Willie Dynamite (1974) / Action-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for sexuality, violence, and drug use
Running Time: 102 min.
Cast: Roscoe Orman, Diana Sands, Thalmus Rasulala, Joyce Walker, Roger Robinson, George Murdock, Albert Hall, Richard Lawson (cameo)
Director: Gilbert Moses
Screenplay: Ron Cutler
Hopefully, kids traversing the cable channels won't stop on Willie Dynamite thinking that it's an episode of "Sesame Street", as the street Willie works isn't one they will want to know how to get to. The same year that this blaxploitation film about one mean pimp came out, star Roscoe Orman (F/X) began his long-running stint as Gordon on the aforementioned beloved PBS children's program.
Willie Dynamite is a flamboyant New York pimp who dreams of being #1 in the profession, with only the leader of his pimp syndicate, Bell (Robinson, Brother to Brother), standing in his way. It sure is hard out there being a pimp, as Willie must contend with tenacious cops, prostitutes who have constant court appearances, and a former hooker turned social worker named Cora (Sands, A Raisin in the Sun) trying to meddle in his affairs. Bell wants to consolidate the pimp operations, but Willie isn't having it, causing a rift between the two that isn't likely to end without a whole lot of pain one one of their sides.
Not the worst example of blaxtploitation cinema, but definitely one of the most stereotypical, WIllie Dynamite is little more than a cartoonish showcasing of the life of a big city pimp, complete with garish wardrobe, a supremely pimped-out car, and more than a few "bitch slaps" to keep his ladies in line. Drugs, murder, and extortion are thrown in the mix for good measure, constantly reminding us that, for all of the glitz and glamour that pimps ostentatiously display, it takes a tight control and a lot of cojones to keep on top of the pimp game. Willie eventually does get his comeuppance, which I suppose makes this a more moral treatment of the evils of the life of a hustler, but not without showing that you probably wouldn't want to get out of the business unless you have no real alternative.
Blaxploitation films generally pose a tough challenge for film critics, as the things that make them bad are also the things that make them enjoyable. It's fun to watch these actors over-emote in nearly every scene, with their pained expressions and silly strutting when dealing with their "bitches", followed by acting like bigshots and hardasses when out and about. One gets the sense from the reaction of the people on the streets, many of whom can be seen in the background staring or laughing at Willie, that his wardrobe and jewelry are far too outlandish even in the heart of New York City. One funny scene, perhaps an intentional one this time, shows Willie harassed physically and verbally by the cops, while they continuously violate his rights, and he exhibits the most outrage at their antics when they don't recognize that his coat is made out of genuine lambswool. He works so hard just to represent his image, as laughable as it may appear to outsiders, and he demands to be respected for his style above all else -- he is no cheap poser, dammit!
Willie Dynamite, for all of its decent action, drama and humor is marred by spotty acting and a storyline that too closely resembles other films in the genre that set the trend, most notably, Superfly and The Mack. Roscoe Orman definitely has the look, but little of the necessary toughness to make him truly intimidating, perhaps the reason why he eventually succeeded far better in family-oriented fare like "Sesame Street" for years. The worst performance (or the best, if you come in looking to laugh) comes from Roger Robinson's ultra-hammy turn as the gaudy pimp, Bell, who wears tight clothes and long fingernails, delivering every line as if in chronic pain whenever he has to speak something aloud. Not all the acting chops are bad, as Diana Sands, who died shortly before the film's release in a battle with cancer, has the grit and sass to make Cora a formidable feminist foil for the likes of a grand exploiter like Willie D.
By showing how the life of crime can surely crumble for those who seek to attain easy money and power, Willie Dynamite does manage to seem less counterculture than many of its brethren, which make it seem rather innocuous despite its status as an R-rated hustler flick. Unfortunately, the absurd proportions by which the pimp lifestyle is shown do undermine the seriousness throughout, and no matter how noble it pretends to be in the end, it does make a drug-dealing pimp seem like a rather interesting and exciting profession if one can keep his nose clean, so to speak. When talking about blaxploitation films, it doesn't really stand out, although those looking for a film that espouses everything you've come to be entertained by in terms of extreme pimp stereotypes, Willie Dynamite will give you more bang for your legitimately-earned buck.
©2007 Vince Leo