A change from familiar Western customs is afforded by [Buck and the Preacher, a] mildly comic and moderately dramatic account of the troubles that befell some of the freed slaves after the Civil War, when they headed for pastures new, but were impeded by white nightriders who wanted to keep them in the South to go on picking cotton for peanuts. It might not sound like a subject for laughter; and when it begins in beautifully moody sepia it looks as if it will be a solemn tale. But shortly after the colour has crept subtly into the frames, the fun begins as well….
Poitier has directed here for the first time, but with only a slight indication of freshness in Western style. He is much assisted, of course, by the unusual circumstances of the plot, as well as by the appropriately parched Mexican locations which give place at length to green and bounteous country. Some marvellously twangy music by Benny Carter lends a zip to numerous spates of action that might otherwise be routine. And it must be said that Poitier and Belafonte between them lift the comedy aspect into quite a tolerable caper, if perhaps a little obviously show-bizzy underneath the period realism. What I mean is best illustrated by a sequence where Belafonte surprises the nightriders in a brothel, and charms them as much as he shocks the 'madam' with his quasi-religious prattle about the sin of fornication: the preacher, in fact, is merely creating a diversion so that Buck can leap into action and make a surprise attack upon his enemies. In its way, this is breezy stuff and highly entertaining. And yet one feels that the racial connotations, so emphatic at times, ought not to be mixed with japes that are quite so calculated. Better than piling on the agony, of course; but I thought the balance uneasy.
Gordon Gow, in his review of "Buck and the Preacher" (© copyright Gordon Gow 1972; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 18, No. 9, June, 1972, p. 54.