❉ We revisit Dolemite aka Rudy Ray Moore’s starring roles in classic Blaxploitation films, recently released on VOD – digitally remastered in HD by Xenon.
“I wasn’t saying dirty words just to say them… It was a form of art, sketches in which I developed ghetto characters who cursed. I don’t want to be referred to as a dirty old man, rather a ghetto expressionist.” – Rudy Ray Moore, Miami Herald interview, 1997.
Where to start with Rudy Ray Moore then? The stand-up comic/poet/recording artist/movie star/influence on hip-hop/producer is one of pop culture’s great “Oh that guy!” figures. If it is not the particular take on profane curses, practically inventing the cry of “Bitch are you fo’ real?” that has often been repeated and sampled in various records and films, then it could be his own spin on the particular image of pimping popularised in the 1970’s in various other blaxploitation films. His influence on hip-hop runs far and wide from footage from his movies being sampled and visually remixed in Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s video for Baby I Got Your Money to guest star appearances on albums by Snoop Dogg and Busta Rhymes.
But if there’s one thing that Moore will be remembered for it will probably be his work in the field of cinema. In the Blaxploitation genre he stood apart from the usual figures of private detectives, street rebels, gangsters and pimps. Through sheer volume alone he towered over everyone else. As Dolemite no one was safe from his acid banter, not even the weather which he could whip into shape just by shouting loudly at it. Even as Petey Wheatstraw, who is just Dolemite again but with a more mythical backstory, he manages to kick the ever-loving shit out of the actual Devil. Like a proper full on kick-in! Thankfully Xenon Pictures have released these films, beautifully remastered showing the sun-kissed ghettos, bordellos and comedy clubs where Moore loudly reigned, for a new generation to experience.
Moore was an underground hero in the late sixties and early seventies due to his party records. These were basically stand up albums recorded in his own house with his own friends as a captive audience supplying the laughter. However due to the racy nature of the records; from the covers, which often showed Moore in the nip getting ready to commit to the sacred act with many, many women (to see for yourself do an image search online, especially at work, you won’t get in trouble I swear) to the titles; “This Pussy Belongs To Me”, many record stores refused to carry them. It was in the liquor stores where Moore’s sales truly took off, often been carried out in a brown paper bag with whatever hooch you wanted to swig down. Moore’s foul mouthed, sexually voracious alter ego was first encountered on these records and with the money coming in, he funnelled it into making his first feature: Dolemite, the first in a sequence of films that simultaneously raised and lowered the bar for onscreen comedy, action and skewed social commentary.
Right from the off these films made up their own rules, whether due to a lack of professionalism and understanding behind and in front of the camera or simply not giving a shit and just having a good time. Luckily this cavalier attitude resulted in the cinematic equivalent of his records. A good time is had but be prepared to surrender any and all notions of political correctness, these are films of their time but even back when first released eyebrows must have been raised at the insanely high levels of sexism.
Released in 1975 Dolemite is the most straightforward of Moore’s films in terms of plot, as in they actually tried to put one in the script. Directed by Durville Martin, it details Dolemite’s plot to gain revenge on Willy Green, also played by Martin, the “rat soup eatin’ motherfucker!” who framed him for possession of stolen furs and narcotics. With the help of bordello madam Queen Bee, played by Lady Reed, Dolemite gets on the revenge kick as soon he steps out of jail, changing into his favourite threads immediately outside the prison gates with the help of his female employees (prostitutes, they’re all prostitutes) and then shoots the shit of Green’s flunkies after a failed hit. And then one of the prostitutes straight up cuts off a guy’s dick like it’s the most natural thing in the world! We are only 14 minutes into the first of these films and it just gets better and better from here on in.
Dolemite’s quest for revenge involves dismantling Willy Green’s drugs and guns operation that is tearing the old neighbourhood apart but the story takes a back seat thanks to the worst excesses of 1970’s low budget filmmaking; sloppy editing, stilted performances, pointless scenes. In most other films this would be considered a bad thing but Dolemite has this anything-goes attitude that makes those attributes charming in a goofy kind of way. Quite a feat when you consider that we are cheering on a man who basically subjugates and sells women. Such an aspect would be troubling if it were not for the film’s cartoonish nature. Absolutely nothing can be taken seriously here and no attempt is made otherwise. Especially in the performances. When Moore isn’t shouting or practically stopping the film halfway through to perform stand-up for a bunch of street corner drunks he looks half asleep. Especially in the karate fight scenes. Moore displays all the skill of an excited primary school kid who’s just seen his first episode of Kung-Fu. (Although when he is being filmed from behind his skills increase, as well as his height, hair length and muscles, it’s quite strange!)
Dolemite culminates in a fight scene that snaps the films thin attempts at reality in half where absolutely everyone, including a large barrage of extras who seem to have been waiting off camera for the opportunity, go to town on each other in a massive party brawl. It is in a word glorious and even more impressive when you see in the end credits that the one and only Chuck Norris Karate School is given special thanks for their help with the choreography.
