Rudy Ray Moore was a African-American comedian and actor who got his start being an army entertainer in the ’50s while stationed in Germany. He first came to fame with his series of comedy records in the early ’60s and also a series of R&B singles on various labels. The records were to considered to racy to be displayed in record stores but through word of mouth in the black community, they became sleeper hits.
Moore’s most famous creation however is Dolemite who was basically the most badass motherfuckin’ pimp in the ghetto in the vein of Superfly or The Mack. The character was created after he heard stories of a guy called Dolemite. He soon incorporated these tales into his nightclub act and on his records in the early ’70s. Naturally he had a desire to make a film especially at the height of the blaxploitation craze that ran from 1970 to roughly 1977. Dolemite comes at 1975 where the genre had already to some extent fallen somewhat out of fashion.
The plot is the usual blaxploitation story of a badass pimp coming out of prison and with the help of the madam of a whorehouse Queen Bee (Lady Reed) they exact their revenge on Willie Green (D’Urville Martin) the man who framed him. Dolemite obviously is a sexist pig but Queen Bee is the only woman he treats as an equal. However the film is a deeply important note in the history of Black cinema because it was funded by Moore and he hired a black director and black screenwriter to bring his unique vision to the screen. This can’t be said for almost of the blaxploitation films we hail as classics today except for Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.
The film also incorporates elements of craze of Martial Arts films with Dolemite being skilled in Kung-Fu. Martial Art films were extremely popular in the Black community at the same time as Blaxploitation films and many of the films near its tail end incorporated scenes of martial arts. D’Urville Martin who stars as Willie Green was also the film’s director and was already a big star in the Blaxploitation circuit with roles in The Legend of Nigger Charley and Black Caesar amongst many others.
The film itself is a blast full of ridiculous humour, terrible acting pretty much across the board and amazing fight scenes. Rudy Ray Moore also rhymes almost everything single of his lines which is something he would do in all of this films. However the film’s highlight depending on the version you watch is the numerous boom mics seen through the film. The Vingear Syndrome disc has an option to watch either the film in widescreen or in a special alternate full frame ‘boom mic’ version where even crew is visible! The film costed around the $100,000 mark and the low productions values are on full show but the costumes, set design and music (composed by Rudy Ray Moore) are fantastic ’70s chic.
The film was huge smash making around $12,000,000 so naturally Rudy Ray Moore wanted to make a sequel. The resulting film was The Human Tornado which is in the small number of sequels which are better than the original. It costed around 5 times what the original costed but wasn’t quite as successful as Dolemite. Naturally the production values are slightly better.
The plot ends being even more outrageous this time Dolemite is having a party after a successful comedy tour which could be a thinly disguised reference to the success of the first film. However a group of redneck cops break up the party because they are black. However Dolemite is being paid for sexual favours by the sheriff’s wife and he catches them in the act, he shoots his wife but Dolemite escapes. Dolemite and his gang take over the car of a stereotypically gay man and drive all the way to L.A. He plans to see Queen Bee but the local mobster has forced her to pimp for him now. All this while the redneck sheriff is following them and wants Dolemite dead. Dolemite now needs to get his revenge on the mobster and fight off the racist sheriff.
If the boom-mics in Dolemite was inept filmmaking at it’s best. The Human Tornado has Ernie Hudson in a pre-Ghostbusters role however he was unavailable for some of the shoot so they got his brother to stand-in for him. However his brother looks nothing like him and he has a skull-cap on and there are many moments where he is in the forefront. The addition of Cliff Roquemore as director who has a bit more cinematic flair than D’Urville Martin gives the film is real boost. The resulting the film is funnier, smarter and better paced than the first with some jaw dropping lines and the slow-mo and kung-fu scene have to be seen to be believed.
Cliff Roquemore returns as director for the third film which isn’t a Dolemite film but the bizarre mix of Blaxploitation and horror that is Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil’s Son-In-Law. The first half of the film is a fairly standard Dolemite type film until Petey Wheatstraw (Rudy Ray Moore) is gunned down by his comedy rivals Leroy and Skillet’s henchmen because he is their competition on the circuit. This comes at his business partner’s brother’s funeral however Lou Cipher lets him comes back to life. However it’s on two conditions he must marry his butt ugly daughter and give him a grandson.
The rest of film is Petey trying to figure out anyway to get out of marrying the devil’s daughter and having fun with the devil’s own “Pimp Cane” which has magical powers. It’s perhaps the most outrageous of the films especially with the total narrative shift. It’s also probably the weakest trying to do something new after establishing a pretty successful style, they really shot themselves in the foot at least commercially. However it’s a fun bizarro film which one of the best creations of hell on-screen and couldn’t have not more than few bucks to create.
Vinegar Syndrome has put tons of love and care into these films which are films which were doomed to have dodgy DVDS for the rest of their shelf-life. All the films are restored in 2K from the original 35mm negative which you can’t say for some bona-fide “classics” from big studios. Naturally the film’s look as great as they can but never lose their gritty look. All the films included a short documentary on the individual film on the disc. All films include commentaries which all include Rudy Ray Moore’s biographer Mark Jason Murray but also various cast and crew including Cliff Roquemore. The Human Tornado includes the German dubbed version titled the inspired “Der Bastard”. The different discs include more featurettes including location visits with Rudy Ray Moore, stills galleries, trailers and more.