Don’t get me wrong. I love the works of Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch, but, I must admit, there’s a wide niche in my movie comedy world for severe lowbrow humor. Thus, when the title hero of this Seventies blaxploitation pic tells the audience, “Dolemite’s my name, and fucking up muthafuckas is my game!” I can’t help collapsing on the floor in spasms of laughter. And that’s just a mild sample of what to expect from DOLEMITE, starring comedian Rudy Ray Moore and now, spectacularly, on Blu-Ray from the folks at the ominously named Vinegar Syndrome.
The movie embraces a Blaxploitation 101 basic plot: Dolemite, a revered pimp, is framed by his competition (in cahoots with corrupt white cops), and sent to jail on an illegal arms/drugs rap.
From there, star/cowriter Moore, along with actor/director D’Urville Martin (who portrays Dolemite’s arch nemesis, the evil Willie Green), take the tried-and-true narrative and run helter-skelter through the hood with it.
As one might expect, DOLEMITE plays like a blue party comedy album, so those faint-hearted beware. Indeed, every other word is “muthafucka,” which pretty much mirrors my current verbal lifestyle (so I’m okay with that). If one is familiar with the DOLEMITE-inspired Shaftman records (and, if you’re not, you should be), you have a pretty good idea where this movie is headed.
The cool thing about DOLEMITE is that he’s Airplane-ing a genre a half decade before Airplane – back when Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers were still asking their mamas for movie money. Audiences got it (well, anyone who knew Moore’s work, his brown-paper wrapper LPs, standup appearances, etc.) while the few critics who dared review it didn’t. They chided the movie as being so inept that it was more funny than exciting. Duh! Unless they meant Moore funny than…oh, who am I kidding (you’d think that maybe the Comedian International Enterprise credit would be a tipoff?).
I mean, come on, Richard Roundtree and Fred Williamson were…how can we say it?..in shape. Dolemite is a middle-aged, pot-bellied potty-mouthed-talkin’ mo-fo, who, nevertheless is the dude all women desire and all men fear. In truth, his ungainliness is hilarious (I always thought that The Office‘s Craig Robinson would be perfect for a Son of Dolemite sequel). Dolemite’s lethal dose of revenge isn’t merely physical. The corkers come during the pic’s many jarring jump cuts to extreme close-ups of Moore doing a rapid-fire tirade of every epithet you can think of directly to the camera.
The plot twists (if you wanna call it that) are unbelievable, even for a blaxploitation opus. The comb-over-coiffed warden offers our protagonist a full pardon to clean up the drugs and violence that have plagued the community since his incarceration. “You could lose your life…but you know how to roll.”
But honeycombed within this nefarious nest of ghetto gonifs are Dolemite’s allies, primarily Queen Bee (Lady Reed), who has been watching over the pimp’s ho’s while he’s been in the hoosegow. Actually, she’s done much more than that; not missing a (box-office) trick, she’s sent the tricks to martial arts karate school. Now they can protect themselves against shady johns (as demonstrated in one of several riotous flashbacks, where a formerly abused nubile lass has a “Gimme the money, bitch!” moment with a shiftless customer before drop-kicking him out of frame to the joyous sound of off-screen Looney Tune sound effects).
Of course, Martin and Moore (as well as coscripter Jerry Jones, who also appears as the understanding detective who sides with Dolemite against the WASPy untidy whitey cops) are well acquainted with the big gun theory (you know, early-on revealing a formidable weapon which you better goddamnit end up utilizing); in other words, you don’t drop a bombshell like kung-fu hookers unless you intend to use them for a slam-bang multiple girl groin-kickin’ finale.
Dolemite, we should mention, is not only a pimp, a lover and a fighter – he’s also Dolemite, the legendary comedian. Ho’s notwithlaying, Dolemite’s pride and joy is his Total Experience nitery (which he has to retrieve from Willie, who stole it while the “playa” was in jail), where he performs during the cleverly christened Dolemite Show. Ergo, there’s a full-stop lengthy segment, where gnarly-looking locals confront the recently released mack, questioning his identity. Moore responds with a half-reel tone poem that offers his take on the sinking of the Titanic. I swear, you can’t make this stuff up (ideally, it’s the scenario that, in a perfect world, James Cameron would have followed). Moore later does another monologue-in-verse on jungle life that has to be heard to be believed.
