O.K lets get the obvious out of the way first. As you can tell from the trailer for this film (below) the clothes are ridiculous. I mean simply LMAO bad. But we’re talking 1974 here folks and for you millennials out there born long after the film came out, the clothes that the lead character wears in the film (not to mention his tricked out car as well) were considered pretty cool at the that time. Outlandish, of course, but still cool.
Looking at it today, all you can do is cringe and struggle to remember, if you were around then, if you ever wore anything so awful. At least I think I didn’t.
But once again we’re returning to the Golden Age of Blaxploitation cinema, with the Universal film “Willie Dynamite” starring Roscoe Orman, who is better known for his many years as a regular on PBS’ “Sesame Street,” and directed by Gilbert Moses. It chronicles the rise and fall of a New York City pimp while facing enemies, namely a rival pimp and a pair of NYC cops who badly want to shut him down.
The film marked the feature film directing debut of director Moses (whose first wife was the acclaimed jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater), and who had established himself before the film came out as a Tony award nominated Broadway and off-Broadway director. After “Dynamite” he directed another feature before concentrating the rest of his career in television, directing episodes of shows and TV movies up until his death in 1995.
What’s even more interesting is that the film was produced by the dynamic duo of Richard Zanuck and David Brown, who were looking to cash in on the blaxplotation craze at the time. But the film came out just a year before Zanuck’s and Brown’s biggest hit – a little fish in water movie called “Jaws”, directed by some kid who had done a few TV shows, named Stephen Spielberg.
“Dynamite”, which came out the year after the more popular and better received pimp movie, “The Mack”, with Max Julian and a scene stealing Richard Pryor, was not a financial hit at the box office. Audiences were by then turning their backs on pimp movies, and “Dynamite” was seen as too cynical and downbeat a film. And though the trailer tries to sell it as an action film, there’s actually very little action in it, focusing instead on the drama and the internal conflicts about a guy who has it all, or so he thinks, until he loses it all.
Yet over the past decades, the film has gotten a sort of cult reputation as being one of the better and most overlooked blaxplotation films of the period, and worthy of reexamination (that is if you can get past the clothes). And it’s also noteworthy since the film marks the next to last big screen performance by the great actress Diana Sands, who died too young and too soon from cancer, the same year “Dynamite” came out.
Now the UK branch of the DVD label Arrow Films has released “Willie Dynamite” this weekend, in a stunning new high definition restoration blu-ray disc, with extra features including a new documentary about blaxploitaton movies and their importance titled “Kiss My Bad Asss” with Ice-T and Melvin van Peebles among the contributors.
However the blu-ray is a UK release – meaning that the disc is Region B and can’t be played in the U.S.; unless you own an all region blu-ray player. But since all of Arrow Films’ British releases eventually do come out in the U.S. through their American Arrow label, “Willie Dynamite” will be available in the U.S. soon as well. True, the film is dated and may be more laughable today to watch, but it still provides a truly fascinating time capsule into a period in black cinema that never fails to be less than interesting.
Watch a trailer for “Willie Dynamite” below: