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The Variety review noted that the working title of the film was Kane until RKO filed and won a title dispute based on the fact that the studio owned the copyright to the title Citizen Kane. The opening and closing onscreen cast credits differ slightly in order. Sources disagree about the film's running time. Although the New York Times and Variety reviews and Filmfacts list the running time as 94 minutes, the Los Angeles Times gives the running time as 100 minutes and Hollywood Reporter lists it as 105 minutes. The viewed print was 95 minutes.
E&R Production was owned by Sidney Poitier. Brother John marked the company's first production and the first of a three-picture deal E&R had with Columbia.
Although a December 1969 Variety news item credited Poitier with the original story, he is not credited onscreen or in reviews. According to an April 1970 Hollywood Reporter article, producer Joel Glickman noted that at the time, Brother John was said to have the most multi-racial crew of any major Hollywood feature ever made, and that a third of the crew was comprised of minorities. Glickman noted that pressure from the Justice Department to speed equal opportunities for minorities in the film industry spurred the unions to circumvent seniority policies that prevented minorities from being hired. The article also noted that under a Ford Foundation Grant, the American Film Institute put up $100 of the $250 weekly cost for paying and housing the film's five minority interns.
According to the Hollywood Reporter review, location filming was done in and around Marysville, CA. According to an April 1970 article in Hollywood Reporter, Brother John marked the introduction of Synctrol, a new wireless camera control and sound system invented by Hal Landaker of the Columbia sound department. The article noted that the new system required only a two-man crew, thus steamlining the production operation, cutting time and costs.
Critics generally reacted unfavorably to Poitier for playing a Christ-like figure, with the Newsday reviewer noting that, after the film was screened, someone summed up the audience's feeling by saying "...it was only a matter of time before Sidney Poitier played Christ."