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Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee
Ernest Kinoy
A wagon master and a con-man preacher help freed slaves dogged by cheap-labor agents out West.
Rated GP.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English PCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 103 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 8/23/2022

• “Expanding the Western” Featurette
• 3 Archival TV Segments
• Interview with Actor’s Daughter Gina Belafonte
• Booklet


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Buck and the Preacher: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1972)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 23, 2022)

More than 20 years after his cinematic career began – and nine years after he won an Oscar as Best Actor – Sidney Poitier went behind the camera for the first time. Thus we head to 1972’s Buck and the Preacher to take in Poitier’s directorial debut.

Set not long after the end of the Civil War, wagon trains of former slaves work their way west to start new lives. Buck (Poitier) acts as the guide for these caravans.

When bounty hunters stalk the travelers, Buck needs to take action. Along with an unscrupulous phony “preacher” who calls himself Reverend Willis Oaks Rutherford (Harry Belafonte), those involved struggle to survive.

Despite all his acclaim as an actor, Poitier couldn’t do as well behind the camera. Oh, he enjoyed some moderate success in the 1970s, and 1980’s Stir Crazy turned into one of the year’s biggest hits, but he never got to a point where he achieved many real highs as a director.

As much as I’d like to say that Preacher shows filmmaking talent that went semi-unrecognized, I can’t. Poitier creates a competent but scattered Western here.

Probably the biggest issue stems from the ways in which Preacher comes across more as social commentary than a well-executed story and/or character piece. In theory, this makes sense.

However, in reality, the emphasis on this side of matters means that Preacher tends to feel less impactful than it should. I get that all movies are products of their time, and a 1972 film with this one’s subject matter essentially needed to provide some themes in this vein.

The problem stems from the way Poitier works on these topics. Because so much of Preacher concentrates on those domains, it loses sight of the dramatic substance it needs.

Not that Preacher delivers a total snoozer. Poitier and Belafonte display good chemistry, and the movie comes with enough snatches of action to make it reasonably watchable.

Nonetheless, Preacher feels so bogged down in social issues that the characters and plot get shoved to the side. Neither domain blossoms into anything memorable and the movie tends to plod.

Given the talent involved, that makes Preacher a disappointment. I respect the movie’s aims but find the end product to seem less than enthralling.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Buck and the Preacher appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a more than competent presentation.

Sharpness seemed solid most of the time. A handful of slightly soft shots materialized, but these remained infrequent.

No issues with jaggies or moiré effects occurred, and edge haloes remained absent. I detected no signs of digital noise reduction, as the movie maintained a good natural sense of grain. Source flaws were non-existent across this clean presentation.

With its fairly natural palette, Preacher boasted nice colors. These rarely excelled, but they consistently looked full and rich within the somewhat sandy, arid setting.

Blacks were deep and dense, but shadows displayed good clarity. Overall, this turned into an appealing image.

Given the movie’s scope, you shouldn’t expect much from its DTS-HD monaural soundtrack. Speech became the dominant factor, and that side of the mix sounded fine, as lines felt fairly natural.

Music offered acceptably good range given the project’s age, and effects seemed reasonably concise and accurate. Nothing here stood out as memorable, but the mix worked fine for its age.

A few extras appear, and Expanding the Western delivers a May 2022 piece with film scholar Mia Mask. In this 24-minute, 31-second program, Mask covers the relationship between Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte as well as Blacks in Westerns and how Preacher came to fruition.

I like Mask’s discussion of the actors’ history together, and she offers enough information about the film to flesh out that side as well. Mask turns this into an engaging and informative reel.

Under Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, we find three archival clips. These include 1971’s “Behind the Scenes” (12:49) as well as 1972’s “Soul! (27:42) and The Dick Cavett Show (1:04:07).

“Scenes” takes us to the movie’s set for some elements of the production as well as comments from Belafonte and Poitier. Some of this offers the usual look at the shoot, but we get some unusually insightful remarks about the challenges of Black actors in Hollywood as well. Not a lot of fluffy promo reels include comments from the star/director as he refers to the American dream as a nightmare.

With Soul!, we get a chat among Belafonte, Poitier and host Ellis Haizlip set in front of a live audience. We get thoughts about the movie and their experiences as Black men in Hollywood as well as a mix of social and civil rights domains relevant in the era.

Because the show opened with a long clip from the movie, I feared it would offer little substance. However, like “Scenes”, it proves surprisingly frank and deep as it digs into serious issues, so it offers another solid chat.

Finally, Cavett brings Belafonte out for the first 22 minutes and then Poitier joins them for the rest of the program. This piece becomes more traditional than the others, as it focuses much more on Preacher and less about social domains, though it does get into that some.

Cavett tends to seem a little too obsequious, and that makes this the least interesting of the three. That doesn’t mean it lacks value, though, especially when we can see some clear tension between Belafonte and Poitier.

Even that domain falters, however, because Belafonte and Poitier than rant for far too long about a journalist they felt did them wrong. I like the glimpses of the actors’ relationship and I enjoy Poitier’s discussion of how he lost his original accent, but we don’t get a great deal of truly informative material here.

Shot in April 2022, Gina Belafonte provides a 13-minute, 48-second chat with the actor’s daughter. She talks about her father’s life and career as well as some aspects of Preacher in this brief but reasonably engaging reel.

A booklet completes the package with credits, photos and an essay from critic Aisha Harris. It becomes a nice complement to the Blu-ray.

As the directorial debut from Sidney Poitier, Buck and the Preacher earns a spot in movie history. Unfortunately, it never turns into a particularly compelling movie. The Blu-ray brings very good picture and appropriate audio as well as a mix of bonus materials. Though not a terrible film, Preacher fails to become terribly interesting.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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