Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: J. Robert Wagoner
Starring: Rudy Ray Moore, Carol Speed, Jimmy Lynch
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Blaxploitation
Retired cop Tucker Williams is making a new life for himself as a DJ. Dubbed the “Disco Godfather” by his loyal followers, life is looking pretty sweet for Tucker; that is until his nephew Bucky threatens to throw away a promising basketball as he becomes hooked on PCP. Stepping out from behind the decks Williams wages war on the mean streets in an effort to crush the street rats he wasn’t able to stop when he walked the thin blue line.
Rudy Ray Moore (Dolemite) is a deceptive figure. Many people remember the man with a laugh and a smile as he was the constant joker, his black Christmas albums were always fun of “joy” and his patented brand of Kung Fu, or Kung Funk is hilarious. There’s a lot more to Moore than sex with white women and martial arts. The history of African American cinema recognises Dolemite as an incredibly influential force on those following D’Urville and Rudy in front of the camera. It is a film that has been referenced, reworked and robbed by every actor/director from the Wayans brothers to John Singleton but The Disco Godfather is, or should be, as important and influential. The film is largely overlooked as a bit of fun. The title is funny, the star dressed like a black Liberace and is filled with more audible hits than a Bruce Lee movie but there’s so much more going on.
The narrative carries with it a serious message. It’s one that is as relevant today as it was in 1979 and while sentences for “street” drugs are higher than their pure/expensive counterparts will be relevant for many more years to come. Wagoner’s screenplay and
Moore’s performance addresses the problem of drugs, lack of opportunities and the almost
generational system of black-on-black crime.
As angel dust sweeps the streets, and in the pursuit of narcotic profit,
many young and promising men, women and children are caught up in the cycle of
supply and demand (even if the demand is little more than a demand for the pain
to stop). It’s not just the narrative
that carries a strong anti-drugs message.
Many of the under-the-influence scenes are incredibly powerful, experimental
and unnerving. Bucky’s courtside attack
and the lady who serves her six month old son up on a silver platter at a
family dinner but two to mention. This
is a far cry from the fun loving times of The
Human Tornado and is a perfect example of what truly makes a great Exploitation film. That ideal of striving to
achieve more, to make more of the movie than perhaps the narrative, budget or
(in some occasions) even talent will allow.
The dialogue is cut straight out of 42nd street. It’s brilliant, vibrant, beautiful and
another example of how Moore
is trying to make a stand against something that he sees as a problem in
society. All too often in drugs related
Exploitation cinema the anti-drugs voice is a white male. He’s a suit.
A square. A dullard and it’s
showcased in his use of language. He’s
not someone that the audience can relate to, and his irrelevance allows for the
audience to disregard his message, “ah that’s not for me”. But not here.
Williams, though a retired cop, is probably the coolest character in the
entire movie. It’s Rudy Ray, does that
even surprise you? He speaks the
language of the street, the language of the kids and in doing so makes the
anti-drugs, PCP is whack message one of great relevance. Such is his influence over African American
cinema that if he was alive his influence on any subject would still be
The film earns it’s place in Exploitation history in the final third. As Williams takes to the streets we’re treated to a high octane mix of martial arts and experimental drug fuelled imagery that seeks to represent an accurate psyche of those wrapped in the confusing haze of a PCP dream. The film has genuine soul, not just soul in a disco kind of way but soul that comes from having a meaningful thing to say and knowing that your message is best delivered with humour, style and fun. Very rarely will you read a review so one-sided, very rarely will you experience a film that’s so one-sided in the creation of emotion. The Disco Godfather achieves everything it sets out to do, it’s a fun, entertaining, soulful, kinetic, chaotic piece of Exploitation cinema that leaves you ever so slightly haunted. Perfect.