I recently got the chance to watch the terrific William Witney film Darktown Strutters (a.k.a. Get Down and Boogie, 1975) and really enjoyed it. Witney started directing action films and westerns in the ’30s and he’s now mostly remembered for the popular television serials he directed. One of the last films he made was the unusual biker and blaxploitation parody Darktown Strutters, which is undoubtedly one of the most surreal musical comedies made during the seventies. I’ve been interested in seeing this movie for years and I’m glad that I finally got around to watching it.
The film centers around a group of lovely ass-kicking women who ride around the Watts area of Los Angeles on their stylish customized motorbikes. When the mother of the gang’s leader Syreena (Trina Parks) goes missing, the girls find themselves running from hapless law enforcement officers, fighting off the KKK and finally taking down a fast food selling Col. Sanders clone called Louisville Cross in order to find her.
Before Syreena’s mom disappeared she was organizing the construction of an abortion clinic with financial help from Louisville Cross. Unbeknownst to anyone, Cross poses as a benefactor to the black community, but he’s really just a closeted racist who has created a bizarre machine that can clone human beings. He’s kidnapping black leaders with the help of the KKK in order to clone them, and he plans on using these clones to do his evil bidding and in turn wreck havoc on the black community.
Director William Witney uses slapstick humor and lots of cartoonish props to tell his strange tale. The film parodies many clichés found in earlier blaxploitation films, but it’s also a smart and super stylish low-budget comedy that takes a serious jab at white capitalists who often carelessly use the black community for their own good. Darktown Strutters deals with many important issues including racism, sexism, police brutality and abortion, while keeping it’s tongue firmly planted in its cheek at all times. The comedy is often surprisingly dark as well as ridiculously silly, and it’s bound to offend and surprise more than a few viewers.
Trina Parks delivers a unforgettable performance as the biker babe gang leader Syreena. The statuesque Parks stands almost 6 feet tall and it’s easy to believe that this Amazonian queen could knock the hot air out of any creep that gets in her way. The rest of the motorcycle riding ladies are also really good, but they don’t get as much screen time as Ms. Parks.
Other stand out performances include Roger E. Mosley (best known as ‘TC’ from the Magnum, P.I. television series) as the leader of a scooter riding gang who falls hard for Syreena and the great character actor Dick Miller shows up as one of the pitiful keystone cops. The film also features the musical act The Dramatics who get to perform their funky hit single “What You See Is What You Get,” while being held as prisoners in Louisville Cross’ dungeon.
One of the best things about Darktown Strutters is the amazing costume designs by Michael Nicola. I’ve seen a lot of great ‘70s style fashion in many terrific blaxploitation films such as the jaw-dropping designs in Cleopatra Jones (1973), but Nicola’s designs for Darktown Struttersare truly stunning and like most things in this unusual movie, they must be seen to be believed.
The movie is officially out-of-print, but you can still find used copies of the video version of Darktown Strutters on Amazon or selling on eBay.
You can see more images from the movie if you visit my Darktown Strutters still gallery at Flickr.