TNT Jackson (1974)

Director: Cirio Santiago

Tagline: “Spine shattering—bone blasting. She’s a one mama massacre squad!”

Choice IMDB keywords: Kung fu; nude fight; slow motion; afro 

Plot: Diana “TNT” Jackson (Jeannie Bell), a determined, self-possessed woman with a startlingly extensive wardrobe of funky styles (and one hideously fluffy pink nightgown) comes to Hong Kong looking for her missing brother. She almost immediately runs afoul of drug smuggler Ken Metcalf and his blonde moll Pat Anderson. Bell’s fighting prowess also catches the eye of Metcalf’s right-hand man Charlie (Stan Shaw), immediately identifiable as Bell’s destined love interest/nemesis because his Afro size, martial-arts skills, and wardrobe all rival hers. (Bell changes clothes every day; Shaw changes clothes for every scene, showing off a staggering collection of fringed suede jackets, shearling collars, open-to-the-waist shirts, and superfly throat-to-boots pimp coats.)

The plot is fairly convoluted: Bell tries to solve the mystery of what happened to her brother. Shaw and Anderson both have secret agendas. Metcalf’s staff is packed with suspicious, sinister minions, which may explain why someone keeps hijacking his heroin shipments, but for some reason he’s convinced Bell is behind it all, even though the list of plausible suspects extends to every speaking role in the film.

Nonetheless, the execution is simple, playing out in scene after scene of mostly stiff, fakey martial-arts action. Some of the combat sequences are integral to the plot, like when Bell fights Shaw to earn a place on the team he’s forming to investigate the drug thefts, or when Anderson fights her way out of captivity after Metcalf learns who she is. Others are patently gratuitous, like when Bell first shows up at her brother’s last-known address and meets the owner, Joe (Filipino actor Chiquito, in one of his many “Mr. Wong” roles), and the two team up to beat down some unruly customers, or when Joe suddenly winds up in a random gunfight in a movie theater.

And one scene is both plot-central and gratuitous. See below.

Key scenes: When Shaw sees Bell help beat down those customers, the two of them try to out-cool each other, sizing each other up while trying not to show any interest. 

When Bell is spying on Shaw and catches Anderson also spying, for some reason she decides to chase Anderson down, and the two face off in combat, giving Bell a chance to show off her slo-mo kick-to-the-face and “shriek and leap like Tarzan” moves. 

Having knocked Anderson out, Bell debates murdering her, but they wind up joining forces. Anderson tries to give Bell an alibi for the latest drug theft, but Metcalf isn’t buying it, and sends his minions around to collect Bell and torture a confession out of her. For some reason, while she normally prefers autumn colors and bell-bottomed pantsuits (necessary for any modest slo-mo face-kicker), they find her in this strangely lacy pink number:

Then Metcalf’s flunky exposes her breasts and menaces her with a lit cigar, but she pretends she’s willing to sleep with him. When he drops his guard, she drops her nightgown, and takes down four thugs while wearing nothing but a pair of panties.

Finally, Shaw comes around to Bell’s new hideout and tells her he’s about to make his move and become a big man in the world, and he wants her by his side. “Just what makes you so sure that I’m agreeable?” she says, sitting passively as he unzips her weird terrycloth dressing gown. “You know damn well you agreeable,” he tells her. “You’ll love it.” Then they make sweet funky love, as the fluttery flute score twitters up and down the scales in evident lurid excitement. Unfortunately, when Shaw goes for a post-coital smoke, he lights it with the lighter he stole from her brother after murdering him in the film’s opening sequence. This sets up the inevitable final confrontation, though there’s still 20 minutes of martial-arts warfare amid a raucous public festival left to go before the final showdown.

Can easily be distinguished by: The cover image of Bell in a white bikini, a white fur cape, and about a pound of diamonds, a costume she does not don at any point during the movie. (She’s also holding a shotgun and standing in front of what looks like a bank-vault door and a getaway car; the movie has nothing to do with bank robbery, and Bell never touches a gun at any point during the film.)

Sign that it was made in 1974: It’s pretty hard to find any era signifiers in this film, apart from the giant Afros; the heavy use of the words “dig” for “understand” and “pig” for authority figures; the ubiquitous bell-bottoms, giant medallions, bedazzled jean jackets, and other funky duds; the obsession over pose-centric martial arts; the jazzy flute-and-bongos score; and the overall themes of black empowerment, female empowerment, and especially black female empowerment.

Timeless messages: The guy who seems far too cool and capable to be a second-in-command probably doesn’t plan to be in that position long. Also, getting on the wrong side of a tough, angry black woman in a ’70s blaxploitation film might earn you a fist of righteous fury all the way through your abdomen.

Memorable quotes: Anderson and Bell first meet when the former drives by a fight where Bell is taking down some random muggers. Anderson offers Bell a ride, then asks a few questions; Bell responds “Look, lady—or whoever you are!—I accepted a ride from you to Joe’s Haven. And that’s all you need to know about me.” Anderson’s casual response: “Bitch.”

Later, Anderson shows equal aplomb when Bell implies she’s a whore: “Listen, honey, and you get it straight. I’m not in your league. I work standing up, not on my back.” “Really! How amusing!” Anderson chirps. “I’ve never really tried it that way!” 

When Bell first arrives at Joe’s Haven and demands to speak to Joe, the Chinese man she’s addressing tells her she’s found him. She assumes he’s putting her on: “Whoever heard of a Chinese Joe?” “Well, I’m only Chinese in body.”

Still later, Anderson attempts to let Bell in on her secret: “First of all, I’m not what you think I am.” “I know,” Bell sneers. “You’re a Girl Scout, working on your badge for the equality of niggers.” “I’m a government agent!” “Oh yeah? And I’m Snow White, suffering from a sunburn!”

Speaking of sunburns, when Shaw sees Anderson tanning by the pool, he chuckles, “You got a long way to go before you catch up with me, ’cause baby, I was born beautiful.”

Finally, Bell sums up the blaxploitation genre in the topless-battle scene: Flipping off the lights to fight in the dark, she snarls, “You want it black? You got it black!”

Available on DVD as part of the Roger Corman “Lethal Ladies Collection” from Shout! Factory.

Filed Under: Film

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