MAN AND BOY. Ha ha, yeah I know, I noticed that too. The name sounds inappropriate. I bet if it was called THE SEARCH FOR JUBAL or something it would’ve played on cable more and we all would’ve heard of it before. Instead I had to just stumble across it by accident in the western section at the video store. It’s from 1971 and it stars Bill Cosby (The Cosby Mysteries) as Caleb Revers, an ex-Union soldier who, after the Emancipation Proclamation, holds his head high and owns property despite what some of the white folk around might think about it.
I mentioned Jubal ’cause that’s the name of their horse. Being the Cliff Huxtable of the Old West, Cosby is a horse doctor who is going to put some white guy’s injured horse down, but then his son Billy (George Spell, THE NAKED KISS) cries so much he makes a deal with the farmhand or whatever to take the horse if he can get it to walk. It’s like WAR HORSE for a minute, they nurse Jubal back to health and then force him to haul a giant boulder. These people in movies sure do talk a big game about how much they love a horse before they enslave and torture the poor thing. No wonder those big bastards dream of one day fucking all of mankind to death, yelling “Remember Enumclaw!” (see ZOO).
When little Billy leaves Jubal tied up in town somebody takes him, so Man and Boy (as I will call them from this point on because I think I like that better than Caleb and Billy) set off on foot to try to find him and get him back. This seems like a dramatic conflict, because on one hand the racists in town don’t want a black man to own a fancy studdin’ horse (a similar issue to white people assuming a black man has to be a drug dealer to have a nice car). On the other hand it’s not exactly his horse, he did sorta sneak it home from work. The original owner would have a legitimate claim to it if he wanted it back.
Early on it seems like race will be a big factor. Local whites are harassing Caleb, shooting onto his property to scare him. In one scene Billy tries to play war with the kids in town but gets beat up when they find out his dad was a “blue belly.” They call him the n-word but clearly don’t understand what the war was all about. I don’t think they have any idea why he might want to choose the other side in that fight.
But later SPOILER none of that stuff matters because we find that Jubal was not stolen by racists, but a black bank robber named Lee Christmas (namesake of Jason Statham’s EXPENDABLES character?) played by Douglas Turner Ward, a Tony-nominated stage actor who later showed up on an episode of The Cosby Show and one of Cosby. He’s an effective villain, kind of like a crazy homeless person who’s angry at society. He tries to get Man and Boy to form a gang with him, belittles Man for believing a black man can get something in this world lawfully, and probly makes him feel a little emasculated in front of his son. Subtext-wise I think he’s kind of a conservative creation, forcing Man to realize that protecting his family is more important than standing up to The Man.
The poor kid in this movie spends the whole thing in terror. First he thinks his dad is gonna murder a horse in front of him, then he loses the horse when he’s not looking and he’s worried his dad is gonna murder him, then he’s mad at his dad for fuckin around with a Native American lady right under his nose, then he gets taken hostage by a crazy bank robber. So he’s got one of two looks on his face for most of the movie:
One of the people he makes that scared face at is Yaphet Kotto. He’s in here too and you know how intimidating that man can be. He plays a guy on a ranch where Man used to work. They have to come work there for a bit to be able to borrow a horse for their journey, and it turns out this asshole is still sore about a girl (the Man’s wife Ivy, [Gloria Foster, the Oracle from THE MATRIX, who also worked with Cosby on The Bill Cosby Show and in LEONARD PART 6]). So there is some conflict there, probly the most intense part of the movie even though it’s not all that important plot-wise. If you’ve always dreamed of seeing Bill Cosby in a furniture-wrecking cowboy brawl with Yaphet Kotto, maybe save this one for your birthday.
Henry Silva even shows up but to my surprise he’s not that important, and pales compared to Kotto and Lee Christmas in the villainy department. I guess he saw that they had it under control and decided to lay back in the cut.
Quincy Jones is credited as music supervisor, but the composer is J.J. Johnson, known for ACROSS 110th STREET, CLEOPATRA JONES, WILLIE DYNAMITE, etc. It’s not the full on badass blaxploitation score I would wish for, but maybe that would be cheating anyway. It’s more of a normal western soundtrack with harmonicas and violins and stuff but a little bit of soul in the drums, rhythm guitars and organs. Listen to the theme song performed by Bill Withers:
See, it starts out kinda downbeat but speeds up and gets funky at the end.
Actually here’s another pretty soulful one that I just now realized was sampled on the song “Who Can Make It Happen Like Dirt” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Jesus man, there is no record you can find that a hip hop producer hasn’t gotten to first.
The credited screenwriters were Harry Essex (THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, OCTAMAN) and Oscar Saul (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, MAJOR DUNDEE). And by the way, I still think that after BLACULA, BLACKENSTEIN and DR. JEKYL AND MR. WHITE they shoulda done THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK BLACK LAGOON. This is probly my best idea that I’ve come up with so I’m gonna keep repeating it. Copyright 2014 Vern.
Director E.W. Swackhamer was a prolific TV guy going back to the early ’60s. He did alot of I Dream of Jeannie and Gidget and shit like that. He had many TV movies to his name (DEATH SENTENCE starring Nick Nolte), but his only other theatrical feature was LONGSHOT, starring Leif Garrett as a guy competing in a foosball tournament. Coincidentally, the last IMDb credits before his death in 1994 were two episodes of The Cosby Mysteries.
It’s interesting to see Cosby in this. As the poster said, “Bill Cosby comes to the big screen in a stunning switch from his TV and comedy portrayals to a starkly dramatic role!” As if to announce that this is not his usual role, he has his executive producer credit over a shot of him and the kid peeing:
This character is not gonna be writing any books about fatherhood. He loves his kid but he’s cold and distant. He’s also not 100% loyal to his wife, and the kid is no dummy, he sees what’s going on. You respect him for his stubborn insistence on living a good life in a time when it was discouraged for black people, but he’s not the nicest guy. He’s kinda broody.
Also it’s easy to forget that there was a time when he’d carry a gun in a movie, or throw a punch. There’s an action scene where he gets all sweaty and roughed up trying to catch a wild horse in the desert. It’s not all sitting around on the couch wearing sweaters. But it’s not all grim either. He does get some peaceful moments to goof around and talk funny like you expect from the Cos. Just not while lip synching to jazz records this time.
MAN AND BOY is not a lost gem of a western, but it’s a pretty good curiosity with a nice final moment to put a bow on it. I liked it.
July 8th, 2014 at 12:54 pm
I went on a black Western kick many years ago and this was among the ones I watched. I pretty much agree with your review. It’s solid but not great. I would say until Django Unchained, the best black Western was El Condor, which you need to watch (if you haven’t). Lots of action, lots of nudity and a friend of mine gets shot by Lee Van Cleef in the beginning.
Also, for more bad-ass Cosby action, check out Hickey and Boggs (written by Walter Hill).