Cleopatra Jones (1973)

PG | 88-89 mins | Drama | July 1973

Director:

Jack Starrett

Producer:

Bill Tennant

Cinematographer:

David Walsh

Editor:

Allan Jacobs

Production Designer:

Peter Wooley

Production Companies:

William Tennant Productions, Warner Bros., Inc.
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HISTORY

In the opening cast credits, which differ in order from the ending cast credits, only Shelley Winters is listed with a character name, and her credit reads: “And Shelley Winters as ‘Mommy.’” Although producer William "Bill" Tennant is listed by HR production charts as a co-screenwriter, the extent of his contribution to the film's screenplay has not been determined. The picture was shot on location in various Los Angeles neighborhoods, including Watts, and a 4 Jan 1973 HR news item noted that Long Beach was another location site.
       Cleopatra Jones marked the first screenplay written by actor Max Julien, who starred in the popular 1973 blaxploitation drama The Mack (see below). According to a modern source, Julian originally envisioned his then-girl friend, Vonetta McGee, in the role of “Cleopatra Jones.” According to a 25 Oct 1972 DV news item, McGee was one of eleven women to be tested for the role, with the other ten consisting of Tamara Dobson (who won the part), Naomi Simms, Vikki McLaughlin, Julie Woodson, Michele Pettis, Kitty Jones, Grace Jones, Duchelle Smith, Judy Ross and Anazette Chase. A Nov 1972 studio press release announced that a “nation-wide talent search” covering “every conceivable source in the Black community” was being conducted to find an actress to play Cleo. The pressbook stated that Dobson was chosen from 2,500 contenders.
       Cleopatra Jones marked the first leading role of former model Dobson (1947—2006), who had appeared in minor roles in the 1972 films Come Back Charleston Blue and Fuzz (see below). Dobson reprised her role ... More Less

