One of the unsung heroes of '70s exploitation cinema is director Matt Cimber. The one-time husband of bombshell blonde Jayne Mansfield, Cimber made a career out of exploring the edges of popular cinema in a way that few others could boast. Though he doesn't get mentioned often in conversations about the classic age of exploitation, Cimber really was a comtemporary of directors like Jack Hill and Larry Cohen, often making more out of less than those two filmmakers had ot work with.
Vinegar Syndrome recently released a pair of Cimber's black action films on one double feature Blu-ray and it's a solid release that should appeal to fans of the genre. The headline feature on the disc is The Candy Tangerine Man, a film about a pimp with a heart of gold fighting to keep his women safe and away from those who might encroach on his turf while simultaneously trying to keep his hustle separate from his home life. The b-side of this set is perhaps even better than the a-side as we get to delight in a bubbly performance from Lola Falana as Lady Cocoa, a con scheduled to testify against an old flame, as long as she can stay alive long enough.
In The Candy Tangerine Man, we are introduced to The Baron, played by John Daniels (who you might know from Black Shampoo), the pimp with a heart of gold who is just trying to keep his hustle flowing. But he's not the only hustler on the street, The Baron is constantly doing battle with a headhunting minor player looking to steal his ladies right out from under him. Stacked on top of that is one treacherous streetwalker looking ot scram with a suitcase full of dough, and some nasty cops with a hard-on for The Baron, and he's got a lot on his plate. All he wants is to run his business nice and clean, but when it becomes clear that there is no clean getaway, he plots to get out for good and return to his wife and child in the suburbs.
The plot and storytelling are pretty standard for a pimps and prostitutes black action film. In fact, this is pretty much the plot for any pimps and pros black action story, but Cimber manages to amps it up a bit with some great direction and wonderful performances from his actors. Among the supporting cast is all-time great '70s heavy George "Buck" Flowers as the henchman to The Baron's main adversary. There's no shortage of disfigurement and bloodletting in the action, and the music and snappy dialogue is more than enough to keep this film moving at a brisk pace.
Lady Cocoa lives in a similarly sleazy world, but focuses nearly all of it's runtime and story on the lovely and impossibly charismatic Lola Falana. Lady Cocoa, the character, is set to testify against an old boyfriend in exchange for a 24 hour supervised day on the outside. Lucky for her, she's to be chaperoned by the handsome and charming officer Doug (Gene Washington), who takes a personal liking to Cocoa. The two are being tracked down by Cocoa's ex, Big Joe (played by Pittsburgh Steelers football superstar "Mean" Joe Greene), and he doesn't play. The action moves from the hotel to the streets and soon Lady Cocoa is hoping to live long enough to put her old man behind bars before he puts her six feet under.
This second feature has a much more novel story to tell than The Candy Tangerine Man, even though the production and execution are perhaps less ambitious. What really sells Lady Cocoa is the effervescent performance of Lola Falana as the delightful and engaging titular jailbird. She managed to hold my attention with every word she spoke, and it didn't hurt that she's pretty easy on the eyes. Lola Falana sells this film all by herself, and her capable co-stars don't have to worry about a lot of heavy lifting.
These two weren't the only blaxploitation films that Matt Cimber made. He also directed The Black Six, as well as a few adult features with African American performers. He's probably most notable for his psychological thriller The Witch Who Came From the Sea, a remarkable work of '70s nastiness that Arrow released on Blu-ray earlier this year. He was also involved with a lot of the down and dirty businesses that helped prop up the exploitation film market in the '70s, so the film world has a lot to thank him for!
These two features on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome look about as good as one might expect, given the budgets and the years passed between their shooting and today. They aren't meticulous restorations, and the prints shows a notable amount of damage, but the colors and image clarity in the best moments rival any major restoration on the market. The damage may add to the grimy feeling of the features that many fans enjoy, but if you're a perfectionist, you might want to steer clear.
Because Vinegar Syndrome put two features on one disc, they didn't cram the package with extras. However, there is a nice Matt Cimber intro for The Candy Tangerine Man and an audio commentary on Lady Cocoa with the director and an assistant (John Goff) that prove to be very entertaining and informative. I'm definitely happy with this release.