TNT Jackson (1974)

TNT Jackson (1974)‘You want it black, you got it black!’

When TNT Jackson’s no good brother disappears in Hong Kong, she’s on the first plane out. It turns out he became involved with the local drug barons and ended up on the wrong end of a kung fu punch. This is bad news for the mobsters as TNT is a one mama massacre squad…

Jeanne Bell was one of the first African-American centrefolds in Playboy and enjoyed a brief movie career afterwards, even appearing in Scorsese’s ‘Mean Streets’ (1973). This film was her only leading role and it’s not surprising. She wasn’t terrible in front of the camera by any means but she lacked the personality and presence of contemporaries Tamara Dobson (‘Cleopatra Jones’) and Pam Grier (Foxy Brown). Of course, it didn’t help that her starring vehicle was a no budget slice of ham-fisted exploitation, mostly shot in the Philippines.

The original script was penned by actor Dick Miller (‘A Bucket of Blood’ (1959)), who is familiar now from many cameos in big budget horror and science fiction pictures. He had a long association with producer-director Roger Corman, who provided some of the financial backing for this, but completely rewrote Miller’s script. Filming was handled by veteran director Cirio H Santiago (‘Stryker’ (1983), and ‘Caged Heat II: Stripped of Freedom’ (1984) among many others). Santiago’s work has recently been championed by Quentin Tarantino as classic examples of ‘Grindhouse’ cinema.

TNT Jackson (1974)

‘Watch it! That one almost hit me!’

So, is this an enjoyable example of mid-70s ‘Blaxpoliation’? Not really. It’s the sort of film where TNT asks one person for directions and then gets jumped a few moments later by half a dozen Kung Fu goons. For no apparent reason. Indeed, most of the dialogue scenes are chopped short so we can get on to the next action scene. As a result the storyline is incoherent, but the basic plot so simplistic that it’s not hard to follow.

But there are some compensations. TNT has a great attitude; she’s permanently pissed off at everyone. That means we get some great dialogue, which Bell handles pretty well. “TNT working for the pigs?” she snarls at one point. Unfortunately, a film like this stands or falls on the combat sequences and, being charitable, these are pretty poor. Awful, in fact. Bell is plainly not a martial artist and her climactic face-off with co-star Stan Shaw (who was) is shot mostly from overhead in an effort to disguise the introduction of stunt doubles. The problem is that the doubles don’t have any great moves either! In fact, it’s all so underwhelming that at one point we cut to another fight between two of the lesser characters.

This is exploitation cinema at its most basic. I wasn’t exactly expecting a complex narrative, but this story is as simplistic as it gets. The film was obviously shot quickly and on the cheap and it has a relentless atmosphere of casual sleaze. All the characters know Kung Fu but don’t seem to know it all that well.

TNT did not return for further adventures.

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