Day: March 6, 2012

Buck And The Preacher

Columbia Pictures

1972

Directed by Sidney Poitier

Produced by Joel Glickman and Harry Belafonte (uncredited)

Screenplay by Ernest Kinoy

Based on a story by Ernest Kinoy and Drake Walker

When I was growing up there were few actors cooler than Sidney Poitier.  Here was a black man who personified everything that I myself wanted to be: smooth, intelligent, proud, articulate, charming, and witty.  I missed the mark on a lot of those aspirations but as a role model I couldn’t ask for better.  He distinguished himself as a major actor way back in the 50’s and 60’s and when his movies such as “To Sir, With Love” “A Raisin In The Sun” “In The Heat Of The Night” and “Lilies Of The Field” were shown on television in my house it was a major event.  My mom and dad plopped me and my sisters down in front of the set right alongside them to watch.  I know it’s kinda difficult for anybody under the age of 30 to understand why an actor such as Sidney Poitier was so important to black people back in the 60’s and 70’s because now we’ve got Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Avery Brooks, Wayne Brady, Don Cheadle, LeVar Burton and two dozen other notable black actors both male and female.  But once upon a time not so long ago, Sidney Poitier was all we had.  He was it.  He not only was at the top of the pyramid, he was the pyramid.

BUCK AND THE PREACHER is notable for a couple of things that lifts it a couple of notches above your average western.  First off, it’s Sidney Poitier’s first directorial effort and it’s a damn good one.  It’s a western that addresses a major problem former slaves had after The Civil War: okay, we’re free but now what do we do with that freedom? And it’s got a wonderful comic performance by Harry Belafonte, previously best known for popularizing Caribbean calypso music in The United States.  Harry Belafonte had done a number of films previously: the classic “Carmen Jones” with the outrageously beautiful Dorothy Dandridge and 1957’s “Island In The Sun” which was considered a daring movie at the time due to the subject matter of interracial relationships.  But all of his previous movies had been dramas.  In BUCK AND THE PREACHER Harry Belafonte demonstrated a real gift for comedy that he would display again in a later film also directed by his good friend Sidney Poitier: 1974’s “Uptown Saturday Night”

After The Civil War, wagon trains of former slaves are heading west, the promised forty acres and a mule never having been delivered.  But there’s plenty of unspoiled, unclaimed land far to the west and the former slaves are willing to make the hazardous journey.  Buck (Sidney Poitier) is a former Union soldier/scout who uses the skills he learned in the Army and the valuable alliances he has made with the Indians to take the wagon trains through.  It’s not an easy job.  The wagon trains are hunted down by “labor recruiters” who use any means necessary to turn the former slaves around and drive them back to the southern plantations.  And Buck has a price on his head, himself being relentlessly tracked down by bounty hunters Deshay (Cameron Mitchell) and his sadistic right hand man Floyd (Denny Miller)

It’s during one of his escapes from Deshay’s posse that Buck encounters The Reverend Willis Oakes Rutherford of The High And Low Order of The Holiness Persuasion Church (Harry Belafonte) a smooth talking wandering minister with bad teeth and a six shooter in his Bible.  Buck switches horses with The Preacher which leads to The Preacher almost getting killed by Deshay’s men.  It isn’t long before The Preacher catches up with Buck and he thinks he’s got an easy mark in the prospective settlers.  But a bloody nighttime raid affects The Preacher more than even he would have guessed and before you know it, both men have joined together to become outlaws in order to get back the money stolen from the former slaves and get them to their new home in the west, far from the harsh unhappy life they previously knew.

BUCK AND THE PREACHER doesn’t beat you over the head with a history lesson but the motivations of the characters are different enough from your average western that it gives the material a fresher spin than you might be used to.  The plight of the former slaves is laid out with no punches pulled so there’s a clear understanding of what’s at stake.  And the performances by Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte sell the movie.  Poitier’s the grim stoic while Belafonte is the grinning trickster.  They make a great team.  Ruby Dee plays Ruth, Buck’s woman and she has a great scene where she lays it out for Buck as to what she wants out of life and she doesn’t want it in America.

There’s a nice subplot with Buck’s relationship with an Indian chief (Enrique Lucero) and his wife (Julie Robinson) who are sympathetic to the plight of the former slaves but not so sympathetic that they’ll risk the lives of their people.  Cameron Mitchell and Denny Miller (a former Tarzan and for years was ‘The Gorton Fisherman’) make a great pair of bad guys.  Cameron Mitchell has a nice little scene where he explains to a sheriff how slaves are a way of life in the south and without them, that life will soon be nonexistent.

So should you see BUCK AND THE PREACHER?  I think you should.  It’s got a story that showcases a little known period in The Old West so there’s something extra for you.  But it’s also got some great shootouts including the final one where Buck and The Preacher make a last stand against a dozen opponents.  The performances are solid and Harry Belafonte is obviously having a great time with his character.  It’s got Sidney Poitier.  And it’s a western.  What more do you need?

