Black Belt Jones (1974)

There’s no way on earth I’m gonna argue that ‘Black Belt Jones’ is a great movie, even a very good one, but no matter how silly and cheesy it gets it’s a hell of a ride and lots of fun! Let’s face it this is b-grade exploitation fare deliberately designed to cash in on both the mid-70s blaxploitation boom and the success of Bruce Lee’s martial arts classic ‘Enter The Dragon’. Dragon’s director Robert Clouse (who also made the hugely enjoyable post-apocalyptic potboiler ‘The Ultimate Warrior’) took karate champion Jim Kelly, who co-starred with Lee and John Saxon in that film, and tried to start a spin-off franchise with him. The big problem was that Kelly certainly had the fighting chops but his acting was only so-so and he was one of the least charismatic of all the blaxploitation leading men. Just compare him to Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Richard Roundtree or Ron O’Neal and you’ll see what I mean. Anyway, for one movie at least it didn’t really matter. Kelly stars as Black Belt Jones who returns to the inner city karate school where he got his start after the death of his mentor Pop Byrd (the wonderful Scatman Crothers, who yes, kicks some butt before he is killed, a sight you’ll never forget!). Jones teams up with Pop’s estranged daughter Sydney (Gloria Hendry of ‘Black Caesar’ and ‘Savage Sisters’), also a fighter, and his peeps to avenge Pop’s death. The rest of the cast includes Eric Laneuville (‘The Omega Man’), Earl Brown (Whisper from ‘Live And Let Die’), and even Isaac the bartender from ‘The Love Boat’ as a Black Panther! This is a silly movie, but still loads of fun, with some very entertaining fight sequences, and some laughs, intentional and unintentional. ‘Black Belt Jones’ is mandatory viewing for all 1970s trash buffs.