From director and star Sidney Poitier comes an unlikely trilogy of comedies.
Uptown Saturday Night (1974)
Uptown Saturday Night trailer
An inexplicably tender, untroubled exchange between Steve (Sidney Poitier) and his wife Sarah (Rosalind Cash) prefaces a raucous boy’s night out night in a Harlem house of ill-repute. Robbers relieve best friend Wardell (Bill Cosby) and Steve of their wallets, but the latter’s contains a winning sweepstakes ticket worth $50K, and thereby hangs a tale. Once upon a time, Poitier would be allowed to appear opposite a white woman only if she was a nun, blind, or Kate Hepburn’s niece. (That may account, in part, for all the mattering-much message pictures the pioneering actor was assigned.) But the trilogy of upbeat blaxploitation crime comedies that he directed and starred in shows off a lighter side of the artist, at least in front of the camera. (The pace of Richard Wesley’s admittedly episodic script needs tightening.) The trilogy accounted for 3 of the 18 titles released by First Artists, the production company established in 1969 by Poitier, Barbra Streisand, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen and designed to emulate an earlier artist’s conglomerate: United Artists. The cast brings together a veritable That’s Entertainment of black entertainers circa 1974: Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson, Roscoe Lee Browne, Paula Kelly, Calvin Lockhart, and Harold Nicholas (one-half of the Nicholas Bros). One sour note: Harry Belafonte’s overworked impersonation of Don Corleone was tired even before the picture was released.
Let’s Do it Again (1975)
Let’s Do it Again trailer
No time to watch all three? Skip the sandwich crackers and go right for the delicious cheese filling. The fix is in when a pair of working class stiffs (Poitier and Cosby), looking to raise money to save their lodge, hypnotize a stringbean boxer (J.J. Walker) into successfully thinking he’s the next Joe Louis. (Poitier mastered the art of mesmerism while in the Army Medical Corps.) To call it a shakily moored lexicography of ancient slapstick hoopla would not be far off. Neither would it be an insult, considering the chuckles to be had watching our heroes knotting bed sheets as a means of escape. (Come to think of it, other than the stars, the only constant in the so-called trilogy are vertiginous episodes staged on and/or going out and over a window ledge.) Not that I’m complaining, mind you; Poitiers’ slue-foot method of spoofing makes an ideal substitute for the Three Stooges, Abbott & Costello, and Amos & Andy brand of slapdash laughfests he aimed to emulate. And is there anything funnier than a white boy dressed in pimp’s clothing? Joining the holdovers are John Amos, Ossie Davis, Denise Nicholas, George Foreman, Billy Eckstine and the always welcome presence of Julius Harris as Bubbletop. Lastly: Bill Cosby never should have been allowed to ad lib.
A Piece of the Action (1977)
A Piece of the Action trailer
With a running time of 135 minutes, the final leg feels longer than both its predecessors combined. We open in mid-caper, and if the date stamp is any indication, this time it’s going to be serious. James Earl Jones is the retired detective who blackmails a heretofore untouchable pair of unrelated criminals (Sir Sidney and Dr. Cosby) into helping him finance a neighborhood center for at-risk youth. Comedy takes a back seat to sermonizing as rambunctious teens and sanctimonious stars meet and gradually thaw. Still, one standout scene finds Sheryl Lee Ralph as a J.D. turning the tables on a condescending teacher and her accusations of inattentiveness. The rest plays out like an episode of Room 222 with better cinematography (Donald Morgan) and music (Curtis Mayfield). Appearing as gangsters are Val Avery, Titos Vandis (Daisy’s owner in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex...), and the architect of Johnny Cool, Marc Lawrence.