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Roscoe Lee Browne

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: Logan’s Run

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

Several people have assured me that Logan’s Run is a well-above-average science fiction novel; not having read it, I’m hardly about to contradict them, or attempt to blame the failure of the film version on the novelists. But as Logan’s Run dribbled out via a hasty, convenient, and not very convincing conclusion, I found myself reflecting that sf writers can get away with a lot on the printed page that moviemakers just can’t. At least until its current wave of respectability, sf put its practitioners in an economic/aesthetic bind: even a talented sf writer was faced with a shortage of time to work through his ideas and polish his narrative—gotta make a sale, buy bread and typewriter ribbon, and get on with the next one. And so you may be reading along in a sci-fi novel, find yourself turned on by the visionary or dramatic possibilities of a situation—say, 20 pages’ worth of prose—and then find yourself back in flat, uninvolving, strictly functional 10-cents-a-word narrative territory until the next intriguing passage heaves into view. A writer who has to get his character out of a tight spot can reach for his dot-dot-dot and announce a new chapter, cutting away in time and space, coming back to his character when it’s handy to do so, and trusting the casually surreal nature of the genre to soothe the savage beast of linear narrative curiosity. In a film, no way.

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