In the opening cast credits, which differ in order from the ending cast credits, only Shelley Winters is listed with a character name, and her credit reads: “And Shelley Winters as ‘Mommy.’” Although producer William "Bill" Tennant is listed by HR production charts as a co-screenwriter, the extent of his contribution to the film's screenplay has not been determined. The picture was shot on location in various Los Angeles neighborhoods, including Watts, and a 4 Jan 1973 HR news item noted that Long Beach was another location site.
       Cleopatra Jones marked the first screenplay written by actor Max Julien, who starred in the popular 1973 blaxploitation drama The Mack (see below). According to a modern source, Julian originally envisioned his then-girl friend, Vonetta McGee, in the role of “Cleopatra Jones.” According to a 25 Oct 1972 DV news item, McGee was one of eleven women to be tested for the role, with the other ten consisting of Tamara Dobson (who won the part), Naomi Simms, Vikki McLaughlin, Julie Woodson, Michele Pettis, Kitty Jones, Grace Jones, Duchelle Smith, Judy Ross and Anazette Chase. A Nov 1972 studio press release announced that a “nation-wide talent search” covering “every conceivable source in the Black community” was being conducted to find an actress to play Cleo. The pressbook stated that Dobson was chosen from 2,500 contenders.
       Cleopatra Jones marked the first leading role of former model Dobson (1947—2006), who had appeared in minor roles in the 1972 films Come Back Charleston Blue and Fuzz (see below). Dobson reprised her role for the 1975 sequel, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold . Former literary agent Tennant, who made his film producing debut with Cleopatra Jones , also produced the sequel, for which he wrote the screenplay.
       Although an Oct 1997 DV article reported that actor Don Cheadle would be making his directorial debut with a “contemporized remake” of the original 1973 film, for which he would also write the screenplay, that project was not produced. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
16 Jul 1973
p. 4608.
Cue
9 Jul 1973.
---
Daily Variety
30 Mar 1972.
---
Daily Variety
19 Jul 1972.
---
Daily Variety
25 Oct 1972.
---
Daily Variety
19 Jan 1973.
---
Daily Variety
29 Jun 1973
p. 3, 8.
Daily Variety
2 Oct 1997
p. 1, 18.
Filmfacts
1973
pp. 160-62.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Dec 1972
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jan 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Feb 1973
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jun 1973
pp. 3-4.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
25 Jul 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
25 Jul 1973.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
8 Aug 1973.
---
New York Times
5 Jul 1973
p. 24.
New York Times
23 Sep 1973
Section II, p. 13.
Players
Jan 1974.
---
Time
6 Aug 1973.
---
Variety
4 Jul 1973
p. 18.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Voices:
Shep Houghton
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A William Tennant-Jack Starrett Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
WRITERS
Story
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Key grip
Gaffer
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Stills
Best boy
Best boy
Elec
Dolly grip
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Asst prop master
Lead man
Swing gang
Prod painter
Const coord
COSTUMES
Tamara Dobson's cost
Men's ward
Women's ward
MUSIC
Orig mus comp and cond
Addl mus
Addl mus
SOUND
Mike man
Cable man
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles des
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Dial supv
Prod services and equipment provided by
Casting
Extras casting
Craft service
First aid
Transportation
Pub
Secy to prod
Prod secy
STAND INS
Hapkido Karate
Korea
Stunt coord/[Stunts]
Black Stuntmen's Association
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
SOURCES
SONGS
"Theme for Cleopatra Jones ," written and produced by Joe Simon, vocals by Joe Simon, courtesy of Spring Records
"It Hurts So Good" and "Love Doctor," music and lyrics by J. J. Johnson, vocals by Millie Jackson, courtesy of Spring Records.
DETAILS
Release Date:
July 1973
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 4 July 1973
Los Angeles opening: 25 July 1973
Production Date:
mid December 1972--mid February 1973 in Los Angeles
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros., Inc.
Copyright Date:
4 July 1973
Copyright Number:
LP42954
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
88-89
Length(in reels):
10
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Near Ankara, Turkey, a huge poppy field is destroyed through the work of U.S. Special Agent Cleopatra Jones, a stunning African-American woman whose fighting skills and intelligence are admired throughout the world. The raid, which destroys thirty million dollars' worth of potential heroin, infuriates Mommy, the ringleader of a Los Angeles, California, drug trade. Mommy, a violent, middle-aged lesbian, tells her accountant son, Brucie, and her henchmen, including Zap and Baby Tony, that she will destroy Cleo’s favorite charity, B&S House, a cultural center and rehabilitation facility for drug addicts, which will force her to return to Los Angeles, where Mommy plans to have her killed. Mommy calls her connection in the police department, and soon after, Lt. Frank Randall is leading a raid on B&S House, which is run by Reuben Masters, Cleo’s paramour, who is determined to end drug trafficking in the Watts neighborhood. Accompanying Randall is the cool-headed Sgt. Kert, who attempts to persuade Randall to wait until they contact Capt. Crawford, a personal friend of Cleo. Randall insists that Crawford cannot be reached and orders patrol officer Purdy, a virulent racist, to begin the operation. The small wooden house is ransacked in the ensuing debacle, during which young Jimmy Beeker is found with a bag of heroin. Jimmy cries out to Reuben that he has gone straight and the drugs were planted on him, but Reuben, disappointed in Jimmy and enraged by the excessive police force, does not know what to believe. At police headquarters, Crawford upbraids Randall and the others for the raid, which he believes was unnecessary, but Purdy points out that drugs were found. ... +