The karate scenes just get wilder in the sequel The Human Tornado as does every other single thing. We are now experiencing the full force of Rudy Ray Moore, whether it is his dancing or his wardrobe, both of which gain serious exposure in the credits sequence alone, or his sex life which comes across like a hardcore Benny Hill with its speeded-up chase sequences. As sequels go it is only surpassed by The Godfather Part II. This is a very different film from its predecessor, looser in every way and with a lower looking budget that marks it out as a full-on grindhouse flick. A ton of stuff is thrown at the screen here; racist rednecks, the mob, a spooky witch, offscreen commentary and instant replays of a buck naked Dolemite rolling down a hill after being interrupted during coitus. Massive brawls are again the order of the day for the climax where man faces off against man, woman against woman and man versus woman with copious amounts of spanking and eye gouging but before that the audience has to endure the chunky Moore’s bedroom skills yet again, resulting in an outlandish sex scene that actually set the hotel room, where Moore was actually living at the time, on fire.
Sadly, the lower budget means that there isn’t as extensive a wardrobe for Dolemite here, although he wears his patchwork denim jumpsuit like a superhero costume. There is some serious padding to fill out the running time, club scenes including stand-up routines and sloppy dance sequences that must be seen to be believed are placed throughout further adding to the party record atmosphere of the film. These scenes may begin to test the viewers patience but as a visual time capsule, especially in these hi-def remasters, they are fascinating reminders of a bygone age. And just show fucking atrocious those dancers are at keeping in time with each other.
Petey Wheatstraw The Devil’s Son In Law is about… Petey Wheatstraw the Devil’s son in law. The most professional looking of the films but no less bizarre for it. Revivalist church interpretations of occult themes sit alongside the usual Los Angeles hangouts of clubs, motel parking lots, stores and alleyways. After a drive by shooting orchestrated by rival club owners claims Petey’s life Lucifer himself just happens to be walking by and strikes a deal with Petey to marry his daughter in exchange to gain revenge. However as soon as Petey gets a look at her he wants out of the deal. What follows is one of the most nonsensical and confusing looks at a deal with the devil yet seen whilst Moore does that weird thing of weird gesticulating with his hands and face before his double, not even trying to hide his face this time, carries out the rest of the amateur high kicks in the fight scenes that occur like clockwork.
Although this time there is only the one obligatory sex scene in a garishly decorated room it makes up for lost time on this front by having Petey enjoying his bachelor party with seven women simultaneously. Cue more speeded up footage of Moore chasing women around and cheeky looks to camera after he repeatedly goes down on them. Unbelievably this is not the films highlight. That would be when Petey takes a walk through the neighbourhood with a magical cane gifted to him by Lucifer. He struts through the streets, saving kids from being run over and settling marital disputes by turning cheating husbands into small puppies among other things. Jumping up and down, smiling and laughing like a loon only pausing to stop to brush some kid’s hair for no discernible reason and reducing him to tears this is Moore unleashed, the sequence demonstrates his physical presence and offbeat, raucous spirit perfectly.
Then we are left with Moore’s magnum opus; Disco Godfather. The most mental mash up of crime thriller and disco you will probably ever see. This is next level stuff which is perfectly illustrated by the greatest character introduction in cinema history.
Moore plays retired detective cum disco DJ Tucker Williams out to gain revenge (are you spotting a theme here?) against the evil pushers who are flooding the discotheques and streets with the heinous drug angel dust, or as Moore calls it “angel dus!”
The clothes, the dancing, the lacklustre kung-fu, it’s all here pushed to an excessive level that manages to push any semblance of sanity or sense in the storyline far off into the distance. Unbelievably this is the most serious of Moore’s films yet still the funniest. The stand-up scenes and near rap like monologues are vanquished. Innocent bystanders don’t even get insulted this time round! Instead people are instructed multiple times throughout the film to “PUT YO WEIGHT ON IT!” Moore shouts this out so often you can get actually get PTSD from it.
The film’s climax takes place in a warehouse where he has tracked down the dealer behind the influx of “angel dus!” Stinger Ray, played by Hawthorne James who also played the unfortunate first bus driver in Speed. It’s a strange ending to a strange film; complete strangers wander into the scene to offer their own kung-fu skills and then just abruptly vanish, then cross-cuts to a teenage angel dust afflicted junkie getting an exorcism. The time frame here gets quite elastic as we then have to deal with poor Tucker being forced to take angel dust, causing him to have visions of his satanic looking mother and aunt Betty, not that either of them have ever been mentioned before! This Reefer Madness level insanity concludes with Moore screaming straight into camera before a hard cut to the disco theme tune.
This was the last of Moore’s starring vehicles and it was a fittingly berserk curtain call, although he would make sporadic guest appearances in other films up until his death in 2008 aged 81. Xenon Pictures should be commended for presenting these films, as well as the rest of their extensive Blaxploitation catalogue for online audiences. Especially now more than ever as one of Moore’s own acolytes Eddie Murphy is playing the man himself in Dolemite Is My Name, a biopic for Netflix directed by Craig Brewer. Hopefully this too will give a spotlight to a figure who gone too far under the pop culture radar in recent years and drive them to his works not only on film. The attitudes may be outdated and questionable but they show how important and vital these truly alternative films were. There was nothing like them then and definitely never been anything like them, or him, ever since.
“Ladies and gentlemen thank you very much, I am what I am and I’m gonna be the very best of what I am and for those who don’t like me, confidentially I don’t give a damn. I’d like to thank you for lettin’ me be myself!” – Petey Wheatstraw, The Devil’s Son In Law.
❉ HD VOD releases of ‘Dolemite’, ‘The Human Tornado’, ‘Disco Godfather’ and ‘Petey Wheatstraw’ are available from Xenon Pictures at all VOD outlets – including Google, Amazon and ITunes.
❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.