Classic Soul Cinema Presents: Uptown Saturday Night

The hilarious comedy Uptown Saturday Night was the first of three movies that paired Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby.  The film, directed by Sidney Poitier, centers on Steve Jackson (Poitier), a steel worker, and his buddy Wardell Franklin (Cosby), a taxi driver–two guys who wish they could become rich and quit their dead-end jobs. So Steve plays the lottery.

At Wardell’s suggestion, the two begin a two-week vacation.  They go to a party on Saturday night at Madam Zenobia’s, a posh uptown nightclub. While at the party, the club is robbed.  The masked robbers force the patrons to strip to their underwear, then steal their money and jewelry.

The next day, Steve reads the newspaper and discovers that he won the lottery. Unfortunately, the lottery ticket was in the wallet that was stolen from him at the club. Steve and Wardell spend the remainder of the film tracking down his wallet by consulting with crooked politicians, fake detectives, con artists, and underworld crime bosses until they eventually find the wallet.

Released in June 1974, the film came out at a time when many had grown weary of the so-called  “blaxploitation” movie craze, which featured a heavy dose of violence and sex and what some perceived as derogatory images of blacks as pimps and prostitutes in addition to the glorification of ghetto life. Hence, more black films that dealt more with romance and comedy and with less violence were being released.

Uptown Saturday Night featured a who’s who of the popular black actors and legends of that time. Comedian Richard Pryor made a hilarious cameo as a fake detective named Sharp Eye Washington. Another great comedian, Flip Wilson, whose popular variety show came to an end in 1974, portrayed one of his renowned characters, Reverend Leroy. Harold Nicholas, one-half of the famed Nicholas Brothers, appeared as karate master Little Seymour Pettigrew. Legendary actor/singer/activist Harry Belafonte played an on-point impression of Marlon Brando’s Godfather character in his role as gangster Geechie Dan Beauford. Also appearing were actor Calvin Lockhart as Silky Slim, the mastermind of the robbery of Madam Zenobia’s; actress, dancer and singer Paula Kelly as Leggy Peggy, an employee at Madam Zenobia’s; Roscoe Lee Brown as Congressman Lincoln; and Rosalind Cash as Sarah, Steve Jackson’s wife. A very young Ray Parker, Jr. can also be seen in the band during the picnic scene.

The movie did extremely well at the box office and helped continue the trend of more black comedies and romantic stories being made. Indeed, the blaxploitation movie craze began to wind down in 1975 until it came to an abrupt end in 1976.

Although the films that followed (1975’s Let’s Do It Again and 1977’s A Piece of the Action) had Poitier and Cosby playing different characters, they are both considered to be sequels.

Uptown Saturday Night was so popular that shortly after its release, NBC commissioned a pilot for a sitcom version of the movie starring Cleavon Little and Adam Wade playing the roles done by Poitier and Cosby in the film. The pilot did not sell but was seen on NBC during the summer of 1979 as part of Comedy Theater, which showcased several unsold pilots.

In 2002, it was announced that Will Smith and his production company Overbrook Entertainment

had secured the rights to the trilogy for remakes starring Smith and to be distributed by Warner Bros. The new film had been in development for a decade until it was recently revealed that director Al McKay will direct the remake, with Smith and Denzel Washington playing the leads.

No matter what becomes of the remake, the original film with Poiter and Cosby is a classic that will be hard to top.

–Stephen McMillian

In addition to being a journalist, Stephen McMillian is also developing creative projects within the entertainment industry.


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