Can Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte get along and fight injustice in this western buddy movie?
Tagline – They’ll take on the guns of the whole damned West after they take on each other………….
What’s going down in Western town?
After the American Civil War had broke up many plantations, the freed slaves gathered family groups and traveled in convoys of wagon trains across the country to try and settle in territories surrounding Kansas. This is based on a real event that happen called the Exoduster Movement where thousands of African American migrated along the Mississippi River on route to Kansas. A former soldier helps the African Americans, for payment, with safe passage and supplies for the long journey. Negotiating routes and planned settlement areas for the families to set up a new home before moving on to the next group. It was a business for him. Unfortunately for the wagon trains there were violent gangs hired by plantation owners filled with hatred. Determined to stop their once free workforce from running out of them. The gangs were savage, killing many peaceful families, regardless of age or gender. For the former soldier this was too much, he had to take matters into his own hands. Possibly a strange, rather odd preacher might help with the cause?……..
Who’s our righteous hero gunslinger?
If anyone is gonna play a righteous character then we all know Sidney Poitier will always be ready to step up for the job. He plays former Army sergeant Buck. A two gun holster ready kinda guy. He’s wise and knows the land well. Now a self employed wagon master with good connections with the local Indian tribes. His conscience won’t let him sit back. He has to fight injustice. “Buck, you’re just one man!” “But I gave them my word!“
Does he have a trusty side kick?
Is he trusty? He’s certainly a rogue of sorts. We and Buck meet The Preacher (Harry Belafonte) stark butt naked. He looks wild when he flashes his blacken teeth. Then we soon discover he’s a man of cloth with an over-sized bible on hand. Could there be a reason for that? A lone wolf who can pull the big jiving soul preacher man out the bag when he wants. He has a cheeky smile. “That’s a lot of drinkin‘”
Cowgirl love interest?
Buck’s wife Ruth (Ruby Dee) longingly, lovingly awaits for her man to return. You can see the love she has for Buck in her eyes. Ruth is tough and is willing to help out if she can.
A collection of low down and dirty bad boy cowboys?
Oooo these ex-soldiers, bandits and crackers are bad, real bad. Murderous rampaging moral-less men. Happy with killing and burning everything in their path. Long as they got money to spend on hookers and booze they will be ready to start a fresh in the morning. The bloodthirsty gang are lead by confederate soldier Deshay (Cameron Mitchell) who hams the real low down and dirty up as much as he can.
Sheriff in town?
There is a Sheriff (John Kelly). He doesn’t do a lot but he’s a kind fellow who just wants the black folk of the town to be left alone to do as they please. He soon finds himself caught up with Deshay’s gang.
I thought the Indian scenes were tastefully done. Ok they had Mexican’s standing in for the Native American’s. However I enjoyed the interactions between Buck and the Indian Chief (Enrique Lucero) as the interpreter Sinsie (Julie Robinson) translates. Each time she delivers you can see different emotions of the Chief face as he replies. As Buck asks for safe passage and the chance for guns he is reminded of their own plight. Buck – “Tell him our enemy is our enemies.” Chief – “You black people fought with that enemy against our people!..” is the reply. He reminds Buck of their own need for guns and bullets to keep their own people safe as the yellow hair keeps ripping through their lands.
One of best scenes.
There’s a few lighthearted scenes that were great like when Buck and The Preacher first meet. A staring standoff with Buck swapping his tired horse for the naked man’s steed as a skinned rabbit slowly cooks away between them. Another has the Preacher sneaky wandering around the back of a convenience store following a dutiful young black boy as he goes about his tasks. Preacher has whiskey on his mind. If I had to pick on scene I liked best I might be tempted to go for the interaction between Buck and the Indian tribe mentioned above.
The quick-draw question shootout round.
- Fun fact
Julie Robinson who plays who plays Sinsie the Indian Chief’s partner and interpreter was Harry Belafonte’s wife and they have two children together.
- Shoot-out ratio.
Pretty high. Though the early ones are sadly tragic we all hope for a vengeful shoot-out later on. We get a few.
- Someone has to have the fastest hands?
Buck steps up with his two double barrel pistols. Looking them up they might be a Howdah pistol that was a large-calibre handgun.
- Saloon fight.
There’s a pretty good saloon / brothel fight especially with the build up as the Preacher praises the good lord with his trusty bible.
- A town drunk old codger?
Not a town old drunk and not old either but our wandering nomadic Preacher likes to guzzle the whiskey when he can.
- Hang on a minute is that so-in-so?
The only guy I recognized was James McEachin who plays Kingston. He had been in a few Clint Eastwood films playing the Clint’s radio DJ mate in Play Misty For Me (1971) and a detective in Sudden Impact (1983). He has over a hundred credits to his name and if you are a Perry Mason fan you would know him as Lt Brock.
I’m sure there were a few in the tribe itching to let loosen a few hair molecules however they were trying to keep the status quo.
- The best little whorehouse in the west?
The baddies definitely think so. A good place to spend your bloodstained money. Even Madam Esther (Nita Talbot) is a piece of work and ain’t so pleased to see either of our hero’s on her, knocking shop, floor.
- Bank robbery?
With desperate need for funds to help supply the wagon train of travelers that would soon to be starving, there was only one option. That’s it, bank job!
The Preacher would be our main man for the “Kaapoot-ting” job.
- Cactus count?
There are a few big ones at the beginning and they are alarmingly close to the naked Preacher! “Protect the family jewels” I yell at the screen!
How’s the look of the land?
The usual beautiful open landscapes we love to see. The filming locations are listed as Durango in Mexico and Marysville in California. As all good westerns, seem to/should end, we get a cool classic rocky mountain shootout.
Buck and the Preacher is the directing debut of Sidney Poitier. I read it was first set-up for Joseph Sargent to direct but he vacated the project leaving it open for Sidney to take up the chair. He does a fantastic job. Turning the film round in 45 days. He says that being on the other side of the camera for many years helped. “I rolled my camera for the first time. I tell you, after three or four takes of that first scene, a calm came over me. A confidence surged through my whole body… and I, as green as I was, had a touch for this new craft I had been courting from a distance for many, many years.”
The soundtrack is great but annoying at the same time. The score is by jazz saxophonist and all round master horn blower Benny Carter. What is great is he fuses the country and western style with a more blaxploitation edged furious funk. What’s annoying is they go overboard with the jew’s harp. They twang that mouth pinging harp like there was no tomorrow.
Harry steals the show for me. His character takes on a different edge. It’s easy to see he’s onboard for some comedy relief within the darker side of things. He makes the character his own and looks like he’d had fun doing it. Of course there isn’t once that you don’t think Preacher isn’t gonna help our Buck. But it sure is entertaining to watch their mannerisms as they both give each other the lazy eye! So good to watch the two legendary superstars come together for this western. Could this be the first black western with black actors in the main roles? I think so. Whereas I did liked the soundtrack in the most part. The problem is it takes away the film just being a good western with two great actors and pushes it ever so slightly into blaxploitation territory which I don’t feel was needed. The film is strong enough in it’s own right without the soundtrack giving it a sense of the comical.
It was great watching these two share screen time together. Both share the same birth year of 1927 with birthdays only week or so apart. At 93 these two men have seen and entertained many generations. Intense yet calm, professional and wise. I love this image by Rowland Scherman with both Sidney and Harry alongside Charlton Heston during the march on Washington in 1963 for the Civil Rights Movement where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous speech “I have a dream“.
Feel free to let me know what you thought of this one?
Thanks as always for popping in for a read. Wishing you well for the weekend.
Keep those eyes square whilst watching great movies.