Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA, 1972. Columbia Pictures, E & R Productions Corp., Belafonte Enterprises. Story by Ernest Kinoy, Drake Walker, Screenplay by Ernest Kinoy. Cinematography by Álex Phillips Jr.. Produced by Joel Glickman. Music by Benny Carter. Production Design by Sydney Z. Litwack. Costume Design by Guy C. Verhille. Film Editing by Pembroke J. Herring.
After director Joseph Sargent quit this project in dissatisfaction over its script, star Sidney Poitier stepped into the director’s seat for the first time (of many to follow). It’s an exciting western in which he stars as a former Union Army man who makes money helping freed, post-emancipation slaves make their crossing from the south to the west in search of better and more prosperous lives.
Not far behind them are Cameron Mitchell and his band of southern outlaws who are hoping to seize as many of the travelers as they can, and deliver them back to southern plantations to be exploited as cheap labour. The voyage requires crossing land belonging to an indigenous tribe, with whom Poitier has a long-standing business relationship and negotiates a rate for passing through their territory safely, but their deal does not involve any involvement in the pilgrims’ battles with the villains chasing them.
Having realized that Poitier is the reason why so many have escaped their grasp, Mitchell and company search him out specifically for execution, offering a drunken preacher (Harry Belafonte) a pricey reward if he will help deliver him. Belafonte joins the wagon train under false pretenses as Poitier struggles to keep this group of people safe from the violence and greed of their pursuers, eventually having his morals (and his own greed) challenged by the bonds he forges with his companions.
Ruby Dee has a terrific supporting role as the star’s wife, and Julie Robinson (real-life wife to Harry Belafonte) is unforgettable as Sinsie, the interpreter and negotiator for the tribe. The traditional vistas akin to classic John Ford westerns provide gorgeous backgrounds for the exciting, and plentiful, action sequences in this rousing adventure.