Thursday, September 23, 2021

That Man Bolt!

That Man Bolt!, by Peter Crowcroft
May, 1974  Pocket Books

To be filed under “They did a novelization of that?,” That Man Bolt! is a tie-in for the Blaxploitation flick starring Fred Williamson. To be honest, I’ve never seen the film, but the novel does a good job of conveying the story, which was obviously an attempt at a “black Bond.” The movie poster’s tagline even spelled it out for those who didn’t get it: “He’s been bonded!” 

Hero Jefferson Lincoln Bolt is clearly intended as a black James Bond for the ‘70s: he’s a globetrotting, ruggedly virile man of international mystery who wears the best clothes, drives the best cars, and beds the best babes. Given this, author Peter Crowcroft might’ve been just the man for this tie-in, with a somewhat stuffy, more “literary” prose style than, say, the Coffy tie-in. But then, Coffy was an urban thriller (an incredibly sleazy one in the tie-in, too). That Man Bolt! is more of a budget Bond affair, complete with kung-fu fights, scuba diving, and the obligatory locale-jumping. But within moments of starting the novel my Britdar was going off; this was certainly the work of a British author. That somewhat fussy and overwritten approach to pulp, as if written by an author who frowns at such such things. 

Unlike Bond, Jefferson Bolt is a courier, and he must make a good living at it, as his prime residence is a sweeping bachelor pad in Hong Kong, with other places around the world. He’s a kung-fu master, the baddest of bad-asses, and super-smart to boot. In other words, he’s way too idealized, which might be fine in the film, with Fred Williamson carrying it, but in the novel it comes off as tiresome. Bolt’s always a few steps ahead of his enemies, never fazed, and his fate is never in doubt. Crowcroft attempts to make Bolt more relatable by occasionally filling us in on his hardscrabble background…but then he goes and makes Bolt even more superheroic in the explicit sex scenes. But more on those anon. 

When we meet him Bolt’s in his stomping grounds of Hong Kong, where he’s just gotten out of jail. He soon learns he was put there on trumped-up charges courtesy Griffiths, who appears to be with British intelligence. Griffiths wants Bolt to handle a courier job in which Bolt will transfer a briefcase with one million dollars in it; three previous couriers have handled the job, and all are now dead. I’ll be completely up front with you all now and admit I couldn’t figure out what the hell the plot was about. But basically it just entails Bolt cuffing the briefcase to his wrist and venturing around the globe, waltzing unscathed out of various attempts on his life while still finding the time to bed a few babes. Oh and at one point he hides the briefcase, otherwise it would be a bit of a nuissance during all the babe-bedding. Anyway, Bolt chaffes at Griffith’s pressuring him, but ends up taking the job for the “high adventure” of it all. 

First Bolt heads to Los Angeles, where he promptly gets in a car chase. The passage in LA is so brief and narratively unimportant that I figured it was only there because the filmmakers had to shoot one scene in Los Angeles. After this Bolt heads to Las Vegas, where he has some contacts in the casino biz verify if the bills he’s carrying are legit. More importantly Bolt cozies up with old flame Samantha, a sexy lounge singer. Here’s where the novel definitely veers from the film, as surely the ensuing sex scene wasn’t this graphic. But curiously Crowcroft focuses more on Bolt and his body than on exploiting Samantha, particularly Bolt’s “thick, ten-inch manhood,” a phrase that is repeated a few times in the novel. But never more memorably than in its first appearance: “[Bolt’s] thick, ten-inch manhood always devastated Sam’s beautiful body on first impact.” 

You don’t need a degree in ‘70s crime to figure out what happens to Samantha next, especially when she’s soon thinking to herself how much she loves Bolt, and how she wants to go off with him and whatnot. Sure enough, an assassin wielding a Luger slips into the room and blows her head off! Crowcroft tries to use Sam’s murder to further humanize Bolt, with him occasionally thinking of her loss and etc. At any rate soon afterward Bolt’s back in Hong Kong, which makes you wonder why he left in the first place. Again, it’s no doubt because the producers wanted to mimic the Bond formula with locations all over the world; it’s a wonder there wasn’t a part where Bolt went to a ski resort so he could tangle with some enemies on the snowswept mountains. 

Bolt at one point is actually caught, where he’s strapped down and subjected to acupuncture, an “old Chinese torture.” He manages to escape, of course, leading to a fight with several thugs. Here Crowcroft shows that he can’t be bothered with writing an action scene, leaving it as, “It was an intense fight, while it lasted.” At this point my Britdar was going haywire. But at least Crowcroft is more descriptive in the sexual interludes, and one follows soon after: Bolt heads into Wanchai, a “salubrious district,” where he gets busy with Mai Lo Fong, a masseuse who speaks in ‘70s-mandatory pidgin English. Bolt whips out that “thick, ten-inch manhood” again; indeed, “Mai Lo was not sure it was within her natural capacity to take it.” Again Crowcroft focuses more on Bolt than the girl, but this scene has a strange bent to it, given Mai Lo’s employment of the mythical “Butterfly Kiss,” which has her body playing host to Sam’s ghost – so it is Sam who is riding Bolt, not Mai Lo. One last boink from beyond the grave, as it were. 

Ultimately the plot centers around Yun Soo-Chin, the “Howard Hughes” of Hong Kong, a wealthy old man who seems to be behind the various attempts on Bolt’s life. Even here Bolt finds the opportunity for some bed action, courtesy Dominque Kuan, Yun’s ultra-sexy Eurasian mistress. But Bolt is a bit of a prick; after his bout with Dominique, he scrawls a secret message for Yun on the girl’s nude rear end, mindless of how the notoriously-jealous Yun might react when he discovers Dominque’s whoredom. Not that the girl really minds, as from here on out Dominique is the closest thing to a main female character the novel offers. 

There’s also some stuff about an island off the coast which produces the best assassins in the world, kung-fu masters all, and wouldn’t you know it but Bolt himself is the best student the school’s ever produced! An assassin named Spider is given the task of killing Bolt, but any attempt at tension is immediately scuttled because we’ve already been told – by no less than the island’s top instructor himself – that Bolt is a better fighter. Ultimately this will lead to a climactic kung-fu fight between Bolt and Spider at novel’s end. We also have more sub-Bond stuff like Bolt scuba-diving onto one of Yun’s ships, and leading a big assault on his HQ at story’s end. 

Crowcroft seems invested in the tale, and no doubt puts more effort into the writing than is warranted. But at the same time his fussy, precise prose style makes the novel seem twice its length. (Insert your own “thick, ten inches” joke here.) Otherwise given that I’ve never seen the film, I can’t say whether Crowcroft’s novelization of That Man Bolt! offers anything different from the film; it could wildly diverge from the movie itself, but I have no idea. Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to actually watching the movie to find out.


Johny Malone said...

Robert Deis (aka "SubtropicBob") said...

Good review. Does anyone know who the cover artist was?

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, guys! Johny, I'll try to check out the movie soon, thanks for the link. Bob, I broke out my magnifier to try to figure out the tiny author signature at the bottom of the cover; I can't make out the first name, but the last name appears to be "Soliz."

Robert Deis (aka "SubtropicBob") said...

Thanks, Joe. That's a new name to me.

-Alan D Hopewell said...

I have the film on DVD, and the novel seems to be making an attempt to follow it, although the movie certainly doesn't have the novel's fascination with Mr. Bolt's pipeage.
Never read the book, but I definitely get the sense that the movie is better, particularly for dabs of Blaxploitation, and Fred Williamson.

-Alan D Hopewell said...