Sidney Poitier Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr. - Essay

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr.

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Maya Angelou once claimed that] "Black men talk about change when what they really mean is exchange. They want to take over the positions of power white men have." Certainly Buck and the Preacher, the title characters in the new Sidney Poitier-Harry Belafonte film, would agree. The themes of exchange are obviously what appealed to Mr. Poitier when he chose the script for this black Western [Buck and the Preacher], which is his first assignment as a director. Poitier plays Buck as the latest word in self-reliant, soft-spoken, straight-shooting cowboys. At one point, while escaping a trap laid by his white nemeses, Buck even executes a running mount that would have made Yakima Canute proud. Yet I don't want to give the impression that Buck and his unscrupulous sidekick, the Preacher … are just Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes in black face. There is also an undertone in the film whispering benignly, "Up against the wall, M----- F----: this is a stickup!" The best-received scene in the film was the one where Buck and the Preacher robbed one of whitie's banks. (pp. 285-86)

[Buck and the Preacher is] more than just a Western. It has some fresh polemical intentions. It begins with a prologue informing us that black wagonmasters bravely tried to guide ex-slaves to homesteads in the West after the Civil War. The prologue briefs us on some of the extraordinary white discouragement and hardship faced by these wagonmasters. (Buck turns out to be a prototype of the breed.) At last the prologue dedicates the film to these men, "whose graves today lie as unmarked as their place in history." One purpose of this film, then, is to desegregate history. This strikes me as a feasible purpose for a work of popular art like a movie. (p. 286)

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr., in his review "Buck and the Preacher," in Commonweal (copyright © 1972 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. XCVI, No. 12, May 26, 1972, pp. 285-86.