Brother John (1971) Poster


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The Mysterious Stranger
georgedixon6 February 2007
First of all Vincent Canby was wrong. Poitier's character John Kane is not an angel. He is very much a living breathing earthly being capable of error as evidenced by a scene where he thoughtlessly lets slip a bit of information he should not have mentioned. Do I know exactly who or what John Kane was meant to be taken for by Ernest Kinoy the screenwriter? Definitely not. Does that at all detract from the enjoyment of this film. Absolutely not. Think of Mark Twain's The Mysterous Stranger or the sci-fi film classic "The Day The Earth Stood Still" Both of these works are scathing indictments of the pettiness and baseness of human kind. If you have any knowledge of how wisdom is communicated in the eastern religions such as Budhism you will be mesmerized by the conversation that takes place in the jail cell between the world weary Kane and Dr. Thomas. It is significant that it is a physician who more accurately than any other character understands what Kane is up to. Who else but a physician is actually trained to see man as he really is, with all pretenses and garments removed? Dr.Thomas has in his own way been performing the same task as Kane all his life making dispassionate clinical observations. The fact that none of the social issues and conflicts portrayed in the film are fleshed out or resolved in any satisfying way is not a problem for this film. They are all just symptoms of the underlying disease. In my opinion Kinoy is saying the disease itself is simply the nature of man. Perhaps the beating and humiliation of an officer of the law (even a blatantly racist and evil one)- by an African American that takes place in this film was simply too radical in 1971 for it to be aggressively promoted or to be supported by critics. Don't let this film's obscurity keep you from superb performances by Mr Poitier and Will Geer.
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Poitier plays a man who was always "different" and enigmatic, who returns to his home town
Duzebyte13 September 1998
I found the movie thought provoking when I first saw it. So much so, I purchased and read the book. Will Geer gives a performance that should have gotten him at least an oscar nomimation. The conversations between Poitier's character and Geer's are simple yet profound in what they imply. Not an action movie, more of a prophetic drama. Not a lot of people I have talked to have seen it but of those who have seen it, they have liked it. Its a great discussion group movie.
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Sidney Poitier at his usual best
ianlettice20 November 2005
I first saw this movie when it was released in the UK and although similar politically to most of his movies of that time and with the usual script aimed at making Sidney Poitier appear to be the super human that we all know he is.It was still in my opinion one of his more meaningful but less celebrated rolls with little or no publicity when it was released in the UK.Having said that,when you think of the standard of performance Mr Poitier gives in the movie and the talent the casting agent managed to muster(all fine journeymen actors)as a supporting cast one wonders why I feel I am the only person in the UK who saw this movie.The other major plus is the soundtrack(I would love to have a copy)it is so good.
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Sidney Poitier as a being of mystery
George04123 November 2003
Sidney Poitier gives an exemplary performance in a film in which the viewer is kept in suspense as to why and who. Right to the very end, the viewer never knows for sure what the visitor to a small town really is. The supporting cast is excellent and Will Geer and Sidney Poitier are outstanding.
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An intriguing, hard to find film
davidemartin23 June 2001
I only saw the movie once, back when it came out, but it left an impression on me. John is an enigma, one we discover more puzzling things about but never anything that is a solid answer. Like Will Geer's character, we can guess things about John and the reasons for his return, but we will never know the answers.... At least not until John chooses to act.

By the way, the film makes an interesting mirror to IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. Consider that film as if it were an X-Files episode....
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I never thought it was possible...
vincentlynch-moonoi24 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
...for me to see a film starring Sidney Poitier that I didn't like. Of course I have my favorites, as well as others that I just "liked", but never a Poitier film that I didn't like. For me, Poitier was that rare film star that never made a mistake and always lifted us up higher. But tonight, finally, I've seen that one Poitier film that I dislike.

I want you to think for a minute about a very different film -- one not starring Poitier and not a drama. The comedy/drama "The Bishop's Wife" starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. In that film the characters played by Young and Niven don't know exactly what Cary Grant's character is. To them, he's an enigma. But to us the viewer, we know he's an angel. In fact, it's crucial to the movie that we viewers no that. If we don't understand that, then the film doesn't work.

Similarly, this film would work so much better if we knew what Sidney Poitier's character is. The other characters in the film can be mystified by him, but we need to understand who and what he is. It really doesn't work for him to be an enigma for the viewer.

