EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|WATERMELON MAN (director: Melvin Van Peebles; screenwriter: Herman Raucher; cinematographer: W. Wallace Kelley; editor: Carl Kress; music: Melvin Van Peebles; cast: Godfrey Cambridge (Jeff Gerber), Estelle Parsons (Althea Gerber), Howard Caine (Mr. Townsend), D'Urville Martin (Bus Driver), Mantan Moreland (counterman), Kay Kimberley (Erica), Kay E. Kuter (Dr. Wainwright), Scott Garrett (Burton Gerber), Erin Moran (Janice Gerber), Kay Kimberley (Erica); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: R; producer: John B. Bennett; Columbia TriStar; 1970)|
it hammers home its point
about racism being alive and well in America until it becomes
annoyingly repetitive and preachy."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Melvin Van Peebles ("The
Story of a Three-Day Pass"/"Don't Play Us Cheap"/"Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song") directs
this provocative satirical fantasy film about a white man who gets to experience
what it's like to be black in racist America. Spike Lee refers to Peebles as “the
black films” for his effort in starting
the blaxploitation movement with this flick. Herman
Raucher, whose one-joke script shoots for broad comedy, hammers home
its point about racism being alive and well in America until it becomes
annoyingly repetitive and preachy.
Gerber (Godfrey Cambridge) is a bigoted (but not violent) and obnoxious
loudmouth white insurance salesman, with a frustrated liberal wife
named Althea (Estelle Parsons) and two children (Scott Garrett & Erin Moran).
After using a sunlamp to get a tan, Gerber wakes up the next morning to
discover he's turned into a black man. What follows, after numerous
showers and attempts to find an ointment to turn his skin white, is how
the horrified suburbanite deals with this problem of actually turning
into a person he always considered inferior. Althea shows her true
colors and is repulsed by him, though the children take it calmly; his
physician recommends he see a Negro doctor; his neighbors ring him up
with threatening racist calls and are willing to pay his expenses to
move, worried about their neighborhood being ruined and their houses
going down in real-estate value; his startled boss (Howard Caine) at
the insurance agency recovers from his initial shock and sees him
getting new business opportunities with the blacks; and his sexy blonde Norwegian
secretary Erica (Kay Kimberley), who never gave him
a second thought, now finds him sexy.
When Gerber's wife and children abandon him for her family home in
Indianapolis, he thereby accepts being black and moves into a black
neighborhood, loosens up his lifestyle and opens his own office.
director doesn't know when a good thing can be too much and keeps
trying his garish clumsy bits until they don't work anymore. Aside from
the few laughs, it never makes much headway with its serious points
except to show several incidents where there's racial prejudice (Gerber
is a boor as whitey, but a sympathetic figure as a black). There's a
black anger in this film that's held in check by the banal sitcom
comedy, but will come out in Peeble's next much more provocative indie
film "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song."
The film is carried by Godfrey Cambridge's motormouth salesman portrayal, his best ever film performance.
REVIEWED ON 6/21/2010 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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