Buck and the Preacher – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

With the recent passing of acting legend (as well as director and diplomat) Sidney Poitier, it’s entirely fitting to see the Criterion Collection release Buck and the Preacher. Also directed by Poitier (his first directorial effort), here’s a film that plays as an entertaining buddy western and a societal commentary focused on black life in America. That it happens to be set in the old west adds a unique feeling, as it’s no secret to know just how whitewashed the Western concept had been. Now with a brand new 4K transfer and a collection of extras, here’s a chance to take in an early black western made for mainstream audiences.


Set in the late 1860s, following the Civil War, a former Union soldier, Buck (Poitier), is leading a wagon train of freed Black people from Louisiana to unsettled parts of the Kansas Territory. Buck has negotiated safe passage with the Native Americans in the area, but violent plantation owners from the Bayou State have decided to interfere with attempts to trap these travelers and take them back. By chance, Buck has a confrontation that turns into a reluctant team-up with a shady man who masquerades as a Preacher (Harry Belafonte). The two of them soon find themselves doing whatever they can to help the wagon train, which includes robbing banks and ambushing raiders.

First and foremost, this movie is fun. There are plenty of ways to assess the impact a film like this has and how it worked by placing great friends Poitier and Belafonte together to deliver a revisionist western different from those that have already come along. However, arriving post-Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it’s hard not to acknowledge this film’s hangout vibe (let alone the use of sepia, the score, and other aspects). That’s not to say this film is explicitly modeling itself off of the George Roy Hill blockbuster, but looking at where the western era has gone, this is a film that understands the value of teaming up two people and letting that chemistry shine in addition to the story in play.

Unsurprisingly, Poitier is excellent in this film and looks great on a horse. He’s the first image we see, following the credits, and the notion of watching a Black man on horseback setting the stage for a western adventure says plenty right up top. Having him play another paragon of a good man also helps. While he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty when dealing with shady characters and the bigots coming after him and his people, this veteran gunfighter is going after what’s right.

Belafonte is the wild card character, complete with matted hair and yellow teeth (Super Fly came out the same year, and I couldn’t help but think how much shaking his head in disapproval would come from star Ron O’Neal by comparison). It’s obviously a play on Belafonte’s matinee idol image, and it’s no real matter. His wisecracking does plenty to rub up against Poitier’s straighter arrow of a character in the right ways to make the bond between them work.

I like how the film uses its time to set up a clear context, only to let these actors play for the rest of the film. It can be pretty serious, given the raiders’ looming threat. A handful of action scenes, including the final gunfight, also supply a level of thrill you’d hope for with any western. However, the perspective helps Buck and the Preacher feel like something special. While the film’s story is not filled with tricks to keep the audience guessing how things will play out, the subversion comes in a different form.

Director Joseph Sargent (director of 1974’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, a perfect film) was notably fired from the production a few days into shooting. Creative differences is a term that actually applied, as Buck and the Preacher has a particular substance to it that comes out thanks to the presence of Black creators working on a project revolving around a Black story (let alone a man like Poitier with over 20 years of experience on film sets). It’s why, for example, Preacher can have a scene where he relies on stereotypes to help him out of a situation, and it doesn’t come off as horribly dated.

There’s also the timing of this film. Made during a time that could reflect on the Civil Rights Movement, watching a story about Black characters trying to move on from white oppressors who want to do nothing more than continue to hold others down is not untimely, nor does it age the film, given how things remain to this day. It only goes down easier given the tone of this film. How it brushes against what Blaxploitation films were delivering during this time also adds to the film’s likable nature.

Thanks to the abilities possessed by Poitier, he’s able to make this all come together. Buck and the Preacher works as an entertaining western that doesn’t have to go out of its way to comment on America. It’s a film focused on showing the rise of Black people during a period of desperation from those who can’t handle seeing things becoming closer to equality. The movie is also a buddy comedy with an eye put toward capturing the proper feel of a western, complete with old-timey towns, vistas, and more. Even watching it today, it feels like a fresh take on the old west.


Encoding: MPEG -4 AVC

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-100

Details: This new digital transfer was created in 16-bit 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative.

Clarity/Detail: This excellent transfer does a lot of justice to the proposition of filming these stars in a western locale. Holding onto the level of grain one would expect from the time, it’s all the more revealing to see how much attention to detail there was in creating this movie when considering the setting, the dust, the horses, and all the other elements that come through clearly here.

Depth: The staging of this film makes for a good understanding of character placement, with no sense of flatness in watching these people move around the various environments. A shootout around large boulders really helps show how far this aspect can be pushed.

Black Levels: The darker scenes taking place all shine, given the age of this film. Shadow work and more are all handled well for this disc. Preacher wears all black through most of the film, which also plays well to this transfer. No sign of crushing either.

Color Reproduction: Focusing on western heroes who dress in ways appropriate to the era, colors pop when they need to. With that in mind, just seeing the open land allows colors to shine as needed.

Flesh Tones: The detail level seen in the actual characters is impressive, given the many close-ups on the faces of all involved.

Noise/Artifacts: The film looks nice and clean, with no issues in sight. Even with some of the inherent grittiness, it’s a great look.



Audio Format(s): English LPCM 1.0 Monaural

Subtitles: English SDH

Details: The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the three-track dialogue, music, and effects track, with the original soundtrack negative as a reference, and completed at Bluewave Audio in Los Angeles.

Dynamics: Right away, the score sets up what to expect from the film and how one can take in this audio track as a whole. Everything registers the right way and then some, given the dialogue, score, action, horse gallops, and everything else one expects from a film with proper sound.

Low-Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is heard loud and clear.



It’s nice to have a few archival featurettes and a few new interviews. For clear reasons, I can understand not having more to work with as far as more contemporary interviews. Still, there are some meaty features here when actually digging into what’s being presented. Perhaps not a stacked list of extras, but still fitting.

Features Include:

  • Expanding the Western (HD, 24:31) – Author Mia Mask provides a detailed breakdown of Buck and the Preacher, its stars, and what the film meant for the time.
  • Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte
    • Behind the Scenes (SD: 12:49) – An archival feature focusing on the making of the film, featuring interviews with Poitier and Belafonte, who talk about the film and their hopes for helping to advance the next generation of Black people.
    • Soul! (SD, 27:42) – Poitier and Belafonte appear on an episode of Soul! to discuss their film, their friendship, and their struggles in society and within the Black community.
    • The Dick Cavett Show (SD, 1:04:07) – Poitier and Belafonte appear on the popular talk show to discuss their film, the politics, and their friendship once again.
  • Gina Belafonte (HD, 14:00) – Harry Belafonte’s daughter provides her thoughts on the film’s legacy and her father, his involvement in the civil rights movement, and more.
  • Trailer (HD, 3:01)
  • PLUS – An essay by critic Aisha Harris.

(Illustrations for this release by Sean Phillips)



I’ve been looking for the opportunity to finally see Buck and the Preacher, and I was thrilled to see Criterion come through in the best of ways – a fully restored version to watch. It looks glorious and sounds, as I would hope, and it’s all the better for serving as an entirely relatable film, even as a genre picture. Poitier and Belafonte shine in this story of friendship and Black liberation. Plus, the handful of extras do plenty to further expand on what it meant to have these two friends combine forces to assemble their own take on the revisionist western. Another excellent addition to the Collection.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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