Among the plethora of outrageous supporting characters are a slimy Reverend (West Gale), who divides his time by dealing illegal guns and ramming the word of God into his PHAT parishioners (“How are we supposed to better ourselves if we can’t trust the Watergate muthafuckas?”). There are the dumb white cops supplanted by even dumber white hoods (Dolemite makes a bigoted thug “dance” by updating the “shooting at the feet” B-western routine with an assault rifle). BTW, I relish the fact that the greedy scumbag politician (Hy Pike) is named Mayor Daley.
My favorite ancillary character is Creeper (Vainus Rackstraw), Moore’s homage to Popeye’s Wimpy (or Pimpy, as he’s additionally referred to as Hamburger Pimp), a coked-out informant who haunts the nabe lunch wagon until the curvy proprietress tosses food at him just to get the fool off the premises. Creeper is so stoned that he makes Cheech and Chong look like founding members of the Victorian Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and barely flinches when Dolemite goes off on him like Stuart Gordon’s rendition of Moe Howard. This results in my number-one choice line in the picture, as an unfazed Creeper tells Moore he can’t be intimidated: “I’m so bad, I kick my own ass twice a day!”
All of it ends up violently and musically at a sold-out Total Experience re-opening revue laden with dancers, prancers and vixens, thus living up to the club’s moniker.
Natch, DOLEMITE isn’t for everyone’s taste. You have to have a soft spot for 1970s cinema, blaxploitation and, without question, Rudy Ray Moore. I must confess that, days after I first screened it, I was still snickering at some of the bits and situations (especially when a newly freed Dolemite goes ballistic over a ho’-gifted shirt: “I don’t wear no fucking cotton!”).
The look and sound of DOLEMITE, for better or ill, is pure 1970s. You can practically smell the sweat-stained polyester grafted to the cast members. That said, it’s also part of the fun of the…total experience.
There has been a barrage of unfairly-hurled criticisms about the lousy haphazard photography of DOLEMITE. This is due to the obvious presence of boom-mikes – so ubiquitous throughout that they probably qualify for SAG cards. Admittedly, the picture was shot fairly cheaply, filmed on a shoestring by people wearing loafers (a prime investor being Moore himself); in essence, it makes the Pam Grier AIP movies look like David Lean productions. However, the boom-mike travesty, which has ironically become one of modern viewers’ favorite DOLEMITE attributes, was not the result of crummy camerawork, but rather crummy presentation via four decades of miserable VHS and TV prints. DOLEMITE was shot for grindhouse/drive-in distribution with the proviso that it be shown with a widescreen 1.85 matte. Since the sleazy companies who held the home video/television rights had no intention of mastering a separate widescreen transfer (in the pre-letterbox no integrity days), they simply sent out full frame 1.33 copies, sans the top and bottom black borders.
As the boom-mike editions have become part of the DOLEMITE legend (even if incorrectly so), Vinegar Syndrome has included both version in this two-disc Blu-Ray/DVD package. The crazy thing is that for a lousy-looking Seventies movie, DOLEMITE (apart from occasional out-of-focus and dark available-light shots) doesn’t really look that terrible (at least on this Blu-Ray). Colors pop, and the images are generally sharp. And why wouldn’t they – when your d.p. is named Nicholas Josef von Sternberg (and, yeah, that’s no hype; he IS the son of the iconic director of Underworld, The Blue Angel and the subsequent Marlene Dietrich exotic classics)? The music is terrific (even if the dubbing/lip-synching isn’t), with wacky lyrics and jamming riffs highlighting the score by Arthur Wright. Plus (likely) bootlegged Warner Bros. gunshots (lots of those).
Vinegar Syndrome knows a winner when they smell it, and have buffed up this dual platter set with a treasure trove of extras, including featurettes, audio commentary by Moore historian Mark Jason Murray and a pair of rude Rudy trailers: DOLEMITE and The Human Tornado. The former in and of itself is a justifiably celebrated coming attraction, a mini-showcase for the comedian (“From the first to the last, I give them the blast so fast that their life is past before their ass has even hit the grass!”). One can only hope that other Moore titles are on-deck for similar Blu-Ray/Vinegar Syndrome treatments, including the Exorcist-tinged Petey Wheatstraw and even the disappointing (albeit rollicking) Disco Godfather, arguably the decade’s supreme exploitative title.
DOLEMITE. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 HD-DTS MA. Vinegar Syndrome. CAT # VS-113. SRP: $29.98.