Buck and the Preacher, a likeably unpretentious Western which marks the directorial debut of Sidney Poitier, gains much of its charm from the sly manipulation of genre conventions. It's about a taciturn ex-cavalryman and a shifty preacher leading a wagon train westward under repeated attack by a gang of bandits. Nothing much new here, except perhaps the mating of the Ford tradition (many echoes of Wagon Master) with modern anti-heroism. The real twist, though, is that the pioneers are black, the bandits are white trash, and the wagon train is rescued not by the cavalry but by the Indians.
Buck and the Preacher is saved from being a mere stunt like the black Hello, Dolly! by its creative use of the conventions it turns inside out. It mocks them at the same time it allows black audiences (and, vicariously, whites) the pleasure of usurping the mythology which the Western has long used to keep minorities in their place. Poitier's entrance scene is a thrill, both for its intrinsic beauty and for the echoes it carries: several blacks gazing into the distance, a solitary horseman appearing in the extreme background, and a fast panning shot of the horseman swiftly galloping and wheeling his steed in a circle, silhouetted in a blaze of sunlight. As Gordon Parks did in Shaft, Poitier is compensating for the black's traditionally impotent cinema image by playing macho heroism to the hilt—when Buck …...
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