Petey Wheatstraw, 1977.
Directed by Cliff Roquemore.
Starring Rudy Ray Moore, Jimmy Lynch, Leroy Daniels, G. Tito Shaw, and Ernest Mayhand.
Petey Wheatstraw (Rudy Ray Moore) was born during a tropical storm, and from the moment he took his first breath he could walk, talk and kick ass. He grows up to become a famous comedian- so famous that his rivals (Leroy and Skillet) can’t handle the competition and plan to do Petey in. When Petey is killed in a drive-by, Lucifer ( G. Tito Shaw) offers Petey his life back, along with unearthly powers, if he will marry the Devil’s daughter (Ebony Wright) and produce a son. Petey agrees to the deal but has other plans.
True love isn’t about logic or reason. It’s a feeling that generations of artists have struggled to accurately describe, though Britney Spears came remarkably close when she said:
Love is a state of grace / Transcending time and space / No other way I can describe / Insanely beautiful
When you love a work of art, it transcends traditional criticism. Pointing out flaws or applying structure is utterly meaningless. ‘Love’ is a word I use to describe my feelings for the films of Rudy Ray Moore. You mostly hear Moore’s name brought up in association with another blaxploitation classic, Dolemite. While I love Dolemite, to me the greatest film in Moore’s storied filmography is the 1979 masterpiece Petey Wheatstraw. Writer/Director Cliff Roquemore crafts a silly, supernatural and downright hilarious look a man so bad even the Devil couldn’t take him down.
If you’ve never been exposed to blaxploitation films, Petey Wheatstraw is a fantastic specimen for the genre: unbridled, over the top and relentlessly entertaining.
From the film’s opening frames, you can see the influence films like Petey Wheatstraw had on black comedians. Moore’s brand of cinematic comedy inspired the likes of Robert Townsend, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle. If you’re a fan of the Chapelle Show, you owe it to yourself to watch Petey Wheatstraw. The film’s opening sequence feels like a comedic blueprint for everything Dave did with his groundbreaking show. After a brief expositional monologue from the man himself, we witness his birth where a six-year old boy crawls out of his mother’s womb and starts beating up the doctor trying to deliver him.
The story sees Petey Wheatstraw enter into a bargain with the Devil as a candidate to become his son-in-law. All he has to do is marry his ugly as hell daughter. Unfortunately for the Devil, Petey has some tricks up his sleeve.
I envy anyone who gets to watch Petey Wheatstraw for the first time. They don’t make movies like this anymore and it’s a damn dirty shame. The culture that gave birth to the films of Rudy Ray Moore no longer exists. It comes from a time when film was fearless and filmmakers weren’t working in under sanitized, politically correct conditions. My favorite sequence involves Petey and his pimp cane which he uses to grant wishes while strutting down a city street with the a funkadelic groove pumping with every step of his platform shoes.
Films like Petey Wheatstraw are cinematic gifts that deserve to be seen, not only for their raw entertainment value but for their historical significance. This unbridled era helped shape filmmakers like Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino and Scott Sanders (Black Dynamite). In recent years the blaxploitation films have been deconstructed by our post-modern society and viewed by some as low-rent B-movies. But the genre deserves more consideration and respect. Moore and his creative partners were the independent fringe filmmakers of their era and created some true gems.
Petey Wheatstraw might be one that shines the brightest.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★