Having said that, I don't mean that the film is not an interesting film to watch; it is. But it's also a frustrating film. I wonder if this is Will Geer's finest role. I know that I can't imagine anyone else being quite so perfect in the part. I'm frustrated by Sidney Poitier's role in that one of Poitier's strengths is his powerful diction, even when he is speaking quietly; here he has probably the least dialog of any starring role he ever had. I've never cared for Bradford Dillman, but he does his job here. Beverly Todd is good here as the woman who takes a liking to the mysterious (almost) stranger. Ramon Bieri is very good as the rather bad-guy sheriff. Paul Winfield's role is an odd one...for him, so it's interesting. Also interesting to see Zara Cully (Mother Jefferson in "The Jeffersons") in a very different role.

Perhaps it's just the print they were showing on cable, but the film seemed rather grainy.

So, do I recommend watching this film. No. Nor do I recommend not watching it. I feel very neutral -- and personally disappointed -- in it. And what it comes down to is that I want the story teller to tell me the story. And here, the story teller doesn't fully tell the tale.

Don't read any further unless you've already seen the movie. (My opinion is that Poitier's character is a representative of God who is compiling a report card not of individual men and women, but of mankind).
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"You sure are a strange breed of cat!"
moonspinner5515 August 2009
Odd Ernest Kinoy screenplay involving a mysteriously reticent black man of very few words returning to his Southern hometown for the funeral of his sister, dating a pretty schoolteacher but also getting involved in heated racial confrontations between the black residents and the redneck law. Peculiar, offbeat to say the least, yet hardly engrossing or emotional aside from the two big confrontations (one racially-charged, the other over a woman). Will Geer gives an irritatingly obtuse, owl-like performance as the doctor who originally delivered "Brother John", and who now senses something magical about him. In the lead, Sidney Poitier holds the screen with resplendence; he still has all the charisma and inner-fire of his popular 1960s roles, and allows us to see it (or perceive it) at perfectly-timed intervals. However, this cloudy mood piece--with timely undercurrents of oppression--isn't an exciting or gripping picture. Some have lauded the film for its dreamy ambiance, others will feel this approach ultimately works against the characters. A mixed-bag, though one with a beautiful score by Quincy Jones and expressive Gerald Perry Finnerman cinematography. ** from ****
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Well done; Poitier and Geer and great, especially together
vchimpanzee22 March 2011
In a Southern town, kindly old Doc Thomas is giving an elderly woman what appears at first to be a routine examination. But then he must tell her, in his caring way, that she is too far gone and while they can try, she needs to prepare for the worst.

The woman's brother John cannot be found. And yet somehow he has always managed to show up when someone he cared about died. This time is no exception; while the family wonders how to contact him, John is already in his sister's hospital room.

After the funeral, John stays around for a while, which is unusual for him. He entertains a group of school kids by telling about his adventures in Africa and showing them the culture of the people he met. The kids' teacher seems to be an old girlfriend, and the possibility exists of the romance rekindling.

Doc Thomas should probably give up his practice, and the townspeople know this. He may not be senile yet, but he is showing a decline.

Meanwhile, the union at an area factory appears ready to strike. The black workers aren't treated well, and some of the cops in town are racist. There may be trouble. Will John's presence help or hurt the situation?

Sidney Poitier gives his usual masterful performance. And Will Geer does an outstanding job overall, even holding his own with the great Poitier in a powerful scene near the end.

We never really learn what John does or why he seems to have supernatural abilities. All we know is that he is very intelligent and has lived many places and done many things.

There are plenty of other good performances and good writing.

It's worth seeing.
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I want to walk the earth, like Kaine in..Brother John
chaosHD21 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Samuel Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction may want to walk the earth like Kane in Kung Fu, but i think he'd be even better at walking the earth like Kaine in Brother John.

Before director James Goldstone was directing disaster movies in the late 70's, he made some pretty good little films, and Brother John is one of them. This film would make for an interesting double feature with In The Heat of the Night, as they share many similarities. The only difference in Brother John being that Poitier's character isn't a police officer.

Every time one of John Kaine's relatives dies, he suddenly reappears in his home town to visit them on their death bed. No one can understand how he's able to know when to come, since no one in town has his address or phone number. He's traveled the world, "going where the wind takes him", and apparently knows every language in existence.

I'm surprised that this film has so few votes here on IMDb and isn't more known. It's been out on Region 1 DVD since 2003, although i think it's going out of print now, unfortunately.
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A stranger passed my way
bkoganbing25 September 2019
No doubt about it this may be the strangest role Sidney Poitier ever took on. But at the same time he did a haunting performance as Brother John whose arrival in town for his sister's funeral is cause for speculation in the southern town he hails from.

Will Geer the town doctor upon hearing Poitier is in town says that Poitier has never returned but for family members when they die, both parents and now his sister. He keeps in no touch, but always knows.

