(Lisa recently discovered that she only had about 8 hours of space left on her DVR! It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet. So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR! She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of 2017! Will she make it? Keep checking the site to find out!)
I recorded Melinda off of TCM on November 13th.
First released in 1972, Melinda is technically a murder mystery. Frankie J. Parker (Calvin Lockhart, giving a brilliant performance) is a popular radio DJ in Los Angeles. When we first see Frankie, he’s driving his expensive sportscar through a poor neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood that he knows well but, as opposed to those around him, he’s made it out. He’s handsome, slick, and more than a little arrogant. When he arrives at a local gym, he looks at himself in a mirror and says, “I shouldn’t say it … but I am a pretty motherfucker.” Frankie’s a student in a taekwondo class taught by Charles Atkins (Jim Kelly). Charles gives Frankie a hard time about not giving back to the community. Frankie blows off his concerns. To be honest, we really should dislike Frankie but he’s so damn charming. As played by Calvin Lockhart, Frankie has one of those irresistible smirks, the type of the lights up the screen.
One night, Frankie meets the mysterious Melinda (Vonetta McGee) and spends the night with her. He thinks that it’s just going to be another one night stand but Melinda tells Frankie that he has the potential to be more than he realizes. Touched, Frankie goes to work and resolves to be a better person. Then he returns home and discovers that Melinda has been murdered!
The rest of the film deals with Frankie’s attempts to discover who murdered Melinda. It turns out that Melinda had underworld connections and mob boss Mitch (Paul Stevens) is desperate to recover something that Melinda had in her possession when she died. But honestly, the whole murder subplot is a MacGuffin (if you want to get all Hitchcockian about it). Ultimately, Melinda is a character study of Frankie Parker and how, over the course of solving Melinda’s murder, he learns that there’s more to life than just looking out for himself.
Though Melinda was obviously made to capitalize on the blaxploitation craze of the early 70s, it’s actually far more low-key than most of the better known films in the genre. (Or, at least it is until the karate-filled finale.) Perhaps because it was directed by a black man and written by noted black playwright Lonne Elder III, Melinda is far more interested in exploring what makes its characters who they are, as opposed to just putting a gun in their hand and having them shoot up the screen. Frankie Parker emerges as a fascinating character.
Mention should also be made of the performance of Rosalind Cash, who plays Terry, Frankie’s ex. Cash gets an absolutely amazing scene where, while attempting to convince a bank employee that she’s Melinda so that she can get into Melinda’s safe deposit box, she tells off a rude teller. It’s such a good scene and Cash delivers her lines with such fury that you find yourself forgetting that the teller was actually correct in her suspicion that Terry wasn’t actually who she said she was.
Melinda is probably one of the best films that hardly anyone has ever heard of. Keep an eye out for it.