Near Ankara, Turkey, a huge poppy field is destroyed through the work of U.S. Special Agent Cleopatra Jones, a stunning African-American woman whose fighting skills and intelligence are admired throughout the world. The raid, which destroys thirty million dollars' worth of potential heroin, infuriates Mommy, the ringleader of a Los Angeles, California, drug trade. Mommy, a violent, middle-aged lesbian, tells her accountant son, Brucie, and her henchmen, including Zap and Baby Tony, that she will destroy Cleo’s favorite charity, B&S House, a cultural center and rehabilitation facility for drug addicts, which will force her to return to Los Angeles, where Mommy plans to have her killed. Mommy calls her connection in the police department, and soon after, Lt. Frank Randall is leading a raid on B&S House, which is run by Reuben Masters, Cleo’s paramour, who is determined to end drug trafficking in the Watts neighborhood. Accompanying Randall is the cool-headed Sgt. Kert, who attempts to persuade Randall to wait until they contact Capt. Crawford, a personal friend of Cleo. Randall insists that Crawford cannot be reached and orders patrol officer Purdy, a virulent racist, to begin the operation. The small wooden house is ransacked in the ensuing debacle, during which young Jimmy Beeker is found with a bag of heroin. Jimmy cries out to Reuben that he has gone straight and the drugs were planted on him, but Reuben, disappointed in Jimmy and enraged by the excessive police force, does not know what to believe. At police headquarters, Crawford upbraids Randall and the others for the raid, which he believes was unnecessary, but Purdy points out that drugs were found. Upon hearing of the bust, Cleo immediately returns to the States and is attacked at the L.A. airport by three of Mommy’s gunmen. Cleo bests the men, killing one of them, before showing her identification to the responding police and heading home. Cleo calls Crawford to complain about the raid, and he assures her that if he had been contacted, he would have prevented it, although he has not yet ascertained who is behind it. Crawford and Kert meet with Cleo, and she identifies the “rap sheet” photos of two of her attackers. Meanwhile, Mommy is castigating Baby Tony and Zap, the men who escaped Cleo’s wrath, for not killing the government agent. She points out that they are losing the respect and fear of the community, and consequently have not been paid by their highest earner, pusher Doodlebug Simpkins. Back at their meeting, Crawford is counseling Cleo to refrain from investigating the B&S bust, as it is not in her jurisdiction, and Cleo coolly responds, “My jurisdiction extends from Ankara, Turkey to Watts Tower, baby.” Crawford warns her that Reuben is threatening a full-out war if the district attorney attempts to close down the organization, and Cleo asserts that she can control Reuben. When she goes to B&S House, Cleo is confronted by a teenager named Annie, who accuses the stylishly attired Cleo of no longer caring about their neighborhood. Cleo is affronted but Annie is reprimanded by Reuben, who is delighted to see her, despite their troubles. Reuben shows Cleo a youth who is withdrawing cold turkey and laments the fact that if the house is closed, the desperate citizens will have nowhere to go. Cleo pleads with Reuben not to initiate any violence and promises to resolve the situation within three days. When she is departing, however, a sniper on an opposing building opens fire, wounding Reuben in the shoulder, but Cleo, withdrawing a mini-machine gun from the weapons cache in the passenger door of her Corvette, returns fire. Upon entering the building, Cleo is attacked by two disguised men, but she outdraws and kills them. Meanwhile, in his luxurious apartment, the dandyish Doodlebug complains to his men, Fireplug and Pickle, about Mommy bringing Cleo back to town. His rant is interrupted by the arrival of Cleo, who tosses a wig worn by one of the disguised hit men at him and accuses him of being complicit in the frame-up of Jimmy. Doodlebug protests that he had nothing to do with the attempted assassination nor with the raid, and implies that a low-level dealer named Snake sold the heroin to Jimmy. Cleo watches with interest as Doodlebug fawns over his timid girl friend, singer Tiffany Payne, then warns him that she will come back to “get” him. Cleo next meets with brothers Matthew and Melvin Johnson, karate instructors who occasionally work with her, and asks them to follow Purdy. Later, Doodlebug informs Mommy that he is establishing his own business. Although Mommy attempts to bribe him, Doodlebug throws the wig at her and storms out. The next day, Zap, Baby Tony and other thugs chase Cleo, but thanks to her exceptional driving skills, she easily outraces them. At night, Doodlebug picks up Tiffany from his nightclub, but as they drive away, a huge tow truck smashes into their car, killing Fireplug, Pickle and their driver, although the wounded Tiffany is able to escape, much to the dismay of Zap and Baby Tony, who dispatch the dying Doodlebug with a burst of gunfire. The next day, Cleo confronts Snake, quickly disarming him as he attempts to stab her. When Cleo begins to destroy his drug stash, Snake admits that Pickle ordered him to kill her, and that the drugs were planted on Jimmy, although he does not know by whom. After flushing Snake’s drugs down the toilet, Cleo receives a call on her car phone and drives away to intercept a deal between Purdy and two arms dealers. She catches Purdy selling confiscated guns, and he is arrested by Crawford. When Cleo mentions that she must talk to Doodlebug, Crawford informs her that he has been murdered. Hoping to find Tiffany, Cleo questions her brother, who reveals that Tiffany is hiding at a nearby church. There, Cleo finds the younger girl, who tearful admits that she was too weak-willed to resist the easy life that Doodlebug offered her. They are then surprised by Kert, who with Zap and Baby Tony had followed Cleo, and Kert reveals that he is Mommy’s police connection. The women are taken to an automobile junkyard, where Mommy gleefully demonstrates her power by having Baby Tony crushed by a car compactor. Just as Tiffany and Cleo are about to be killed, the Johnson brothers arrive and, after taking control of the crane, lower the car bearing the women to the ground. They are joined by numerous neighborhood friends and soon the gangsters have been rounded up. Cleo chases Mommy up the ladder to the compactor, and, as they fight, Cleo tosses the drug pusher to the ground. Soon after, Crawford, Reuben and her other friends bid farewell to Cleo, who is leaving to begin another mission. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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