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Bill Cosby

Review: Uptown Saturday Night

[Originally published in Movietone News 35, September 1974]

Uptown Saturday Night would be a lot better film if it kept about the business of portraying Uptown Saturday night. Cram the events of this movie into one zany, frenetic dusk-to-dawn and you might, almost without worrying about it, create enough artificial pressure in space and time to make up for the fact that Sidney Poitier, directing his third feature film, still hasn’t much idea what to do with his camera. Mainly he and the movie try to get by on good faith and the proliferation of talented and likable black players—and good faith is easy to come by with Poitier himself, Bill Cosby, Roscoe Lee Browne, Richard Pryor, and the rest of the cast announced up front. Indeed, for anyone who may doubt that that’s the strategy, there are unabashed recognition shots for most of the players, so that the audience can greet them volubly without missing any exposition in the ensuing dialogue, and a sort of black Quiet Man finale—in which cameo shots of all the colorful characters are strung together in farewell—and to make up for the fact that the movie just lamely stops instead of arriving at an organically satisfying ending. Poitier also borrows a leaf from René Clair for his premise—a poor workingman (Poitier), having bluffed his way into a black gambling den, has his wallet lifted by holdup men and later learns that the numbers ticket inside is worth $50,000—and perhaps his opening, too, though here Rouben Mamoulian aficionados (are there any Rouben Mamoulian aficionados?) might protest that Mamoulian’s stage production of Porgy and Bess in the Twenties anticipated Clair’s early-sound frolics with its rhythmic, stylized-sound awakening of Catfish Row.

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Review: Mother, Jugs and Speed

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

Although the advertising works hard to suggest Mother, Jugs and Speed is “a black and blue comedy” in the tradition of M*A*S*H, the actual film bears little resemblance to Altman’s in the areas that count. It’s a cynical comedy and it deals with unsentimental souls on the periphery of the medical profession; there the resemblance ends. Peter Yates’ direction and the agreeable-enough performances come nowhere near the textural crossriffling of Altman’s movie, and the script’s gestures toward the acknowledgment of human pain in the world out there feel as if they’d been plotted on a graph, rather than simultaneously emerging from and validating the subterranean desperation of the characters’ lifestyle.

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