Petey Wheatstraw

Petey Wheatstraw (Rudy Ray Moore), the devil’s son-in-law, has such magnificent powers that he can, and I quote, “take the fourth of July and put it in June.” When a child is playing catch and attempts to retrieve the ball when it rolls into the street, Petey Wheatstraw can freeze oncoming traffic to save the child’s life. When a woman’s ample bottom gets stuck in her lawn chair, Petey Wheatstraw can free her with a flick of his wrist. But how does one get such miraculous abilities?

After being part of a brutal massacre that occurs at a funeral service for another brutal massacre, Petey wakes up in the fiery pits of hell, greeted by none other than the fallen angel with the chip of all chips on his shoulder, Lucifer (G. Tito Shaw). As he is wont to do, Lucifer makes a deal with Petey. He’ll bring Petey back to life and give him a magical pimp cane that can bend reality to the user’s will, so Petey can seek revenge on those who killed him. In return, Petey must marry the devil’s daughter, who is—in Petey’s words, not mine—”so ugly, she could scare a hungry bulldog off the back of a meat truck.”

Petey wakes up in the fiery pits of hell, greeted by none other than the fallen angel…”

If you’ve seen any other Rudy Ray Moore movie (Dolemite, The Human Tornado, Disco Godfather), you know what you’re getting with Petey Wheatstraw. Other than the supernatural angle and the curbed karate, the film features everything you’ve come to love—or hate, if you’re no fun—from the outlandish stand-up turned minor movie star. One hallmark of a Rudy Ray Moore movie is the exaggerated reaction shot, which is on full display when Petey finds a bomb in a comedy club bathroom. After nearly blowing his lungs out, Petey swiftly grabs the bomb, runs it outside and, to save everyone in the club, throws it directly at a man with a watermelon stand, because exploding watermelons look better than, say, exploding pineapples—a cinematic precedent settled in the landmark case of Lettieri v. Watermelons (see Mr. Majestyk).  

In this modern age of conceited comedy that values applause breaks over laughs—willfully homogenizing itself to refrain from stepping on a single toe—Moore’s unashamed brand of buffoonery is like a cool, refreshing pie in the face. If the words, “tasteless” and “frivolous,” are among the most exhausted in your vocabulary, then Petey Wheatstraw might be best avoided, lest you grind them into a fine dust.

Petey Wheatstraw (1973) Directed by Cliff Roquemore. Written by Cliff Roquemore, based on the character by Rudy Ray Moore. Starring Rudy Ray Moore, Jimmy Lynch, Leroy Daniels, Ernest Mayhand, Ebony Wright, Wildman Steve, G. Tito Shaw, Lady Reed, Lee Cross, Doc Watson, Barbara Daniels, Cathy Cooper, J.B. Baron, Johnny Lloyd, Burma Floyd, Chic Willis, Alvin Cash.

8 out of 10

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