If there’s a subgenre of the exploitation film that was tailor-made for the movie trailer, it’s got to be blaxploitation. These films not only were often filled with action, wild plotting and eye-popping threads, they also lent themselves a groovy treatment highlighted by funky narration and even funkier music. Truck Turner, the debut starring vehicle for erstwhile soul music genius Isaac Hayes, offers a memorable example of how a good trailer could distill a blaxploitation film into two minutes of soul-inflected excitement.
The first thirty seconds of Truck Turner hit the screen at full swagger to establish Isaac Hayes as a marquee attraction: over a tense wah-wah guitar riff, a narrator affecting a streetwise tone warns us: “Hide yo mamas… big brother is coming…” His words play out over a montage of Hayes, sometimes shirtless, punching dudes and brandishing a Dirty Harry-style firearm. In a memorable moment, he hits a guy in a phone booth so hard he goes flying right through the glass. Hayes gets his own solo title card and his titular character name also gets one after he tells the unruly patrons of a bar post-brawl: “Tell ’em you’ve been hit by a truck: Mack ‘Truck’ Turner.”
The next forty seconds or so is a sales pitch extolling the bonafides of Hayes and his character. We see him as a man of romance, wooing his girlfriend with a six-pack of beer as he picks her up from the bus stop. The narrator explains to us that Mack is a bounty hunter (“makin’ a healthy livin’… by makin’ livin’ unhealthy”). We see plenty more of him shooting and beating up criminals.
Most importantly, we learn the criminal underworld is out to get him when he see Nichelle Nichols, who has traded her Star Trek uniform for superfly madam threads as she shouts “I want that bastard Truck Turner and I want him dead!” Turner has to dodge many would-be assassins, including an attacker who shoots at him while he’s carrying groceries – this makes a carton of milk erupt like an albino squib when hit.
Nichols is fantastic in this film: not only is her wardrobe heart-stopping but she handles her villainous role with wicked aplomb. The trailer editor recognized this and devotes the next twenty seconds of the trailer entirely to her as she shows off the girls in her bordello (“$238,000 worth of dynamite. It’s Fort Knox in panties!”) to a gang of criminal players. She closes with a sales-pitch: “The man who kills him gets my broads.”
The balance of the trailer returns to Hayes as its main focus. After a few quiet seconds where he vows to “collect” on the criminals threatening his life, the final 45 seconds of the trailer unleashes one last barrage of action. Fifteen of those seconds are devoted to a wild shootout in a hospital between Mack and the hired goons. In one unforgettable shot, an injured colleague of Mack’s rises up from his bed and starts blasting away with a revolver. If you’ve ever had the good fortune of seeing this trailer in a theater with a full house, that moment always brings the house down.
The trailer winds to a close with highlights from a big car chase scene than runs around ten minutes in the film itself. It’s all exciting, imaginatively shot stuff from the days when such stunts all had to be done live in front of the camera. In the trailer, it’s used as a thrilling backdrop for the narrator to complete his pitch for how the film represents Hayes’ transition from your stereo to the movie screen. There’s also a quick pitch for the double-album soundtrack, composed by Hayes. Said album is a must for funk fans and the epic cue for the car chase scene is one of its highlights. After an exploding car and one more gunshot, the trailer stops on a dime.
Truck Turner arrived early in what would be a twenty-five year acting career than ran parallel to Hayes’ prolific recording career. Truck Turner is one of his best credits and this trailer captures its appeal: director Jonathan Kaplan’s flamboyant visual sense, the copious action, the plush orchestral funk score and, best of all, Hayes’ charismatic screen presence. Both the film and the trailer do a great job of displaying why the blaxploitation genre inspires such loyalty in its fans.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Truck Turner, click here.