Movie Review: Buck and the Preacher (1972)

Title: Buck and the Preacher
Release Date: April 28, 1972
Director: Sidney Poitier
Production Company: E & R Productions | Belafonte Enterprises

I watched this at Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA as part of a tribute to Sidney Poitier, who made his directorial debut with this film.

This groundbreaking Western film with Black actors in all the lead roles is set in the Kansas Territory after the Civil War.  Formerly enslaved people are leaving the Southern states to find land of their own in the Kansas Territory.  A wagonmaster named Buck (Sidney Poitier) helps the migrants with supplies and negotiation with the local Native tribes for safe passage through their territory.  The wagon trains are continually harrassed by gangs of white men hired by plantation owners to force the Black migrants back to the South to work as sharecroppers.

While working to help the wagon train and escape the posse, Buck encounters the shifty Preacher (a brilliantly manic performance by Harry Belafonte).  Eventually they become uneasy partners, frenemies if you will. They are joined by Buck’s wife Ruth (an amazing Ruby Dee), and the trio works to help the wagon train reach a homestead, while gaining revenge on their terrorizers.

While rooted in historic events and detailing the ongoing struggles for Black civil rights, Buck and the Preacher has everything you’d expect from a Western. Gunfights, horse chases, bank robberies, gambling dens, and brothels, you name it! The movie may feel slow by modern day action/adventure movie standards but I felt that it built the tension really well, and that anything could happen at any minute. This has quickly risen the ranks of my all-time favorite Westerns.

Rating: ****