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A Piece of the Action (1977)

A Piece of the Action. Feature film. (1977, 135 mins) IMDB

...Who would you have over for dinner? Sidney Poitier or Bill Cosby....

A

PIECE OF THE ACTION is the third film starring Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier. Poitier also directed the films.

(And yes, I would be fascinating to have both them sitting around a table for dinner.)

We're in Chicago and I love the setup for this film. It's clever, fun and interesting.

It starts during the dark of night. Crosby is a cat burglar robbing a vault in a bank. He's by himself, all the tools he needs, and doesn't speak a word of dialogue for at least the first twenty minutes of the film. It must have been killing him. His robbery goes off successfully. (It includes a jump from a six or seven story window. There was a similar scene in their earlier films.) When the cops arrive during the daylight, they haven't a clue and we catch a glimpse of James Earl Jones as a detective. (Interesting this film was released in the same year as Star Wars. Need I say more.)

Off to Poitier's part in this story. He carries out a con on the mob. There's a scene where lots of cash is collected and counted. (Odd given the source of the cash that it's all perfectly flat and crisp!) On Poitier's word, the mafia guys think they're going to be raided by the cops. They panic and ditch any evidence which includes the money which Poitier takes control of. When it's over, they know they've been had.

Thanks to a crocked cop, Detective Jones knows about this scheme.

Poitier has to worry about the mob coming after him but they don't know it was him. Crosby is in the clear. Enter Jones's retirement. He makes an anonymous request of the two: help out at a community centre or you're going to jail. They don't want to, they like their lives as they exists (they only met because of Jones), but what choice do they have? None.

They agree to go to the community centre. Now we're into Act II. The community centre is run-down. Two women run it with the help of others. The focus is on a group of young black adults who are unemployable. The centre is trying to clean up their acts so they can be productive citizens. Fat chance. P&C refer to them as gorillas because they act uncivilized, but with Poitier as their instructor, now there is a chance. (It reminds me of an earlier film he made in the UK: TO SIR WITH LOVE. It's worth watching.)

While Poitier is trying to make something out of these kids, Crosby is tracking down companies who might hirer them. He's also trying to figure out who the anonymous blackmailer is (Jones) and he's falling for the woman who is running the place.

Act III starts with the realization that Jones's late wife the founding administrator of the centre. They have him and confront him, but in the process the mob locates Poitier and are after him. It gets worse when they kidnap his girlfriend Nikki. Give us back the $475K you took and we think about returning your girlfriend.

Poitier doesn't have the money. He's spent a bunch of it. Jones gives them a lead from the crooked cop. They rob a couple of safes. During these scenes a secret is kept: what did they rob and from whom?

The final confrontation. Money for the girl. Girl goes free, but not Poitier. They are going to kill him. They would kill him except for some reason the mafia boss, Bruno, kept incriminating evidence in these safes. Poiter has his out.

There's a fair bit of social commentary in this film, preachy to a point, but even after thirty plus years, it doesn't appear as if anything has changed.

It reminds me of a famous quote by the head of Columbia Pictures, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union."

Having said that I'm not going to fault them on that. If I were in their position, I'd probably do the same thing.

The best scene of the film is the moment when Poitier walks into the classroom full of gorillas and gets no respect. You know something is going to happen to make them change and you want to know why.

Posted 2009/03/07 at 19h57ET in Movie Commentary.

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