Brother John (1971)

Article 4413 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-5-2014
Directed by James Goldstone
Featuring Sidney Poitier, Will Geer, Bradford Dillman
Country: USA
What it is: The unfolding of destiny.
A man, gone for years and impossible to contact, comes to a small southern town to be on hand for the death of his sister. The police believe he’s an agitator sent to cause trouble with a local strike. However, the local doctor who brought the man into this world has a different belief, as he’s noticed that the man only shows up when someone is about to die…

Here’s another one of those movies where most of the plot descriptions give away key discoveries that only happen near the end of the movie, and I went into the movie knowing them. Yet, I have to say that I don’t feel knowing these things ahead of time necessarily ruined the movie for me; in fact, if anything, I found myself perhaps more on the edge of my seat waiting for the inevitable shoe to drop. It’s not really the revelations that make the movie work for me, anyway; in this case, it’s the authority of the acting, in particular from both Sidney Poitier and Will Geer. They do through acting what many other movies do through special effects; when Poitier’s character delivers a soliloquy that opens with the phrase “There is now no time left… for anything.”, I felt a real chill run down my spine, and quite frankly, I found watching a jailer closing and latching storm windows as the wind rises to be tenser than a stock footage shot of an atom bomb going off. Don’t be fooled by the obvious themes of racism and labor problems; these are only the convenient examples of events from a much greater canvas, and the movie isn’t really about these specifically. If I’ve been a bit vague about the fantastic content, let me just say without giving away too much that Poitier’s character is not strictly human. All in all, I found this one very effective, though it works more in the mode of a straight drama than a genre piece.

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