This was the very first blaxploitation movie I ever watched, and was told at the time that it is one of the best. Since then I’ve seen numerous others, and can confirm first hand that this is one of the best. It has some continuity problems, and the story is a bit vague on several key points, but the breadth of the scene, the accuracy of the milieu and the real people we are seeing within it, and acting and characterizations make it pretty compelling and hard to beat. Plus, it has an excellent score by the wonderful Willie Hutch, with songs that [when heard on the album] expand on the thoughts and emotions of the movie.
We open with a dedication to Frank Ward. This is a real-life Oakland, CA pimp, who the producers partnered with in order to make the film. Ward gave them insider access to the world of pimping in Oakland, and helped advise on the script, in exchange for being in the film. He does appear in it often [below, far left]. Many of the people in the movie are genuine 1973 Oakland pimps and whores. Even some of the cops are real. The movie also ran afoul of the Black Panthers, and some of the speeches in the film are word-for-word transcriptions of Panther leader Huey P. Newton.
So there’s a shootout, and we meet our hero Goldie, played by Max Julien, who we are to understand largely reworked the script [along with Richard Pryor] despite the credit going entirely to Robert Poole. HIs car turns over, and two white cops, Hank and Jed, debate whether to kill him or not. Pryor as Slim escapes. Goldie gets five years, and we see two short but potent shots [perhaps influenced by the very similar opening to The Getaway a year before?] that show that Goldie is going a tad bit insane in prison. Then he’s released, and takes a bus into town as the credits roll and the main theme is heard. He goes straight to the Sneaky Fox bar, where he meets a buddy the Blind Man, who gives him money to set up in pimping, saying “You've got to work them broads like nobody's ever worked them before. And never forget: anybody can control a woman's body, you see, but the key is to control her mind.”
Next he meets childhood girlfriend Lulu, played by Carol Speed (of Abby, where she becomes possessed, and a special appearance in Disco Godfather), who is a prostitute and says the pimps are after her to choose one of them. She asks Goldie to be her pimp. Well—that makes business easy! No messy having to go out and recruit. Outside, he meets cops Hank and Jed again, who tell him they’re just waiting for him to mess up: “You breathe too deep… and I’ll make you look like swiss cheese.” He goes to see his mother, who wants him to go to church with her and give up his criminal ways. Then he goes to see his brother, Olinga, who is leading a black nationalist group and giving a speech about how they have to protect their people from the drugs, pimps and whores, and “create a Black America within, but without White America.” He is happy to see Goldie, but keeps mum on his plans to be a pimp.
Next up is the scene at the barbershop where we see Frank Ward, the real pimp. He’s the one with the big curly hair and mustache seated in a barber chair saying “it’s all about the money game with me.” We now have a montage where Goldie gets the money, the clothes and the car. We actually see him rolling in money. We see him give money to a bunch of kids and let them sit in his huge Cadillac, but admonishes them to “never say you want to be like me.” He’s suddenly in the company of a toothsome white woman, telling her “You’ve got to believe that everything I tell you to do is for the best.” We soon see Goldie and Speed training his other prostitutes in how to shoplift, and see two of them comically steal from a white John. This is a little bit what I mean in saying the movie is a bit vague… we have to infer where all these women came from, how they were trained, how the idea of being a prostitute was framed to them, how Goldie got all his money. It’s also a bit episodic, a bunch of scenes one after another, not so much flowing one into another. Yet, it kind of works. Next we hear someone tell him “You’re on top now, Goldie,” but we just have to take their word for it, because we don’t really have much of a sense of it.
SPOILERS > > >
Soon a rival pimp is giving Goldie some guff, so he locks the guy in the trunk of his car with a bunch of live rats! You’ll notice we keep hearing the same loop of screams from the trunk. Then he pulls up and Speed, crying, tells him that she’s having an awful night and is in trouble and he tells her “Bitch, I don’t give a shit what happens to you—get me my money!” Next he’s driving around with his brother, showing off his car and his control, calling the denizens of the night “my people.” His brother says this is not what he used to be about, and Goldie says this is what he is now, and “I really got these bitches’ minds controlled.” As if to demonstrate, he rents a planetarium to show his women interstellar imagery as he makes them swear vows of devotion to him, saying that he’ll be good to them, giving them their own bank accounts and even real estate!
