For several years now, MGM has had a solid money maker with their Soul Cinema label – a collection of blaxploitation classics from their vaults that includes Black Caesar, Foxy Brown, Cooley High, and Blacula. It was only a matter of time before other studios started snooping around their catalogs to see what titles they could release. Which leads us to a triple play of titles from Universal, released under the oh-so-original moniker of Soul Showcase. Poorly packaged, these three titles – Willie Dynamite, Trick Baby, and That Man Bolt– are an obvious attempt by Universal to make a quick buck. And that's fine with me, because at the very least it's nice to have these titles out on DVD, rather than having to repeatedly watch the worn-out bootleg videos I bought on 125th Street in Harlem nearly a decade ago.
Now, if other companies would catch a clue from MGM and Universal, maybe we could finally get to see some of the more classics films that have yet to be released on DVD. Warner Brothers could release Black Belt Jones, Three the Hard Way, Brothersand the other titles their sitting on. Fox could put out Together Brothersand clear up the music rights and release Trouble Man. MGM could get their shit together and release the forgotten classic Melinda, as well as Cool Breeze, Hit Manand the other titles they don't seem to know they have. And while I know it will never happen, it would be nice if Paramount released The Legend of Nigger Charley and The Soul of Nigger Charley, Fred Williamson's infamous westerns. But I don't see any of that happening any time soon, so we'll just have to make do with what we've got – and at least we've got Willie Dynamite.
If there were ever a blaxploitation movie that could be mistaken for a Greek tragedy, it would have to be Willie Dynamite– an epic tale of the rise and fall of a super-pimp. Roscoe Orman stars as Willie Dynamite, a cold-blooded pimp who runs a stable of fine ho's out of a New York City hotel. The number one pimp in the city, Willie is on top of the world with a closet full of superfly clothes, a ton of cash, mountains of cocaine and an assembly line of bitches that turn tricks as if their lives depended on it. The problem is Willie's little empire is starting to crumble around him. The cops continuously hassle him by busting his broads and towing his car, other pimps keep trying to move in on his territory, and social worker Cora Williams (Diana Sands) is bent on getting his finest ho (Joyce Walker) off the street and rehabilitated. All of these factors begin converging, leading to what will eventually be Willie's downfall.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: There were a lot of films made during the blaxploitation era, but only a few of them are classics. Willie Dynamite is a classic. On one hand it is perhaps the most realistic portrayal of the pimp-ho relationship, showing the mental manipulation that allows a pimp to keep his bitches in check. On the other hand the film is like a surreal fairy tale — an urban fable that uses twisted irony, dark comedy and street brutality to tell its story. It's almost like a Ralph Bakshi cartoon come to life. The outrageous costumes worn by Willie only add to the surreal feeling the film has and help to lighten what is ultimately a dark and disturbing film. The difference between this film and The Mack is that The Mack has at its foundation a political message. But there ain't no politics involved in Willie Dynamite. Willie ain't out to make the neighborhood a better, safer place by sharing his ill-gotten gains with the community. Willie is simply out to get rich sellin' poontang.
The weakest part of the film (other than the really annoying soundtrack) is the frequently flat direction by Gilbert Moses III that gives the film a made-for-television feel. But Moses' lack of creative flair is more than compensated for by the standout performances of the cast, led by Roscoe Orman who is excellent as the ruthless, self-centered pimp. Orman is best known for his role as Gordon on Sesame Street (how can you not love a movie that stars Gordon from Sesame Street as a ruthless pimp?). The late great Diana Sands is also very good as the tough-yet-sensitive social worker who is all too familiar with life on the streets. Sands died of cancer shortly before Willie Dynamite opened. The supporting cast includes Thalmus Rasulala as Sands' boyfriend, Albert Hall and the ever-evil whitey George Murdoch as a pair of hardboiled cops and Roger Robinson as Bell the pimp. Robinson's performance is the highpoint of the film —imagine if Liberace were a pimp.