Pass the Popcorn: Truck Turner

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I haven’t seen any decent movies lately, so this edition of Pass the Popcorn will be opening up the treasure vault of oldies, along the lines of Flix You Should Netflix. Summer means action movies, and one of the most stunningly entertaining action films in my book: Truck Turner.

The great Isaac Hayes stars as Truck Turner, and obviously anything with Isaac Hayes in it is likely to be awesome. Before getting on the specifics of this, perhaps greatest film ever, a few notes on the genre seem appropriate.

It all started before WWII when a young army Colonel was ordered to move a military caravan from one coast to the other, to see how long it would take. Years later this same Colonel became President Eisenhower, who spearheaded the creation of the Interstate Highway system, inspired by his Oregon-trail like ordeal.

The Interstate Highway system has been great for moving goods and services rapidly across the country, but had the unintended consequence of enabling high levels of racial and economic segregation. With these new big highways in place, it became possible to work in big city X, but live in a leafy suburb. James Q. Wilson’s book Thinking about Crime discusses the profound policy consequences of this fundamental change in American life.

The so called Blaxploitation genre of film arose as white flight played itself out. The movie industry had an infrastructure of inner-city movie theaters across the country which now had a primarily African-American audience. Hollywood responded with action films aimed at African American audiences.

The content of these films are stunning in many ways by today’s standards. Filmed in the early to mid 1970s, the clothes in these films are often stunningly outrageous, like something you might see at a costume party. More broadly, these films are chock full of racial stereotypes.

The term politically incorrect doesn’t begin to describe the casual and frequent use of racial typecasts in these films. There has been much bemoaning of the rise of political correctness, but check out one of these flicks and then see what you think. Watching one of them quickly makes apparent just how much our national character has changed for the better.

I’m just old enough to remember the old Rat Pack era comedians as older men in the 1970s. It would be nothing to see a Don Rickles stand up at a Dean Martin Celebrity Roast and casually engage in ethnic humor (e.g. an Italian and a Polish guy walk into a bar…) By today’s standards, such humor is only successfully trafficked in by comedians such as Dave Chappelle, whose skits are so outrageous in part because they are so rare under current sensibilities.

In any case, Blaxploitation cinema is like a pre-political correctness time capsule, and as such very educational. Blaxploitation films usually focus on the exploits of a superhuman killing machine/babe magnet- a sort of urban James Bond fighting the villains of the inner-city instead of the Soviets or SPECTRE. Speaking of James Bond, Live and Let Die could almost be considered a Blaxploitation film, other than the pasty British super-agent.

Turner, Truck Turner…

Many of the films of this genre I have seen are impossible to enjoy. Shaft is fairly dull, Superfly was unwatchable. Truck Turner however can be considered a part of an almost subgenre of Comedy Blaxploitation, similar to the Comedy Westerns like the War Wagon or North to Alaska. These films are not comedies per se, but instead contain comedic elements, and do not take themselves seriously at all; much like the knowing twinkle Roger Moore had in his eye as his Bond enjoyed one absurd physical and romantic conquest after another.

Truck Turner has a memorable supporting cast including Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols as a vengeful madam (check out the white satin bell bottoms!), Yaphet Kotto as the villainous Harvard Blue, and Scatman Crothers as Duke, Truck’s wise old mentor who provides guidance through the “Pimp Civil War.”

Words can scarcely describe how outrageous and funny Truck Turner is, so luckily, youtube has the original Truck Turner trailer. Watch the trailer. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, Truck will forever be a part of you.

IMDB lists a 2008 Truck Turner project as in development. Color me skeptical- you can’t improve upon perfection.

5 Responses to Pass the Popcorn: Truck Turner

  1. Greg Forster says:

    Ike invented blaxploitation? Who knew?

    Live and Let Die is a *spoof* of blaxploitation. Some people say it wasn’t a spoof, it was a serious attempt to create a “blaxploitation Bond” movie. But I say the whole Bond franchise was a spoof in the early 70s, so that’s a distinction without a difference! I think they just figured hey, we’ve already made Bond ridiculous, so why not go all the way?

  2. I totally agree- i love the absurdity of Bond, which is why ROGER MOORE was the greatest Bond!

  3. Greg Forster says:

    No comment.

  4. three gun fish says:

    moonraker is the best

  5. matthewladner says:

    Moonraker is indeed some awesome cheese- Jaws, Bond getting thrown out of a plane without a ‘chute, some more Jaws, and a truly absurd battle in outer space.

    I give it the edge over The Spy Who Loved Me, which is basically the same movie.

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