Get Christie Love! (1974)
Digging deep into my box of cheesy goodness, today we have a Blaxploitation classic from the golden age of this sadly misunderstood genre of kick-ass black women standing up against The Man, man. This is a made-for-television ABC movie, however, so you won't see any of the usual Blaxploitation violence and nudity, which just might have made it more enjoyable to watch. Without the crutches of perky nipples and exploding intestines, the director had to fall back on meaningful dialogue, plot continuity, and character development, all things that, in their complete absence here, end up being the movie's downfall.
On to the show...
Let's meet our heroine Christie Love, played by 26-year old Teresa Graves. Christie is a Homicide Detective in the Los Angeles Police Department (which suggests that she's competent in police procedures, which she isn't) and one hot mamma jamma (supposedly), full of Tyler Perry sass and Aretha Franklin moxie. Befitting her star status, she is always decked out in the latest 1974 fashions, bell-bottom jeans, lots of polyester, platform shoes, rhinestone encrusted denim jackets, and huge hoop earrings. Her afro is so big that if it were blue, she'd be Marge Simpson's black half-sister that no one talks about.
Christie Love, baby.
Christie again, check that 'fro, which changes between scenes often.
Christie's boss, the Head Detective, is a guy about twice her age with a libido of a 15-year old boy. When he's not giving Christie "off-duty assignments" and reminding her that she's the only woman on his task force because of his "personal recommendation", the boss is trying really, really hard to get into her pants. Far from being offended/repulsed/filing harassment lawsuits, Christie gives back the chemistry as good as she gets it, flirting outrageously with the boss, arching her back to lead with her boobs, and leaving no doubt to the viewer that there's some off-screen boinking going on. The take-away lesson seems to be that it's ok to use your sexual charms on your boss to get what you want. It's an odd morality lesson for any movie, but especially for a Blaxploitation movie where usually the strong black woman star earns her respect in the workplace by her fists and her wits, it kinda runs contrary to the whole idea of the genre. It's doubly odd that her boss is an old frumpy white guy, you just don't see too many interracial/intergenerational relationships in these types of films. Kate Millet would be pissed.
When we first meet Christie she's out at night doing hooker patrol, dressed up as a woman of ill repute to catch a serial killer. This was, of course, just an excuse to have Teresa Graves dress up in stiletto heels and fishnet stockings, but the attempt at titillation fails miserably as the actress has the body of a twelve-year old boy. But she's pretty enough to get the attention of the killer (imagine the odds!), who lures her into the woods with the promise of a tax-free donation to the charity of her choice. Christie has only one backup cop watching her (what kind of shoestring operation is this?) and he's late on the scene so she has to take on the killer herself. She kicks his ass, but it's plain to see that the director had to rely on editing cuts and the inky blackness of the outdoor nitetime shoot to cover up the fact that his leading lady doesn't have the physical strength/fighting skills to keep a Yorkie puppy from humping her leg, let alone take on a knife-wielding murderer.
He looks like a stock broker.
Instead of filling out reams of paperwork and making/taking endless statements, all things you'd logically do when you just apprehended a serial killer, Christie instead just hands him over to the desk sergeant and walks away. Apparently all in a day's work for her. Her boss then tells her to go to Miami to spy on a woman named Helena, who is the girlfriend of a major LA drug Kingpin. This woman is also the Kingpin's "accountant" it seems, and is known to possess a near-mythical "ledger" that contains enough incriminating evidence to bring the Kingpin down. For some reason, this task is given to the Homicide Department and not the Organized Crime or the Anti-Drug Departments, and for equally mysterious reasons the boss decides to only assign one detective (her) to the case. Christie is reluctant to get on the next plane to Miami, but not because she knows that she has absolutely zero jurisdiction in Florida and can only screw up what is an ongoing investigation, but because she's tired and wants to go home and take a shower. The boss insists she goes (over dinner at a swanky restaurant, mind you, the proper place for all discussions of official police department business) and she relents under his charms (the hierarchy of the department's command structure seems to fluctuate with the amount of extra blood that is rushing to the boss's sausage at any given time).
Bad guy behind bars (or chicken wire) while Christie strikes a pose in her mini-dress.
She's not on the ground in Miami for ten minutes before Christie gives up on the whole idea of undercover surveillance and just walks up to talk to Helena, freely giving away the fact that she's a cop and that she's after the ledger! I'm all for honesty, but this is ridiculous police work, did she get her criminal justice degree in West Virginia? Helena is an unattractively scrawny white woman with polar bear-threatening amounts of Aquanet hairspray and boney fingers.
Helena, auditioning for Golden Girls: The Next Generation.
