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Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (DVD Review)

15 Nov, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Available at WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
$19.95 DVD
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Tamara Dobson, Stella Stevens, Tanny, Norman Fell.

Though it’s not exactly high scholarship whichever side of the debate you’re on, I’m of the school that prefers this 1975 sequel to 1973’s Cleopatra Jones — both of which provided a less buxom alternative to the Blaxploitation era’s Pam Grier action pics. And this despite IMDb.com’s quoted assertion (from that most august source Celebrity Sleuth) that its late lead Tamara Dobson’s measurements were 38-26-39.

One tends not to notice the last because Dobson stood 6-feet-2, and her crime-fighting Cleo wore flashy duds that commanded what was left of one’s attention. Just as striking is Dobson’s dominant and certainly distinctive dose of eye shadow; it must have broken half of the movie’s budget, given that co-star/villainess Stella Stevens wears her share as well in a couple scenes. We never see any suitcases in Casino, but one can only imagine how many it must have taken for Cleo to transport all her clothes and fancy hats for a fanny-kicking trip to Hong Kong. It must have looked something like that great scene in 1995’s Funny Bones when the lackeys either employed by the airline or Jerry Lewis’s character transport a few zillion suitcases across the tarmac.

This time, Stevens (in lieu of Cleo I’s Shelly Winters) plays the obligatory lesbian nemesis — and though both actresses were underrated (notwithstanding Winters’ two Oscars), Stevens was a doll and major cult actress who truly deserved a more substantial career. Before playing the “lipstick” lesbian here, she did, at least, rate a couple masterpieces: Lewis’s 1963 original of The Nutty Professor and Sam Peckinpah’s 1970 The Ballad of Cable Hogue — a movie that rates with Ride the High Country and Junior Bonner as the most kind-hearted Peckinpah ever directed. But she was also memorable in 1961’s Man-Trap (which I just saw for the first time this past week), as well as John Cassavetes’ Too Late Blues, Vincente Minnelli’s The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and opposite Dean Martin in first and best of the Matt Helm comedies (The Silencers).

This sequel’s other significant inclusion is of actress Ni Tien (billing herself here as “Tanny”), who plays the impromptu sidekick that sleuth Cleo takes on in her struggle to bust dragon lady Stevens’ massive drug ring, headquartered in the title casino. Tanny, cast as “Mi Ling,” looks at first as if she should be playing someone’s peppery kid sister. In actuality, she can kick up a storm on some baddie’s face with the best of them, and the movie’s best scene involves an ill-advised attack on her in her hotel room. It’s better than the climactic fight between Dobson and Stevens, which is shot in the dark, possibly to obscure use of stunt doubles.

This sequel reunited the original’s producers William Tennant and Run Run Shaw (who, depending on the source, is either 102 or 103 but at any rate wasn’t all that young even when Irving Berlin was still charting). Despite the DVD-R stigma of being an “on-demand” release, Casino looks very, very good in its Panavision aspect ratio. Cinematographer Alan Hume later graduated to a couple James Bond pictures and (for a real resume gooser) Return of the Jedi — a movie in which lipstick lesbians were few and far between.

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