Lost And Found Series: Chapter 6 Thank God It’s Saturday
Welcome back. I hope everybody enjoyed their time travelling adventures with Lyle Swann. Now it’s time for something slightly different, except we are going to go back in time again but on this occasion to the seventies. You don’t need a time machine, just some style. Before The Cosby Show, Fat Abert, I Spy and other television ventures, Bill Cosby was starring in some funny buddy comedy films with Sidney Poitier. The two would go on to collaborate on many projects, but their first pairing will be the topic of discussion today. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls I present to you…’Uptown Saturday Night’.
Film: Uptown Saturday Night
Cast: Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and Calvin Lockhart
Director: Sidney Poitier
Writer: Richard Wesley
Let’s start with some usual background checking then shall we. Before his anti Hip-Hop tirades Bill Cosby was considered to be quite trendy and hip. Although he had much more squeaky clean image compared to his other comedic contemporaries such as Richard Pryor and Red Foxx, Cosby was a young African-American stand-up comedian who, alongside veteran actor Sidney Poitier was trying to rid Hollywood of typical racial stereotypes.
At this very same time Blaxploitation, an ethic sub-genre originally intended to appeal to black audiences, was materializing and becoming very popular due to its audience broadening to anybody that enjoyed them no matter what their race was. Characteristics mainly included depicting aspects of inner city ghettos that were not authentically portrayed in mainstream Hollywood. However, the genre started to suffer from promoting the very stereotypes it was against. Cosby and Poitier decided it was time for a time change and with their star power and Hollywood exposure started to develop comedies, which would include some Blaxploitation qualities and more humorous elements retaliating against the negative aspects of the subgenre. Also, it meant Cosby and Poitier could subvert the buddy film genre having two black male as the leads that were just your ordinary everyman.
Sidney Poitier plays Steve Jackson, an ordinary man with a blue-collar job that looks forward to going home to his loving wife Sarah (Rosalind Cash) and a cooked meal after a hard day’s work. His best Wardell Franklin (Bill Cosby) however prefers to party and have fun and one day convinces Steve to sneak out and go to Madame Zenobia’s, an illegal yet classy nightclub. During their visit they meet some interesting characters and get lucky gambling at the casino tables. However, the club is robbed and the two are forced to give over all their personal possessions. To make matters worse Jackson realises days later that his winning lottery ticket was in his wallet, so the two embark on a madcap journey in order to regain the wallet and meet pimps, gangsters and imposters along the way. Thankfully it’s quite a fun ride.
Anybody interested in buddy films like myself will probably enjoy this film for its archetypal characters and nostalgic structure. Whereas modern comedies now mostly use gross out humour and an onslaught of pop culture references to appeal to their audience, this comedy simply sets up situations you know will have funny results with the likes of Cosby and Poitier in them.
For example, when both enter a bar and try to put on a macho, intimidating persona to speak to two local gangsters about the whereabouts of Jackson’s wallet Cosby and Poitier excel by heightening the conventions of the double act. Poitier being the straight man and Cosby being the funny man, they both use physical comedy and even both play it straight when necessary. When the local gangsters are revealed to be the total opposite of the comedy duo, with hilarious results, you anticipate how they will get out of the situation since they always find a way. Poitier has the perfect persona of using naive charm in the smoothest way possible and comes across as a true gentleman no matter what the situation is. Even when he’s flirting with other women in illegal clubs leaving his wife home alone, you think nothing of it.
As for Bill Cosby, everybody wishes they had an uncle like Wardell Franklin. He’s that kid your parents would tell you is bad company but you decide to hang out with him anyway because you know it’ll be fun. There is no denying the man’s fashion too. Sporting a casually scruffy yet cool beard and colourful attire, it makes one wonder if Franklin had some sort of influence on Wes Anderson’s styling of Danny Glover in ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’.
Franklin’s hip charisma and determination to challenge conventions and culturally reflect the inner-cities has similarities to the persona of a rapper. Bill Cosby today might dislike certain elements of modern Hip-Hop today but a great deal of the artists he criticises grew up on his early work and were even influenced by him. Underground Hip-Hop duo Camp-Lo who found some success with 90s classic, ‘Luchini (a.k.a. This Is It)’ even went as far to naming their debut album after the film and use many references about Cosby and Poitier’s numerous cinematic outings throughout the album.
You don’t just have to rely on the chemistry of Cosby and Poitier though as they bring their friends along too. Richard Pryor pops up in a memorable cameo as a paranoid private detective named Sharp Eye Washington. With his familiar but always effective erratic tics and sharp wit, it’s a shame Pryor never found the perfect vehicle for him to truly shine on screen like he did on stage. Although ‘Uptown Saturday Night’ was originally going to star him and Redd Foxx but the studio thought Poitier and Cosby would have more star appeal so who knows. Also Harry Belafonte also has great fun as an eccentric gangster with morals named Geechie Dan Beauford, a spoof of Marlon Brando’s Don Vito Corleone from ‘The Godfather’.
‘Uptown Saturday Night’ marks the third time Poitier stepped behind the camera to direct and he does quite a good job too. His direction is straight forward and opts out of using any distracting visuals or unnecessary camera movements but instead captures all of the physical comedy and comedic facial expressions of the actors, moving the pace along with each situation before it drags.
This is quite a well known film to some but deserves to have a bigger audience and earned another look if only to witness the great genuine chemistry between Cosby and Poitier who would go on to collaborate on another two films after the success of this one. A good film with lots of laughs and a great soundtrack to boot. Enjoy and remember to stay cool.
Follow Lee on Twitter: @la_fairweather