Next it’s the player’s picnic, in which all the pimps and whores and associated people come together and play baseball and eat ribs. Soon Goldie is confronted by Fats, white gangster who Goldie used to run drugs for. Fats wants to control the black neighborhoods, and is cheesed that Goldie now controls the black neighborhoods, with the unspoken sheen that Goldie is exploiting his own people and ruining his own neighborhoods. Goldie tells him to piss off. Goldie has a talk with his brother in which his brothers tells him that in order to save their neighborhood they have to get rid of both the pimps and the pushers, and Goldie responds “Ain’t nobody closing me out of my business.” Goldie buys his mother a nice new apartment by the water. There comes a black cop who says he has evidence on the two white cops—and the white cops kill him! They then invade the pool hall and threaten Goldie, leading to Richard Pryor’s poignant acting moment as he essentially breaks down over the constant terror and instability they live in. Fats comes after Goldie again, harder, and Goldie promises to drive him off the streets. Soon Goldie wins pimp of the year, and we have a freeze frame—and you know what that means. Usually means this is the last moment of the good times, and things are going to go downhill fast.
And they do. First, the toothsome white woman is found dead of an overdose. Then Goldie and his thugs inject Fats with battery acid! Then a whore that belongs to another key pimp in the film chooses Goldie right in front of the other, and that pimp promises to make Goldie “wish he was never born.” The Goldie’s mom is roughed up—and dies! There’s a big confrontation with the rival pimp in a warehouse, and Goldie makes him “stick himself” with a sword. They tie him up with dynamite in his mouth—and we see flaming body parts come raining down on the street.
Goldie’s brother confronts him in church, and tells him there’s a contract on his life. The brother takes up arms to help Goldie confront the two racist cops, killing the blond one while Goldie executes the other. At the end, Goldie gets on a bus out of town, all his money gone, just as he came into town at the beginning.
< < < SPOILERS END
Also on the disc is a fascinating documentary that tells the story of making the film, including the context in which it was made. This was among the first “blaxploitation” films, before it was even a genre, and no one really knew what kind of film they were making, nor were there any rules. It tells the story of how they got the participation of real pimp Frank Ward, who opened the doors so they could make the film as real as possible. They say that most of the people at the player’s ball [when Goldie wins pimp of the year] were real criminals. At a certain point the film looked like a bust, and they told Ward that they might not finish, and he told them that THEY WILL finish [i.e. or else]. He was killed before the film was completed. They then talk about the lines snaking around the block when the film opened, and the exciting sense that the black community had never seen anything like this before. They also talk about how influential and quotable this film was to many African-Americans since.
As a film… it is a bit of a mess, it is very episodic… and yet almost all of it is riveting. I can only speak as a white suburban guy, but for someone like me it opens up a window into this whole other world, and time, which is fascinating. It comes off as a series of vignettes, but those vignettes are very vivid and powerful, like Goldie telling the kids not to be like him, the shoplifting instruction session, the scenes of hanging out in the pool hall. There are also overarching themes, like Goldie’s idealistic brother, his growing clash with Goldie, and finally being drawn into fighting against his own principles. The two racist cops are shocking and vivid, and Richard Pryor is touchingly raw in his puppyish devotion to Goldie, and when he breaks down in terror after being harassed by the cops, it’s so bare and moving. This is one of those movies that is enjoyable while it’s going on, seems okay, pretty good when it’s over, but stays with you as certain scenes and images implant themselves in your memory.
You could also do worse than to seek out the soundtrack by Willie Hutch, as all the songs echo the thoughts and narrative of the film [the same can be said of his excellent soundtrack for Foxy Brown]. Some of the songs are not heard in their entirety in the film, but heard separately, provide a companion to the film. For example, though only an instrumental is heard in the film, as Goldie is broken down at the end, the song “Now That It’s All Over” says “Destiny has put its mark, deep within my face. My confidence is all gone, I found no hiding place. I’m so all alone…” It just adds a deeper dimension to the film, as well as being a collection of excellent 70s soul songs. Truth me told… Willie Hutch’s music is filled with such fun, wisdom and humanity… I have often thought my fantasy replacement parents would be Willie Hutch and Olivia Newton-John!
Anyway, if you’re interested in getting a glimpse into 70s pimp life in LA… here ya go! Even if not, it’s a fascinating crime film. And if you like blaxploitation films for the crazy style and dialogue, that’s all here, too. If it sounds interesting at all, it’s definitely worth seeing.