Cast & Crew
In the town of Hackley, Alabama, when household domestic Sarah Benjamin Gabriel visits Doc Henry L. Thomas complaining of stomach pains, Doc realizes that she has a malignant tumor and has only days to live. After hospitalizing Sarah, Doc sends for his son Lloyd, the town's ambitious district attorney, and Rev. MacGill. In his office, Doc recalls the difficult breech birth of Sarah's brother, John Kane, thirty-five years earlier: John's birth coincides with a violent thunderstorm that knocks out the electricity. Once Doc cuts the umbilical cord, however, the power is restored. John leaves town at the age of sixteen, returning eight years later when his mother Ella has a sudden stroke. Arriving back in town on a Trailways bus on the afternoon of his mother's stroke, John stays with her until her death a few hours later, then leaves town right after the funeral. Several years later, Sarah asks Doc to check into her recently deceased father's insurance policy. Kane, a brick mason, died when a building collapsed on him, and Doc subsequently learns that John arrived a few minutes after the accident and was with his father until he died. In the present, now that Sarah is dying, Doc is certain that John will return to town. Lloyd, who is preoccupied with a labor dispute at the Hill-Donaldson plant, is unimpressed by his father's prediction. Driving to the plant to confront the angry picketers, Lloyd is beset by the town's business leaders, who want him to disperse the strikers. Meanwhile, Sarah dies, and when Doc walks into her hospital room, he finds John staring out the window. Although John insists he has come for his sister's funeral, Sheriff Orly Ball suspects that he may be an outside labor agitator. At a gathering at the Gabriel house following the funeral, John encounters his old schoolmate, Louisa MacGill, the reverend's niece. Also there is the loutish Henry Birkardt, another old schoolmate who is bent on wooing Louisa. As they share a quiet moment alone, Louisa tells John that she moved to New York to teach school, but after becoming disillusioned by the city, returned home to teach, then invites him to visit her at their old school house. Meanwhile, Orly, who has confided his suspicions to Lloyd, goes to search John's motel room with the district attorney. Inside John's suitcase, they find newspapers from around the world, along with a copy of the Koran , several leather-bound diaries with blank pages and a passport stamped by the authorities of China, Russia, Cuba, India, Vietnam and many other countries. Now certain that John is some sort of subversive, Lloyd, who entertains ambitions of running for Congress, persuades a friend of his in the government to run a check on John, but the results are inconclusive. Later, when John visits Louisa at the schoolyard, he warns her that he only has a few days before he must leave town and she accepts that their relationship will be brief. As they stroll through the pastoral hills John ascends a ridge, and when he looks down, sees the Hill-Donaldson plant polluting the waters and denuding the land. Orly, who has taken a set of fingerprints from John's motel room, discovers that he was arrested for vagrancy in Ludlow, Texas, and has a fugitive warrant against him for walking off a road gang. Now certain that John is involved in the strike, Orly assigns his racist deputy George to watch him. George finds John at his brother-in-law Frank Gabriel's house. There George humiliates and intimidates Frank. To spare Frank from further humiliation, John suggests that they "talk" in the cellar and once there, the two men begin to fight. As Frank's son watches from the window, John easily bests the deputy, then extends his hand to help him up. Humbled, George leaves without a word. Later that night, John and Louisa are passing the labor hall when a meeting about the strike disbands. When Charley Gray, the strike leader, greets his old friend John, Orly's suspicious are further aroused. They all proceed to a nearby bar, where Charley tries to enlist John in his cause. Explaining that he is going to the town of Marion to meet a man from New York who wants to donate money to the strike, Charley asks John to accompany him "in case of trouble," but John refuses. Still certain that John has some otherworldly connection to his family's deaths, Doc, accompanied by the reverend, goes to talk to John's elderly teacher, Miss Nettie. Miss Nettie, who is approaching senility, recalls that at the age of sixteen, John turned down a scholarship to a teacher's college, saying that "teaching was not his job." When she asked when he was coming back, John said "when the wind comes again." Miss Nettie concludes her story by stating that she gave John a leather-bound journal as a going-away gift. That night as they drive home from listening to her uncle preach, Louisa jokes about her uncle sermonizing about hellfire, to which John cryptically replies that he has actually seen it. Their conversation is interrupted when the car in back of them, driven by the drunken Henry, slams into them. After Henry and his drunken friends run them off the road, Henry challenges John to fight. Just as John thrashes Henry and his friends, Orly pulls up and instructs John to drive off. John then takes Louisa home and informs her that he will be leaving the next day. When she pleads for him to stay and admits she loves him, he responds that he has no choice. She then offers to go with him, but he says that he has to go alone and will not be back. After John ruefully acknowleges that he loves her, too, and would like to live and die a simple life like his mother, father, sister and Charley, Louisa rejoins that Charley is not dead. As Doc drives home from Miss Nettie's, he mulls over her assertion that John will "come back when the wind comes again" and becoming distracted, crashes his car and is taken to the sheriff's office. Lloyd is summoned to collect his father, and when he arrives, Doc is chuckling at Orly pouring over John's journals with an ultraviolet light, hoping to glean some information from the blank pages. When Doc observes that John will leave tomorrow when the wind comes, Lloyd, bent on proving that John is a labor agitator, insists that Orly prevent him from leaving. Orly and his deputies then arrest John and take him to the sheriff's office to interrogate him about why he was traveling around the world. Soon after, the reverend and Louisa, having heard of John's arrest, come to the office. Just then, Orly receives news that Charley has been found dead, killed by a shotgun blast. Worried about a riot at the plant, Orly asks the reverend to come with him to calm the strikers. Doc feels vindicated when Louisa declares that John already knew that Charley was dead. As Orly and his deputies rush to get to the plant, Doc stashes the journals in a briefcase and convinces the turnkey to let him see John. After telling John that Charley is dead, Doc asks him what he has seen and John replies death, salvation, cruelty and war. When Doc asks if he saw any hope or love, John reflects that love might not be enough. Just then, a gust of wind begins to rustle the trees and John pulls on his jacket. After Doc hands John his journals, John says goodbye and the cell door slides open as the wind howls. Soon after, a Trailways bus proceeds down the street.
