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"What happened? Somebody close the back door?"
on November 19, 2009
In 1972, thick in an era of blaxploitation films, with BUCK AND THE PREACHER, Sidney Poitier went another route and did another western (some six years after Duel at Diablo). This film marks Poitier's debut as director and also features cool Harry Belafonte in probably his best role. It's certainly his juiciest.
Is BUCK AND THE PREACHER a more relevant picture than, say, Glory? I don't know about that, but BUCK AND THE PREACHER does have things to say. It explores a point in time, right after the Civil War, in which freed slaves were making their way west to homestead. Buck (Poitier) is a no-nonsense wagon master (and an ex-Union Army sergeant) who escorts black settlers to new frontiers and attempts to protect them from night riders, vicious raiders seeking to reclaim the ex-slaves for the South. Along the way, Buck reluctantly teams up with a con-man preacher (Belafonte), and, really, the movie is at its most intriguing when the dynamics between these two characters are playing out. Belafonte and Poitier suspiciously sizing each other up makes for several terrific and taut scenes.
The leads are African-Americans, with the white guys relegated mostly to villainous roles. Sidney Poitier is his usual elegant self and he looks very much at home playing a cowboy in the Old West. Poitier's stern, stately demeanor is balanced by Belafonte's audacious performance, and I seriously need to check out the few films on his resume. By the way, Rudy Dee is also very good. There's that slice of social commentary, but I didn't feel like I was being bludgeoned over the head with it. There's some action and gun play, but also a share of contemplative moments and, okay, a slow, leisurely pace. There's a pretty cool and unconventional score and a peppering of humor, thanks mostly to Belafonte. For me, the three things which stand out the most about BUCK AND THE PREACHER: Preacher's hilarious "fornication" sermon to the night riders; that nice twist in which the Indians, not the cavalry, ride to the rescue; and Preacher's frightening disregard of dental hygiene.
Here's a neat trivia to end on: The actress who plays the Indian chief's wife? That's Harry Belafonte's wife, Julie Robinson.