In the hotel sauna (which is a monument to pink shag carpets and glossy Bakalite), Christie interrogates Helena some more about her role in the LA drug trade. Again, and I can't stress this enough, she has no official jurisdiction in Dade County and so I doubt that anything Helena tells her is admissible in court (am I wrong?). Also, earlier we saw that the Kingpin sent along three bodyguards to (presumably) watch over Helena, but both times that Christie has talked to her, the goons have been noticeably absent. What's the point of having goons if they are never around?
"Exterminate! Exterminate!" Quick, Christie, hide behind the sofa! ...anybody? ...*crickets*...
Ok, nevermind, I guess the goons aren't totally useless after all, as we see one of them sneak into Christie's hotel room posing as room service (oldest trick in the book). They get into a wicked fight, with Christie being roughly manhandled by the much-larger guy (a stuntman who does his best to avoid touching the actress in any private areas, which is not as easy as it sounds when you are wrestling on the floor, trust me). Unlike the first fight we saw Christie in, this one is in broad daylight so there's no hiding the fact that the actress is simply incapable of putting up any semblance of hand-to-hand defense. Amusingly, she resorts to slapping the man on the back with her palms as he tries to crane-lift her off the balcony. In the end, it's the dude who falls to his death. Now, logically, when a police officer is attacked in a public place and there's a fatality involved, you are going to have some paperwork to fill out. But not here, Christie just gets up, re-aligns her afro north-south and goes about her business, with no concern for what just happened and no repercussions to follow. Apparently, in Miami you can just kill anyone you want.
Hard to get a good grip on her, what with all that slippery Jericurl.
Back in LA, Christie's boss wants her off the case (probably because she boofed it up something fierce), but she demands to stay on as she's sure she can get inside Helena's tortured soul and find some trigger that will make her rat out the Kingpin. Showing a complete and total disregard for her superiors, she flatly refuses reassignment and even "calls in sick" in advance, leaving the boss flustered. Of course, he's also flustered because Christie wiggles her butt at him and winks over her shoulder as she leaves the room. Somewhere, Gloria Steinem weeps softly.
For a police commissioner's office, that's a pretty damn empty room, almost looks like the corner of an apartment.
Beginning her epic, movie-long road trip, Christie goes to the mansion of a filthy richy-rich family where Helena worked as a maid (maybe) ten years ago. Why so far in the past, why not start with something more recent? Surely she hasn't been the Kingpin's moll for the last decade. At the house, Christie meets a roach-clipping slacker daughter, a Hugh Heffner-wannabe son, and a drunken mom straight out of Absolutely Fabulous. While it's been ten years, the liquored-up mom still remembers Helena, and more importantly remembers how her lothario husband knocked her up! After this slipping of family secrets, mom clams up and Christie leaves with a tantalizing clue.
Christie talks with the soused wife.
She arrives in an awesome VW bug convertible, a classic '70s California car if there ever was one.
Christie now goes to Helena's apartment (how does she locate it?) and uses a credit card to jimmy the lock open. Seriously, I see this card trick in old movies all the time, but does it really work? Someone call Myth Busters! No one is home and she snoops around a bit, looking for that ledger or some other evidence. Does the phrase "unadmissible in court" have any meaning to her? Or could you in 1974 convict someone with evidence procured in an illegal search and seizure? She doesn't find the ledger, but she does find a shrine of sorts to a little boy about ten or so. She suspects that this is Helena's child, the one that she learned about in the last paragraph. While she's here, in walks her boss! It seems they had this place under surveillance, which doesn't explain why they let Christie break in and rummage around for fifteen minutes before doing something about it. And does the Chief Detective (the boss) of a major metropolitan police department really still go out on late-night stake-outs? Isn't this what he has a payroll for? Oh, and they have yet another creepy almost-kiss flirty exchange while they sit on Helena's bed (and listen to jazzy mood music, no less). If this was a "real" Blaxploitation film, we'd surely see some perky boobs and hairy man-butt here.
Shrine to kid.
Christie now goes to her old friend Celia, who she helped get clean and sober a while back. For some reason that can only be understood if the scriptwriters were blind goatherders from Nepal, Celia has also been bestest friends with Helena for the last ten years (unbeknownst to Christie) and as soon as they part ways here in a minute she will drop a dime to Helena to warn her about Christie the cop's interest in her. But first, Celia lets slip that Helena had an abortion at a local hospital, though Christie's Spidey-senses are tingling on that. It's like Los Angeles has a population of 327 and everyone knows everyone else and you can't even go to Wal-Mart without bumping into forty people you know/are related to.
Celia, who is about to reset her facebook status to "I hate cops 1974", rats out her frenemy Christie.
