Cast & Crew
After the Civil War, former slave and Union Army sergeant Buck becomes a wagon master and leads freed slaves to the West in search of a better life. The homesteaders are plagued by mercenary soldiers known as night riders, hired by Southern plantation owners, who destroy their supplies in order to force them to return to work in the South. After terrorizing one group, the night riders' leader, former Confederate soldier Beau Deshay, plans to ambush Buck at the farm belonging to his woman, Ruth. Buck escapes, however, and after spotting a solitary campfire with a horse tethered nearby, begins to swap his exhausted horse for the fresh horse. However, when the horse's owner, a former slave and glib con man who wears clerical garb, spouts biblical verses and calls himself Preacher, protests, Buck levels his gun at him and rides off. The disgruntled Preacher proceeds to a small boomtown and there meets a young black child named Little Toby, who tells him that his people have planted a crop for a local farmer and are about to head West. Preacher is then accosted by Deshay, 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, Deshay offers him a $500 reward for Buck, dead or alive, and tells him that the night riders reside in the town of Copper Springs. Preacher goes with Toby to meet his family and discovers that they are from St. Anne's Parish in Louisiana. Much to Preacher's surprise, Buck is their wagon master, and upon seeing him, Preacher knocks the scout down with a mighty punch. Buck agrees to trade horses again but, mistrusting Preacher, orders him not to accompany the group. The pioneers are loaded down with supplies and are carrying almost $2,000, which is hidden in a belt worn by a young woman. Preacher, having seen the money, is determined to go along, but the next day, Buck forces him to leave. Buck then gives the group's leader, Kingston, directions to the next waterhole and promises to rejoin them soon. Preacher trails Buck and catches up to him, but is terrified when Indian warriors appear, although Buck calmly dismounts and prepares to talk to the Indians. Through Sinsie, the chief's wife and translator, Buck requests safe passage for the settlers and the right to hunt buffalo. The chief and Buck agree on a price, although the chief allows them only five days to cross. That night, while Preacher and Buck rest at their campsite, the settlers are attacked by Deshay and his men. With their money stolen, supplies destroyed and several people murdered, the homesteaders are heartbroken, but old Cudjo, one of the homesteaders, throws his fortune-telling bones and declares that a lush valley awaits them. Buck and Preacher are dismayed upon seeing the devastation, and when the group insists on continuing, Buck assures them that they have safe passage. Preacher is especially distraught by Toby's death and informs Buck that Deshay's gang is at Copper Springs. Determined to retrieve the settlers' money, Buck and Preacher head for the town while the wagon train moves on. In Copper Springs, Sheriff Jeff Harley warns Deshay that it is illegal to assault the pioneers, but Deshay insists that as "bona fide labor recruiters," they have a right to "preserve" the pre-war way of life. At night, Deshay and seven of his men are relaxing at Madam Esther's bordello when Preacher bursts in to distract them. Preacher makes the men laugh as he declaims against fornication, and when their guard is down, Buck enters and a gunfight ensues. Buck and Preacher, who keeps a large pistol hidden in his Bible, kill their enemies, although two of the gang members, who are in the saloon, escape. Floyd, Deshay's nephew, and the other rider join the sheriff's posse in pursuit of Buck and Preacher, but the two black men elude them. While they rest, Buck is disgusted to discover that the mercenaries had already squandered most of the settlers' money. Buck and Preacher then ride to Ruth's cabin, where she declares that she wants to move to Canada with Buck to raise a family in a land free from any "shadow of slavery." Ruth asserts that the idealistic Buck has done as much as one man can, but Buck maintains that he gave his word to the homesteaders. Reluctantly, Ruth accompanies Buck and Preacher, with the trio leaving just ahead of the pursuing posse. Later, at camp, Buck confesses to Ruth that he feels beaten by the night riders and their violence, even though he had survived both slavery and fighting in the war. Preacher then reveals that he got the "funny Bible" that hides his pistol after killing the white preacher who owned and abused him and his mother. As Buck ponders how to replenish the settlers' money, Preacher suggests robbing the bank at Copper Springs, because all the men are out searching for them. With Ruth's help, Buck and Preacher succeed in stealing the money and are about to ride away quietly when one of their captives raises the alarm. The posse, which had returned during the robbery, chases the fleeing trio but is stopped when the fugitives ride through a line of Indians, who close their ranks against the whites. Although Floyd wants to fight through the Indians, Harley warns that they will be slaughtered if they pursue Buck. The trio is taken to the chief, who states that although they are guaranteed safe passage, the Indians will not fight for them, nor sell them any of their own much-needed firearms. Meanwhile, the posse has found the St. Anne Parish wagon train, upon which Floyd and Harley spy from a nearby ridge. Floyd wants to attack the settlers but Harley rebukes him, after which Floyd kills the sheriff and tells the posse that Harley approved the raid. As the posse rides down the hillside, they are spotted by Buck, who gives the money to Ruth, then rides with Preacher in the opposite direction to draw off their pursuers. Buck and Preacher allow themselves to be chased up into a rocky hillside and a prolonged shootout begins, during which the pair kills several posse members and are wounded themselves. Just as they are about to be gunned down, the watching chief sends his warriors to help them. The surviving posse members are either killed or frightened off, and Buck and Preacher are saved by Ruth and Kingston. Later, the settlers survey the beautiful valley foretold by Cudjo then bid farewell to Buck, Ruth and Preacher, who ride north toward their own destiny.
Jose Carlos Ruiz
Malcolm Atterbury Jr.
Jose Maria Hernandez
Pembroke J. Herring
Sydney Z. Litwack
Garner M. J. Morris
Alex Phillips Jr.
Adolfo Ramirez Jr.
