After Sidney Poitier proved himself time and again as one of the more accomplished actors of his time in such dramatic films as A Raisin in the Sun (1961), In the Heat of the Night (1967), and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), he tried his hand at comedies, which he not only directed, but also starred in with funny man Bill Cosby, who, at the time, established himself in television series like "I Spy", "The Bill Cosby Show", and "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids". The result was a trio of films, this one titled Uptown Saturday Night (1974) being the first (and most popular), with Let's Do It Again (1975) and A Piece of the Action (1977) to follow. Also appearing is singer Harry Belafonte (Island in the Sun), Rosalind Cash (The Omega Man), Roscoe Lee Browne (Topaz, Super Fly T.N.T.), Paula Kelly (Soylent Green), Harold Nicholas (The Five Heartbeats), Calvin Lockhart (Let's Do It Again), Flip Wilson ("Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In"), and the late, great Richard Pryor (Car Wash, Silver Streak), in a small role as private detective Sharp Eye Washington, a part Bill Cosby was originally interested in playing.
Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby are Steve Jackson and Wardell Franklin, respectively, a pair of working class stiffs (Steve works in a mill, while Wardell drives a cab), looking to get a piece of the action...er, wait, that's the title of their third film...anyway, one night, the two men decide to visit an `after hours' club, essentially an exclusive nightclub featuring illegal gambling, called Zenobia's. The place is jumping, full of fly guys, foxy mamas, and hot, funky music...and gambling. Just as the pair hits it big on the dice table, a gang of masked gunmen raid the joint, robbing the place blind. The next day Steve discovers he's won $50,000 dollars in the lottery, but guess what? The winning ticket was in his wallet, which was taken during the heist. Steve and Wardell hit the streets in an effort to find the persons responsible for the robbery, and hopefully, recover the winning ticket, and exercise which has them come into contact with all sorts of underworld types, including a pint-sized karate expert named Little Seymour (Nicholas), a smooth hustler named Silky Slim who's looking to make a name for himself, and an established crime kingpin named Geechie Dan Beauford (Belafonte). Eventually Steve and Wardell do find out who was responsible fir hitting Zenobia's, and concoct a crazy scheme involving setting the crooks up to steal non-existent diamonds, all in an effort not only recover Steve's wallet (with the winning ticket), but also to jam up the gangsters with whom the pair are now in hot water with, culminating in an outlandish finale at a church picnic.
While Uptown Saturday Night was the most popular of the trio of comedies Poitier and Cosby did in the 1970s, I always thought their second feature, Let's Do It Again (1975), was actually the funniest of the three. That's not to say the other two aren't funny, as they most certainly are, but the second always seemed to stand out as the best, in my opinion. This film works for a number of reason...the story is relatively solid, the script sharp, the direction highly professional, the cast exceptionally talented (the writer states he originally wrote the film with Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor in mind to play the leads, but Poitier and Cosby were chosen instead because of their ability to generate box office sales), and finally just by the fact the filmmakers allowed enough leeway for Cosby to do a lot of what he does best, and that is improvise, as shown in some of the funniest scenes in the film, of which there are many. Watch as Cosby takes it over the top near the beginning, during the gambling sequence where he's actually winning as a female patron has the hot hand with the dice...and then there's the bit where Cosby and Poitier's characters are trying to act all tough as they enter a bar known to be a hangout for a criminal which they got a tip on...this is followed up by Cosby producing the most cockamamie line of BS as the pair find themselves in over their heads. In this particular scene, the writer mentioned in a featurette on the DVD that the boys were supposed to run out of the bar when it appeared they were going to get the beating, but then the scene was changed to allow Cosby to try and schmooze his way out of the sticky situation to no avail as the pair eventually get the beating in a hilarious fight sequence. Also, I think Bill Cosby's ratty beard should have gotten its own credit in the film, as it was almost a character unto itself...and who knew Sidney Poitier could pull off a comic role as well as he does? Sure, most of the time he was more or less the straight man, setting Cosby up, but still, he had his moments. I guess an excellent actor can perform well in any genre, given the material is there. I'll tell you what, had I not seen Harry Belafonte credited as playing the character of Geechie Dan Beauford, a comical representation of Marlon Brando's portrayal of Don Vito Corleone, I wouldn't have recognized him at all. And then there's Flip Wilson, as `The Reverend'...he's got some great lines, the best being while he's preaching to his congregation..."Friends, we need more romance and less hot pants!" Richard Pryor also has a small, but funny, role as a nervous private eye Poitier and Cosby's characters seek out to help recover the wallet. He's got a couple of great lines with regards to how African American private eyes are portrayed on screen versus reality. All in all, this is a solidly funny film, with a lot of crazy characters, quotable lines, and funky 1970s fashions and hairstyles (check out Bill Cosby's afro, complete with a part down the middle).
The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), looks very good here, given the age of the film. It doesn't leap out at you, but probably looks as good as when it was originally released. As far as the Dolby Digital mono audio, I have no complaints. In terms of extras, there are a few, including an audio commentary track featuring Dr. Todd Boyd, USC professor of cinema and television and author, a short featurette titled The Lowdown on Uptown: A Retrospective (7:06), and a theatrical trailer. If you liked this film, I would suggest checking out the two films that followed, Let's Do It Again (1975) and A Piece of the Action (1977). The movies aren't actually sequels, so the order in which you watch them isn't really important.
By the way, as I write this, I noticed Warner Home Video, the studio that owns the film, is planning on re-releasing this movie onto DVD as a double feature with A Piece of the Action (1977), at a very attractive price. If you're interested, it might be worth it to look for that release rather than buy this stand alone version.