Cactus Pricks, Changing Directors, and Buck and the Preacher

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Buck and the Preacher  was the first time Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte worked together on a film, despite being friends and well-known actors long before that.

But their project hit quite a snag when a key player left the production.

“A brilliant director by the name of Joe Sargent was hired by Sidney and myself,” Belafonte said. “Within the first few days of shooting, we had great aesthetic differences, which can happen under any set of circumstances… we became very paternalistic about what would be the final result. We were giving birth to something.”

As the saying goes, time is money, especially on a film set. Since the production couldn't move forward without a new leader, a decision had to be made and fast. But who would understand their vision for the project?

That's when Poitier was met with a curious idea. What if he directed? He had never directed before, but given his passion for the movie and his extensive film knowledge, the expertise was certainly in his wheel house.

“Sidney wrestled with this a couple of nights and then accepted the responsibility,” Belafonte said.

Poitier said, “I rolled my camera for the first time. I tell you, after three or four takes of that first scene, a calm came over me. A confidence surged through my whole body… and I, as green as I was, had a touch for this new craft I had been courting from a distance for many, many years.”

Belafonte joked, “When Sidney took over the directorial responsibilities, I became the executive producer. Sidney had to answer to me for why I didn’t get as many close-ups as he did.”

Working together as artists and friends was an enjoyable experience for both of them. In an interview with Dick Cavett, the pair joked about their time together.

“There were moments of great fun, but I didn’t consider them particularly fun because I was directing and acting. There were those among us who were only doing partial jobs,” Poitier said, poking fun at Belafonte.

He, in turn, teased that Poitier expected everyone to hit their marks during each take, including the horses.

Poitier quipped, “They’re being paid. I don’t know why they shouldn’t.”

In the interview, they also took time to respond to a rumor started by magazine writer George Goodman, which claimed they were feuding.

“We never feud. We’ve been friends 26 years. I’ve learned a great deal from this man. I suspect he has learned some things from me,” Poitier said. “We live in a world, unfortunately, where some people make their reputation on other people’s demise.”

Belafonte said, “In the hands of Sidney Poitier as my director, I had the best experience of my life as an artist.”

But there was one incident which perhaps wasn’t the best. In the film, Belafonte’s character takes a bath in his “Adam’s suit” (that is, naked). Unfortunately, being in a state of undress didn’t have its perks in the desert.

 “In Durango, Mexico, there’s a great deal of cactus and scorpions and things running around. I kept getting cactus thorns in the tuchus,” Belafonte remembered.