VOD film review: Dolemite (1975)
Matthew Turner | On 19, Jan 2020Reading time: 3 mins
Director: D’Urville Martin
Cast: Rudy Ray Moore, D’Urville Martin, Jerry Jones, Lady Reed, Hy Pyke, Vainus Rackstraw, Wesley Gale, John Kerry, Cardella Di Milo
Watch Dolemite online in the UK: Amazon Prime / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
If you’ve seen Netflix’s Dolemite Is My Name, you’ll have some idea of what to expect from Rudy Ray Moore’s Blaxploitation crime comedy Dolemite, a low-budget, self-financed and self-distributed picture that became an unexpected hit among black audiences in 1975.
If you haven’t, then a little background information is probably necessary. The film’s producer and star, Rudy Ray Moore, was a stand-up comedian-slash-singer who released a number of records featuring profanity-laden rhyming poetry in the 1970s, later earning him the nickname “the Godfather of Rap”. The character of Dolemite – a super-cool pimp and nightclub owner who knows kung fu – was born in those records and Dolemite was Moore’s self-financed attempt to take his alter-ego to the big screen, regardless of the fact that he knew next to nothing about film-making.
The plot of Dolemite is ridiculously simple. As the film opens, Dolemite (Moore) is let out of prison (having been framed for a crime he didn’t commit), on the condition that he helps rid the streets of notorious drug dealer Willie Green (the film’s director, D’Urville Martin), who also happens to have stolen Dolemite’s club, The Total Experience.
Willie Green turns out to have an inexhaustible supply of goons, but fortunately, Dolemite has help. In addition to cool FBI agent Blakely (screenwriter Jerry Jones) and business partner-slash-madam Queen Bee (Lady Reed), Dolemite also has an army of kung-fu-trained sex workers at his disposal.
Inspired by the Blaxploitation movies at the time, Moore said that there were three things he wanted to see in Dolemite: nudity, comedy and kung fu. It’s fair to say that the film delivers all three, even if some of the comedy may be unintentional.
On that note, as Dolemite Is My Name lovingly points out, the film-making may be hilariously bad at times – shots that take ages because people are getting out of cars, fight scenes where none of the punches ever connect, props that show up in multiple scenes, the list is endless – but if you’re prepared to go with the flow, there’s something irresistible about both Dolemite the character and Moore himself.
For one thing, Moore proves a likeable presence with a gift for self-mythologising – not only does he bed multiple women (in a smart running joke he’s with a different woman in every scene), he also gets to deliver two of Dolemite’s best-known spoken rhyme routines, The Signifyin’ Monkey and Shine and the Great Titanic.
The film is also packed with great character moments – one particular highlight occurs early on, in a hilarious scene set just outside the prison gates, as Dolemite is met by three adoring Dolemite Girls on his release. On top of that, he has a decidedly unique way of delivering his lines, coupled with some inventive swearing that presumably drew cheers and applause in cinemas at the time.
Out of the supporting characters, Martin is a lot of fun as Willie Green, while Lady Reed proves a formidable presence as Queen Bee and West Gale delivers an outrageously over-the-top performance as Reverend Gibbs, a radical church leader who tips off Dolemite as to who framed him for murder.
Thanks to the good people at Vinegar Syndrome, the version of the film that’s currently on Amazon Prime has been cleaned up to the point where it looks surprisingly good, especially considering its micro-budget origins. It also features a terrific soundtrack, courtesy of composer Arthur G. Wright and Moore himself. Can you dig it?
Dolemite is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.