Warren J. Kemmerling
P. Jay Sidney
E. A. Nicholson
Malcolm Atterbury Jr.
Edward A. Biery
Gerald Perry Finnerman
George G. Miller
George Tuers Ii
Poitier plays John Kane, a mysterious figure long absent from his small Alabama town who somehow knows when anyone in his family is about to die and shows up out of nowhere. Returning home upon the death of his sister, he is mistaken for an outside labor agitator and soon becomes involved in the town's social and racial upheaval. The story maintains a deliberate ambiguity about who and what Kane is: a guardian angel, a savior, a quiet peacemaker who nevertheless can bring great force and fury when necessary to right injustice. Only the town's elderly doctor, the man who delivered him many years before, may have some insight into Kane's true nature.
Poitier makes no mention of the film in either of his two autobiographies, although in the second volume, Life Beyond Measure (Harper Collins, 2008), written as a series of letters to his great-granddaughter, he talks about the rational basis of his world view but notes that thanks to the spiritual teachings his mother taught him, he still doesn't "completely discount the existence of guardian angels." It may be that Poitier drew on some of his mother's strong faith to play a character who seems to come from another dimension, whether or not he and the filmmakers meant to imply that dimension was heaven.
Poitier's production company, E&R, made Brother John as the first of a three-picture deal with Columbia. A December 1969 Variety news item credited the actor with the original story, although the film bears a screenplay credit only for Ernest Kinoy, the Emmy-winning co-writer of the landmark miniseries Roots (1977). Variety also noted that the original title of the film was "Kane" until RKO won a suit against E&R based on the former's copyright of Citizen Kane (1941).
Producer Joel Glickman, quoted in the Hollywood Reporter in April 1970, claimed Brother John had the most multi-racial crew of any major Hollywood production up to that time. Glickman told the publication that pressure from the Justice Department to speed equal opportunities for minorities in the film industry spurred the unions to find ways around seniority policies that put up roadblocks to minorities seeking movie jobs. The article also noted that the American Film Institute used a Ford Foundation Grant to put up $100 of the $250 weekly cost for paying and housing the film's five minority interns. The same issue of the Reporter also noted that production times and costs were streamlined thanks to the introduction of Synctrol, a new wireless camera control and sound system invented by Hal Landaker of the Columbia sound department, which required only a two-man crew.
The town of Marysville in Northern California stood in for Kane's Alabama hometown in location shooting. In addition, Poitier's romantic interest in the film was played by Beverly Todd, who had appeared with him previously in The Lost Man (1969) and They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! (1970). According to a press release issued just prior to the film's release, Poitier had also directed her in the short-lived 1968 Broadway production of the comedy Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights, although Todd's name is not listed in any credits for that play. The same press release touted a tie-in event to promote Brother John, in which Todd selected the winning numbers in the New York state lottery for March 18, 1971. Most recently, Ms. Todd appeared as Morgan Freeman's wife in The Bucket List (2007).
Earlier in their careers, both director James Goldstone and cinematographer Gerald Perry Finnerman worked frequently on the Star Trek television series.
Director: James Goldstone
Producer: Joel Glickman
Screenplay: Ernest Kinoy
Cinematography: Gerald Perry Finnerman
Editing: Edward A. Biery
Art Direction: Albert Brenner
Original Music: Quincy Jones
Cast: Sidney Poitier (John Kane), Will Geer (Doc Thomas), Bradford Dillman (Lloyd Thomas), Beverly Todd (Louisa McGill), Paul Winfield (Henry Birkart).
by Rob Nixon
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."
Released in United States on Video April 28, 1988
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971
Released in United States on Video April 28, 1988