I’ve heard this film categorized as part of the Blaxploitation movement but except for a couple scenes it doesn’t belong in that category. Sidney Poitier’s Western may feature a mostly black cast but it harks back to the tradition of the genre, not some revisionist take on it.
I was impressed with Poitier’s direction and performance, both of which seem informed by the greats of the genre from John Ford to John Wayne. With the help of a well-assembled team, he made a handsome Western highlighted by some incredible locations in Durango, Mexico (I need to film there!), set design, and stunning horsemanship. In his role as Buck, Poitier has a quiet strength. There’s also a ton of pain in his eyes, a vulnerability that shows through the grit. I will be encouraging our cast for our upcoming production Killin’ Jim Kelly to watch this one, specifically Sidney’s work.
Harry Belafonte is good too in a wild character performance that might go off the rails a couple times but overall works well throughout the picture. The flaw that prevents Buck and the Preacher from being a great Western is its length. At an hour and 42 minutes, it could have lost twenty and clocked in near the length of most Randolph Scott pictures (the perfect runtime for a Western in my opinion). As is, it goes on too long and gets repetitive. I can think of one or two spots when it could have ended and unfortunately didn’t. The last third of the movie, adopting a Butch and Sundance vibe, was not nearly as strong as the rest of the film. There’s something to be said for ending a picture early and leaving the audience wanting more. That being said, I am quite fond of this movie and I wish that some of the recent black-led and produced Westerns would use it as an example, rather than leaning on a flashy style.
On a final note, I was lucky enough to see Buck and the Preacher on the big screen in Nashville. I walked down to a movie theater near my apartment and looked at their schedule, delighted to see they programmed older films, just in time for a Saturday matinee showing.
Watched at Belcourt Theater in Nashville, TN.