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Velvet Smooth/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< Velvet Smooth
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‘Protection Agency Chief” Velvet Smooth is hired to find out who’s trying to put an inner-city numbers syndicate out of business.

Reaching theaters at the same time as the not quite as bad but not too much better Sheba Baby (at least Sheba had Pam Grier) Velvet Smooth is a late-to-market, no budget, shamelessly derivative attempt to jump on blaxploitation’s ‘female hero’ bandwagon—which by ’75 had already seen its best days. Saddled with a cast of unknown non-actors and featuring the diminished production values associated with distributor Howard Mahler Films, Smooth is a stellar example of what not to do when creating a motion picture.

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In the lead as Velvet Smooth “actress” Johnnie Hill is, regrettably, plain-faced and lacking in sexual charisma (sexy and attractive performers being one of the genre’s key ingredients). The casting of Hill is, perhaps, the oddest choice (especially because she’s supposed to be sexy; trading on her charm and physical attributes to discover information) in the entire blaxploitation ‘female hero’ cannon. (Not completely unaware, the filmmakers use a thoroughly misleading fantasy illustration [instead of a photograph] on the film poster.)

Awkward Velvet’s compatriot women friends, Frankie (Rene Van Clief), an independent lady who makes a point of spending ‘quality time’ with her man, and Ria (Elsie Roman), a “by the books” Latina studying to be a lawyer, are a bit more interesting to look at if not listen to (dead line readings). Also in the cast are Owen Wat-son as King Lanthrop, an unconvincing inner-city gang lord, and Frank Ruiz as Lieutenant Ramos a short, round but macho supervisor who provides a final (and I mean last sentence in the film) “plot twist.” ‘70s Football star-turned actor Emerson Boozer is on hand in a thankless cameo.

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Poorly directed (most scenes are filmed in static medium shot), with poor sets (Velvet’s living room is distractingly large only because she eventually has to ‘beat up’ six masked assailants without upending any of the furnishings!), and featuring too many overlong karate fight sequences (in a schoolyard, warehouse, pool hall, back alley, on a rooftop, and in an illegal casino—a sequence appropriated from Detroit 9000 and featuring “Bye, Bye Mr. Heartache,” an onstage musical number performed by The Soul Syndicate), with the single exception of a sixty second montage of vintage Harlem, Times Square and Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill, Velvet Smooth , with its in-shot mike booms, fumbled lines, and Operating Room lighting, is a film whose silken and seductive title does not reflect its jagged and uneven contents.

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Josiah Howard is the author of four books including the seminal Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide. His writing credits include articles for The New York Times, Reader’s Digest and The Village Voice. A veteran of more than 100 radio broadcasts he is a regular contributor to Grindhouse Cinema Database and in 2014-15 made regular appearances on TV One’s award-winning documentary series Unsung. Visit his Official Website.
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