Sidney Poitier Vincent Canby - Essay

Vincent Canby

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Buck and the Preacher," Sidney Poitier's first film as director as well as star, is a loose, amiable, post-Civil War Western with a firm though not especially severe Black Conscience. The film is aware of contemporary black issues but its soul is on the plains once ridden by Tom Mix, whom Poitier, astride his galloping horse, his jaw set, somehow resembles in the majestic traveling shots given him by the director….

"Buck and the Preacher" is … a perfectly ordinary example of the kind of Western that seeks to prove that the West was not lily-white. The movie West, of course, has never been completely lily-white. There have always been a certain number of Indians horsing around, scalping, drinking, shooting, getting shot, and being poorly dealt with by just about everybody, including the movie makers.

For the most part, however, blacks showed up on the frontier only as servants or, occasionally, as outcasts and loners, most notably in [John] Ford's "Sergeant Rutledge" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." If they do nothing else, these new Soul Westerns may serve to desegregate our myths, which have always been out of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

Vincent Canby, in his review of "Buck and the Preacher," in The New York Times (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 29, 1972 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews: 1971–1972, The New York Times Company & Arno Press, 1972, p. 254).