Rated: PG

102 minutes

True Legend

 

 

2010

Shanghai Film Group

Focus Features

Directed by Yuen Woo-ping

Produced by Bill Kong

Written by To Chi-long

 

If you’ve been hanging out here with me or over at Better In The Dark then you’ve probably heard me going on and on about how much I miss Manhattan’s 42end Street of the 70’s and 80’s.  I spent a lot of time and money seeing movies on that old street, lined on both sides with grindhouses.  If you had even as little as ten bucks in your kick you could spend the whole day going from one theater to the other watching double and even triple features.

One of these theaters was famous for showing nothing but a triple feature of Kung Fu/Martial Arts movies.  That’s right.  During the entire decade of the 80’s you could go see three Kick ‘Em Ups for three lousy dollars at this one theater.  I don’t believe it ever lost money as I recall it always being damn near packed.  A lot of those movies were horribly dubbed, poorly shot and looked as if they’d been made in somebody’s backyard but damn if they weren’t fun.  Sure, we still have Kung Fu/Martial Arts movies being made today but oftentimes to me they come off looking too slick, too polished, too expensive and too well made for me to fully enjoy them.  “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Jet Li’s “Hero” are good examples of what I’m talking about.  Oh, I liked them both a lot but they’re both too art-house and much too self-important for my taste

I guess that’s why I liked TRUE LEGEND so much.  Even though it is extremely well made, professionally polished, slick and a lot of money obviously spent on it, it was made in the true spirit of those Kung Fu epics of the 70’s and 80’s.  There’s just enough story to support us from one scene of spectacular asskicking to the next and it’s a wild story that goes from one twist to another with a gleeful abandon in a way that satisfied a long-time Kung Fu movie fan like me.

 

The movie opens with the great warrior General Su Can (Vincent Zhao) rescuing his prince from a forbidden mountain top fortress.  Any movie that opens with an insanely over-the-top battle that most movies would have ended with catches my attention right away.  In gratitude, the prince wants to give Su a governorship but Su turns it down.  Su persuades the prince to give the governorship to his step-brother Yuan (Andy On).  Su wants to go back home to be with his wife Ying (Zhou Xun) who is Yuan’s sister and open up his own martial arts school.

We jump five years ahead and now Su is a renowned Wu Shu master, raising a son, Feng with his wife and preparing to welcome Yuan home.  It’s a bloody homecoming indeed.  Yuan has hated Su for years because Su’s father killed Yuan’s biological father.  Su’s dad raised the boy and his sister as his own children but Yuan’s the kinda guy who holds grudges for a looooong time.  To ensure his revenge, Yuan has learned a forbidden evil martial arts technique called The Five Venom Fists and has had some really wicked, demonic looking armor grafted onto his arms, legs and torso.

Yuan’s kills Su’s dad, Su’s entire household of retainers, staff and family.  And that’s just before lunch.  Before he’s through he’s beaten the piss outta Su and thrown him down a waterfall.  Ying follows her husband and Yuan thinks they’re both dead.

Not so.  They’re found by a herbalist physician,  Sister Yu (Michelle Yeoh) who nurses them back to health.  Su is obsessed with once again fighting Yuan and getting revenge.  But his confidence is shattered.  He regains it when he encounters The Old Sage (The Great, Great Man Gordon Liu) and The God of Wu Shu (Jay Chou) and begs to be their disciple.  The Old Sage tells him that once he defeats The God of Wu Shu he can be their disciple.

Now that’s all the set-up I’m going to give you and actually it’s all you really need as from here on out the movie goes in a couple of directions that you really need to be ignorant on if you want to truly enjoy it.

The acting in this one is nothing to rave about but let’s be honest here; you don’t watch a Kung Fu/Martial Arts movie for Academy Award winning performances.  But it’s always good to see Gordon Liu in a Kung Fu movie where he belongs and Jay Chou reminds me here of why he was the only thing good about the recent “Green Hornet” movie.  Don’t look for Michelle Yeoh to bust any moves as her role is little more than an extended cameo.  As is David Carradine who appears in the last twenty minutes of the movie as the ruthless manager of a cadre of bloodthirsty fighters.   Su takes them on in a really outstanding fight scene where he demonstrates the Drunken Fist, battling his opponents on a platform over a pit of hungry tigers.

So should you see TRUE LEGEND?  If you like Kung Fu movies I recommend it highly.  I’ve read some reviews that claim the fight choreography is unmemorable and I have to wonder what movie those reviewers saw because I found the fight scenes in TRUE LEGEND exhilarating and exciting.  The only odd thing about the movie is that it goes on for another twenty minutes for the battle against Carradine’s fighters when there really is no need as the movie’s story has ended but hey, I’m not gonna argue against twenty more minutes of Kung Fu mayhem, especially when it’s this much fun.  TRUE LEGEND is no masterpiece of the genre but it’s a damn good movie and that’s all it has to be for me.  Highly recommended.

115 minutes

Rated