Brother John (1971)

brother john 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Is an apocalypse coming?

Upon the death of his sister, John Kane (Sidney Poitier) returns to his hometown in Alabama to attend her funeral, but the town’s mayor (Bradford Dillman) and sheriff (Ramon Bieri) think he is an outside union agitator there to stir up trouble with the local factory. Doc Thomas (Will Geer) is an old man who’s been in the town his whole life and knows better. He recognizes that John has a special gift of some kind and can see into the future, but what John proclaims is not good as he states that an end of the world is coming and the human race will have to justify their existence to the almighty.

This film, which was written by Ernest Kinoy and directed by James Goldstone, is unique in that it never reveals too much and keeps the viewer in a shroud of mystery the whole time. We’re given certain hints that John may hold a special power, but never any explanation, which in some films could prove frustrating, but here it makes it intriguing and unusual. Everything is given the low-key treatment including a memorable scene where a racist police officer (Warren J. Kemmerling) invades an African American home bent on teaching John ‘a lesson’ by taking him into the basement only to get a surprise whooping of his own when John proves to be far superior.

Poitier is billed as the star, but he seems constrained in a part that allows for very little emotion. Geer is the one that gives the film its biggest impact particularly with the conversation that he has with Poitier while sitting in a jail cell at the end. I also got a kick out of the fact that he was able in a passing conversation to mention Frankfort, Indiana which was the town that he had been born and raised in, in real-life. Bieri is also quite good as the town’s corrupt sheriff who’s racist on one end, but then when things get out-of-control he then ‘negotiates’ with the town’s black pastor (P. Jay Sidney) to see if they can work together to quell the unrest.

Although the setting is supposedly Alabama it was actually filmed in the town of Marysville, California and for the most part it’s successfully able to camouflage it, but not quite. The ending like the rest of the film is vague and answers little of the questions that the plot puts forth, which may be a turn-off to some, but I enjoyed it. In an era where so many other films were intent on making statements and broad characterizations this one pulled back and much like with religion and faith kept things at an elusive level, which gives it a more sophisticated flair.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 24, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated GP

Director: James Goldstone

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

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