Tuesday, June 6, 2017


I’ve been pounding the keyboard for such long hours lately that I sometimes have to stop to give my aching hands a bit of rest. I’ve been digging into the many unwatched movies I’ve accumulated. None of the three films I’ll be writing about today are classics. All of them did what I wanted them to do: give me a break for an hour and a half or so. We’ll start with the best of the bunch.

Red Billabong [2016] is an Australian thriller with two estranged brothers dealing with a legendary monster, a shady land developer and a sinister figure from their past. Written and directed by Luke Sparke, the film runs 113 minutes.

Having left the family home in the Australian bush years ago, Nick [Dan Ewing] returns following the death of his cryptozoologist grandfather. Tristen [Tim Pocock] never left and is involved with drug dealers. Though their grandfather wanted the land to go to the local Aboriginal tribe, his will leaves the decision to the easily tempted Tristen. Before long, we have Nick, Tristen, some friends (including Nick’s former girlfriend), the tribe and assorted evil  guys dealing with a creature most of them never knew existed. Oh, yeah, the creature has his own plans.

I read several negative reviews of this film, but I was entertained by it. The acting ran from decent to very good. The conflicts were believable. The CGI monster wasn’t outstanding, but it worked well enough. Though the movie is a little long at almost two full hours, there was sufficient suspense to keep me watching...and some actual surprises along the way. My only real objection was to the tacked-on scene during the end credits. Like so many such scenes, it was tacky and unnecessary.

Red Billabong was worth the effort it took me to get a copy - it’s not been released in the U.S. - and it might even be worth another viewing down the line. On a scale of zero to five stars, I give it a solid three stellar objects.   

Back in the day - the “day” being when I was working in the offices of Marvel Comics on the company’s British weeklies, comic books and  magazines, I reviewed Black Belt Jones [1974] for The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. Don McGregor did the same. I praised the movie and Don panned it. More on that in a bit.

Black Belt Jones was a “blaxploitation” martial arts film starring Jim Kelly, Gloria Hendry, Scatman Crothers and Eric Laneuville. It was directed by Robert Clouse, whose impressive pedigree included Enter the Dragon. I saw the movie with Arvell Jones and some other young Marvel artists.

Here’s the Internet Movie Database summary:

A Mafia buy out of Papa Byrd's karate school downtown ends in his death. Byrd's daughter, Sydney, refuses to sell, and wants revenge. Byrd's students call the Black Belt Jones for help. Jones reluctantly teams with Sydney in many battles.

That’s not entirely accurate, but it’s close enough for government work. Which, coincidentally, is what the title hero does, albeit on a freelance basis. I watched the movie again over the weekend and it’s not very good. Don was right.

You’ve got your stereotypical Italian gangsters, your stereotypical black gangsters, slow-motion martial arts battles that get really silly outside a suds-spewing car wash and, of course, the hero as a sex machine. It was a long 85 minutes.

That’s not to say Black Belt Jones is without merit. Crothers plays a combination of hustler and martial arts teacher and it’s a very interesting performance. Hendry is a little too cute to be totally convincing as a kick-ass martial artist, but she brings some grit and spice to her role.

The most notable thing about Black Belt Jones is...it inspired me to create Misty Knight with my Iron Fist collaborator Arvell. Our memories of this creation differ somewhat, but Hendry does figure in both our versions. When I plotted Misty’s first appearance, my model was the tougher and sexier Pam Grier, but Hendry deserves to be cited as my original inspiration.

Why did I like the movie so much when I first saw it? Hendry gets some of the credit for that, but I think it was also because I saw it with Arvell and other friends. Sometimes good company can make a movie better. I’ll go with that explanation.

Black Belt Jones gets two out of five stars because, you know, it led to the creation of Misty Knight who has thrilled Marvel Comics readers for decades and who was an outstanding supporting character in the Netflix Luke Cage series. That makes up for a multitude of sins in my book.

The White Buffalo [1977] is one of several movies that came out in the wake of Jaws [1975] and tried to deliver a slightly different take on the movie’s nigh-invincible predator. I have written about Grizzly [1976] previously, but, in this movie, the murderous title star is doing his murderous thing in the Old West. Here’s the basic plot:

In 1874, a haunted, dying  Wild Bill Hickok teams with a grieving Crazy Horse to hunt a murderous albino buffalo. Hickok has seen the creature in his dreams. Crazy Horse is seeking to kill and skin the buffalo. It killed his daughter and her spirit can only move on if her body is wrapped in the buffalo’s hide.

There are a lot of familiar faces in this movie. Charles Bronson is Hickok and Will Sampson is Crazy Horse. Other cast members include Jack Warden, Kim Novak, Slim Pickens, Clint Walker, John Carradine, Stuart Whitman, Martin Kove and Ed Lautier as an especially dickish General Custer. The acting is fine throughout with both Bronson and Sampson shining as reluctant allies and friends.

The movie - directed by J. Lee Thompson and written by Richard Sale from his novel - doesn’t give us as much of the title monster as I would have liked. When the buffalo goes on the rampage early on in the movie, it makes for a scary several moments. More of that would have raised my opinion of the film.

This movie was produced by Dino De Laurentiis who produced several “wild beasts on the loose” films in the mid-1970s. His attempt to duplicate the success of Jaws also led to King Kong (1976) and Orca (1977). I should probably watch both of those again.

The White Buffalo runs 97 minutes. It gets a lot of the historical stuff correct. If I watch it again, it’ll be for the actors. They outshine the monster. The White Buffalo gets three out of five stars. Which is a perfectly acceptable score.

I’ll have three more movies to discuss on Thursday. But come back tomorrow for a new installment of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday!” See you then, amigos.

© 2017 Tony Isabella


  1. Tony:

    I've never seen "Black Belt Jones", but considering the year it came out, this would explain Scatman Crothers having some semblance of knowledge of karate & kung fu for the title role of "Hong Kong Phooey" later that year........!

  2. Tony,

    A white buffalo is sacred to many Native Americans. Does this factor into the film?