“Sheba, Baby”: Pam Grier’s Sheba Shayne is a fully-formed supa sista, queen of the private eyes

By on April 7, 2016

After her loan company daddy is rousted by some underworld goons at his place of business, Sheba Shayne, a former cop turned private dick, flies in from Chicago to face the felons head on.

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Sheba, Baby is the logical evolution to the Grier/AIP formula. Unlike the characters of Coffy and Foxy Brown, two John Q citizens who had to adapt to being hard kickin’ action heroines by the last reel of their respective movies, Sheba Shayne comes fully-formed as a supa sista from the start.

To begin with she’s a private eye, an occupation that may not be so glamorous in the real world but in cinedom the profession is romanticized to the point where it is synonymous with badassery and cool.

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By the climax Grier’s Sheba Shayne has shed her Marlowe skin and morphs into something akin to James Bond as she zips up a wet suit and night swims to the villain’s lair (a yacht) armed to the teeth. A jet-ski pursuit and explosions are not far behind. If these allusions to 007 are not yet clear to you, the villain meets his fate at the end of a well-aimed harpoon. Get the point?

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It’s fairly evident, what with the massive vehicular carnage and focus on exterior scenes, that Sheba, Baby’s budget is considerably larger than previous Pam films. However, it is still a relatively cheap affair, this can be noted even without the betrayal of the AIP logo at the beginning.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the film’s most memorable foot chase during the Kentucky State Fair. Non-paid onlookers are captured ogling at the wild goings on, most of the time staring straight into camera. One can fault the movie for this if pedantic but wouldn’t most folks in a crowded area lock their peepers onto colorfully dressed crooks being chased by a voluptuous chick?

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With each succeeding urban actioner Pam’s character would resemble more a comic book than an actual flesh and blood individual. The pendulum swung so far in that direction that less than a year after Sheba, Baby the starlet would actually play a comic strip character in Friday Foster, a sleek, moderately budgeted vehicle based on the funny pages strip of the same name.

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Sheba, Baby is the flagship film of what would be the star’s most prolific year as a leading lady. It would also mark the last time Pam would headline an action vehicle. In the two subsequent features she would only fill the role of Fred Williamson’s main squeeze in Bucktown and intrepid reporter in the aforementioned Friday Foster, she’s is hardly Wonder Woman in either.

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Kentuckian filmmaker William Girdler would direct his first five films in his native state. Sheba, Baby would be the last before heading to Hollywood. It was this film that forced him to relocate. Sheba, Baby was sold to Sam Arkoff (Vice prez of AIP) under the pretense of the script being completed.

Sneaky Girdler and his co-writer, David Sheldon, pulled an all-nighter to pen the screenplay to turn into AIP the next morning. It paid off. Sheba, Baby was successful enough to get Girdler work in Tinsel Town.

He would direct four more features (with increasingly larger budgets and bigger stars) until his untimely death in a helicopter accident while scouting locations in the Philippines for what would’ve been his tenth picture. The prolific Girdler’s legacy consists of nine films, which he produced throughout his twenties.

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Don’t dismiss Sheba, Baby because of a family friendlier MPAA rating. It’s got the goods and would be the very last time Pam would play a superwoman in the ‘70s, the decade she was most celebrated in.

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Sheba, Baby is available now on a new Blu-ray/DVD from our partner MVD (“Arrow’s new Blu-ray transfer is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Flawless on every level – color, contrast, brightness, clarity… Wonderful package.” - Digital Bits).

About Eric Zaldivar

Eric Zaldivar is a filmmaker, screenwriter, researcher and Spaghetti Western film historian. He co-wrote the original screenplay for Django Lives! and remains involved on the project as a producer (writer/director John Sayles is also now involved). He also co-produced The Scarlet Worm (the world's first "abortion Western"), assisted on the documentary about Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie, and was the second-unit director on Mike Malloy's Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled The 70s documentary. Zaldivar has also penned film reviews for Spectacular Optical and other cinema publications. He lives in Miami, Florida.