A b-movie doesn’t have to be “good” in the con­ven­tion­al crit­i­cal sense to inspire affec­tion in fans of the form.  TNT Jackson is a notable exam­ple of this prin­ci­ple in action.  This blax­ploita­tion-meets-kung-fu gen­re-blend was made by pro­fil­ic Filipino direc­tor Cirio Santiago, a film­mak­er noto­ri­ous for crank­ing out dri­ve-in fare as quick­ly as pos­si­ble.  His movies were always no-frills, dis­pos­able fare designed pure­ly for prof­it but when the right con­cept clicked into place, they could be fun cin­e­mat­ic junk food.  TNT Jackson fits this bill: it ain’t “good” but it’s fun in its own loopy way.

At 72 min­utes, TNT Jackson rep­re­sents the b-movie stripped to its barest essen­tials. It opens with a man being killed by a gang of drug deal­ers led by Charlie (Stan Shaw) in Hong Kong. This sets the stage for his sis­ter, Diana “TNT” Jackson (Playboy Playmate Jeanne Bell) to come to Hong Kong look­ing for him.  She’s got kung-fu skills and a bad atti­tude so she fits into this rough-and-tum­ble ghet­to scene just fine.  Charlie imme­di­ate­ly takes notice of TNT and she flirts on and off with him as she tries to get info about the drug ring he works with.

It seems there is trou­ble with­in Charlie’s group as they’ve start­ed los­ing ship­ments and there might be a rat in the group.  Since this trou­ble began with TNT’s arrival, she comes under the sus­pi­cion of gang lead­er Sid (Ken Metcalfe) and she is forced to put her fight­ing skills to use.  When she real­izes Charlie was respon­si­ble for her brother’s death, she plots her own iron-fist­ed revenge that coin­cides with a major drug deal.  However, that revenge is com­pli­cat­ed by Elaine (Pat Anderson), a fed who has secret­ly infil­trat­ed the drug ring.

If that syn­op­sis sounds some­what sen­si­ble, rest assured that it doesn’t play out that way on-screen.  TNT Jackson is cut so tight­ly that it fre­quent­ly becomes non-sen­si­cal, strip­ping out char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and any sort of plot-clar­i­fy­ing sto­ry beats to get to the fight­ing and the nudi­ty.  Santiago directs the film like he’s try­ing to set a land-speed record, result­ing in a lot of awk­ward post-synch dub­bing and peri­od­ic con­ti­nu­ity gaffes (like the way Bell’s panties change col­or in one key fight sequence).  He also expects you to believe that the Philippines is actu­al­ly Hong Kong and that his most­ly Filipino sup­port­ing cast is actu­al­ly Chinese.

It doesn’t help that the fight chore­og­ra­phy is most­ly hope­less — Bell looks like she’s doing some sort of weird inter­pre­tive dance when fight­ing and is uncon­vinc­ing­ly dou­bled by a man for many key action moments.  The same could be said for Anderson, who has a hys­ter­i­cal­ly awful fight scene around a stair­case in which she deliv­ers some of the least con­vinc­ing karate kicks in film his­to­ry.  As a result, the fight­ing sequences are laden with fast cut­ting and tricks like speed­ing up the footage for cer­tain moves, which gives them an unin­ten­tion­al Benny Hill vibe.

The per­for­mances aren’t much bet­ter: Bell is bet­ter at being surly than she is at deliv­er­ing lines and Metcalfe, who co-wrote the script with reg­u­lar Corman actor Dick Miller, is mem­o­rably wood­en as the lead­er of the drug ring.  The one real­ly solid per­for­mance comes from Shaw, a gift­ed per­former who would go on to a long career as a char­ac­ter actor.  His char­ac­ter­i­za­tion is stock “blax­ploita­tion badass” mate­ri­al but he deliv­ers it with inten­si­ty and a swag­ger that is gen­uine­ly appeal­ing — and the fact that he actu­al­ly knew mar­tial arts helps his fight sce­nes.

That said, don’t let the above cat­a­logue of flaws deter you if you’re into 1970’s dri­ve-in fare.  TNT Jackson’s speed and sin­gle-mind­ed­ness make it fun in spite of its many flaws.  Those nos­tal­gic for this peri­od will be wowed by the fash­ion, afros and the funky score, which was pur­loined from a past Santiago film, Savage.  Better yet, the film sports a b-movie first in an unfor­get­table scene where Bell fights a gang of thugs while top­less and in panties. That scene alone makes the film worth see­ing, not to men­tion the final 15 min­utes: that last reel is an amphet­a­mine blur of hamhand­ed plot twists, lousy fight­ing and “shock­ing” death sce­nes.

In short, TNT Jackson is the kind of film that wears its cheap­jack qual­i­ties as a badge of schlocky pride.  It was a decent hit for New World (in fact, Santiago and Corman remade it twice more as Firecracker and Angel Fist) and has remained a goof­ball favorite with fans over the years.  If you’re in the right mood for no-frills thrills, it will deliv­er the goods with a daft, dis­tinct­ly 1970’s b-movie flair.

Lethal Ladies Collection [Triple Feature]

Lethal Ladies Collection [Triple Feature]

Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: Lethal Ladies Collection [Triple Feature]      Female karate cham­pi­on Susanne Carter (Jillian Kesner) goes to the Philippines to look for her sis­ter who has dis­ap­peared. She stum­bles upon a drug cartel and a tour­na­ment of no-holds-barred fights to the death in the action-packed Firecracker. Directed by gen­re spe­cial­ist Cirio H. Santiago (TNT Jackson) and costar­ring Vic Diaz (The Big Bird Cage) and Darby Hilton (Malibu Express).“They call me TNT,” mar­tial arts expert Diana Jackson (Jeanne Bell) announces upon her arrival in Hong Kong to look for her miss­ing broth­er. From there, she heads smack into what is known as the city’s worst area, a no-man’s-land that is a haven for drug deal­ers, thieves and killers. TNT does not know that her broth­er has been bru­tal­ly mur­dered by Charlie (Stan Shaw), an American who has set­tled in Hong Kong and is bent on inch­ing his way to the top of the city’s drug-smug­gling trade. But he has no idea what he’s up again­st when he tan­gles with dyna­mite in TNT Jackson!Contract killer Samantha Fox (Cheri Caffaro) accepts a mis­sion to kill a group of gang­sters in the Philippines, but prob­lems arise when she falls for the Manila detec­tive inves­ti­gat­ing the mur­ders. Director Don Schain, who was mar­ried to Caffaro, direct­ed her in sev­er­al films pri­or to Too Hot To Handle, includ­ing Ginger, Girls Are For Loving and The Abductors.