A film that only seems odd when compared to the lily-white stories that comprise the majority of its genre, this mildly groundbreaking black Western casts director-star Sidney Poitier as a classic American archetype: the gun-toting savior. Playing a wagon master who escorts groups of African-American pioneers from the (barely) free South to the wide-open spaces of the West shortly after the Civil War, Poitier matches his signature traits of dignity and poise with the X factors of a hot temper and an itchy trigger finger. Thrown together with a con man posing as a preacher (Harry Belafonte), Poitier’s Buck cuts a swath through the pale-faced monsters out to kill his people for the sin of wanting to live free. The mix of righteous indignation and badass gunplay is no more peculiar than similar juxtapositions found in a hundred other films with white casts, but the novelty of this film’s particulars gives Buck and the Preacher a strangely compelling energy. It helps (a lot) that the lurid story rushes along at a fast clip, one brisk scene after another strung together by a funky score dominated by a countrified mouth harp. Belafonte is entertainingly demented in his role (check out the way he hides his gun in a hollowed-out Bible), genre stalwart Cameron Mitchell contributes an odious presence as the picture’s main villain, and Civil Rights-era stalwart Ruby Dee offers a grounding presence in her smallish role as Buck’s perpetually endangered significant other.
Buck and the Preacher: FUNKY