushers — with that phony Jamaican accent she uses when she goes undercover."
The film is a favourite of Quentin Tarantino, and he ranks it high among his top 20 best films. He later hired Grier for Jackie Brown in 1997, a film with clear inspiration from films like Coffy and Foxy Brown. Tarantino said of the film poster: "Not only is it a great image of Pam Grier, it's got great type — it's the epitome of a great exploitation poster...and every version of it in foreign countries rocked."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2001: AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – Nominated
Due to sequels performing poorly at the box-office, the sequel to Coffy (known as Burn Coffy Burn) was scrapped and replaced with Foxy Brown.
- In 2003 it was released on DVD, and rereleased on DVD on December 6, 2005 as part of the Vibe Fox In A Box collection. Both DVD editions contained an audio commentary by director Jack Hill.
- In 2010 it was digitized in High Definition (1080i) and broadcast on MGM HD.
- In June 2015, a bare-bones Blu-Ray with no extras was issued from Olive Films in the United States (Region 1/A only).
- In April 2015, an extras-filled Blu-Ray was issued from Arrow Video in the UK (Region 2/B only). Arrow's edition contained the following extras:
- Restored High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- Original uncompressed mono PCM audio
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio commentary by writer-director Jack Hill
- "A Taste of Coffy" A brand new interview with Jack Hill
- "The Baddest Chick in Town!" A brand new interview with Pam Grier on Coffy and its follow up, Foxy Brown
- "Blaxploitation!" A video essay by author Mikel J. Koven (Blaxploitation Film) on the history and development of the genre
- Original theatrical trailer
- Image Gallery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
- Booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Cullen Gallagher and a profile of Pam Grier by Yvonne D. Sims, author of Women in Blaxploitation, illustrated with archive stills and posters.
- "Pam Grier has new role in 'Coffy'". The Chicago Defender. May 12, 1973. 21.
- Calum Waddell, Jack Hill: The Exploitation and Blaxploitation Master, Film by Film, McFarland, 2009 p122
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974, pg 19.
- Samuel Z Arkoff & Richard Turbo, Flying Through Hollywood By the Seat of My Pants, Birch Lane Press, 1992 p 202
- Gary A. Smith, The American International Pictures Video Guide, McFarland 2009 p 40
- "Coffy". The Baltimore Afro-American. Baltimore, Maryland. May 26, 1973. p. 18.
- "Coffy". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2011-01-30.
- Black and White Media: Black Images in Popular Film and Television. Ross, Karen. Polity Press. Cambridge, MA. 1996
- "Film Reviews: Coffy". Variety. May 16, 1973. 32.
- "RogerEbert.com". Coffy. Retrieved May 11, 2006.
- Siskel, Gene (May 18, 1973). "Of jungle gyms and soggy freaks...". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 3.
- Milstein, Fredric (June 15, 1973). "Coffy Out to Get White Mafiosi". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 19.
- "Coffy". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
- "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 50
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 20 August 2016.
- "Coffy". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2011-01-30.
- Sims, Yvonne D. (2006), "Here comes the queen", in Sims, Yvonne D. (ed.), Women of blaxploitation: how the black action film heroine changed American popular culture, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, pp. 71–92, ISBN 9780786427444.