Darktown Strutters

I really mean it this time: WTF???
William Witney
Trina Parks, Roger E. Mosley, Shirley Washington, Bettye Sweet, Stan Shaw
The Setup: 
The Darktown Strutters stop to groove while searching for their leader's mother.

I got this for a dollar at the closeout store, intrigued at the cover of three women in outlandish costumes on the cover, my love of peripheral, bottom-rung blaxploitation and hey, it’s a dollar.

There is only one word that can describe this film: INEXPLICABLE. This is just one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen, making me wonder who made it—and WHY—and who they thought they were making it for. This is a film that will make you say wtf? And then WTF?? And then W??? T??? F???

We begin with this title that tells us “any similarity between this story and Cinderella is Bull---.” So we meet the Darktown Strutters [DS] who ride around on these three-wheeled motorcycles in outfits seemingly cast off by LaBelle. They wear these tight bright color-coded pantsuits with glittery helmets that have wings and such attached. Are these relics from Flash Gordon? They pull up to this roadside stand and order some food, while some nearby cops start to mess with their bikes. This leads to a confrontation, and your WTF?s will hit a new level when all of a sudden the film speeds up and we have piano roll music as they run around in a keystone kops-like way, including one of the DS running behind the shack, then emerging in a native outfit to chase a cop with a spear.

Then more police show up in a car with an absurdly huge red light on top, like it takes up the entire top of the car, and they accost the DS for being too much women while gangsters in pink and blue velvet suits rob the bank across the street, unnoticed. You surely cannot miss the subtle social criticism.

So now it’s only six minutes in and I’m already wondering how this movie is going to sustain itself for 84 more. Then the DS encounter this group of black male bikers, and the lead DS and the leader of the bikers challenge each other to a race around the police station. If he wins, he gets to “hump” her, and if she wins, she gets to “hump” him. Challenge accepted, the bikers go off and the DS turn on the radio and start boogieing for a long period in the middle of the parking lot! Ladies and gentlemen, this is when my brain snapped, and I was powerless to make any sense of what I was seeing. They go on for a few minutes, and there is an extended shot that strongly implies that the leader of the DS feels an erotic connection to her motorcycle. It’s all going along, and then suddenly you notice that there’s a family nonchalantly having a picnic right there, seemingly oblivious to the public gyrations of the DS, just a few feet away.

Then Sabrina, who is the leader of the DS, has her race with the biker, drawing the attention of what can only be described as the motorcycle KKK. Sabrina wins, and off to hump they go, leading into one of the most bizarre sex scenes I’ve ever seen. You really just have to be open to anything here.

So 24 minutes in, we start to have a semblance of our plot. Sabrina is looking for her mother, named Cinderella. Then we meet an older white inspector who is dressed as a woman and paints himself in blackface because there is said to be a white female rapist on the loose and she only does black men. This leads, as moral transgressions often do in movies, to his being humiliated and ultimately shot.

Then Sabrina shows up at this nightclub in this OTT white dress and shakes it to “Ghetto Baby (You’re a Lady Now),” being performed on stage. She meets a gangster and tells him that her charms are “like rape—you gotta ask for it.” And I’m like: “Is this whole movie going to have a bizarre subtext about how people WANT to get raped?”

Then she and biker guy share a romantic interlude on a merry-go-round that stops and starts from shot to shot. They are accosted by the moto-KKK, the leader of which accessorizes his hood with a robe open to expose his hairy chest and gold chains.

The DS escape, and are then surrounded by a 30-man doo-wop group that sings I quite nice little soul song,“Shop Around” by John Gary Williams and the Newcomers. Really a lost little gem. But meanwhile, the swami [oh yes, there’s a swami] is visited by the biker, and share a somewhat homoerotic scene that comes to a head when the swami whines for the biker to “wash me clean,” whereupon the biker pulls a long nozzle out from inside his pants and shoots white liquid all over the swami’s face. The swami thanks him.

Sabrina then visits a woman who lives in an IGLOO inside a freezer. I have written in my notes: “My brain is reeling.” She finds out that her mother was involved with criminals, and is taking off to “show them some… righteous action,” when she is captured by the moto-KKK and spirited away to meet this older white guy clearly based on Colonel Sanders. Only this time, he’s dressed in a white cat-eared hat and cape over a pink leotard with a white Speedo and silver boots. His name is Cross. He employs a number of black servants that he makes act like Old South plantation slaves, and then a white group comes on in blackface and does a routine that plays on Southern black stereotypes. Cross crawls across the table to watch Sabrina’s reaction up close. He’s obviously psychotically bent on humiliating black people.

He reveals his nefarious plot, which I’m sure I entirely understand, because I also an not sure it entirely makes any sense whatsoever. He is kidnapping woman and making clones of himself in a giant womb-machine [complete with kicking legs] and advancing them to his age. Somehow this will allow him to control the black vote, thus meaning he will be politically unstoppable. You can see how the movie is trying to inspire its audience by telling them that the black vote is THE deciding factor in all elections.

So Sabrina is thrown in the dungeon, but one of the servants helps her escape. On her way out she passes five-man soul band The Dramatics, who are imprisoned in a cell lined with slivery tinsel while wearing their matching suits. The perform a funky disco song “What You See Is What You Get.” I had a friend who had the bizarre but amusing idea one day that he was going to pioneer the concept of the “disco prison,” which led me to compose the pithy lyrics “Gotta get out of the disco prison! Gotta get out—gotta get out! Get! Get! Get! Get! Get out of the disco pri-son!” Sadly his idea was never realized—today’s incarcerated populations toil in overcrowded conditions unrelieved by disco décor or funky, funky breaks—but then I realized: here it is! THIS is a disco prison!

On her way out, Sabrina finally finds her mother, and leaves her chained up there, despite her mother’s explicit calls to release her. Then follows a chase on dirt bikes by the Moto-KKK [now the motoCROSS-KKK], then an army of guys in pig masks clashes with the black bikers [you see how inured we’re getting to all this? Mention of an army of guys in pig masks doesn’t even raise an eyebrow]. The white people are defeated to the circus clown sounds of honks and sliding whistles.

Then there was a moment that I found really funny. Sabrina having left her mother, who she’s been searching for the entire movie [when not gyrating, of course], the mother is rescued by the biker, who chips out a huge boulder of rock that her chains are tied to. Then the just wacky sadistic humor of having the mother have to hoist this heavy bolder on her back to walk around anywhere… It just evil and off-kilter and made me wonder if I’d just been looking at the film the wrong way the entire time.

Anyway, the machine gives birth to another Cross, and then the Darktown Strutters launch into a song! How delightful to have your main characters just turn into a soul group at the end!

I don’t really have words to describe it. This may have been the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s obviously a comedy, but wayyy too broad with the keystone kops stuff and air of general inanity. Sometimes it’s amusing, and that doo-wop song really is nice, but this may be the ideal movie to watch in small segments. It won’t become tedious in 30-minute bits, and I assure you nothing of the story will be missed. Nevertheless, I’m really glad I own it, considering it cost a dollar. It is NOT POSSIBLE to be off-your-face enough for this one.

Should you watch it: 

you like the very weirdest blaxploitation and can find it for under $2… but moderation is the key.