Syreena (Trina Parks) is the leader of an all-girl motorcycle gang - or should that be a motortricycle gang? - and not a day goes by where they don't get hassled. For instance, the four of them stop at a diner to pick up some lemon meringue pie only to receive the unwanted attention of some soldiers, one of whom begins climbing over their vehicles. The girls soon put a stop to that and the pies end up in the soldiers' faces, but later on a patrol car full of racist cops stops them to question the bikers about various spurious charges, ignoring the bank robbery going on across the street. Syreena can tolerate this, but when someone kidnaps her mother, it's the last straw...
Highly individual would be a way to describe Darktown Strutters, a blaxploitation item from New World and produced by Roger Corman's brother Gene Corman. It was directed by William Witney, a veteran of series television and a fair few movie serials as well, and the outlandish script was by minor cult director George Armitage. One thing distinguishes these men in creating this film: they were all white, which when you see some of the racial elements implemented here, made you wonder whose side they were on if it hadn't been for the total lack of sympathetic white characters.
One look at this film and it is impossible to mistake for anything else, as with its colourful costumes and over-the-top design and props it's like someone tried to transplant the world's most inappropriate childrens' cartoon to the big screen. Nothing appears real here, in fact surreal is the order of the day to tell what could have been a simple story in other hands, but here descends into a lack of coherence that will occasionally surface from its weirdness to make its own kind of sense. Parks was best known, perhaps still is, for playing Thumper in Diamonds are Forever, but it is here her talents really get a workout.
The villain of the film is Commander Cross (Norman Bartold) a Colonel Sanders-style fast food manufacturer of pork treats who may well be the one who has kidnapped Syreena's mother. But our heroine's gang also have to contend with a rival group of Ku Klux Klan members who ride around causing trouble, and gang of black bikers led by future Magnum P.I. co-star Roger E. Mosley who turn out not to be such bad fellows after all. Not that there's any hint of romance, chances are that nobody in the film would take anything like that the remotest bit seriously.
Among the plethora of baffling sights in Darktown Strutters are the police car of the racist cops (who include Dick Miller) which sports an enormous flashing light and falls apart like a clown's car when it crashes, or the white, middle-aged inspector who dresses as a black transvestite to catch a gay rapist only to be gunned down by the cops who are thirsty for blood. As you can see, the law are not flatteringly depicted in this one. And did I mention this was a musical as well? And that Cross has devised a cloning machine for reasons which escape me, but appear mainly to provide the film with a punchline? There's a line between identity and sterotype, and this movie doesn't seem to know which it's on so that the scenes of Syreena and her allies putting it to the Man are mixed up with crass and outrageous racial humour. Basically, it's a mess, but not one you can stop watching simply to see what they're going to come up with next. It's imaginative, I'll give it that.