Paramount // 2001 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // September 28th, 2005
An old settler is slang for a middle aged woman with no marriage and no prospects.
Sisters Debbie Allen (Fame) and Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show) star as sisters in a film based about sisters in World-War II era Harlem whose relationship changes when a young man comes to rent a room at their apartment.
Bill Cosby is a bond that seems to permeate many of the cast in this film. Rashad was Cosby's television wife for several years, and the spinoff show A Different World was produced by Allen. The young renter in Rashad's home was played by Bumper Robinson, who appeared in a Jello commercial with Cosby in the early '70s. Apparently, Cosby is a lesser acclaimed version of Kevin Bacon when all is said and done.
As part of a branching out of public television to produce feature-length films for television, The Old Settler features some recognizable names in an interesting film focusing on family and love.
Set in 1943, Quilly (Allen) has moved into her sister Elizabeth's (Rashad) apartment. Elizabeth lives a quiet life in her place, and Quilly recently left her husband, an issue that leaves both sisters feeling a bit resentful towards once another. Things get a little complicated when Husband (Robinson) begins to rent a room from Elizabeth. Husband comes from South Carolina, and his reason for coming to New York is simple; he wants to find a girl he used to know, by the name of Lou Bessie (Crystal Fox, Driving Miss Daisy). Lou Bessie has changed her name to "Charmaine" and is living with her own man, and Husband (occasionally called "Andre" by Lou Bessie) starts to become confused about Lou Bessie's behavior, and is intimidated by the city life.
Based on the play by John Henry Redwood and directed by Allen, The Old Settler stays almost exclusively in the apartment the two sisters share, and the character evolution is somewhat entertaining. Quilly is the social, outgoing sister that is a bit more carefree than Elizabeth would like, and Elizabeth is easily the more conservative. When Husband arrives and starts to have possible feelings for Elizabeth, Quilly is protective, but her protective feelings for her sister are misunderstood for a couple of reasons. And with Lou Bessie periodically dropping by and interjecting herself into Elizabeth's life, Elizabeth sees Husband as a chance for redemption, and wants to hold onto him however she can.
Allen is noted for her choreography and is a respected actress, but has directed several projects, and in her sister, there's very little guidance that needs to be given. But Rashad turns in a surprising performance as an older woman who received a second chance at a life that was taken from her. She works with Robinson well, and the chemistry with Allen is a given. Fox is excellent as Lou Bessie, and in some of the scenes she's in, she is more of a presence despite the resumes that Rashad and Allen bring to the table.
Initially airing on PBS in 2001, it serves as an adequately engaging movie, and for a PBS film, it's good without being sensationalistic, and is a nice character-driven piece that one should watch when it comes on during the pledge drives.
Paul Mooney (Chappelle's Show) appears in a brief role in the film, but otherwise, this is a chick flick with a story behind it, so in that regards, it's an above average chick flick. Its focus on the two women in a previous era doesn't make it palatable for all crowds, and limits its appeal.
Despite The Old Settler's story, it features a surprisingly robust performance from Rashad and capable supporting work, most notably from Fox. Staying in primarily one location with the two actresses limits it somewhat, so a full recommendation can't be given in good conscience.
The sisters Allen are found not guilty for their work in the film, and Debbie's direction is quite capable and she's proven herself to be a solid creative filmmaking presence.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site