Earning a Buck the Hard Way
Following the American Civil War Buck (Sidney Poitier), who served as a sergeant in the Union Army, has become a wagon master, helping former slaves to make it across country in the hope of starting again in the West. But it makes Buck a man with a price on his head as racist bounty hunters lead by Deshay (Cameron Mitchell) will do anything to get their hands on him whilst rounding up those former slaves to take them back to Louisiana to work the fields. But Buck finds himself an unlikely ally in Preacher (Harry Belafonte) a conman who is tempted to turn Buck in for the rewards but ends up helping him to not only evade Deshay and his men but help the former slaves head West.
Ever since a teacher wrote the word "commendable" on my school report I have disliked that word because it was followed by the word "but" which for some reason it frequently is. But "commendable" is the word I find myself choosing to describe "Buck and the Preacher", Sidney Poitier's debut behind the camera as it tells a good story, features nice performances and is solidly directed. But it doesn't stand out as a great western, just a good one which reminds me of something else which I regularly saw on my school report "good effort".
Now the reason that "commendable" came to mind when watching "Buck and the Preacher" is because of the story that it tells. I don't remember watching another movie which focuses on the plight of the former slaves trying to make it West with the help of African American wagon masters to lead them across the dangerous land and away from the labourers and bounty hunters trying to force them back. And whilst it would be fair to say that "Buck and the Preacher" isn't the most realistic or gritty of westerns ever made it does highlight this episode in America's history after the Civil War.
Now the reason that "Buck and the Preacher" isn't gritty is because it is trying for a "Butch and Sundance" type of vibe with a comedy double act of Buck and the Preacher ending up working together to help the former slaves head West. And it sort of works with Harry Belafonte bringing plenty of over the top amusement as Preacher whilst Sidney Poitier gets to play it mainly straight so that we have some chalk n cheese humour going on. Thankfully Poitier and Belafonte have good timing so most of the comedy between them comes off. Plus they are surrounded by a good cast with Cameron Mitchell giving Deshay a touch of pantomime villain to make him nasty but not so nasty that he is wrong for the movie's vibe.
What this all boils down to is that "Buck and the Preacher" is still an entertaining western thanks to the performances of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. But sadly it fails to be anything more than entertaining which is a shame considering the story it tells.