Buck and the Preacher

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Buck and the Preacher
Buck and the preacher poster.jpg
Film Poster
Directed by Sidney Poitier
Produced by Joel Gilckman
Written by Ernest Kinoy
Starring Sidney Poitier
Harry Belafonte
Ruby Dee
Music by Benny Carter
Cinematography Alex Phillips Jr.
Edited by Pembroke J. Herring
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • April 28, 1972 (1972-04-28) (U.S.)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Buck and the Preacher is a 1972 American Western film starring Sidney Poitier as Buck and Harry Belafonte as the Preacher. Buck is a trail guide leading groups of former slaves trying to homestead in the West, immediately after the American Civil War. The Preacher is a swindling minister of the "High and Low Order of the Holiness Persuasion Church". Together, they protect a wagon train from bounty hunters.[1]

This is the first film Sidney Poitier directed. Vincent Canby of The New York Times said Poitier "showed a talent for easy, unguarded, rambunctious humor missing from his more stately movies".[2]

The notable blues musicians Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Don Frank Brooks performed in the film's soundtrack, composed by jazz great Benny Carter.[3]


Buck and the Preacher opens with a deep rhythm and blues soundtrack reminiscent of a John Wayne Western that was given deep soul and harmony from the 1970s. The camera switches scenes to a camp of African-Americans who have been just freed from slavery and are heading West for a better life. A band of men on horseback terrorize the camp by burning wagons and tents and killing men, women and children. The leader of these white bandits, DeShay (Cameron Mitchell), is wearing an old cavalry jacket hinting at his military past.

Buck (Sidney Poitier) enters the scene and dismounts his horse to walk up to his home. DeShay makes Buck's wife, Ruth (Ruby Dee), wave to him as if everything is all right. Buck begins to approach the house and is then caught in a firefight between DeShay's outlaws. Buck remounts his horse and flees after being chased by the bandits. He then stops at an apparently empty campsite with a burning campfire, food and a horse. A naked man, the Preacher (Harry Belafonte), is bathing at a nearby stream and approaches the campsite to dress, but Buck steals the Preacher's horse and his breakfast at gunpoint.

The Preacher dresses and takes Buck's horse to the nearest town where he grabs a drink and finds out the location of the nearby camp from an African-American boy working at the general store. The Preacher is approached by DeShay and told that any information helping him to find Buck or bringing Buck in dead or alive will be worth a five hundred dollar reward. The Preacher is excited about this because he has a good feeling Buck is at an African-American wagon camp of which the little boy spoke.

Buck returns to the camp and is told by the men that an elderly Indian wise man thinks they should continue West and not turn back. The elder is shown throwing animal teeth on a towel, which the audience assumes to be a prediction of the future. Buck agrees to further help the group as the Preacher appears and punches Buck in the face. Buck then agrees to feeding the Preacher and giving him his horse back - after which the Preacher must depart and leave their camp. Buck does this because he fears the Preacher's motives for wanting to stay after he is caught looking at the women folk and wondering aloud where the money was kept.

The Preacher leaves the group and stalks Buck when he leaves to make a deal with the Native Americans. The Native Americans pursue the Preacher and Buck bargains with them for protection of the wagon group. The Native Americans are portrayed as shrewd bargainers who constantly haggle for a better deal with Buck. After reaching an agreement, the Preacher has a new-found respect for Buck because of his hard work effort and desire to help the traveling freed slaves.

While the two protagonists are negotiating, DeShay and his men raid the camp again and do more damage. The Preacher turns cheek at this point in the film and stops attempting to corner and kill Buck for the reward because of Buck's compassion towards the wagon camp. The Preacher then tells Buck where DeShay and his men are camped and suggests an ambush.

Buck agrees to the Preacher's plan, and together they ambush DeShay's campsite - killing him and most of his men. The sheriff from a nearby town pursues the pair, but they escape on horseback. The two men - along with Buck's wife - then decide to rob the bank at the town where they murdered DeShay's men in hopes of gaining more money for the African-Americans in the camp so they have a better chance of surviving the winter. The three unsuccessfully rob the mail office first and then cross the street to rob the bank. The sheriff returns to town during the robbery and chases the three robbers - along with their bags of loot - out of town.

Buck, the Preacher and Ruth ride hard for the Indian Territory and reach it just in time. A Native American war party is defending the boundaries of their territory and does not permit the sheriff and his posse to cross into their lands. The sheriff continues the search and finds the wagon camp but decides not to attack it. One of the men in the posse suggests they attack the camp to bring out Buck, but the sheriff disagrees arguing that the African Americans did no harm.

In anger, the man kills the sheriff and orders the posse to attack. Buck approaches the wagon camp and lures the posse into the mountains. A gunfight ensues, and the Preacher is wounded but the posse is defeated. The Native Americans who said they would not fight Buck's battle send several warriors to help and end up being the force that turns the tide of the shootout in Buck's favor.

The movie ends with Buck, the Preacher and his wife riding happily into the prairie.


The film is set in the Kansas Territory immediately following the American Civil War. Late 1860s.


Buck and the Preacher was one of the first films directed by an African American and to be based on a band of African Americans fighting against the White Majority. Sidney Poitier directed the film and it was produced by Belafonte Enterprises, Columbia Pictures Corporation and E & R Productions Corp. The film was recorded in Durango, Mexico, as well as in Kenya. It was released in the United States in 1972.


Buck and the Preacher was received warmly at first because of the first time a leading black character was able to exact violent revenge on a white hegemony. Black Westerns, and Westerns in general, declined after that as 1970s audiences became indifferent to the excitement of the Wild West.[4]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Canby, Vincent (1972-04-29). "Poitier Directs 'Buck and the Preacher'". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-07. 
  2. ^ Canby, Vincent (1991-02-08). "Critic's Notebook; Black Films: Imitation Of Life?". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-07. 
  3. ^ Pareles, Jon (1996-02-19). "Brownie McGhee, 80, Early Piedmont Bluesman". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-07. 
  4. ^ Goldstein, Laurence (1993). "'Mama How Come Black Men Don't Get to Be Heroes?': Black Poets and the Movies: Invitation to a Gunfighter". The Iowa Review. 23 (3): 110–31. JSTOR 20153452. 

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