Matt Cimber (SINGLE ROOM FURNISHED) tried his hand at Blaxploitation with the duo THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN and LADY COCOA, finally hitting Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome.
On the weekends, Ron (John Daniels, BLACK SHAMPOO) works on his wife Clarice's (Marilyn Joi, CHEERLEADERS WILD WEEKEND) honey-do list and plays with his two kids. During the week when he is supposedly away working, he cruises Sunset Boulevard in a red and orange Rolls Royce as formidable pimp The Baron who demands that each of his girls turn a profit of two hundred dollars per night. Business has been slim lately with corrupt vice cops Dempsey (Richard Kennedy, ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS) and Gordon (George 'Buck' Flower, BERSERKER) trying to nail him while mobster Vincent Di Nunzio (Mikel Angel, SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG) teams up with rival pimp Dusty Compton to hit The Baron in the pocketbook after he wins away underage runaway Heather (Feng Lan Linn) with a game of nine ball. Despite the murders of two of Di Nunzio's hitmen via The Baron's James Bond-ian machine gun-equipped Rolls and those of the husband and buddies of hooker Denise (Barbara Bourbon, THE PRIVATE AFTERNOONS OF PAMELA MANN) who tried to cut in on The Baron's business, Dempsey and Gordon resort to trying to arrest The Baron on trumped up charges. When The Baron is away for the weekend enjoying some domestic bliss, Di Nunzio sends his henchman Big Floyd (Patrick Wright, THE CHEERLEADERS) to put The Baron out of business by cutting off the breasts of one of the girls to scare the others into working for Dusty. The Baron takes revenge on Big Floyd by jamming his hand into a garbage disposal before deciding that it probably is time to get out of pimping with the help of $250,000 worth of savings bonds stolen by burglar buddy Maurice; but his former partner Bella is looking to betray him, the cops are trying to maneuver The Baron into a final confrontation with Di Nunzio and Big Floyd (who has replaced his mutilated hand with some sub-ENTER THE DRAGON hook accessories).
Outfitted with a fantastic theme song by Smoke and a fair share of gore and T&A, THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN is nevertheless a bewildering take on Blaxploitation in which the comical elements seem to have come around to full-blown lampooning. The performances are uneven – even from dependables like Wright and his wife Tallie Cochrane (THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS) – but to such an extent that it almost seems to be aping DOLEMITE rather than SHAFT. At first the film appears to romanticize the pimping lifestyle as problematically as some other works of the genre; but The Baron only seems to lack compassion for his girls when posturing – referring to Heather as "it" when he confronts Dusty to lay claim on her, the girls are vulnerable to abuse from pimps, the mafia, and even the police, and even Bella's ruthlessness stems from a deep-seated hatred of the circumstances that left her scarred inside and out (hating men and only able to enjoy pleasure with women as a sadist). Action sequences are rather perfunctorily staged and photographed (by Cimber regular Ken Gibb), Daniels' world weariness is enervating, and Joi is underused. While not the sum of its parts, THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN does have one of the better soundtracks of lesser Blaxploitation works which was released by the group Smoke as a self-titled album rather than soundtrack album.
Much better is LADY COCOA in which Cocoa (Lola Falana, BLACK TIGRESS) finally agrees to testify after spending a year-and-a-half in a Nevada prison on contempt of court charges in the trial of her boyfriend Eddie (James A. Watson Jr., THE ORGANIZATION) for racketeering. Assigned to transport Cocoa from prison to Carson City, Lieutenant Ramsey Muller (Alex Dreier, THE BOSTON STRANGLER) recruits black beat cop Doug Fuller (former NFL player Gene Washington, BACK GUNN) as part of the cover in which he and Cocoa will poses as a honeymooning couple while they are stopping over at the King's Castle Casino. With the case and the careers of Ramsey and Doug dependent on her cooperation, Cocoa demands first class treatment from room service to nice threads. Badgering Doug into taking her down to the casino floor, the "couple" makes friends with fellow newlyweds Arthur (Gary Harper) and Marie (Millie Perkins, THE SHOOTING) as Cocoa plays up the charade for a night of gambling, shopping, dining, and dancing. When Cocoa discovers that Eddie's men – including "Mean" Joe Greene – are indeed on their trail, she starts to wonder whether he is trying to rescue her or silence her.
The more entertaining and engaging film in the package, LADY COCOA makes more efficient use of its resources, including the production value of the casino hotel and Ms. Falana's wardrobe. Starting out shrill and unsympathetic, Cocoa is nevertheless entertaining in her combination of childlike blatant manipulation and misconceived aphorisms gleaned from all of the reading with little comprehension that she did behind bars to stave off boredom. The tone shifts suddenly with an attempted hit gone wrong, but there are still some chuckles to be had amidst the action including a well-staged if modest car chase through the casino – as staged by TRUCK STOP WOMEN's Speed Sterns – crashing into the pool with Perkins herself hanging on to passenger door from the outside, as well as a sight gag with gunfire exchanged through a bathroom stall door. The theme song and score use "Pop Goes the Weasel" – the film's original title – as a motif, and it quickly goes from laughable to distracting but the leads are engaging, the chilly Nevada setting novel, and the ending twist is nicely understated. THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN's Flower has a bit part as a drunken gambler and Kennedy as an exasperated waiter.
Released roughly six months apart by Cimber's Moonstone Entertainment in 1975, THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN and LADY COCOA were both released on VHS in the 1980s by Unicorn Video (along with Cimber's THE BLACK SIX, A GEMINI AFFAIR, and THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA). The destruction of the films' original negatives when Movielab went bankrupt necessitated the use of archival 35mm prints for Vinegar Syndrome's 2K scans. Both 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC widescreen encodes are matted to 1.85:1, but the amount and types of damage vary between the two films. THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN is rife with vertical lime green scratches, dings, and missing frames (it is difficult to tell if one fight scene has a jump cut or is just badly edited but we also never learn the name of Ron's daughter due to a dialogue-dropping splice), comparable to Vinegar Syndrome's transfer of THE HUMAN TORNADO. LADY COCOA generally looks better with richer colors and a generally cleaner image apart from long passages where the right edge of the frame has faded and taken on a green tinge. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono tracks are cleaned-up but are subject to some of the same damage as the visuals.
THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN is accompanied by an optional introduction by Cimber (4:12) in which he touches upon the real-life inspiration for The Baron, scripter George Theakos – actually actor Angel – and the loss of his original negatives when Movielab went bankrupt while he was working in Europe. LADY COCOA is accompanied by an audio commentary track with Cimber and actor/assistant John Goff (THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA), but the discussion also includes THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN (and the incensed reaction of a group of black students to the success of that film). LADY COCOA originated as a vehicle for Falana after her manager Sammy Davis Jr. saw the former film, and that the production was lucky to get a good deal on staying and shooting at the brand new hotel because the snowstorms left the cast, crew, and guests trapped (production manager Bethel Buckalew purchased time with prostitutes for the crew when they got stir crazy). Cimber also discusses the film's ambitious stunt work, including Perkins pride in doing her own stunts here, and cinematographer Ken Gibb (who also shot THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN) having to hold his breath to capture a few shots underwater. Goff also discusses his friendship with Flower, and that Dreier had asked the two to write a TV pilot for him when he got the rights to the Clarence Budington Kelland character Scattergood Baines (the subject of a series of RKO films in the 1940s). The Blu-ray/DVD combo comes with a reversible cover emphasizing THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN on the front and LADY COCOA on the reverse. (Eric Cotenas)
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