Blu-ray Review: Petey Wheatstraw

Comparing Rudy Ray Moore to Orson Welles and John Cassavettes would be easy. The trio of independent filmmakers sacrificed so much to ensure their cinematicvisions made it to the screen without being diluted by Hollywood studios. What separates these icons is the way they funded their films. Welles and Cassavettes took paycheck films in order to rent equipment, hire actors and buy 35mm stock. Moore used the door receipts from his nightclub bookings to fund his films. The films allowed audiences a taste of why they needed to buy tickets for his live show when he came to town. Petey Wheatstraw is the third film the Moore made with his crew and shows that they’ve matured in many ways. While Petey is a bit like Dolemite, the movie is a big change from the previous two as an afterlife crisis.

The movie is set up to be a biopic of Petey with the opening involving his legendary birth in the middle of a hurricane. The great Sy Richardson (Repo Man) plays Petey’s father who gets to witness his baby boy emerge as a preteen boy. The child is not happy with the doctor, but his parents calm him down. He also learns martial arts to harness his great powers. Eventually Petey (Rudy Ray Moore) grows up to be the hottest comic in the country. When he arrives in a city for a gig, he finds his show is opening opposite Leroy (Leroy Daniels) and Skillet (Ernest Mayhand). This isn’t good news for the duo who have taken a huge loan from white mobsters. Petey is breaking box office while they wait to have their kneecaps smashed. In order to eliminate the competition, the comedy duo hire gunmen to shoot down Petey and others during a funeral. Can this be the end of Petey as he bleeds out next to a coffin? Lucipher (G. Tito Shaw) arrives with an offer to let Petey live and seek revenge. What’s the catch? Pete’s got to marry the guy’s daughter. This is wouldn’t be too bad of a deal until Petey is shown a picture of his future bride. He’d rather die. But he chooses life because it would also bring back the other victims of the massacre. Along with a second life, Petey is given a powerful cane that allows him to get revenge on Leroy and Skillet’s opening night in a comic fashion. As his payback grows, Petey must come up with a plan to avoid being forced into being the Devil’s son-in-law. Can he really be smart enough to outwit the almighty evil?

Petey Wheatstraw is as fun as Dolemite and Human Tornado while showing Moore’s crew growing as filmmakers. Nicholas Josef von Sternberg’s cinematography looks better than his work in Dolemite. Cliff Roquemore’s script and direction gets the best out of the cast. What’s strange is that this appears to be the only film featuring G. Tito Shaw. He’s amazing as the Devil. It appears that he was from live theater and went back to the boards after Petey. The biggest improvement on the screen is the physicality of Moore. He was rather doughy in Dolemite during the action and love scenes. Now he looks like the muscular badass that he imagined himself to be in the first film. His karate movies are swifter. While he doesn’t perform his nightclub act in a proper setting, he does have monologues that allow him to show off his routines. This is what comics did before Comedy Central specials. Petey Wheatstraw changed things up for Moore, but it isn’t an abrupt shift from what fans enjoyed about Dolemite. The supernatural story allowed him a chance to unleash his kung fu skills against demons instead of just pimps.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The transfer was taken from the 35mm camera negative. The transfer brings out all the details in Rudy Ray Moore’s stunning wardrobe. The audio is DTS-HD MA mono. The levels allows Rudy’s fierce rhymes and Nat Dove’s soundtrack to join up seamlessly.

DVD has everything found on the Blu-ray.

I, Dolemite Part III: Petey Wheatstraw (18:08) discusses why Rudy Ray Moore did a different character from Dolemite. The documentary uses vintage footage of Moore talking about the genesis of the character. There’s plenty of talk about production issues.

Commentary Track includes Mark Jason Murray, biographer of Rudy Ray Moore and co-star & set decorator Jimmy Lynch. The track ends with archival audio from director Cliff Roquemore.

Shooting Locations Revisited (8:53) is video shot with Rudy Ray Moore at the old places. Turns out he used the same facility for all four of his major feature films. They don’t have him properly microphone enabled so you might have to play with the volume buttons.

Still Gallery features dozens of photographs from the production and promotion.

Soundtrack (34:49) give you Nat Dove’s soulful soundtrack that makes the film sound big budget.

Trailers are included for Dolemite, The Human Tornado and Disco Godfather. The legendary Disco Godfather gets released as a Blu-ray on August 30.

Vinegar Syndrome presents Petey Wheatstraw. Directed by: Cliff Roquemore. Screenplay by: Cliff Roquemore. Starring: Rudy Ray Moore, Jimmy Lynch, Leroy Daniels, Ernest Mayhand, Ebony Wright. Running Time: 99 minutes. Rated: R. Released: July 26, 2016.

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