D’Urville Martin is one of those names that should be as familiar to movie fans as Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, and Richard Roundtree. Martin was seemingly in everything at the height of the blaxploitation niche in the mid 1970s, but it was always in a supporting role, so his face didn’t make it onto all of those fabulous movie posters of the day.
Early in his career, Martin appeared in two of the all-time great films, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner , as Frankie, and Rosemary’s Baby, as Diego. After doing Melvin Van Peebles’s Watermelon Man with Godfrey Cambridge, he appeared in several TV roles, and then came back to the big screen with the explosive Legend of Nigger Charley. Charley became Paramount’s highest grossing film of 1972, and led to two sequels.
D’Urville Martin appears in at least a dozen blaxploitation films, and he worked behind the camera in quite a few more. His body of work features quite a few of those films that almost always make The Best Of lists of the genre. This was due in part to his frequently co-starring with Fred Williamson’s in films like Hammer, Death Journey, Black Caesar, and the Charley movies.
When he worked outside the shadow of Fred Williamson he was also capable of making a huge impact with his work. He proved this not with just his acting, but with his directing of Rudy Ray Moore as Dolemite in one of the most popular blaxploitation movies ever made..
No film defines the stereotypes most people associate with blaxploitation films than Dolemite. It was a parody of the genre, and it was one severely overdue when it came out in 1975. Dolemite is one of the best comedies in the genre.
D’Urville died of a heart attack in 1984, at the age of 45. Some claim he spent a lot of time on the “party scene” of the 1970s, which might have been a contributing factor to his early death.
Why We Love and Respect Him: Finding his creative groove and riding it as far as it would take him.
Best Known For: being Fred Williamson’s sidekick when he’s not busy pimping.
Blaxploitation Role Call:
Watermelon Man (1970) as Bus Driver: D’Urville Martin has to deal with Godfrey Cambridge’s character, both when he’s a racist white man, and after he’s turned into a black man. Again, some don’t declare this one a blaxploitation, but I can’t imagine Van Peebles really thought a movie criticizing white people would be a commercial success with white audiences in 1970, so I usually stuff it lovingly under the blaxploitation umbrella.
The Legend of Nigger Charley (1972) as Toby: Toby escapes slavery with Charley and rides with him as he sets out in search of freedom while being pursued by an angry white mob. Throughout the series,
The Final Comedown (1972) as Billy Joe Ashley: Supporting role to Billy Dee Williams. What it’s about via IMDB: Black revolutionaries take action in the white suburbs.
Hammer (1972) as Sonny:
Black Caesar (1973) as Reverend Rufus: Reverend Rufus was a childhood friend of Tommy’s and sometimes offers him guidance.
The Soul of Nigger Charley (1973) as Toby: Toby continues to assist Charley in his efforts to change the old west.
Five on the Blackhand Side (1973) as Booker T.: Booker T is the oldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Brooks, and he’s got his mind set on being a militant black activist. The rest of the family each have their own issues to overcome.
Hell Up in Harlem (1973) as Reverend Rufus: Reprisees the role of Reverend Rufus from Black Caesar.
The Get-Man (1974) as The Pimp: Martin has a minor role as a pimp.
Boss Nigger (1975) as Amos: Amos is Williamson’s bounty-hunting partner, and they ride into a small town of mostly white people, and take over the role of sheriff. Amos often gets Williamson into trouble, and offers most of the comic relief between violent showdowns.
Sheba, Baby (1975) as Pilot: Pilot is one of the gangsters Sheba believes to be putting the squeeze on her father and his business.
Dolemite (1975) as WIllie Greene: Willie Greene is one of the motherfuckers that set Dolemite up and got him sent him to prison on bullshit charges. Now that Dolemite is out, Willie Greene and company need to watch their ass.
Blind Rage (1978) as Willie Black: Another Jesse Crowder movie featuring Fred Williamson and D’Urville Martin in a lesser role. Despite this film’s premise, I’ve never seen it. Here’s IMDB’s version: Five friends get together and decide to plan an operation to rob a bank. The main difference between this and other bank-robbing gangs, however, is that all five men are blind.
The Big Score (1983) as Easy: Easy is that guy on the street who has the right connections to get anything done. He comes in handy in a cat-and-mouse plot between cops and drug dealers.
From the Museum of Uncut Funk: D’Urville Martin