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Willie Dynamite (1974)

May 24th, 2006 · 3 Comments

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Universal Pictures’ foray into the Blaxploitation genre stars Roscoe Orman as the title character, a Manhattan pimp whose ambition to shoot to the top of the game is gradually tempered by the efforts of a social worker (the late Diana Sands) and her D.A. boyfriend (Thalmus Rasulala).

Directed by Gilbert Moses, from a screen story by Ron Culter and Joe Keyes Jr. and a screenplay by Cutler, Willie Dynamite is like a hooker with a heart of gold. It has good intentions (Richard Zanuck and David Brown were actually the producers, many, many years before winning Oscars for Driving Miss Daisy) but it is still a mangy, banged up affair, a trifle when compared to its contemporaries.

The movie starts off reasonably savvy with Willie D.’s seven ladies of leisure parting a sea of Shriners massed at a hotel, employing capitalist savvy to get business as a Shriner gives a speech on free market enterprise in the background.

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But upon the entrance of Orman – who would later assay the role of Gordon on Sesame Street (man, is it weird seeing him strut around in a pimp costume!) – the movie is aimless. The filmmakers seem genuinely confused over whether Willie D. is the hero of the film, or a bad guy that Sands must take down. He’s never nasty enough to want to see fall a la Tony Montana, or evil enough to despise as a heavy. With a little more effort, the movie might have worked as a comedy.

Willie D. is repeatedly harassed by the cops (his Cadillac El Dorado is either towed or confiscated throughout the movie) to almost comic effect, but there are long stretches of dialogue where Sands tries to educate the prostitutes to the errors of their ways, like an afterschool special. There are some chases and shootouts about half way through the picture, but by then, I could have cared less what calamity befell Willie D.

The intention here seemed to be to chronicle the wayward ways of a street hustler and show why he chooses to give up the game and go straight, something Super Fly was much more adept at dealing with, without pages and pages of anti-pimp dialogue. There is much too much talking in the movie and very little atmosphere to vibe on. The soundtrack by J.J. Johnson is entirely forgettable.

Tags: Blaxploitation

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 vonda // May 7, 2007 at 5:19 am

    Is this Gordon from Sesame Street?

  • 2 David G // Aug 6, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    I think this review is too hard. I think that Willie Dynamite is right up there with Shaft and Superfly as the best this genre had to offer. I like the fact that Willie is not an anti hero or a straight up villian. He is just a pimp. Diana Sands gave a very moving performance becasue she is against what Willie is put she doesn’t want him to be destroyed either. Do only thing I did not like was the Pimp named Bell…he was a little over the top but that aside this is a very solid movie with real character development and a real story arc. Compared to The Mack Or Dolemite this movie is golden. Of all the movies that came out of the Blaxploitation era I think this one of that could actually be redone today with a more dramatic tone and be really good movie. Get over the fact that its Gordon from seasame street because he actually gives a good perfomance here.

  • 3 U.N. Owen // Apr 9, 2014 at 7:51 am

    Fair enough review.

    I DO think one thing which stands out – the thing which got to me MANY years ago, when this was on HBO late night – is the music – particularly the theme song, which is sung by Ms. Martha Reeves, of Motown group, Martha & The Vandellas.

    The soundtrack is by Mr. J.J.Johnson – an extremely talented jazz musician, who branched out into scoring & arranging in Hollywood (he did Starsky & Hutch, as well as the great theme – as well as the entire soundtrack – from Across 110th Street, w/ Mr..Bobby Womack.

    As I said, when I would sneak into the living room as a kid to watch this years ago, it was the music which grabbed me – and stayed.

    I now have the film as well as the (original) vinyl soundtrack (the digital versions as well, ‘natch), ‘cos I am a music aficionado.

    As you kindly mentioned the late Ms. Sands, if I’m not mistaken, I think this was her last project before she succumbed to cancer.

    Yes – Willie Dynamite might not be the best of the genre, but, the music IS great, and the story – which might’ve been better – is still one of the more memorable.

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