Thursday, October 1, 2015

Willie Dynamite (1974)

          One of the slicker products from the original blaxploitation cycle, Willie Dynamite was produced by, of all people, David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck, who entered the stratosphere a year later with Jaws (1975). Boasting decent production values and a solid storyline, Willie Dynamite is a bit on the moralistic side, telling the story of a pimp who learns how to leave the skin trade behind. The movie also suffers from a weak leading performance, because Roscoe Orman—who soon found his niche on Sesame Street, playing the character “Gordon” for 40 years—is amateurish in this, his first big-screen role. Orman cuts a striking figure with his bald pate and lean build, but his swagger is only periodically convincing, so he’s overshadowed by costar Diana Sands, who plays a social worker who counsels prostitutes. (“Consider me a consumer protection agency,” Sands’ character says. “A kind of Ralph Nader for hookers.”) Happily, Willie Dynamite has just enough absurd dialogue, campy supporting characters, and outrageous pimp couture to keep things tasty.
          When the story begins, Willie (Orman) seems like a man in full. Arriving at a hotel with a funky pimpmobile, a fur-lined costume, and a parade of ladies following in his wake, Willie is introduced with his own theme song: “He’s operating to cop your mind—Willie D!” In the course of supplying a Shriners convention with women, Willie gets into a hassle with his newest prostitute, Pashen (Joyce Walker), a delicate young beauty unsure about selling her body for a living. Later, Willie has problems with fellow pimps who want to form a consortium, and with social worker Cora (Sands), who wants to put Willie out of business even though they strike romantic sparks. Willie also has troubles with his disapproving mother, and he gets arrested. In the movie’s funniest moment, cops making an inventory of Willie’s clothing say he’s wearing a “brown coat,” causing an affronted Willie to squeal, “Brown coat? This is lamb! I paid over a grand for it!”
          The machinations of the plot get dull after a while, especially since Orman’s performance lacks depth, but the film’s pungent elements sustain interest. Worth special note is Roger Robinson’s flamboyant performance as Bell, Wilie’s main competitor, because Robinson complements his stylized line readings with bug-eyed facial expressions, queeny hand gestures, and a sartorial approach distinguished by long fingernails. Plus, it’s hard to dislike a movie that not only features a motivational pimp speech with a patriotic theme (“You gotta make him feel like he’s ballin’ the Statue of Liberty!”), but also includes the bizarre trash-talk line, “I’d father rape a watermelon!”

Willie Dynamite: FUNKY


Hal said...

Diana Sands is fantastic here. While the material isn't nearly as good, Sands' performance is every bit as impressive as her work in THE LANDLORD. Left us way too soon (WILLIE DYNAMITE was released posthumously--Sands was only 39 when she died of cancer in 1973).

Booksteve said...

Amateurish or not, the SESAME STREET factor goes a long way toward making this entertaining to me. I met Roscoe once at a Mall show (or rather sneaking a cigarette out by the trash compactor so the kids couldn't see) and he was really cool.