In 1975, Rudy Ray Moore became an unlikely success at the boxoffice with Dolemite. Three years later, he made Disco Godfather: he considers this to be the choice that killed his moviemaking career. Aside from a concert movie called Rude, he’d never get another self-produced movie into theaters in his lifetime. It’s easy to see why this didn’t click with the Dolemite audience in retrospect but it’s still a memorably quirky experience, albeit one with a different vibe from Moore’s other, earthier cult favorites.
As is often the case with Moore’s films, he plays a fixture of the nightclub world in Disco Godfather. This time, he’s disco DJ/ex-cop Tucker Williams, who operates the Blueberry Hill disco. All is groovy until his nephew Bucky (Julius J. Carry III, pre-The Last Dragon) flips out on PCP at the club. Tucker learns how this drug has become the scourge of the community and vows to get the people responsible. Said path involves a high-profile local businessman Stinger Ray (Hawthorne James), a crooked cop and a lot of local lowlifes who have to be punched and kicked.
If your eyebrows raised at the thought of Moore playing an ex-cop, you’re not alone. Disco Godfather caught audiences expecting another Dolemite-style romp off-guard because it is different in key ways. For starters, there’s no bawdy humor, minimal profanity and no carnal excesses. The anti-drug theme also puts Moore in the odd role of being a clean-cut crusader who rails against drugs. Moore would later say this movie was too preachy for the party-hearty audience he had built and that makes sense.
That said, one area where Disco Godfather doesn’t skimp on traditional Moore aesthetics is the weirdness. The film is basically an attempt to create a commercial crowd pleaser for multiple audiences that don’t intersect: it’s a revenge movie with a t.v. cop show approach, an anti-drug/pro-community film with an afterschool special vibe and a post-Saturday Night Fever disco exploitation movie for urban audiences. Throw in Reefer Madness-style drug freakout scenes with flashy editing and cheap animation plus the usual Moore movie kung fu fight scenes and you’ve got an oddball stew where the elements bump into each other in tonally incoherent yet entertaining ways.
Despite all these odd and colliding agendas, Disco Godfather is visually speaking the slickest of Moore’s films. This might be because the director is J. Porter Wagoner, who came from a cinematographer background. It’s worth noting that Cliff Roquemore also was involved here, rewriting a script by Wagoner that was rejected by the producers (that may explain the tonally odd nature of things here). The martial arts scenes are also pretty slick here, too, with Moore getting the best doubling he had in any of his films for the fights, and the disco song score impresses (it was reissued on vinyl in recent years).
Finally, the performances are all as colorful as one would expect in a Moore project. The star seems a little at odds with his material at times but it’s interesting to see him apply his larger-than-life persona to a more traditional screen role – and you do get a bit of the old Dolemite magic from his freewheeling raps in the D.J.’s booth. Elsewhere, you get plenty of Moore movie favorites: Jerry Jones as a grim PCP ward doctor, Lady Reed as a grieving mom and Jimmy Lynch playing a street criminal who runs afoul of Tucker. Added interest is provided by blaxploitation vet Carol Speed as Tucker’s girl friday and Jones, who is so outlandish as the “Mr. Big” character that it feels like he walked in from Black Dynamite.
In short, Disco Godfather might be an odd coda to Moore’s comet-like big screen career but is memorable in its own way. It might be a bit slower of pace and clean-cut in approach… but it also has a vampire-ballet harpy who swings a samurai sword in the PCP freakouts and a choreographed roller disco sequence. As is always the case with Moore’s movies, it’s a time capsule full of unique sights and funky vibes.
Blu-Ray Notes: this title closes out Vinegar Syndrome’s collection of Rudy Ray Moore titles and as usual, the results look great. It offers a 2K remaster from the negative that does well by the film’s slick, colorful look (the disco scenes are eye-popping). It also boasts a nice selection extras, including a commentary track, the film’s soundtrack in audio file form and the final segment of the four-part “I, Dolemite” documentary. The latter is really revealing when it comes to revealing the film’s troubled genesis.