Published by David Carter on 2016/7/31
Directed by Cliff Roquemore
Review by David Carter

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Released by Vinegar Syndrome
Running Time: 99 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Color format: Color
Audio/Subtitles: 2.0 Mono DTS-HS SDH English/English Subtitles
Region Code: 1, NTSC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
16:9 Enhanced: Yes
Special Features: Making of Documentary, commentary track by Mark Jason Murray & Cliff Roquemore & Jimmy Lynch, Location documentary with Rudy Ray Moore, still gallery, radio spot
Trailer Online: Yes

After the back to back successes of DOLEMITE and THE HUMAN TORNADO, one would have expected for Rudy Ray Moore to stick with the proven formula for his third feature film in 1977. Safe wasn’t Moore’s style, however, and he opted instead to bring another colorful character made famous in his comedy act – PETEY WHEATSTRAW: THE DEVIL’S SON IN LAW – to the screen instead. Wheatstraw was a supernatural character closely related to the historic traditions of African-American storytelling, and Moore of course gave it a modern updating and put his own unique twist on the tale. WHEATSTRAW is the latest Moore film to get a full restoration and transfer to Blu Ray courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome.

Young Petey Wheatstraw is taken in by a kung fu master and taught the ways of Eastern mysticism and martial arts but that, above all else, the strongest weapon in the world is wisdom. Instead of fighting, Wheatstraw decides his skills are best put to use as comedian, helping the world forget its miseries. Years later Petey is a legend on the comedy circuit, so much so that his old rivals, Leroy and Skillet, are shaking in their boots upon hearing the news that he’s performing in their city. Leroy and Skillet know that Petey is a bigger draw than they are, and they go to extreme measures to make sure that Petey doesn’t make his show by executing him and his friends gangland-style.

Petey is awakened by a strange man making him an even stranger offer. Lucifer himself offers Petey a chance to live again to get revenge on Leroy and Skillet on one condition: marry his hideous daughter and bear him a son. With no other options, Petey accepts and quickly sets out to stop Leroy and Skillet once and for all with the help of Lucifer’s magic cane. With the deed done, Petey has to deal with his impending marriage to the Devil’s daughter. Can the ultimate smooth-talker find a way to get out of a deal with the Devil?

PETEY WHEATSTRAW is one of my favorite Moore films because the outlandish concept is something that only Moore could have made work. Additionally, WHEATSTRAW is a who’s who of the seventies African-American comedy scene as Leroy and Skillet and Wildman Steve are featured and are legends in their own right. Narratively, WHEATSTRAW is quite similar to the Dolemite films in structure with the added supernatural elements. Comedy is still the main order of the day in this film as it has been in the previous two; however, Moore increased some of the social commentary that he introduced in THE HUMAN TORNADO. Instead of tackling racism, he addresses crime and violent in the inner city and at several points in the film is depicted helping the residents either with his kung fu or through magical means.

Special features again abound on the Vinegar Syndrome combo Blu Ray/Standard DVD release of PETEY WHEATSTRAW. Moore biographer Mark Jason Murray is joined by Cliff Roquemore and Jimmy Lynch on an insightful commentary track. Moore himself appears in a featurette displaying the film’s shooting locations, many of which pop up in Moore’s other works. The disc also features the third installment of the well-crafted Moore documentary began on previous releases.

Though not as lauded as his first two films, PETEY WHEATSTRAW delivers the same raucous good times as DOLEMITE. Moore’s increasing comfort in front of the camera is immediately noticeable, making this the most accomplished of his early films.