Christie must have taken the whole week off sick, because she's still not been back to work for a while, and now she's off up-valley to the hospital where Helena had her (alleged) abortion. There she talks with what is quite possibly the most skin-crawingly lecherous old doctor who ever lived, a wrinkles-upon-wrinkles octogenarian who comes right out and admits that he misses giving cute young girls gynecological exams, and even hints that he'd like to check Christie's lady-parts for blockages. After she holds him off long enough that he forgets what he was talking about, the doctor tells her that Helena didn't have an abortion after all, but gave birth to a healthy baby boy, who was then put up for adoption.
Late that night, Christie gets a slurry phone call from Celia, who has fallen off and under the wagon and is stone-cold drunk off her ass and looking for a ride home. Christie gets her to her apartment and puts her to bed. This is the only single occasion where Christie shows any compassion for a fellow human being in the entire film, the rest of the time she's either manipulating them or killing them. And it doesn't last, as the Kingpin's goons have followed Christie here and break in, guns blazing! Celia takes an errant round and goes down, Christie shoots dead one goon and wings the other, forcing him to flee. She chases the bad guys as they escape in their car, even attempting to ram them with her VW bug (which folds up like an accordion when smacked by that big ol' Pennsylvania steel Plymouth). Of course, this sets off a major LAPD investigation, a massive manhunt for the shooters and the getaway car, and a thorough internal investigation about Christie's actions in this shootout, not to mention all the emotional turmoil she suffers from (in a way) causing the death of one of her best friends. Hmmm...what? No? Nothing happens? Nothing of this night is ever mentioned again? Really?
Gunfight! Love those oversized faux-fur lapels, hope they come back in fashion soon.
Off now to yet another of Christie's well-connected, conveniently-placed friends, this one a man who just so happens to be head of an adoption agency. The man rightfully claims that he cannot (by law and by oath) tell her who adopted Helena's baby. Christie, giving us another example of her nasty side, forces him to tell her by threatening to expose an extramarital affair his sister is having! In the end, he's safe, but if things had gone differently, the man could have lost his job and his reputation by doing this, though she doesn't seem to care in the least. Christ, how does this woman have any friends left?
Christie pressures the adoption man, who may be Denzel Washington's dad.
Christie, now armed with a name and an address in the suburbs, literally stalks the kid, following him in her car as he runs down his street to football practice. She then flat out lies to his coach to get a photograph of the kid, who seem blithely unaware that this woman with the camera means to use him as a pawn to send his mother to jail, even if it means ultimately putting him in danger (seriously). At no point does she show the slightest bit of concern that her actions might put an innocent child at risk, nice job.
Hmmm...dark brunette, green-eyed mom produces blonde blue-eyed child? Really?
Not content to harass young children, Christie then goes to talk to Helena at her apartment, again not in any official police business but just to have a woman-to-woman chat. Christie tries to get Helena to tell her about her real son and about what the heck is going on. Helena, most understandably, is reluctant to tell her anything and they even have a (badly choreographed) fight that ends with Helena subdued and her hair ruffled. It seems that the Kingpin has been threatening Helena's nephew, who lives in Miami, so she has to work for him. She's afraid that if he knows about her real son here in LA, he'd use him to hold her under his thumb.
It's impolite to point.
Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the Kingpin and a bodyguard, who has come to get Helena for a date. It's supremely odd that a drug kingpin would allow his moll to live off-campus, so to speak, especially when that woman is the admitted key to his entire operation. And it is also odd that he has apparently never been into her apartment any further than the foyer because he's clearly not seen the shrine to her son (if he had, he'd realize that she's been hiding his existence from him). Anyway, the Kingpin trades some barbs with Christie and then sends along his bodyguard to "make sure she finds her car". As they ride the elevator down, it's apparent that the bodyguard has orders to kill her. Despite the fact that the man has about ten inches and 120 pounds on her, and is holding a knife to her head, Christie is able to use her stuntwoman-edited-out kung fu to disarm and disable the goon. Now, in a normal universe, this would be justifiable cause to, at the very least, bring the Kingpin in for questioning, if not arrest him outright for conspiring to murder a police officer, but in this world not a word more of it is ever said.
He kinda looks like Bill Walton.
Helena reluctantly agrees to meet Christie and her boss at a local museum (public place) to discuss things. They show Helena a photo of her son, who she hasn't seen in years, and then deliberately play on her frazzled emotions. They (the police, mind you) threaten to send the kid's photo and address to the Kingpin (who will probably kill/kidnap them both in a fit of rage) if she doesn't turn state's evidence. Even if they are bluffing, and maybe they are, this is still a pretty abhorrent, unethical Third World thing to do to anybody. And this sort of coercion can't even be remotely legal, right? But, Helena is up a creek without a paddle and she relents to save her son.
