Brother John (film)

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Brother John
Brother John FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed by James Goldstone
Produced by Joel Glickman
Written by Ernest Kinoy
Starring Sidney Poitier
Will Geer
Bradford Dillman
Music by Quincy Jones
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • March 24, 1971 (1971-03-24)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Brother John is a 1971 drama film about an enigmatic African-American man who shows up every time a relative is about to die.[1] In this story, he returns to his Alabama hometown as his sister is dying of cancer.


His arrival into town is clouded by unrest at a factory where workers are seeking to unionize. Local authorities wrongly suspect John to be an outside agitator for the union cause. The suspicions of the local Sheriff and Doc Thomas' son, the District Attorney, grow after they search John's room and find a passport filled with visa stamps from countries all over the world, even some that few Americans are allowed to travel to. They also find newspaper clippings in a variety of different languages. Only Doc Thomas suspects that John's real purpose is something else.

After the funeral of John's sister, he admits to a young woman, Louisa - a teacher at the local elementary school - that his "work" is finished, and that he has a few days to "do nothing" before he must leave. She decides to initiate a relationship with him, in hopes that he will stay. This puts him at odds with a local man who has had his eyes on her since they were in high school. During his time with Louisa, John mentions that one of his friends, now a union organizer, will die soon. After this happens, word of his prediction finds its way to the Sheriff who uses it as an excuse to arrest him. During his questioning we find out more about his travels, but he will never say exactly what his "work" really is. Doc Thomas comes to visit him in jail, and they have a pivotal conversation. John then walks out of jail and leaves town while the Sheriff and his men are preoccupied with the local labor unrest.

Throughout the film there are allusions to John's true nature in a confrontation with the sheriff, his hesitant relationship with Louisa, his unexplained ability to travel extensively, his apparent facility with multiple languages, his caring aloofness, etc.


Critical reception[edit]

The film was negatively reviewed by Vincent Canby in The New York Times, who stated, "If Brother John is a disaster—and it is—the responsibility is Mr. Poitier's, whose company produced the movie and hired everyone connected with it. Time has run out. It's too late to believe that he's still a passive participant in his own, premature deification."[2] Tom Hutchingson gave the film a two-star review in The Radio Times, concluding that "[a]s a fantasy it's pleasant enough, but James Goldstone's film could have been been [sic] much more searching in its implications."[3]

See also[edit]


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