Melinda (1972)

Rated R

Starring: Calvin Lockhart, Vonetta McGee, Rosalind Carter and Rockne Tarkington

Rated: R Action, Crime, Drama

Set in Los Angeles, Melinda is primarily about Frankie J. Parker (Calvin Lockhart), a handsome, charismatic and popular disc jockey.  A confirmed bachelor and karate enthusiast, he is active in the Black community, even taking lessons at the local dojo of his good friend, Charles Atkins (Jim Kelly). 

One evening, he visits the nightclub of his friend, Tank Robertson (Rockne Tarkington), a former professional football player.  While there, he meets and becomes enchanted with Melinda (Vonetta McGee), a mysterious woman.  Though he dates Terry Davis (Rosalind Cash), a woman who wants to be in a committed relationship with him, he instantly falls for Melinda.  Soon after meeting him, she informs him that she sees beyond his playboy façade and appreciates the true essence of him.  Her belief in him further endears her to him and he develops serious feelings for her.

However, tragedy strikes, prompting Frankie to go on the defense.  While in hiding, he begins investigating who wants him dead and why … learning that all is not what, or who, they seem!

Melinda, which opened in the summer of 1972, gained its own unique fan following because its plotline, editing and acting were more developed than many films typical of the Blaxploitation era.  These “advantages” were made possible due to Hugh A. Robertson, who directed the film, and Lonnie Elder III, who wrote the screenplay.  Robertson’s editing on Midnight Cowboy (1969) earned him a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Award and an Academy Award nomination.  He edited Gordon Parks’ Shaft, which opened the year before Melinda was released. 

Melinda was the first “film noir” drama that Lonnie Elder III scripted.  In 1969, Elder III won a Drama Desk Award and a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his groundbreaking play, Ceremonies in Dark Old Men (1969).  At the time of his win, he was also the director of the Negro Ensemble Company.  In 1970, Elder was commissioned to create the screenplay for the novel, Sounder.  Authored by William H. Armstrong and published in 1969, the novel was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1970.  His writing experience on stage and in film led him to be nominated for an Academy Award the year after Melinda was released.  In 1973, Lonnie Elder III and Suzanne de Passe became the first African-Americans nominated for “Best Adapted Screenplay” for their adaptation of Sounder.

Another first is that Melinda marked the debut of African-American martial arts expert, Jim Kelly.