Classic Movie Reviews

Purlie Musical Review

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( Dec 1917 -- Feb 2005)

Born in Cogdell, Georgia, as Richard Chatman Davis, he acquired the name Ossie from a county clerk's mishearing his mother give his name for his birth registration. The clerk heard Ossie when she said his name was R. C. Davis and that's how he was registered. His father was a railway construction engineer, which brought death threats from the KKK, who didn't think a black man should have such an important job. In accordance with his parents' wishes he enrolled at Howard University but dropped out in 1939 to pursue an acting career in New York. He began with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem. He made his film debut with the 1950 Sidney Poitier movie, No Way Out. Trying his hand at directing, he staged Gordon's War, Black Girl and the iconic Cotton Comes to Harlem. He played in several Spike Lee films, including Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever and did voice-over work on televisioin commercials. He also appeared in several TV productions, including Roots, The Next Generation and acted in, wrote and/or directed 14 stage productions. Altogether he acted in 48 films and directed five. In addition to his Emmy Award and Grammy Award, in 1989 Ossie and his wife, actress and activist Ruby Dee, were presented the National Medal of Arts in a White House ceremony. In 2004 they received Kennedy Center Honors for a lifetime of contributions to American culture.


"How low can you git, Gitlow?"   

    This is a made-for-TV movie with a distinguished pedigree. It was adapted from a 1970 Broadway play and a 1972 Broadway revival of that play, based on Ossie Davis's 1961 play Purlie Victorious. The play was made into a 1963 film, Gone Are The Days

    The setting is the deep South in the days of Jim Crow laws. The title character, Purlie Victorious Judson (Robert Guillaume) is a dynamic traveling preacher who returns to his Georgia hometown hoping to save Big Bethel, the black community's church. He has recruited Lutiebelle Jenkins (Melba Moore) to impersonate his long-lost cousin in an attempt to pry loose from plantation owner Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee the cousin's inheritance that was left in trust with the Ol' Cap'n years before. Purlie wants to use the money to save Big Bethel. Of course, things get very complicated, and very comical, before it's all over. This production won a CableACE Award. Cast members who also were in the Broadway production, in addition to Moore and Guillaume, are Sherman Hemsley and Linda Hopkins. Purlie appears as a TV re-run from time to time and retains its spirit and entertainment quality through repeated viewings.

 1981, Directed by Rudi Goldman

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