The Dynamite Brothers - (1974)
In my film Kill Bill, during The Bride’s final confrontation with Bill, she makes a reference to an imaginary list of impossible things that could never happen.
And she mistakenly puts, “(Bill) busting a cap in her crown right at the top of the list.”
Well on that same list of impossible things that could never happen, right above that,
would be grade Z filmmaker Al Adamson making a watchable movie. But due to the urging of my friend, Elvis Mitchell, I’ve just discovered for myself Adamson’s Hong Kong Kung Fu-Blaxploitation hybrid, The Dynamite Brothers. And low and behold it’s a damn good seventies shoestring grade Z little picture. And believe it or not, it contains some of the best fights in a low budget seventies American made martial arts movie (an admittedly low bar when the competition is crap like Velvet Smooth, Death Promise, Kill Squad, and Leo Fong Pictures). The Dynamite Brothers was made in 1974. But it didn’t play in Los Angeles till 1976, and when it did it played under the title Stud Brown, and sold completely as a Slaughter-like blaxploitation flick. During the week of its engagement, they played wall-to-wall radio spots on the most popular soul music radio station in LA, 1580 KDAY.
This ebony and jade two-hander stars Hong Kong leading man Alan (Bloody Fight) Tang and third-tier blaxploitation star Timothy (Nashville) Brown. Tang plays Larry Chin, a fresh off the boat illegal immigrant in Los Angeles searching for his long lost brother. Brown plays a black stud named Stud Brown. Stud has just served three years on a bum rap. And when we first meet him, he’s handcuffed to and being escorted back to jail by crooked honky cop Burke (played by the great Aldo Ray in one of his best alcohol-fueled performances in a skid row production). Chin gets apprehended by Burke on Sunset and Vine right behind the Cinerama Dome and Kentucky Fried Chicken stand that was there for years (and according to Bob Murawski just up a little from the BBQ joint that Al Adamson owned). Burke handcuffs the black man and the Asian man together, and then Brown and Chin make a break for it Defiant Ones-style into the Hollywood Hills.
The story hops back and forth between Chin’s efforts to locate his brother (Chin is also plagued by red-filtered flashbacks of his late wife’s death years earlier). And Stud Brown’s efforts to help his old buddy The Smiling Man (played by a not bad Don Oliver), a pimp and neighborhood activist (What?) who’s trying to stop Asian crime kingpin James (Blade Runner) Hong from flooding the neighborhood with heroin (pronounced by Hong as ‘hero-ine). Our two heroes run all over LA, looking for Chin’s brother, trying to avoid Hong’s murderous henchmen, dirty cop Burke (firmly inside Hong’s pocket), and Hong’s deadly right-hand black man, straight razor-wielding Razor Jay (played by Adamson regular Al Richardson who dresses like Sammy Davis Jr. circa 69-74. Turtlenecks with big ass round medallions hanging off his neck).
During their adventures the two fugitives meet a couple of love interest cuties. Chinatown restaurant hostess Clare (Ralph Bakshi’s Fire and Ice) Nono, who like Faye Dunaway in Three Days of the Condor, starts off her relationship with Chin as a hostage, then graduates to helping him out. And Brown hooks up with blaxploitation icon Carol (Abby) Speed, playing a pearl necklace wearing mute prostitute that Stud falls head over heels for. After Stud Brown learns she’s mute, the next shot shows them walking down the street holding hands, all lovey-dovey, with him talking her ear off as she listens silently. A sister who can’t talk back, but loves listening to a brother who blathers on and on (a black male fantasy if ever there was one).
During their adventures, we’re treated to some surprisingly effective exploitation high points. Kung Fu fights, machine gun shootouts, car chases and crashes, explosions and plenty of female extras showing plenty of sub-porn nudity. And best of all an extremely funky soul music score by Charles Earland, that’s the film’s single greatest asset (Elvis Mitchell contends it’s the most underrated score, along with The Final Comedown, of the blaxploitation genre). Two Satan’s Sadists-like sadism filled torture scenes (an Adamson staple), over the top cheap gore (another staple), a very cool Day of Anger style opening credit sequence (Bob Le Bar’s title sequences were consistently the best thing about most Independent-International releases), a couple of really impressive stunts (a high-speed motorcycle transfer to a speeding car will make you sit up straight), and this time around, courtesy of John (Black Heat) D’Amato, a not bad script. As opposed to most Al Adamson productions you actually might find yourself giving a fuck about how it all comes out. There’s a late frame surprise I didn’t see coming. Even Chin’s reason for searching for his brother is not what you expect. And towards the end, there’s a set piece with a cool twist. Al Richardson’s character Razor Jay, interrogates Carol Speed’s mute character with his straight razor, not realizing she’s mute (Bitch, do you want me to cut your face up?). It goes from funny, to tense, to finally disturbing.
