Movie Review: Uptown Saturday Night (1974)

uptown saturday nightSeen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’s hard drive.

Wanting a night away from their super hot wives for some reason, blue-collar workers Steve Jackson (Sidney Poitier) and Wardell Franklin (Bill Cosby) decide to sneak out to a fancy, secret nightclub/casino. Unfortunately for them, the place is held up and their possessions are stolen, with Steve waking up the next morning to realize his purloined wallet held a winning lottery ticket. He and Wardell skulk around Chicago trying to find the robbers, falling into a dangerous criminal turf war in the process. Through lies, scams, and a lot of luck, the guys manage to locate the wallet, but getting it back is a whole other gamble. Shoot-outs, car chases, a lot of injuries follow.

Sidney Poitier’s third directorial feature, Uptown Saturday Night is the kind of silly 1970s farces that showcases a ton of the era’s talent while offering up some surprising action sequences. It’s a decidedly goofy movie, replete with Poitier’s dumbed-down expressions and Cosby’s fast-talking bullshit. Also: Cosby’s beard, my goodness! The cast is superb, featuring a baby-faced Richard Pryor, Brando-parodying Harry Belafonte, gospel-preaching Flip Wilson, and marvelously chiseled Calvin Lockhart. My favorite, though, was Roscoe Lee Browne as a two-faced politician, switching pictured of Nixon and Malcom X on his wall depending who came calling, and his adorable, energetic wife Peggy played by Paula Kelly. The film is mostly light-hearted, but there’s some interesting satire thrown in there regarding black identity in the 1970s.

The setting and time period are also part of its charm, with wonderfully loud fashions, a good soundtrack, and some playful blaxploitation nods. The main thing that frustrated me was the casual sexism exhibited by every male character, which no one ever calls them on. The whole set-up of Steve and Wardell being dissatisfied with their really attentive, attractive wives and needing an escape from their home lives or whatever is just boring and stupid. It made the protagonists immediately unappealing to me, and I kind of hoped it would end with their wives getting the lottery money and skipping town. I really enjoyed the film otherwise, just wish most dude-fronted comedy didn’t also have to shit on women.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well I know there’s a pseudo-sequel called Let’s Do It Again with the same writer/director and some of the same castmembers.

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