Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Amazing Grace (1974)

An interesting mini-trend during the ’70s involved the resurgence of stars from yesteryear, with young-at-heart rascals George Burns and Ruth Gordon among the beneficiaries of unique projects catered to aged actors. Yet some performers from earlier generations returned to less laudatory effect, as in the awful comedy Amazing Grace, which features iconic “chitlin circuit” comedienne Jackie “Moms” Mabley. Despite having found the energy for career-revitalizing appearances on the TV show Laugh-In during the late ’60s, by the time she made Amazing Grace, Mabley was showing her years in the worst ways. It’s painful to watch her struggle through line readings and physical actions, so even though she basically delivers her characterization with the desired level of cartoonish sassiness, the sum effect is like watching your dotty grandmother tell an old story nobody wants to hear anymore. It’s a shame no one had the decency to pull the plug on this project once the lead actress’ limitations became apparent. Set in Baltimore and offering a silly, Capra-esque plot, Amazing Grace concerns busybody senior Grace (Mabley), who discovers that her next-door neighbor, mayoral candidate Welton J. Waters (Moses Gunn), is in the pocket of a rich (white) criminal named Annenberg (James Karen). Aided by her annoying friend, recently retired porter Forthwith Wilson (Slappy White), Grace sweet-talks Welton into the bosom of the lord, freeing him from corruption and even curing Welton’s wife (Rosalind Cash) of alcoholism. Each scene in Amazing Grace is more trite and vapid than the preceding, and the movie drags torturously as it stretches to include pointless cameos by old-time African-American performers Butterfly McQueen and Stepin Fetchit. Even if Mabley had been in better condition, Amazing Grace would still have been terrible—but given the condition of the leading actress, the movie is downright pathetic.

Amazing Grace: SQUARE

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