Review: Willie Dynamite
Blu-ray + DVD: Willie Dynamite (1974)
Resplendent in a wardrobe that Liberace would have turned down for being too ostentatious, Willie Dynamite struts the streets of New York with an attitude that’s bigger than his platform heels and his outlandish headwear combined. Pimping his working girls across the streets and business meetings of The Big Apple, Willie cares nothing for them as people, only that they get out there and earn their share of the money so that he can continue his lavish lifestyle. When Cora (ex-working girl, now turned social worker) makes it her mission to save one of Willie’s girls from a path of destruction, it becomes a pivotal point which just might lead Willie to find redemption from the lifestyle that his family, and ultimately himself, can no longer endure.
Willie Dynamite eschews some of the already established ‘blaxploitation‘ tropes of the time and cares little for nudity, despite the story involving selling sex, and also is light on the violence. Though on the few occasions when it does happen it has the appropriate shock value, even though the blood is less convincing than the bright red substance used in Dawn of the Dead. Outrageous costumes, ‘street speak’ (“do you dig?” makes numerous appearances in the script) and a purple and gold pimp car (which was also the pimp car in the previous years Magnum Force) complete with a leopard skin interior ensure that not all of the tropes are ignored.
Director Gilbert Moses does a capable enough job on his first feature and gives the story a solid grounding in its sleazy New York setting of the time. Roscoe Orman (also in his first feature) gives a fantastic performance as Willie Dynamite, showing enough sass and swagger at the beginning of the movie to ensure that you have no real empathy for his character, then projecting an arc of emotions and remorse that just ‘might’ have you thinking differently of him by the time the end credits roll. His character is made all that more bizarre if you have grown up watching Sesame Street as he has been ‘Gordon’ on it since 1974. Thankfully there has never been an episode where Gordon pimps out Big Bird and Elmo in the back alleys of Sesame Street.
It is the social worker Cora who is the crux of the movie, impassioned by her past life on the streets and fuelled with a desire to save as many girls from a similar experience, she is neither intimidated nor hesitant when faced with pimps such as Willie Dynamite. Played with warmth and compassion by Diana Sands, it is all the more tragic that she was ill during the filming of the movie and sadly passed away before it was released.
Willie Dynamite is recommended not just for fans of the blaxploitation genre, but also for everyone who loves a bit of social commentary and a tale of lost opportunities and redemption. There is also the added bonus of some amazing drinking games which I’d split into 3 sub-sections:
- The social drinker: Have a drink whenever “do you dig?” is said.
- The binge drinker: Have a drink whenever you see a costume that makes your jaw drop.
- Those with a death wish: Have a drink whenever Willie’s name is said. There is one particular 2 minute scene where Willie says his own name enough times that you won’t be able to pour the drinks fast enough!
Another great release from Arrow Films that is highly recommended to add to your collection.
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements by MGM
- Original 1.0 mono audio (uncompressed on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Kiss My Baad Asss, a guide to blaxploitation hosted by actor and musician Ice-T, and featuring interviews with Richard Roundtree, Melvin van Peebles, Isaac Hayes and others
- Theatrical trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film by Cullen Gallagher
Review by Dave (host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Arrow Films.