Sunday Matinee: Jim Kelly

Black_belt_jones_movie_posterJim Kelly passed away last week at the age of 67 of cancer. Kelly was best remembered for his supporting role in Bruce Lee’s biggest hit Enter the Dragon.

Jim Kelly was a karate champion who had opened up a karate school in L.A. in the 1970’s that was popular with some Hollywood stars. Through the school Kelly was cast in Enter the Dragon. This lead to a three film deal with Warner Brothers. His first movie with Warner was the kung fu Blaxploitation action film Black Belt Jones from Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse.

The film stars Kelly as Jones, a karate master whose old friend Scatman Crothers runs a karate school. Crothers is in debt to a loan shark and the loan shark is in debt to the mafia. The mafia wants the land that the school is on for a land swindle deal and they are trying to force Crothers to give up the property. When things go wrong Crothers’ daughter (Gloria Hendry) shows up and helps Jones kick the mafia’s ass. The film is a light-hearted action romp. The final fight scene is a weird battle outside an automated car wash where Jones fights the bad guys in a massive bubble bath like fight.

Kelly then starred in Three the Hard Way with Jim Brown and Fred Williamson. They discover an evil plot against African Americans where white supremacists plan to dump a poison into the water system that only kills black people. The plot was made fun of in Black Dynamite. Jim Brown was the lead actor in the movie with Kelly in a more of a supporting role as the one in the group who knows kung fu. He does have an impressive scene where he beats the crap out of a lot of cops.

Kelly starred in several more films in the 1970’s including a sequel to Black Belt Jones called Hot Potato. He pretty much quit acting in the 1980’s and eventually became a tennis coach. But he, in his own words “I broke down the color barrier. I was the first black martial artist to become a movie star.”

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Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka spends most of his life watching movies and reading comic books, using his vast knowledge of genre culture for evil instead of good.