Bite Size: Lola Colt (1967)

Multi-hypenate Lola Falana worked her way up from small club engagements and chorus lines with the sort of dogged determination one would expect from a woman headstrong enough to drop out of high school and move to New York on the slim chance of an entertainment career. A chance Atlantic City meeting with Sammy Davis Jr. led to a long term personal and professional relationship, a featured role in 1964 Broadway hit Golden Boy and a 1965 record deal over at Mercury Records.

The single was only a modest success, but her popularity in the London production of Golden Boy, her European gigs as a nightclub performer and some well received appearances on Italian television helped cement her rising star status overseas. Though 1967’s Lola Colt was only Falana’s third film role (after supporting parts in Sammy Davis Jr. vehicle A Man Called Adam and the somewhat slight Italian musical Quando dico che ti amo), she was given top billing on the movie.

The plot of the film is the sort of cookie cutter oater pumped out by Poverty Row studios throughout the 30s and 40s. Lola Gate (Lola Falana) and her troupe of traveling showgirls are forced to stop in the tiny border town of Santa Ana when one of the performers falls ill. The ladies make a residency as the entertainment at the local saloon while their friend recovers. In between performances, Lola finds herself caught up in both a budding romance with med student Rod (Peter Martell), and the townspeople’s battle with a robber baron nicknamed “El Diablo” (Germán Cobos).

At first retrospective glance, a western with a side of musical numbers seems an odd choice of star vehicle for a Black American singer/dancer/actress. However, the spaghetti western trend was at its peak in 1967, and Lola Falana’s song and dance tours were a proven hit in Italy. It isn’t inconceivable that the producers thought they had a “two great tastes that taste great together” potential success on their hands.

It’s also a stark contrast to many of the other roles in Lola’s later feature film work (which speaks to the limitations of the scope of parts offered to Black actresses, particularly during this era) in that the plot doesn’t hinge on her race. When she’s greeted with a sneering “We don’t like your kind here” upon exiting her stage coach at the beginning of the film, the comment is in reference to the supposed loose morals of showfolk rather than the color of her skin. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this film progressive (a flashback to Lola’s childhood and the loss of her family is inexplicably cast with white actors, which is both incredibly lazy and incredibly telling), but it is a notable departure from the dominant modes of the period.


In any case, Lola Falana’s charisma sparkles in Lola Colt, making it readily apparent why she later became a much larger star. The character of Lola Gate brightens up the rather humdrum proceedings whenever she appears. She looks impossibly lovely throughout, be it in her Barbarella at Ye Old Tyme Saloon stage gear or well fringed Western kitsch and a snow white cowgirl hat. The musical numbers, while blithely anachronistic and a bit bare bones in term of production value, are a high energy showcase for her considerable talent as both a dancer and a singer. Her acting doesn’t look goofy even in the face of a truly execrable English dub. There’s a capable, cheerful athleticism to her single action oriented scene.

Unfortunately, despite her billing, Lola Falana isn’t on screen all that much. The bulk of the 79 minute runtime is spent with the residents of Santa Ana, a pile of uninteresting stock types. It is Peter Martell’s square jawed cardboard cut out turn as Rod that gets the hero build up and music cues. This is made even more ridiculous by the fact that the bulk of his role in the film comprises of idle bickering in a procession of near identical drawing rooms. It’s Lola who formulates the perfectly workable plan of attack against “El Diablo”, and reveals that the mysterious hostage holding raider is less of a devil than he is a greedy schmuck named Larry. Despite singing, dancing and hatching the plan for the town’s liberation, Lola only gets to pick up a gun in the final 20 minutes of the flick. The firepower dispatches exactly one bad guy and a particularly pesky lock.

Lola Colt was not a hit, and the film didn’t receive a US release until 1976, when Falana had reached a much greater level of success stateside. The newly christened Black Tigress was a direct attempt to cash in on both Falana’s appearance in 1975 Blaxploitation effort Lady Cocoa and her groundbreaking status as the spokesmodel for Faberge’s Tigress perfume.

Given that Lola Colt is a very minor effort even on the scale of its spaghetti western counterparts, American audiences were doubly disappointed when the the promotional push attempted to position the film as an action packed Blaxploitation epic. A second, even more ridiculous retitling as Bad And Black failed to improve matters. Lola Colt dropped from the bottom of a double bill, and rode off into the sunset of obscurity.

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