Alfonso Sanchez Tello
Buck and the Preacher
Poitier had dreamed of moving into direction for years and had begun observing his directors more carefully on the set. But when old friend Harry Belafonte approached him about co-producing and co-starring in this Western version of the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land, he felt he was still a few years away from switching to work behind the cameras. So the two hired Joseph Sargent, an accomplished television director, to film the large-scale project.
Once the company was on location in Mexico, however, they ran into trouble. Although Sargent's work was professional and polished, it was clear from the first day of shooting that he favored a completely different approach to the material than the two stars. Where he was directing a standard western, Poitier and Belafonte wanted to focus more on the racial elements, particularly the details of black life in the late 19th century and the relationship between the black settlers and the area's Native American population. After a week, Belafonte approached Poitier with his concerns and urged him to take over direction.
The only problem was their fear that studio executives at Columbia, which was backing the film, would pull the plug rather than risk their investment on an untried director like Poitier. So when they fired Sargent, they told the executives that Poitier was only going to direct until the studio men could find a permanent replacement. Of course on such short notice, there was little likelihood of the studio's finding a suitable replacement before the production would be completed. Columbia was supposed to get them a new director within three days, but they couldn't find one. So a week after Poitier had taken over the film, they sent two executives down to review the situation. After screening Poitier's footage, they agreed that he was doing a fine job on his own and allowed him to finish the film.
This was no minor undertaking. To film on location, the production company had created a small living complex in Durango, Mexico. Since transporting black extras from the U.S. would have been too expensive, producer Joel Glickman had recruited more than 100 extras from the black American expatriate community in Guadalajara, to which were added blacks who had emigrated to Mexico from Cuba, Brazil and other parts of Latin America. Added to this were another hundred or so Indian extras, a U.S. film crew augmented with the best of Mexico's film industry, and such seasoned professionals as Ruby Dee, one of the pioneers of America's black theatre movement; character actor Cameron Mitchell; former Wagon Train star Denny Miller; and Hollywood veteran Clarence Muse, who had been a front-runner to play Sam in Casablanca (1942). In addition, Belafonte's wife, Julie Robinson, played the Indian chief's wife.
Buck and the Preacher marked the start of a new career for Poitier as one of Hollywood's first black directors. Future projects would include Uptown Saturday Night (1974), which reunited him with Belafonte in front of the cameras, and the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder comedy hit Stir Crazy (1980).
Producer: Joel Glickman
Director: Sidney Poitier
Screenplay: Ernest Kinoy, Based on a Story by Kinoy and Drake Walker
Cinematography: Alex Phillips, Jr.
Art Direction: Sydney Z. Litwack
Music: Benny Carter
Principal Cast: Sidney Poitier (Buck), Harry Belafonte (Preacher), Ruby Dee (Ruth), Cameron Mitchell (Deshay), Denny Miller (Floyd), Nita Talbot (Madame Esther), Clarence Muse (Cudjo), Julie Robinson (Sinsie).
By Frank Miller
Buck and the Preacher
First time director 'Sydney Poitier' took over the job from Joe Sargent when he became dissatisfied with the film's point of view.
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." Sheldon Schrager's onscreen credit reads: "Assistant director and unit production manager." E & R Production Corp. was the name of actor-director Sidney Poiter's production company.
Contemporary sources reported that the picture began production with Joseph Sargent as the director, but after a few days, Sargent was replaced by Poitier, who made his directorial debut with Buck and the Preacher. According to an August 1971 Look magazine article, Poitier also worked with Ernest Kinoy on revising and polishing the screenplay before production began.
While February 1971 Daily Variety news items reported that the change of directors was made due to "differences between the director and stars," Filmfacts quoted actor Cameron Mitchell as stating that Sargent "was shooting the picture like a TV show." Filmfacts also quoted co-producer Harry Belafonte, who stated: "We might as well face it. We needed a black man for a sensitive job about black people." In his autobiography, Poitier related that he took over direction of the film at the urging of Belafonte because they both felt that Sargent was not emphasizing "certain values dear to [them]." In a long article about the production in March 1971, Daily Variety reported that Sargent was amenable to being replaced, because he felt that Poitier "had breathed and lived with it [the film] since its conception....It's his film. It's as simple as that, and there was nothing racial about it whatever."
The Daily Variety article also noted that the production, which recruited black extras from El Paso, TX because "Negroes who lived in Mexico....just didn't look black," was facing charges of discrimination by Mexican actors and crew members, who complained that they were underrepresented and underpaid. The producers responded that they were paying scale wages, and that in addition to the Mexican crew utilized, six "minority trainees," including story writer Drake Walker, who worked as an apprentice director, were part of the crew. In mid-February 1971, Daily Variety reported that black Mexican actors had filed a grievance with a Mexican actors guild against the production, claiming that they were denied jobs. Columbia Pictures responded that "U.S. Negro war veterans living in and around Guadalajara" had been hired instead of Mexican actors because they spoke English more fluently.
Filmfacts reported that although Columbia had announced in January 1971 that Joan Blackman had been cast as a "Southwestern Quaker," she did not appear in the released film. The February 1971 Daily Variety article included Ron Fletcher and Charles Fawcett in the cast; however, their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. Actress Julie Robinson, who portrays "Sinsie" in the film, is married to Belafonte. According to a May 15, 1972 Box Office article, she learned the Mescalero Apache language that she speaks in the picture through research at the American Indian Museum in New York. As noted in the onscreen credits, the picture was shot on location in Durango, Mexico. According to studio publicity, the final sequence in the lush valley was shot in Marysville, CA.
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, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford (see below). Other critics commented positively on Poitier's direction and the unusual presentation of African-American settlers and their interactions with Indian 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 not produced. Poitier and Belafonte next worked together on the 1974 comedy Uptown Saturday Night, which was directed by Poitier.
Released in United States 1972
Released in United States 1972