Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Willie Dynamite (1974, Gilbert Moses)

In some ways, when the big studios took over Blaxploitation, some awful stuff came out. Fortunately, Universal Pictures' Willie Dynamite is not one of those cases. The film starts out looking like a rip-off of The Mack, with Willie Dynamite out to be the #1 hustler, but then things change.

The movie has a number of Blaxploitation's great stars like Thalmus Rasulala (Friday Foster), Robert DoQui (Coffy), and Juanita Brown (Foxy Brown). Additionally, we have Diana Sands (Raisin in the Sun) as Cora, a social worker out to protect the prostitutes. Oddest of all is star Roscoe Orman as the titular Willie Dynamite, whom many of us remember as Gordon from "Sesame Street".

I was worried about this one at first. I am not a fan of the pimp-hero Blaxploitation titles, in general. While there are some positive story elements in many of them, they do, primarily, aggrandize a vile way of life. We go through all the pimp-hero preliminaries, but pretty soon we realize that there is a conspiracy against Willie that he will not be able to overcome. The cops put increasing pressure on him. This makes him look weak to his peers, who begin to take advantage of him. Ultimately, Willie is a broken man with nothing left. Just when it is time for Cora to drop the hammer and finish him off, she doesn't. Why?

Cora led a similar life, not fully described, to the girls in Willie's stable. This led her to fight to protect them, but she also knows (through subtext) that if Willie is not reformed there will just be more girls to save tomorrow. Instead of finishing him off, she wants to turn him. It sounds a lot like "don't hate the player, hate the game", and in many ways it is, but where the contemporary phrase means not blaming an criminal for doing what he has to do, Cora's behavior is based in compassion. And compassion is more likely to win converts to your way of thinking.

I must say, this is really one of the best Blaxploitation films. It has all the classic elements to please viewers. There is action, gunplay, car chases, and easily the most outrageous pimp-attire I have ever seen. The acting here is much better than we are used to. Sure, there are some poor-seeming performances, and some over-done dialogue, but I almost wonder if this was not intentional? It is more like an AIP film than even some AIP films... I seriously think this is a parody/morality play. It may actually be the first Black Dynamite, except there is not unquestioning praise for the genre. It is a subversive film that draws you in with the promise of a pimp-hero, and leaves you with a story about being a better person.

You can see this on YouTube, in remarkably good quality here.

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