Director: Gilbert Moses
Script: Ron Cutler
Cast: Roscoe Orman, Diana Sands, Thalmos Rasulala, Joyce Wallze, Roger Robinson, George Murdock, Albert Hall
Running time: 107 minutes
Based on an original story by Ron Cutler and Joe Keyes Jr, Willie Dynamite tells the story of a flashy pimp of the same name who refuses to bow to pressure from his peer group of similar ‘waste of space’ pimps and join a federated group of pimps, if you like. Also on his case are the cops who want him and his stable of ‘top-tottie’ off the mean streets of New York, and a tough-talking social worker, Cora, who used to be a street girl and therefore has a lot of drive and determination to stop other young women from being similarly exploited.
It’s not long before this arrogant and egotistical pimp is having all his girls targeted by the police and himself put in harm’s way by his competitors, who seem, at least for now, to have a better relationship with the authorities. Can Willie keep hold of his personalised purple and gold Cadillac, his girls and his business or will he succumb to external pressures?
Willie Dynamite stands as one of the better Blaxploitation films I’ve seen over the years as, unlike many of its fellow stablemates, Willie Dynamite has a good deal of soul, and I’m not talking about the soundtrack, although that is very cool. The relationships on show here, between the pimp and his girls, and, in particular, between him and the social worker, are a lot deeper than in other similar films, and the dialogue, although often overly hip, still rings with authenticity, particularly during the more emotional scenes. And there’s a proper character arc in the case of the amoral Willie D, which is quite unusual for Blaxploitation films of this period.
And talking of this period, between 1970 and 1975 there were over 200 Blaxploitation pictures made in the USA, many of which are now, justifiably quite obscure. But the likes of Willie Dynamite should stand shoulder to shoulder with other more significant Blaxploitation films, including the likes of Truck Turner, Shaft, and SuperFly.
Even if you’re not a fan of these kinds of films Willie Dynamite is worth checking out for the excellent performances by the leads, especially Roscoe Orman (Willie) and Diana Sands (Cora) who have real screen presence and chemistry, and all their scenes together are riveting. Plus, as with most films of this genre, you need to tune in just to check out some of the outrageous 70s threads the characters are wearing – jaw droppingly kitsch, with furs and sparkles all over the place!
Award winning director Gilbert Moses does a good job of balancing the action with social commentary, and the score by J.J. Johnson is often very foot-tapping, and I especially enjoyed the title track, which is especially catchy.
In fact, there’s a lot of social commentary in Willie Dynamite, especially about gender politics and, as with many Blaxploitation films, the picture features some very strong female characters – it’s just a pity such strength in female characters didn’t translate into mainstream Hollywood on a regular basis later.
There’s also a fair amount of intentional and unintentional humour in the film, with some funny dialogue and hilarious posturing amongst the pimps themselves. One of my favourite exchanges of dialogue goes like this:
White cop to Willie D: ‘Watch it son!’
Willie D to white cop: ‘That’s slander!’
My only negative points about the film are that it features some pretty bad back projection during one car chase and some of the more minor roles pose rather than act, which is a shame. However, overall, it’s certainly worth a watch.
Arrow Video have done another great job with sourcing a good print and cleaning it up, since the picture quality is sharp and the sound clear, at least for the most part.
Arrow Video are distributing Willie Dynamite on DVD and Blu-ray. As per usual with Arrow Video there are some decent extras on the disc including:
Kiss my Baad Assss – a 25 min documentary that was originally screened as part of Channel 4’s Without Walls strand back in 1994. Hosted by Ice T, this features mini-interviews with a range of the movers and shakers from this subgenre of film including the likes of Richard Roundtree, Melvin van Peebles and Isaac Hayes. It also features some cool clips from some of the films talked about including: The Mack, Human Tornado, Shaft, Boss Nigger, Black Shampoo, Coffy and The Big Bird Cage. Willie Dynamite is most definitely worth taking a look at, although it’s pretty shallow stuff for the most part.
Trailer (2 mins) – a funky, eye-catching trailer.