Original Release Date: 4/28/1972 (New York City)
Director: Sidney Poitier
Studio(s): Columbia Pictures; E & R Productions Corp.; Belafonte Enterprises
Running Time: 102 mins.
Cast: Sidney Poitier (Buck), Harry Belafonte (The Preacher), Ruby Dee (Ruth), Cameron Mitchell (Deshay), Clarence Muse (Cudjo), Denny Miller (Floyd), Nita Talbot (Madame Esther), John Kelly (Sheriff), James McEachin (Kingston), Lynn Hamilton (Sarah), Doug Johnson (Sam), Errol John (Joshua), Tony Brubaker (Headman), Julie Robinson (Sinsie), Enrique Lucero (Chief).
Story: After the Civil War, former slave and Union Army sergeant Buck becomes a wagon master and leads wagon trains of freed slaves from Louisiana to the unsettled territories of Kansas in search of a better life. In order to ensure safe passage and food for his company, Buck negotiates with the Native Americans in the area. He pays them, and in turn they allow him to kill limited numbers of buffalo for food, and to pass through their land. Night Riders, a group of violent white mercenary soldiers hired by Southern plantation owners raid the African American wagon trains and settlements to either scare them back to Louisiana or kill them. The raiders attempt to kill Buck by setting a trap at the farm belonging to his woman Ruth, however he escapes.
While in flight he comes across a former slave and glib con man who wears clerical garb, spouts biblical verses and calls himself Preacher. Buck forces the Reverend to switch horses with him and the disgruntled Preacher proceeds to a small boomtown.
Preacher is then accosted by the night rider’s leader, who recognizes Buck’s horse and demands to know Buck’s location. After Preacher, who introduces himself as Reverend Willis Oakes Rutherford of the High and Low Order of the Holiness Persuasion Church, convinces him that he does not know Buck’s whereabouts, the leader offers him a $500 reward for Buck, dead or alive.
Although the Preacher initially had a desire to get even with Buck, he changes his mind and decides to work with Buck after seeing the carnage the white raiders inflict on the African American travelers. Buck, Ruth and the Preacher do whatever it takes to get the wagon train west, including ambushing some of the raiders in a brothel, robbing a bank, and taking on the entire band of raiders.
Buck and Preacher are chased up a rocky hillside and a prolonged shootout ensues, during which they kill several posse members and are wounded themselves. Just as they are about to be gunned down, the watching Native American chief sends his warriors to help them. The surviving posse members are either killed or frightened off.
Later, the settlers survey the beautiful valley before them then bid farewell to Buck, Ruth and Preacher, who ride north toward their own destinies.
Notes: After the opening credits, a written statement describes the plight of freed slaves attempting to start new lives after the Civil War and dedicates the film to “those men, women and children who lie in graves as unmarked as their place in history.” Buck and the Preacher marked the first film collaboration of longtime friends Poitier and Belafonte, and several reviewers compared the film to the 1969 hit Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Other critics commented positively on Poitier’s direction and the unusual presentation of African-American settlers and their interactions with Native Americans.
Although the August 1971 Look article stated that Poitier and Belafonte hoped the film would “be successful enough to repeat,” a sequel to Buck and the Preacher was never produced. Poitier and Belafonte next worked together on the 1974 comedy Uptown Saturday Night, which was also directed by Poitier. Sources: tcm.com; burnsfilmcenter.org; Wikipedia. Photo Sources/gifs: daarac.org; photobuste.blogspot.com; cinemaparidiso.co.uk.