For a good time, it's Uptown Saturday Night!
Is this film a reaction to the blaxploitation movement, or a wacky comedy that just came out at the right time? Whatever your opinion is, Uptown Saturday Night is a funny and clever comedy that goes out of its way to please and entertain you.
To celebrate the film's thirtieth anniversary, Warner Bros. has issued this classic on DVD for the first time. Does it stand the test of time? Read on to find out!
Facts of the Case
Working men Steve Jackson (Sidney Poitier) and Wardell Franklin (Bill Cosby) decide that they have earned a break from the old routine and go to a posh after-hours club. Wardell is on a winning streak at the craps table when two masked men rob the club and make off with everyone's valuables.
Everything's fine until Steve opens the newspaper the next day and sees that he has won the $50,000 lottery jackpot. One problem: the winning ticket was in his wallet, which was stolen the night before. Steve enlists Wardell to help him reclaim the wallet. It's not an easy task, as they encounter thugs, crooked politicians, and the notorious mob kingpin Geechie Dan (Harry Belafonte).
The unexpected success of Shaft and Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song created a new wave of filmmaking: the blaxploitation movement. In 1974, the movement was in full swing, with hits such as Black Caesar, Foxy Brown, Coffy and Super Fly. Those successes opened the eyes of Hollywood.
Meanwhile, in another corner of Hollywood, Sidney Poitier is pondering his next move. After a successful directorial debut with Buck and the Preacher, he teamed with Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, and Steve McQueen to form First Artists, an independent production company in which they could make the films they wanted to without studio interference. Poitier's first film for First Artists was the lovely A Warm December (1973). It made money, but not enough to prevent National General Pictures, their distributor, from being sold to Warner Brothers.
Poitier initially was interested in only directing Uptown Saturday Night. Redd Foxx and Jimmie Walker were slated to star. Warner Bros. was hesitant to back a film with two stars who were "unproven" at the box office. The project was halted until Bill Cosby, who was approached to appear as Geechie Dan, considered moving to the character of Wardell. Poitier took the role of Steve, and Harry Belafonte was cast as Geechie Dan. The end result was a huge box-office hit that spawned two more Poitier/Cosby collaborations: Let's Do It Again in 1975, and A Piece of the Action in 1977.
The burning question may be does the film still hold up today. I think so, oddly enough. Poitier had higher aspirations than making the usual blaxploitation film being churned out by AIP (American International Pictures) and other studios. In fact, Uptown Saturday Night could be seen as his reaction and rebuttal against the stereotypical efforts being thrown out to the viewing public. He and his screenwriter, Richard Wesley, populate their film with black people who are not reduced to stereotypes. Things are kept at a fairly innocuous level. There is some mild violence, but it's all comical and pleasant. Sex is pretty much ignored. He doesn't bury the film in racial tension. What Poitier is interested in is building a comedy through the characters. By doing so, he created a film that remains fresh and funny even today. His direction is simple and honest, not overloaded with gimmicks and fanciness. That approach is refreshing after watching so many filmmakers overdo it these days.
There are a lot of good, genuine laughs to be found in this movie. I've grown disenchanted with modern movie comedy, with most films going for gross-out humor and sophomoric humor. I have no problem with such comedy when it is done well; it just rarely is. What a relief and pleasure it was to pop this disc into my Sony DVD player and sit back to enjoy a clean, well-made comedy that will bring a smile to the hardest of hearts.
The performances are the key to the film's success. Sidney Poitier is the straight man to Bill Cosby's antics. They have good chemistry and comic timing and are fun to watch. Cosby is especially funny in a role that could have gone over the top but works precisely because he knows when to act funny and when to act more soberly. Harry Belafonte is channeling Brando's then-recent Godfather characterization and he sends it up quite well, often getting huge laughs through seemingly simple quirks. In small roles, Flip Wilson (a preacher), Richard Pryor (a shifty private eye), Roscoe Lee Browne (an overzealous politician), and Calvin Lockhart (Geechie Dan's mortal enemy) all deliver the expected laughs.
Warner Bros. presents Uptown Saturday Night in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. It looks quite good, considering this film is thirty years of age. The opening credits have some major grain and subdued color. After they end, the picture improves considerably. Colors look beautifully vibrant and fresh, surprising since this was filmed long after the switch to more fragile Eastman color film stock, and since there was no major restoration effort attached to this film. The image has some signs of age in the forms of an occasional scratch and a few specks. But overall, this print is in excellent shape. Warner has done exceptional work bringing it to DVD.
Audio is a simple Dolby Digital 1.0 mono mix. It is a surprisingly strong mix, sounding rich and vibrant throughout. There are some minor imperfections, such as slight hiss in some silent spots. But considering the age of the film, it's more than fine.
Some extra content has been provided. First is a commentary track by Dr. Todd Boyd, a professor of cinema and TV at USC. This is one of the best commentary tracks around. Boyd speaks with a breakneck pace and gives great insights throughout.
A seven-minute featurette entitled The Lowdown on Uptown features insights from Boyd, James Earl Jones (Poitier and Cosby's co-star in A Piece of the Action), Jimmie Walker (co-star in Let's Do It Again), Denise Nicholas (co-star in both follow-ups), Richard Wesley (screenwriter of Uptown and Again), Julius Harris, Oscar Williams, fashion designer Ron Finley, and New York Press film critic Armond White. Nine people in seven minutes do not equal a memorable, insightful featurette. Stick to the commentary track, which is more informative.
The film's original theatrical trailer in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen is in average shape, but worth having for historical purposes.
Uptown Saturday Night is an extremely entertaining film that will be perfect for those dull Friday nights. With a suggested retail price of $19.99, I can easily recommend a purchase.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Audio Commentary By Film Scholar Dr. Todd Boyd
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