First up in the discussion, the Pam Grier starring, William Girdler directed, Sheba, Baby (1975).
-Count the commas in this post and win a prize!*
Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974), as it tones down the sex, violence, and even the swearing that fans of Ms. Grier's previous efforts had come to expect. The action scenes are also less dynamic, coming off a little flat and maybe even a bit goofy (especially the hand-to-hand, fist-fight stuff).
This would be one of Grier's final blaxploitation films (it was actually her last film under contract with AIP) and you get the sense that she was sort of done playing these types of roles. You can see her just going through the motions in a couple scenes and her dialogue doesn't have much punch to it, but maybe that's just due to the way it was written..
Despite it's flaws, I did find Sheba, Baby to be a fun, rainy afternoon watch (which it was). It has some memorable moments and supporting characters and the location shooting in Louisville and Chicago are interesting if you're from the Midwest (which I am) or maybe even if you're not.
The plot of Sheba, Baby goes like this: Young, female Chicago detective Sheba Shayne (Grier) is called back to her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky to help her father, a local businessman who is being threatened by the mob. Sheba has to put her detective skills to use and bust some heads as she works her way up the ladder of the crime syndicate. Along the way she romances an old acquaintance and her father's current business partner, Brick Williams (Austin Stoker).
Other than Sheba, Baby, Dick Merrifield's only other claim to fame would be a pair of supporting roles in movies featured on MST3k, The Hellcats (1968) and The Sidehackers (1969), both of which are motorcycle flicks.
Like I said, D'Urville Martin is always good and he had a nice career in blaxploitation films; the same year as Sheba, Baby he played Willie Green in Dolemite. Interestingly, one of Martin's earliest roles was Diego, the elevator operator in Rosemary's Baby (1968).
Maybe the most memorable supporting character, and easily my favorite, is Walker the pimp (Christopher Joy), who might not be a literal pimp, but I can't help but refer to him as such. He runs a pawn shop out of his car and pretty much single handedly fills the movie's jive-talk quotient. Sheba leans on him for information and while he's cocky at first, he proves to be a coward and gives up the info.
Joy is a lot of fun in the role; he's what you think of when you think "70s movie pimp" and he is a highlight of the movie. He would play Curtis the pimp, virtually the same character, in Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke (1978).
Backing up a minute, I also gotta mention Pilot's right hand man, Killer (Maurice Downs). He doesn't do much really, other than be stern faced and appear to be without the capacity for joy, but there is this one scene where Pilot is giving a speech in front of his goons (and his ladies too, for some reason), addressing the Sheba situation, and this Killer guy is sitting behind Pilot chiming in with a "that's right" every two seconds. It's funny and weird that there was emphasis put on this character quirk. I like it.
*= No prize for counting commas.