BABY NEEDS A NEW PAIR OF SHOES 1974 (a.k.a. Jive Turkey; Nigger Rich; Get Nigger Rich on Number 666) director: Bill Brame; starring: Paul Harris, Frank deKova, Serena
Considering the fact that Bill Brame’s only other blaxploitation flick was the rectum-reamingly bad MISS MELODY JONES, it’s amazing that this film isn’t worse. Don’t mistake what I’m saying for a ringing endorsement, ’cause BABY NEEDS A NEW PAIR OF SHOES is a terrible film — it just happens to be better than an even worse film.
The muddled plot has something to do with Hakim Jabbar (Paul Harris), also known as Pasha, the godfather of the local black Mafia. Pasha is the king of the local numbers racket, who finds himself caught in a war when Italian mobsters — led by Frank “F-TROOP” deKova — try to muscle in on his action. Complicating things are the corrupt cops and politicians that are also trying to run him out of business. Lucky for Pasha he’s got an endless supply of expendable goons and a deadly hitman/drag queen (Serena). Armed with killer high heel shoes, the gender-bending assassin is the most memorable character in a forgettable cast of losers.
There’s one word that runs through your mind when watching BABY NEEDS A NEW PAIR OF SHOES — actually there’s several words, including shitty, boring and abysmal — but the one prevalent word has to be “ghetto”. This is easily one of the most ghetto films you’ll ever see — welfare filmmaking at its finest. Although it’s set in the 1950s, other than a few old cars there is almost no effort to actually make the film look like a period piece. You get the distinct feeling that director Brame stumbled across a truck filled with film equipment, helped himself to everything inside, and decided to make a movie with his ill-gotten gains. Too bad there wasn’t a book on the truck explaining how to actually make a movie, as the only thing Brame and his crew seem to be capable of doing is loading the film into camera and getting really good shots of the boom mic.
Paul Harris as Hakim Jabbar/Pasha
There’s not much written about the history BABY NEEDS A NEW PAIR OF SHOES. Based on an original story by Howard and Elizabeth Ransom (Howard also produced the film), the screenplay was written by Fredricka DeCosta. It should come as no surprise that neither of the Ransoms nor DeCosta have any other film credits to their name. One of the other producers was Edith Ransom, and there are seven cast members all with the last name of Ransom (five of them credited as “Kid”), which leads me to believe this was very much a family endeavor. The lack of reviews from the film’s initial release suggests it had a very limited run before ending up on home video in the 1980s. Caught in the trap of public domain, the film became best known under the title of JIVE TURKEY.
The only reason to watch this turkey is if you’re a fan of lead actor Paul Harris. Hardcore blaxploitation fans will remember Harris as Gator in TRUCK TURNER and the Blind Man in THE MACK. Harris’s career started out in live theater, with roles in musicals like SHOW BOAT. In 1962, he starred in director Basil Dearden’s film ALL NIGHT LONG, an offbeat adaptation of OTHELLO, set within the world of jazz musicians. Harris starred as Aurelius Rex, the Othello character, and his co-stars included such celebrated jazz musicians as Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck (playing themselves). Like many black actors in the 70s, Harris got his one shot at being the lead actor in a film. Too bad it was in this piece of shit.