Tag Archives: Godfrey Cambridge

Watermelon Man (1970)

watermelon man 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: White man becomes black.

Jeff Gerber (Godfrey Cambridge) is a bigoted white man who wakes up one morning having suddenly turned black. At first he thinks he’s spent too much time under the sun lamp, but after he and his wife Althea (Estelle Parsons) try every concoction they can to return his skin back to its normal color and nothing works they finally accept the inevitable. Jeff’s lifestyle then changes in major ways. He loses his friends, his job and even forced to move out of his neighborhood giving him firsthand experience with how drastic the racial lines are.

The film was directed by Melvin Van Peeples who was at the front of the independent film movement during the ‘60s and doesn’t get enough credit for some of the groundbreaking films he made in that era, but this one remains his best and most famous work. While other films chose to present racial issues in very serious and dramatic ways this one takes the wacky comedy route and in a lot of ways becomes far more compelling. Some of the funniest moments comes when the characters discuss racial stereotypes, something filmmakers of today would shy away from for fear that they would be labeled racist, but here by bringing it all out-in-the-open it trusts that the viewer will see how silly and absurd they are without feeling the need to suppress anything.

Although Cambridge is never completely convincing as a white man despite an admirable job by the make-up department he still gives a splendidly engaging performance and without his presence this movie just wouldn’t have worked. Parsons is great as well with her character being quite supportive initially, but then eventually she turns her back on him like everyone else. Mantan Moreland is funny as a café waiter who laughs politely at all of Gerber’s dumb jokes when he is white, but gives him a completely different response once he turns black. Erin Moran can be spotted as the daughter and songwriter Paul Williams has a brief bit as a would-be employer.

There are moments where it shifts awkwardly between drama and comedy and there’s one scene where the action freezes completely and suddenly begins to display on-screen titles, which does nothing but take the viewer out of the story and should’ve been avoided. It also would’ve been nice had there been some explanation for why this all occurred. A potentially funny idea would’ve been having a scene where God decides to change Gerber into a black man to teach him a lesson and having the Almighty portrayed as being African American, which would’ve been considered quite edgy for the period and helped complement the already outrageous storyline.

Despite all the laughs the issues that it brings out are quite startling and not far from the truth, which makes this an integral part at revealing the problems that the black movement had during the early ‘70’s and still does and a film that deserves more critical praise than it’s been given.

watermelon man 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 27, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Melvin Van Peeples

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The President’s Analyst (1967)

The presidents analyst 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Analyst on the run.

Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn) is a well-regarded therapist who gets offered the job as personal analyst to the President. At first Sidney is greatly honored, but eventually realizes that he may have taken on more than he bargained for. For one thing he must be on call to see the President at any hour of the day or night. Then he is forced to break-up with his girlfriend Nan (Joan Delaney) because it is found that he talks in his sleep and may be inadvertently giving away state secrets. When he tries to quit his job he finds himself being chased by government agents as well as spies from other countries intent on using or even killing him because of his perceived inside knowledge.

The film’s biggest achievement is writer/director Theodore J. Flicker’s visual flair where he uses every chance he can to enhance a scene by adding some interesting cinematic touches. For instance the part where Sidney talks with his mentor (Will Geer) about taking the job while looking at some weird art exhibits helps add an offbeat touch to a conversation that otherwise is rather ordinary. I also liked the throwaway segment showing Sidney walking by New York’s landmarks including the Brooklyn Bridge and even standing at the torch of the Statue of Liberty. These scenes don’t necessarily progress the plot, but help add flavor and mood and something a lesser director might not even consider. Sometimes it’s the little things that get added to the picture that make it special and Flicker shows a good understanding of that and it’s unfortunate that he left Hollywood in the early 80’s to devout full attention to his award-winning sculpting as I think he had the potential for making a lot more interesting films.

The comedy itself is quite funny and most importantly very original. Watching all the different foreign spies end up killing each other while also trying to nab Sidney as he hangs out undercover with a rock band is creative. The best part though is when he gets kidnapped while inside a phone booth and taken by truck to an underground headquarters where he is interrogated while still remaining locked in the booth.

The film offers a chance at seeing Barry McGuire best known for his 60’s rock song ‘Eve of Destruction’ in a rare acting role as a guitarist in a rock band. Godfrey Cambridge is quite engaging as an American spy and I loved how he was secretly friends with his Russian counterpart Kydor played by Severn Darden. Jill Banner who gave a hypnotic performance in the cult classic Spider Baby is seen here as a groupie named Snow White.

The film’s only real transgression is the fact that we never see the President or Sidney’s sessions with him. I believe this was because at the time there was still some respect for the position and the filmmaker’s didn’t want to completely devalue it by portraying some nut in the office, but it still seemed to miss out on some great comical potential as well as making the viewer feel that they are being a bit cheated. I also didn’t think that the President would have discussed important government affairs or foreign policy with his analyst like he supposedly does here. I would have thought that he would have been so burned out talking about that stuff that he would have wanted to discuss more personal issues that had nothing to do with politics.

At times this film borders on getting a bit too wacky and out-of-control. This type of idea could have been taken in a wide array of different directions and there were moments where I wished it had been a little more reeled in and subtle, but it always manages to save itself by constantly coming up with unique and funny segments.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Theodore J. Flicker

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube