Dolemite (1975) – A Detailed Analysis

In this no-budget blaxploitation action/comedy, the titular jive-talking honky-hatin’ pimp is framed for crimes he didn’t commit, but probably would have committed anyway due to his constant criminal and antisocial behaviour. Two years later he’s released from prison to seek revenge on a rival pimp (and generally beat on Whitey) with the help of his army of kung fu hos.

Yeah, I know, that sounds like the most amazing exploitation film ever. And in the right hands, it could have been. But in the careless hands of star/producer Rudy Ray Moore (who stole the plot from a local homeless man), Dolemite is a film that’s awe-inspiring in its stupidity and disregard for basic film craft.

The tedious and overlong pre-credits sequence highlights most of the flaws afflicting this funkadelic flick. Dolemite is summoned from his prison cell to the white warden’s office. “Aww, shit! What the hell does that rat shit-eatin’ muthafuckah want wit’ me?” Doley asks eloquently. Get used to the word “motherfucker.” He uses it a lot.

The warden gives what is possibly the most drawn-out expositional speech in cinematic history, lasting almost 10 minutes! He even goes so far as to introduce Dolemite to his closest business “associate”: “You know Mama Queen Bee, I’m sure. You should be very proud of her. For damn near two years she’s been bugging me about your innocence. You know, the funny thing is, I’m starting to believe her…”

Wait, why would the warden need to introduce Dolemite to the woman who for years has managed his stable of prostitutes and white slaves? Yeah, I know the audience doesn’t know who she is or what her relationship to Dolemite is at this point, but there are literally THOUSANDS of ways of introducing her that aren’t nearly as heavy-handed! They could have hugged each other, shared a quiet smile or just about ANYTHING other than having the Warden say “Hey Dolemite, here’s your best friend and closest advisor. In case you forgot her name, it’s Queen Bee. She manages your whores. Before you got sent to jail you were a pimp.”

And the warden just drones on and ON AND ON! For almost ten minutes. The crux of the scene is that the warden found new evidence that suggests Dolemite may have been wrongfully convicted. What that evidence is, we’re never told. What the Warden wants Dolemite to do in order to prove his innocence, we’re never told. The filmmakers have no sense of storytelling. Or of criminal law. I didn’t know they let convicted criminals out of prison to prove their innocence!

It’s a scene that only needed to be two minutes long. Or less. And they dragged it on for TEN FREAKIN’ MINUTES!

The staging for this scene isn’t even remotely interesting. It’s the same bland, repetitive “sitting talking heads” set-up. The filmmakers add variety to this sequence with the occasional continuity error. One shot, Dolemite may be sitting. The next, he’s inexplicably standing. And rifling through the warden’s filing cabinet. After five minutes, even the actors start dozing off.

Behold, a genius editor at work!

And the acting is NON-EXISTENT! For these actors, their idea of good acting begins and ends with remembering their lines. And for some of them, even that’s a stretch. You’d think they could infuse a little emotion into this scene.

Behold the vivid rainbow that is Dolemite’s emotional range:

And how do you make an unnecessarily long scene even longer? You throw in a completely unnecessary flashback!

By now we’ve already been told at least five or six times that Dolemite was framed for “possession of stolen furs and a half a million dollars’ worth of narcotics”. Now we get to see it, playing out pretty much exactly as I imagined it (albeit with much worse acting).

Two pushy white cops (all white cops in this movie are evil) demand a looky-loo in the trunk of Doley’s Cadillac pimpmobile. They discover (to the surprise of no one, not even Dolemite) stolen furs and a half million dollars’ worth of narcotics. I have no idea how they determine that the furs are stolen. Or how they manage to get this evidence to hold up in court, especially when the search was conducted without either Dolemite’s consent or a search warrant.

Doley’s defence: “Dat shit ain’t mine. I don’ know how it got there.” Moore’s acting is so unconvincing that his character comes across as having been arrested so many times he’s given up on convincing alibis. When the cracker cops try to place him under arrest, Dolemite spazzes out with a battle cry of “Yo GON’ HAFTA TAKE ME!” He then opens up a can of Pimp-fu on the cops, displaying some of the worst fight choreography my eyes have ever been subjected to. In one section of the fight, Doley kicks a fat dude who is supposed to fall into the pimpmobile trunk. Instead he appears to willfully jump into the trunk. Wheeee!

The cracker pigs eventually get the drop on Doley, as Detective White (what a racist move, screenwriter, identifying him solely by his skin color!) scoffs, “Well goodbye, BOY! You’re off to a long, loooooong vacation.” To which our eloquent “hero” retorts, “I gots yo boy hangin’, you no-business, born-insecure junk-jawed mutha-FUCKA!”

It seems Dolemite’s idea of telling people off is to list off the first five or six random words that come to mind, yell “motherfucker,” and hope it all works out in the end. It never does. If I was Detective White, I’d feel more bemused than schooled.

Turns out these crooked cracker cops be workin’ for the pimp Willie Green, Dolemite’s greatest arch-nemesis (not counting Whitey). You’d think this reveal would be the perfect time to jump into the opening credits and the story proper. And you’d be right. It’s the perfect time to get the movie rolling along. Unfortunately you didn’t write the screenplay to this movie and neither did I. Instead, we’re sent back to the warden’s office, where all the momentum of this revelation is completely derailed by the warden’s further exposition. If hell is other people, then those other people are the “actors” in this scene.

After a couple more minutes of excruciating expository dialogue and bland mis-en-scene, we’re treated to another unnecessary flashback, this time courtesy of Queen Bee: “Some gang killed yo nephew t’other day. He was comin’ home t’other day. Jus’ him and his girlfriend. And they wasn’t botherin’ nobody.” Now the screen goes all wavy and fades out like we’re going into a dream sequence or a flashback of the far past. Why didn’t they do that with the first flashback? If anything the first flashback needed it more since it took place two years in the past. This one only happened “t’other day” as Queen Bee so eloquently stated. Is a little consistency too much to ask for?

After an overlong and uninteresting sequence showing the shooting of Dolemite’s nephew, the only thing this jive-talkin’ wordsmith can say (after a long and awkward pause) is, “So they killed lil’ Jimmy?” Obviously! Was Dolemite paying attention to anything ANYONE said? Or was he too busy thinking up another “motherfucker” comeback? “Dat’s right,” answers Queenie, “He was jus’ walkin’ home from school and he wasn’t botherin’ nobody. Jus’ him and his girl.” I’m guessing, from my own experience, that the screenwriter fell asleep in a drunken stupor mid-scene (possibly even mid-sentence), woke up late the next day with a massive hangover, and finished writing the scene in a furious frenzy, without bothering to re-read what he’d written prior to passing out. I’m also guessing the screenwriter didn’t bother writing a second draft. Or even to proofread for that matter.

After the ten most painful minutes of my life, we’re finally treated to a Shaft-inspired opening credits sequence, featuring various “action” shots of our tubby hero.

This is the only part of the film that could even remotely be considered competent. And it’s all accompanied by a rousing funkadelic theme song that exaggerates roly-poly Doley’s strength and virility. And it’s even performed by the man himself:

The song’s chorus repeats the phrase “He’s bad” over and over again. Which is a pretty apt overall description of the quality of this film.

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