women’s empowerment: CLEOPATRA JONES

She is 6ft. 2in. of dynamite wrapped in chocolate!

CLEOPATRA JONES (1973) is a secret agent thriller produced by William “Bill” Tennant and Max Julien, written by Max Julien and Sheldon Keller, directed by Jack Starrett, and stars Tamara Dobson, Bernie Casey, and Shelley Winters. 

Cast

TAMARA DOBSON as Cleopatra Jones

SHELLEY WINTERS as Mommy

BERNIE CASEY as Reuben Masters                               

ANTONIO FARGAS as Doodlebug Simpkins

BILL McKINNEY as Officer Purdey

DAN FRAZER as Captain Lou Crawford

THE JOHNSON BROTHERS

ALBERT POPWELL as Matthew Johnson & CARO KENYATTA as Melvin Johnson 

  • The movie starts out with special agent Cleopatra Jones leading a coalition of nations in destroying a poppy field in Turkey worth 30 million dollars (that should be about 180 million today). This move ticks off Mommy – a global drug dealer with fingers in every pie. Knowing she can’t touch Cleo as long as she is out in the field, she arranges to have a drug halfway house that Cleo sponsors raided and shut down by the police. This brings our heroine back to L.A. 
  • At the airport an attempt on Cleo’s life is bungled and now Mommy is really mad! Cleo ain’t too happy either and takes it out on her friend Captain Lou Crawford of the L.A. police. 
  • She reunites with her boyfriend Reuben Masters – who happens to run the halfway house. Another attempt on her life gets Reuben shot. The shooters pay for their mistake with their lives and now Cleo is really mad!
  • Cleo and Mommy continue to battle it out all over L.A. with car chases, fist fights, and gun battles. The climax takes place at an auto wrecking yard as a captured Cleo is rescued by her friends from the halfway house, the Johnson Brothers, and of course Reuben Masters. A final fight between our heroine and Mommy proves that the fat mama is no match for our Cleo. 
  • After a farewell party Cleo climbs into her stingray and rides off into the sunset off on another mission in her never-ending war on drugs. 

A native of Maryland, Tamara Dobson was one of four children born to working class parents. Her mother owned a beauty parlor and her father worked at a railroad station. She earned a degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art and moving to New York she began a modeling career. She then caught the attention of movie producers who happened to be looking for a Black leading lady. 

In addition to CLEOPATRA JONES and the sequel CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD(1975) Dobson had roles in films such as COME BACK, CHARLESTON BLUE (1972), NORMAN . . . IS THAT YOU? (1976), and CHAINED HEAT (1983). On TV she appeared in shows such as BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY (1979) and JASON OF STAR COMMAND (1978). 

Tamara Dobson refused to do any nudity and it is believed that this is what stifled her career and she never again starred in a feature film. 

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000 she died on 2 October 2006 from pneumonia due to multiple sclerosis. She was 59 years old at the time.  

  • Tamara Dobson wears ten different outfits in this film. She specifically asked the producers to have Italian fashion designer Giorgio di Sant’Angelo do her costumes for the picture. He did the same for the sequel as well. 

A collection of dresses used in the sequel CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD

  • Cleopatra Jones’ car is a custom-built black and silver 1973 Corvette Stingray. When she opens the door, the T-bar panel in the roof above the driver’s seat automatically opens so she can get in or out without banging her head. I remember seeing this and wanting one so bad when I was a kid. 
  • The lead role was originally written for Vonetta McGee. I don’t know about you, but I cannot picture anyone but Tamara Dobson playing this part. 
  • Two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters gets a special billing in the opening credits (“And Shelley Winters as Mommy”) but her name does not appear in the end credits. 
  • This was one of the most expensive Black films made during the 1970s. It cost $2.5 million when most films in the genre were made under $1 Million.
  • In France the picture was called Dynamite Jones.
  • A remake was announced for this film five years ago. Since nothing has been said since I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the return of Cleopatra Jones. 

Dislikes

  • CLEOPATRA JONES is dated! I’m sorry to have to say that because I love this movie. It is not the fashions that date the movie, or the cars, or even the music – it’s the dialogue. I’m not saying that people did not speak that way in the early 1970s. I’m simply saying that to hear it now is laughable. It makes you laugh when they are not trying to make you laugh and that interrupts the flow. 

Likes

  • I am in love with Tamara Dobson and I want to have her babies. Okay, I got that off my chest and can now move on. 
  • I love secret agent movies. I love Black films of the 1970s. I love kick-ass women! The producers of this picture gave me all three, wrapped in a bow named Tamara Dobson. Thank you, Lord!
  • Did I also mention that I love martial arts movies? This movie is one of the first Black films of the 1970s to heavily feature the martial arts. In fact, the karate fighting Johnson Brothers steal the movie. 
  • I am a Bernie Casey fan. Whether it is here or GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1969), NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983), . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . (1970) or any of the other myriad films he made he is always a pleasure to watch. 
  • Shelley Winters is delightful as the over-the-top bad guy (gal?) known as Mommy. She is obviously having fun hamming up her role and chewing up the scenery. What does she have to prove? She has two Oscars, started out as a sex symbol, then became a character actor before branching out into bad guys and creating a character who would feel right at home in a James Bond movie. If Bond archenemy Blofeld had a mother, it would have been Mommy. 

Although a cult classic among us geeks this picture is not well known outside our elite circles. Cleopatra Jones runs thru this movie shooting and karate kicking bad guys while changing outfits every ten minutes. She is always in control, she always looks good, and is always the smartest person in the room. I do not understand why she is not hailed as an icon by the women’s movement. Why is this movie, why is this character, and why is Tamara Dobson ignored? 

As a kid growing up, I adored kick-ass women. My favorite TV show at one-time was THE AVENGERS[Steed and Mrs. Peel] (1961) starring the ever-delightful Diane Rigg, and I loved HONEY WEST (1965) starring Anne Francis and THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1966) with Stephanie Powers. You couldn’t use the expression “weaker sex” in my house. 

On the big screen I had to wait until the 1970s and COFFY (1973), CLEOPATRA JONES, and FOXY BROWN (1974). The best of these was CLEOPATRA JONES.

The film tells us that she grew up in the same neighborhood as the halfway house. From such humble beginnings we now have a woman who is smart, strong, and successful. Plus, she is Black and make no mistake that is a telling point. At a time when Black women, ALL women, were struggling to find their place in the world, Cleo showed us how to be a success, look good doing it, and keep her man satisfied! There is a reason why her man Reuben has that grin. 

Nowadays we hold up Lara Croft and single out Atomic Blonde and talk about Angelina Jolie in SALT (2010) but ain’t nothing any of them do that Cleopatra Jones can’t do and she did it first – and I dare say she did it better!   

If everyone has been paying attention this comes as no surprise that I recommend this movie at the top of my lungs and fists pumping in the air. Ya gotta watch this movie! Make some popcorn, dim the lights, light up some incense – and be prepared to whoop, holler, and throw popcorn at the screen ‘cause Cleopatra Jones is in the house and the house ain’t never gonna be the same again! 

It is with utmost pleasure that I wholeheartedly bestow four and a half gray geeks to the most delightful secret agent of them all CLEOPATRA JONES

Okay mi gente, it is that time again. As much as I love sharing with all of you I have to go. For me to visit with you and share movies, and TV shows, and books, I have to actually go and read and/or watch these things. But I promise I’ll be back and we will chill out again. Until then, Excelsior! 

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