And now the shocker, as we learn that the "ledger" is not a notebook in the traditional sense, but a cute pet name for Helena herself. It seems that she has a photographic memory and has all the Kingpin's info in her head. In light of the fact that the Kingpin has spent all movie not the least bit worried that Helena's been dogged by cops nonstop, unconcerned that she seems to be hiding something important from him, and then later tries to kill her off, this makes about zero sense. I hope he has some backup notes.
Apparently a photographic memory still doesn't help you when applying makeup and eyeliner, eh?
Helena and Christie leave in her car to see go her kid (part of the deal, her testimony for assurance that her son will be ok). They are chased almost immediately by two of the Kingpin's goons in a burgundy Cadillac. Amazingly, they find the one neighborhood in downtown LA where there is absolutely no traffic in the middle of the day to drive like maniacs, squealing around corners and jumping curbs. And then, for some inexplicable reason, Christie leads them far out of the city into the deserted hills, where they continue their bumper-to-bumper chase along empty twisty mountain roads. Why the heck would she leave the city, a place full of opportunities to lose them, to go to a place where she's totally on her own against them? And why didn't she just drive to a police station? And do you have any idea how many stoplights and stopsigns you have to go through to get out of downtown LA and up into the mountains? Hundreds! And her Buick gets like 7 miles to the gallon, so she must have stopped for gas at least once, did the goons wait patiently for her to hit the Amoco station? Also, it's scenes like this that really show the difference between the cellphone era and the pre-cellphone era (or as I like to call it, happy land), when Christie could have just phoned in for backup as she was being chased, or later just phoned in for help after the fight was over. [Editor Pam: I think 1974 was a little too early even for car phones, but wouldn't a detective's car have been equipped with a two-way radio? I believe the guys in Hawaii Five-0 had them, but my memory might be wrong.]
Helena has a revolver in her purse (and Christie is ok with that) and she gets into a gunfight with the pursuing car. In a strange bit, she clearly shoots through the back window, but in later scenes the window is intact. In an amazing show of (blind luck) marksmanship, one of the goons manages to hit Helena in the chest with a pistol held out an open window of a swerving car without even aiming. Squealing to a stop on the gravel shoulder, Christie jumps out and braces her own gun over the hood. She gets several good shots off at the onrushing Cadillac, which flips over and crashes. Christie then just gets back in her car and drives off! Excellent police work!
Christie rushes the mortally wounded Helena to an emergency room where doct...no? She drives the profusely bleeding woman to a football field so she can see her child before she dies? Really? Couldn't that have waited? As she expires, Helena dictates to Christie the contents of the "ledger", telling her about the Kingpin's contact names and drug delivery schedules. She then dies happy, uncomfortably close to a bunch of elementary school children playing nearby.
So, it's ok then to allow your prime (and only) witness in a major crimes case to just die in your custody? Does the LAPD not have an Internal Affairs department?
In an interlude that happened about 45 minutes ago, but didn't fit the narrative flow of the review, we see the Kingpin meeting with some of his West Coast dealer contacts. The Kingpin is a big fan of Japanese culture, especially Asian martial arts films (go figure). Right in the middle of our funky Black Power crime drama, we have the Kingpin engaging his lieutenants in a long, rambling diatribe on the Japanese economy, the relative stability of the Yen, and how American reconstruction policies following the end of WWII helped Japan emerge as a world power. All fascinating to be sure, but not really the time or the place, if you know what I mean.
Ouch, that's a lot of polyester.
And now, finally, after numerous deaths that could have been prevented and days and days spent violating civil rights and breaking laws both of the state of California and of our great Union, the LAPD decides to bust the Kingpin. They catch him at a local theater, where he's watching old samurai movies while an Asian dealer stuffs bags of coke into film reels. It's here that Christie delivers what will become her catchphrase for the coming series, "You're under arrest, sugar!".
The Boss has the stuff.
The stinger is Christie inviting the boss into her apartment for a nitecap and what is surely a night of horrifying, wrinkly sex with a man who looks like he lives in a bus station and smells of Ben-Gay and Winstons. Remember, girls, it's ok to use your body to get ahead in this world, and the more you give it up, the more you'll get in return. Feminism is for ugly chicks! [Editor Pam: I wouldn't be surprised if one or more of the people chiefly responsible for this movie was a wrinkled, homely white guy. There seems to be some wishful thinking going on.]
This movie did well enough in the ratings that the network signed Teresa Graves to a contract for a Get Christie Love! weekly series for the 1975 season. I've not seen any episodes of this show, which only lasted for one season, but I've heard it was kinda sorta ok. Teresa Graves was then abducted by aliens for the next thirty years.
Written in September 2009 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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