Petey Wheatstraw The Devil's Son-In-Law

1977, Movie, R, 95 mins

Review

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Casting about for a new persona after starring in two films as his own character Dolemite (and featuring in the mainstream Hollywood project MONKEY HUSTLE), Rudy Ray Moore settled on a familiar figure from African-American folklore. PETEY WHEATSTRAW has considerably better production values than its predecessors (keep in mind, that's not saying much), while escalating the wackier aspects of THE HUMAN TORNADO (1976) into a fairly witless but outlandishly tongue-in-cheek parody of blaxploitation and black culture.

Comedians Leroy & Skillet (Leroy Daniels, Ernest Mayhand) are opening a nightclub with backing from the mob. When they discover that their arch rival Petey Wheatstraw (Rudy Ray Moore) will be appearing in town at the same time as their grand opening, they have Petey and his retinue killed.

Down in Hell, Petey makes a deal with Lucifer (G. Tito Shaw). He and his friends can return to life if Petey promises to marry the devil's daughter. Back on Earth, Petey uses the magic cane given to him by Lucifer to wreak havoc at Leroy & Skillet's club, then renegs on his agreement to marry. Battling off Lucifer's oatmeal-faced, leotard- and cape-wearing minions, Petey and his friends flee, but beautiful Nell (Ebony Wright) is captured. Petey effects her escape, then destroys Lucifer with the magic cane. But when he gets into a car to drive away, he finds Lucifer awaiting him, along with his hideous daughter.

Peter Wheatstraw was a hipster character in Ralph Ellison's 1947 novel Invisible Man. Before that, blues guitarist and piano player William Bunch took on the legendary name and recorded as Peetie Wheatstraw throughout the 1930s (with the additional sobriquets "The Devil's Son-in-Law" and "The High Sheriff of Hell"), turning out at least 160 sides, greatly influencing Robert Johnson. Renowned primarily for his lyrics about gamblers, prostitutes, hoboes, bootleggers, violence, his own sexual prowess, and a close relationship with the devil, he was a hot-tempered braggart, a "...fun-loving, street-wise, self-indulgent, jive-talking, blues rebel, and raconteur" who grew up in Arkansas. All of which must have struck a chord with fellow Arkansas native and occasional R&B singer Rudy Ray Moore.

PETEY WHEATSTRAW, the movie, once again returns to Moore's familiar theme of competing nightclubs, but that's just one thread in a crazily haphazard quilt. Other than being a tad less vulgar, his character here is virtually indistinguishable from Dolemite, bragging, rhyming, turning on the ladies ("he's divinely sexy," opines Satan's daughter), and doffing his shirt to reveal his chunky bod at every opportunity. Highlights among the nonstop trash include an orgy in fast-forward, the machine-gun killing of a funeral procession (played in reverse when they're resurrected), Moore's stunningly bad Jamaican accent while in disguise, and a short musical interlude wherein he literally skips down the street tossing off miracles with his magic cane. Moore's frequent costar Lady Reed turns up as emcee for the rival club, in a cast that includes fellow comedy record alumni Wildman Steve, Jimmy Lynch, and Leroy & Skillet--proving, if nothing else, that comedy-record alumni simply can't act. But great acting is hardly to be expected in a movie that begins with a woman giving birth to a watermelon and ends with a credit for "marshall arts fighters" (sic). (Violence, extensive nudity, sexual situations, extreme profanity.) leave a comment

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Petey Wheatstraw The Devil's Son-In-Law
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