As a native Los Angeles resident, one of Adamson’s most charming characteristics, even in his awful pictures, was his commitment to cheap, run and gun, no permit location shooting all around LA and Hollywood. Giving viewers a good glimpse of long since closed, burger stands, cafes, soul food restaurants, and nightclubs (one cafe in the flick sports a sign on the side of the building that sweetly reads; Where good friends come to meet). Al Adamson’s films and other junk efforts by his contemporaries (Rudy Ray Moore, Leo Fong, Jack Hill, Greydon Clark, Matt Cimber) for Los Angeles location lovers are the best photographic record of when Hollywood turned into Hollyweird.
Aldo Ray, the patron saint of all washed-up former stars, gives his last no-apology good Aldo Ray performance. This is the type of seventies skid row production he specialized in during this time. Nevertheless, you can tell Ray realized this was better than most of the dreck that he normally appeared in, and a much bigger role then he was normally trusted with. And he appropriately rose to the occasion. Soon afterward his drinking would get so bad that he could only appear in one or two scenes per picture because that was about as long a film production could keep him off the sauce. The black actors who prop up the jive portion of the pic, do their part in keeping the flick lively and the dialogue repeatable. Alan Tang and Timothy Brown do such a good job together you wish they filmed a sequel. Tang was an old school Kung Fu film leading man in flicks like Bloody Fight and Bloody Finger. As well as appearing in nineties Hong Kong Heroic Bloodshed movies like Return Engagement and Requital.
Timothy Brown, who was so classically chiseled he looked like the guy who belonged on the Afro Sheen box, who hopped back and forth between some real low-class exploitation films, Sweet Sugar, A Place Called Today, Bonnie’s Kids, one of the crappy Ginger flicks and more legit productions like Robert Altman’s Nashville (he played the Charley Pride-esque black country and western singing star). He also played Fred Williamson’s character, “Spearchucker” Jones, from the movie M.A.S.H. on the first six episodes of the TV series (“Spearchucker” Jones was a main recurring member of the gang along with Hawkeye and Trapper John in the Richard Hooker M.A.S.H. novels). But during those six episodes Tim Brown was a relaxed presence who legitimately held his own with Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers. It’s a damn shame his character disappeared. It could of really been meaningful for the TV show M.A.S.H. to have an important black male member of the gang.
Timothy Brown existed on the third tier of blaxploitation stardom. Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, and Jim Kelly were on the first tier. Due to their iconic roles, Max Julien, Richard Roundtree and Ron O’Neal were on the second tier (which probably also included Bernie Casey). Tim Brown belonged to the far lower budget third tier, with three other guys who looked just like him, James Iglehart (star of Cirio H. Santiago’s Filipino flicks like Bamboo Gods and Iron Men, Savage and Death Force), The Candy Tangerine Man and Black Shampoo himself John Daniels and The Black Dragon Ron Van Clief. The very next year Adamson would star Brown in his blaxploitation follow up Black Heat with Russ Tamblyn (not as good The Dynamite Brothers, but still kind of fun).
Al Adamson himself would continue in this blaxploitation/Kung Fu vein for his next few pictures. The already mentioned Black Heat (which would be cobbled together from an earlier picture titled Girls For Rent), Mean Mother starring recording star Dobie (Drift Away) Gray inexplicably billed under the name Clifton Brown? Then two awful flicks with Jim Kelly. The ultra cruddy Black Samurai and the even cruddier (but strangely more watchable) Death Dimension (featuring our old friend Aldo Ray in a scene). I was never really a Jim Kelly fan, but even I felt sorry for him ending his film career in Al Adamson junk. Yet when it comes to The Dynamite Brothers Al Adamson’s junk works just fine (Adamson’s Nurse Sherri is pretty good too). And the film’s last frame manages to provoke a feeling unique in Adamson’s filmography. As Alan Tang and Timothy Brown move off to start their next adventure, the film freeze-frames both men in mid-flight. It’s at that moment you realize not only did you enjoy this little picture, but you also wish Tang and Brown had done a sequel. On a list of impossible things that could never happen, Al Adamson leaving you wanting more! That has to be right at the top of the list.