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Poitier's revisionist western debuts on Blu 4.5 Stars

By the start of the 1970’s, Sidney Poitier – who left us earlier this year – had firmly established himself as a transformative figure in Hollywood. The first Black actor to win a Best Actor Oscar – for Lilies of the Field (1963) – he had made a mark as a reliable leading man who projected strength in his characterizations in an era of changing attitudes and tastes. In 1972, he added directing feature films to his resume with the western Buck and the Preacher for Columbia Pictures. Previously released on DVD, Criterion has licensed the movie from Sony for its Blu-ray debut.

Buck and the Preacher (1972)
Released: 17 Mar 1972
Rated: GP
Runtime: 102 min
Director: Sidney Poitier, Joseph Sargent
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Western
Cast: Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee
Writer(s): Ernest Kinoy, Drake Walker
Plot: A wagon master and a con-man preacher help freed slaves dogged by cheap-labor agents out West.
IMDB rating: 6.5
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Sony
Distributed By: Criterion Collection
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: PG
Run Time: 1 Hr. 43 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 08/23/2022
MSRP: $39.95

The Production: 4/5

In the late 1860’s, Buck (Sidney Poitier) is a tough as nails wagon master leading a group of freed slaves from Louisiana to unsettled territories in Kansas. However, they’re menaced by a group of “night riders” – led by Deshay (Cameron Mitchell) – hired by the plantation owners, who aim to either intimidate them back to the South or kill them. But Buck has the Reverend Willis Oaks Rutherford (Harry Belafonte) – a wisecracking con man whom Buck encounters by chance (and initially wanted to get even with Buck) – on his side, and the duo has to work together to make sure the wagon train makes it through and deal out western justice to the mercenaries, by any means necessary.

With Buck and the Preacher, Sidney Poitier affirmed his status as not only a leading man, but also a solid film director – he replaced the film’s original director Joseph Sargent during production when he felt that he wasn’t giving the story the attention it needed. Speaking of the story – penned by Ernest Kinoy and Drake Walker, with Kinoy adapting from that framework – it represented the first time a major film studio took on a Western movie that had Black heroes in a genre that mostly overlooked them; the movie was also released in the same year Paramount Pictures offered up their answer to that void – the controversial blaxploitation western The Legend of Black Charley (the film’s TV title; the actual title can’t be used here for obvious reasons). Here, the elements of western, buddy comedy and Black Power are melded together to create a story that’s sly on humor and also turns the genre’s conventions on its head; Poitier’s direction is much like his acting – strong, steady and assured – and saves the movie’s most thrilling gun battle for the final act. Buck and the Preacher not only opened up new frontiers for the western genre, but also sends up some old tropes to create an altogether satisfying and fun movie that’s absolutely worth rediscovering and reappraising.

As the taciturn wagon master, Sidney Poitier brings his iconic charm and cool to the role of Buck; following this directorial debut, he would follow up with directorial efforts (all of which he also starred in) A Warm December (1973), Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Let’s Do It Again (1975) and A Piece of the Action (1977). As the wily preacher, Harry Belafonte clearly is having a field day in his humorous characterization; he would reunite with Poitier in Uptown Saturday Night and would later win the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy for his civil rights and humanitarian work in 2014. Ruby Dee – reuniting with Poitier here following their appearance together in Daniel Petrie’s film adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun (1961) – makes a notable impression as Buck’s resourceful wife while Cameron Mitchell brings the heavy as the night rider leader Deshay. Rounding out the cast here are Denny Miller as fellow night rider Floyd, Nita Talbot as brothel owner Madame Esther, James McEachin, Clarence Muse, Errol John and Lynn Hamilton as members of the wagon train looking to put down roots in Kansas, Enrique Lucero as the Indian chief Buck negotiates with, John Kelly as the sheriff, Julie Robinson as Sinsie and José Carlos Ruiz as an Indian warrior.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new 4K digital restoration of the original 35mm camera negative for this HD transfer. Film grain, color palette and fine details are all faithfully represented with minimal cases of scratches, dirt or tears present here. This release is by far the best the movie will ever look on home video, easily surpassing the previous Sony DVD release.

Audio: 5/5

The film’s original monaural soundtrack is presented on a PCM track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and music score (composed by jazz legend Benny Carter, with blues musicians Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee & Don Frank Brooks performing on the soundtrack) are presented faithfully and clearly with minimal to no instances of distortion, crackling, popping, fluttering or hissing present here. Again, this release is likely the best movie will ever sound on home video and another improvement on the previous Sony DVD release.

Special Features: 4/5

Expanding the Western: The Road to Buck and the Preacher (24:01) – Author Mia Mask looks at both the cinematic history of the Black western as well as Sidney Poitier’s oft overlooked directorial career in this new interview.

The Great American Dream Machine episode from 1971 (12:49) – This excerpt from the WNET program features behind-the-scenes footage of making the movie in Durango, Mexico.

1972 episode of The Dick Cavett Show featuring Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier (1:04:07)

1972 episode of Soul! feat. Poitier and Belafonte (27:42)

Interview with Gina Belafonte, Harry’s daughter (13:48) – In this new interview, Gina shares her memories of being on the set during the movie’s filming and discusses how this movie fits in her father’s longtime commitment to fighting for civil rights.

Foldout feat. an essay by critic Aisha Harris

Overall: 4.5/5

Despite getting some mixed reviews from the critics upon first release, Buck and the Preacher is a slyly made western that brought a new wrinkle to the well-worn formula. Criterion has done their usual terrific job here, with an exemplary HD transfer and a nice slate of special features to accompany the film. Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from the previous DVD release.

Amazon.com: Buck and the Preacher (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]: Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, Cameron Mitchell, Denny Miller, Nita Talbot, John Kelly, Tony Brubaker, Bobby Johnson, James McEachin, Sidney Poitier: Movies & TV

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[email protected]!

Stunt Coordinator
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Dec 20, 2020
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Real Name
Kent
I CONCUR! THIS IS A TERRIFIC RELEASE OF AN UNJUSTLY NEGLECTED FILM! I applaud The Criterion Collection for this beautiful release and for the increased attention paid to pioneering achievements made by artists of color. For those of us who love film and have longed for these releases in high quality, they are filling a void for generations to come! BRAVO!
 

Bernard McNair

Second Unit
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Sep 30, 2007
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Bernard McNair
This film has grown on me over the years; I did not think much of it on first release (I think I too young and not educated enough in the world to grasp some of the meaning and nuance).
As I age this film and what sits behind it resonates very strongly.
Bravo to Criterion for the release.
Thank you for an excellent review of the film.
 

jayembee

Senior HTF Member
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Mar 29, 2020
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Hamster Shire
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Jerry
I watched my DVD of it in the days following Poitier's death, and thought it held up really well. I haven't picked up the Criterion BD yet, but it's on my list.