By the end of her career as a lead­ing lady for American International Pictures, the com­pa­ny had Pam Grier try­ing a few dif­fer­ent things. She took an ensem­ble role rather than a solo lead in Bucktown and tried a more cos­mopoli­tan adven­ture in Friday Foster, a comic strip adap­ta­tion with a cast full of African AmeShebaB-posrican stars.  Sheba Baby was also released in 1975 and it was per­haps the most atyp­i­cal of the bunch in that it had a PG rat­ing, down­play­ing the hard-edged grind­house appeal of her ear­lier for a more gen­er­al audi­ence-friend­ly style.

As you might imag­ine, Grier plays the title role in Sheba Baby, a pri­vate detec­tive who returns home to Louisville, Kentucky when her father Andy (Rudy Challenger), own­er of a loan com­pa­ny, is being threat­ened by crooks try­ing to get him to sell his busi­ness.  When the crooks get vio­lent, Sheba teams up with old flame Brick (Austin Stoker) to get the peo­ple respon­si­ble.  The imme­di­ate threat is local king­pin Pilot (D’Urville Martin) but Sheba will dis­cov­er he’s just the front for a secret threat that is much more insid­i­ous.

Sheba Baby gets a hard time from blax­ploita­tion fans for its PG rat­ing.  Truth be told, it’s a ‘70s-style PG rat­ing so the vio­lence still packs a kick, includ­ing a few bloody squibs in some shootouts, though the nudi­ty and pro­fan­i­ty are suit­ably down­played.  The big­ger issue with Sheba Baby is that it is as gener­ic as a blax­ploita­tion flick can get: every plot turn is pre­dictable, right down to the reveal of the “Mr. Big”-style vil­lain, and the direc­tion by region­al exploitShebaB-01ation vet William Girdler plays it safe with a style that feels like a boil­er­plate mid-70s cop or detec­tive t.v. show with slight­ly more vio­lence.

That said, Sheba Baby is nev­er less than effi­cient.  The script by Girdler and pro­duc­er David Sheldon hits all the nec­es­sary marks in a time­ly fash­ion and Kentucky native Girdler does an effec­tive job of exploit­ing the pro­duc­tion val­ue of his unique Louisville set­ting.  Grier is a reli­ably strong lead (she han­dles a dra­mat­ic scene in a hos­pi­tal quite well) and Stoker and Challenger give solid sup­port.  Best of all, there’s a fair­ly lav­ish orches­trat­ed jazz/funk score by Monk Higgins and Alex Brown that gives the film a nice, soul­ful flair.

In short, Sheba Baby is strict­ly mid-tier stuff as far as blax­ploita­tion goes — but Grier remains charis­mat­ic and the film is pro­fes­sion­al enough to be worth a look for her fans.

Blu-Ray Notes: Sheba Baby recent­ly made its blu-ray debut via a blu-ray/DVD set.  The blu-ray offers an impres­sive trans­fer full of crisp details and a hand­some ren­der­ing of the film’s earthy ‘70s col­or scheme.  The LPCM pre­sen­ta­tion of the mono mix is sim­i­lar­ly strong and makes excel­lent ShebaB-bluuse of the film’s musi­cal score.

Arrow has also added in array of extras.  Things start with two com­men­taries. The first pairs producer/co-writer David Sheldon with Mondo Digital wiz­ard Nathaniel Thompson.  Sheldon is free with his mem­o­ries, get­ting deep into his work­ing rela­tion­ship with Girdler, his expe­ri­ences as an exec­u­tive at A.I.P. and plen­ti­ful mem­o­ries of the shoot.  Thompson keeps the com­ments flow­ing with good ques­tions.  The sec­ond is a solo track with Girdler expert Patty Breen, who splits the dif­fer­ence between his­tor­i­cal triv­ia and wry fan-style com­men­tary on the film’s ups and downs.

Two fea­turettes have also been cre­at­ed for this release.  The first is a chat with Sheldon (15 min.), who offers a con­cise ver­sion of the mate­ri­al he cov­ers in his com­men­tary.  The sec­ond is a thumb­nail his­to­ry of Grier’s A.I.P. years (12 min.) by Temple Of Schlock’s Chris Poggiali.  His fast-paced com­ments are wit­ty and knowl­edge­able, clos­ing with an inter­est­ing insight about how low-bud­get films were a bet­ter venue for Grier as a lead actress rather than stu­dio films.  A funky trail­er and a quick image gallery wrap things up.

Full Disclosure: this review was done using a check-disc blu-ray pro­vided by Arrow Video U.S.A. The disc used for the review reflects what buy­ers will see in the fin­ished blu-ray.