January 2002
Blackpopgo : A Weekly Discussion Of Art, Politics, & Pop Culture And How It Affects The Black Diaspora...Or At Least One Member Of It

Written by Vincent Williams

Blackpopgo : A Weekly Discussion Of Art, Politics, & Pop Culture And How It Affects The Black Diaspora...Or At Least One Member Of It

I love a good buddy picture. Growing up, I spent many a Sunday afternoon enraptured by the Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis flicks and, in a pinch, one of those Bing Crosby/Bob Hope road pics are a great way to pass a couple of hours. The camaraderie, the back & forth banter, the improvisational comedic spirit of a duo that trusts each other; you just can't beat one of the classic buddy films. As much as I love those, it goes without saying there's another buddy duo that sits head and shoulders above the rest. For my money, Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby's three pictures, "Uptown Saturday Night," "Let's Do It Again" and " Piece of the Action"update the Martin/Lewis, Crosby/Hope concept but flow more organically than any of the aforementioned duos' films ever did. Everyone gushes over your Shaft's and your Superfly's and, if you're drunk enough, your Dolomite's when speaking of 70's Black films but the Poitier/Cosby pictures are just as good and are aging much better than most of the "hot" Blaxploitation films and, in fact, "Uptown Saturday Night" is one of the finest comedies and general films of the pre-Star Wars 70's renaissance.

Really, "Uptown Saturday Night," the duo's first film together, is more comedic epic than simple road movie. Released in 1974, the picture revolves around working class buddies, Poitier and Cosby (One of the perhaps unintentionally comedic elements of all of these pictures is watching classical theater trained, immaculately enunciating Sidney Poitier attempting to be "from the streets." Sidney Poitier "speakin' jive" is one of the funniest spectacles ever seen on film. The Cos, on the other hand, just dips into his North Philly origins and keeps on truckin'.) attempting to track down Poitier's winning lottery ticket when the two are robbed after sneaking out to Madame Zenobia's nightclub/casino. As the movie progresses, they interview different suspects including Little Seymour played by Harry Nicholas and Geechie Dan Buford played exuberantly by Harry Belafonte and, eventually, reach their goal after tangling with Calvin "Dag, he's smooth Negro!" Lockhart's Silky Slim. "Uptown Saturday Night" is a masterpiece for a few of reasons. (And not just because the characters had the best names ever.)

First of all, the chemistry between Poitier and Cosby is amazing. While it's easy to sort of pigeonhole them into simplistic comedy team terms like Straight Man and Clown, in reality, the two have a much more complex coupling. Sure, Cosby is funny-hilarious as a matter of fact-but, of the duo, he's the one with the eye for the ladies as his flirtation with Leggy Peggy shows, so Cos is in no way the "neutered, funny one." And while Poitier is the leading man, per se, he is amazingly funny. Poitier "calling out" Little Seymour by talking about his mother and the subsequent "crazy act" he has to put on to get out of the trouble almost brings me to tears every time I see it.

Secondly, the world that Poitier and Cosby inhabit is a fully formed and completely realized place. There is an intricate structure in place for the world's criminal element. As they search for the ticket, their travels take them from Madame Zenobia's upscale casino to various seedy bars and backrooms to an alderman's office to the church. The attention to detail lends texture and fleshes out the experience of the duo and, through them, the audience.

Finally, the cast, placed in the aforementioned world, is frankly the best comedic ensemble ever assembled on film. (Yeah I said it. Come up with a better comedic cast. Go ahead. I'll wait. No, "48 Hours" doesn't count because Eddie Murphy is the only funny one in it. I think "Raising Arizona" is the funniest movie I've ever seen in my life but the script puts that on top because, as good as it is, that cast can't touch this one.) Besides the stars, Harry Belafonte's Godfather riff, Geechie Dan Buford is an over the top triumph. Paula Kelly and Roscoe Lee Browne as Leggy Peggy and her stuffy politician husband, Congressman Lincoln could carry a movie by themselves. In scene taking cameo's, Harry Nicholas shows a wonderful propensity for physical comedy as Little Seymour and both Richard Pryor and Flip Wilson turn in perfect scenes as a paranoid P.I. and a surprisingly non-toxic or hateful imitation of a preacher. "Uptown Saturday Night" passes the film test of flawlessness that few can: it's watchable everyday and, if you have something to do and you're looking for a space to jump out, there's no lull where you can turn it off.

Uptown Saturday Night really created the template for the other two. As a comedian, Poitier shines even more in "Let's Do It Again" as an ex-Army hypnotist. Bill Cosby is a full on sexual being with Denise Nicholas (who is also quite the little comedian) in both "Let's Do It Again" and "A Piece of the Action." And while the casts aren't quite as good as the first effort, John Amos, James Earl Jones and even Jimmy Walker do all right for themselves in the rest of the series. Finally, everyone should see "Let's Do It Again" for historical purposes if nothing else. We should all know where the Notorious B.I.G. got the name, "Biggie Smalls" from.

I wish they did more Black buddy movies. As it is, we've been relegated to "Jive Talkin' Black Buddy" or "Neutered, Older Man" in the past twenty years. I was quietly hoping that Will Smith and Martin Lawrence might get something going but, ah well. I still have my "Uptown Saturday Night." Now, if they would just put it on DVD, I could watch Sidney Poitier say, "your mama" every day in that Sidney Poitier voice everyday.


Bits & Pieces-you know, I thought I could stop watching "ER" when Eric LaSalle left but I kinda like that new Black guy......Watched "Fame" the other night. The scene where Coco takes her shirt off still bothers me to no end...Ain't it funny how the commercials for "Blackhawk Down" gloss over the fact that they were over there shooting Black people?

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Vincent Williams is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia. His writing has appeared in many publications, including the Baltimore City Paper, Philadelphia Weekly, Orlando Weekly and the Texas Black & White. His novel, temples was published in 1999 by La Caille Nous Books. During a short period in the early nineties he tried to get everyone to call him "Kansas City Mack".