Stars: Roscoe Orman, Diana Sands, Thalmus Rasulala, Joyce Walker, Roger Robinson, George Murdock, Albert Hall, Norma Donaldson, Juanita Brown, Royce Wallace, Judith Brown | Written by Ron Cutler | Directed by Gilbert Moses
Blaxploitation movies have a strange place in movie history. Often nostalgically looked at as being cool and oozing in style, they also have an exploitative feel to them, hence the name. Willie Dynamite is a so-called Blaxploitation movie that looked to do something different, which in some regard puts it at conflict with itself…
Willie Dynamite (Roscoe Orman) is a pimp at the height of his success. Making money and having a successful group of ladies under his control he is living the dream. When crooked cops start to take down his empire and the other pimps start to steal his territory, is it time for him to change his ways?
When you think of good Blaxploitation movies you tend to picture black characters living an almost stereotypical lifestyle, and fighting against the system that pushes them down. These are predominantly white men who are again stereo-typically evil. It follows simple rules, and it works well. Willie Dynamite fits this well, but it also adds something new to the mix, and that is a social conscience.
Willie Dynamite is a strange character, because it feels like we should like him. The problem is of course, as much as he is charismatic, he is part of the exploitative system that trade on women’s sexuality to make profit. Throughout the film, I was waiting for him to show redemption, and to realise his wrongs, but the restrictions of the story never really allows that to happen.
What we have with Willie Dynamite is an extreme character, you just have to look at the clothes to see that. They are typical “pimp” clothes taken to a ridiculous level, but of course this is the point of wearing them. The character of Willie is one that has to work as nothing but a pimp, but one that could be saved.
This is where the film starts to bet at odds with itself. What we see is the effect of the lifestyle that Willie Dynamite forces on his women. We have the character of Cora (Diana Sands) who somewhat steals the movie through her attempts not only to bring down Dynamite but also to save the women from the business they are in.
The reason her character steals the film from Willie, is that she goes through more of a journey. She not only fights for the rights of the women under the control of pimps, but she also starts to empathise with Willie himself, and in some ways, fights to save him. This is where Willie Dynamite differs from most Blaxploitation movies.
In some ways, the film would have done better if it added more comedy and made fun of the genre that it wanted to be a part of. Willie Dynamite is a ridiculous character who is played way too serious. If anything though this is the restrictions of the writing and not Roscoe Orman’s performance. Willie is meant to be ‘cool’ not somebody with a conscience.
One highlight for me when watching the film is to see the street scenes. Filmed in busy parts of the city with onlookers standing around, it is easy to see people blatantly just stood there watching and laughing at the Willie Dynamite character. This shows not only a lot about how the film was made, but how outlandish the character’s dress sense is in the real world environment. It may not be important to the film as a whole, but for lovers of the film-making process it is still something that stands out.
Looking at Willie Dynamite it is somewhat of a missed opportunity, but one that is still entertaining. There aren’t many special features on the disc, but there is an entertaining documentary about Blaxploitation hosted by Ice-T. Looking at the positive side of Blaxploitation it is an interesting watch for fans of the movies.
While Willie Dynamite isn’t the best Blaxploitation, it is an interesting watch for film geeks and fans of the genre. Somewhat ahead of its time, it never really manages to hit its true potential which is does feel like a waste. It is interesting though to see a Blaxploitation movie that showed that beyond the cool exterior, even characters like Willie Dynamite can change their ways.
Willie Dynamite is out now on dual-format DVD and Blu-Ray from Arrow Video.