He muses out loud to his district attorney son Bradford Dillman who in turn talks to redneck sheriff Ramon Bieri and let's say they perform their own highly illegal investigation because this man hasn't done anything. But he's a well dressed black man with good speech and manners so who knows what he could be up to. There's a strike going on in town at a factory which is their largest employer and he could be some leftwing agitator, a communist who knows.

Poitier isn't getting along any better with the black people he grew up with. They think he's a snob and the girl he dated at one time Beverly Todd can't figure him out.

Poitier is one of those humans who apparently has been granted certain insights the rest of us don't have. It's not in their nature to make really close friends. We've seen this in several films, two I can cite are The Passing Of The Third Floor Back with Conrad Veidt and one who was granted a bit more than insight to is Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile.

The beautiful thing about a film like Brother John is that you can put almost any kind of interpretation on it. Watch it and create your own.
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What about hope, what about love?
BERSERKERpoetry11 December 2016
I stumbled over this film quite by accident. I've always been fascinated by Sidney Poitier for his stony dignified demeanor and Will Geer for his irrepressible amiability (even if playing the villain). When I saw that they'd both appeared together in this production, I was curious.

"Brother John" is an extremely eclectic film. The genre of drama/sci-fi just about says it all, all while saying next to nothing. Sure, that's basically what it is... a strange combination of small-town drama, mixed with a dark and murky undertone. The writing is completely honest to both ends of the spectrum, all while explaining less than it suggests. The screenwriter, Ernest Kinoy, tells a tale that is murky yet surprising straightforward. The qualities of racial tension (a common theme of Poitier films) and the aspect of striking workers (a recurring plot point of Will Geer's life) might explain what drew the two stars to the script, and that's the corporeal backbone of the story.

"Brother John" does not play at being a big film, and in spite of its incredible deftness in acting and direction, I'm not terribly surprised by its obscurity. There is no way whatsoever to pigeonhole the plot, and at times, even particularly understand what's going on. In a strange twist, I realized about halfway through that all of the vaguely fantastic elements could have been excised (even as late as in the editing room) and it still would have been a highly serviceable drama about life in the American south.

But, instead, "Brother John" takes a sharp left turn. The title character (played by Poitier) is painted as a strange harbinger of death, like a raven on a fencepost. His identity is never fully explained. Is he the grim reaper, the angel of death, some sort of globe-trotting serial killer? These questions were answered to my satisfaction by the conclusion, but other viewers may not be so pleased, and some will leave feeling completely unfulfilled.

What moved me most was, unexpectedly, the direction and cinematography. James Goldstone, the director, has a surprisingly comfortable relationship with his surroundings. There is little attempt to force framing, to relocate interfering objects, or to stage shots in an unnatural way. His actors move in-behind lamps, tree branches, and the camera makes little attempt to circumvent them, unconcerned at being anything but an observer. Just the same, Goldstone has a brilliant sense of composition in the way he slips into deep, almost uncomfortable close-ups, then back to wide, languidly casual views of the whole room or outdoor space. He seems to be letting his actors do what they please, whatever gets the feeling across most honestly. A lot of this hinges on the dim, comforting cinematography of Gerald Perry Finnerman, who underlights almost everything, getting across a strong sense of warmth.

You might call "Brother John" a mystery, and as I leave my thoughts on a film that few remember, I'm struck by the final questions in the dialogue. What about hope, what about love? Is it enough in the face of everything evil? Do we deserve what we've got? Well, we've got it, so it's up to us to live up to it... and maybe that's the real theme of this.
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Sodom and Gommorrah
boblipton15 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I'm going to tell you a lot of key points about this movie, so if you haven't seen it, stop reading now.

The story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gommorrah is foretold in this movie, with Sidney Poitier as an angel moving among the people of a small Southern town, looking for the righteous. Several pieces right out of Genesis are reproduced in non-religious terms, but it becomes particularly obvious as Richard Ward speaks up to the police to protect Sidney Poitier -- although he does not, like Lot, offer to let the cops have their way with his daughters.

Sidney Poitier gives one of his typical graceful performances as 'Brother John', exuding an air of compassionate, disinterested watchfulness in his role. Except, of course, with pretty young women.

But I think the strain of playing these superior beings was getting to him. Shortly he would try his hand at raunchy comedies and then disappear behind the camera for more than a decade.
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Brother DuzeByte
spookysr2 January 2005
I too agree with DuzeByte and have setup a discussion group right here at IMDb. Look for it.

Sydney portrays a fascinating creature of Kinoy's mind. The dialog he wrote for Sydney and Will in the jail-house scene was engaging as well as enigmatically intriguing. American stereotypes in 1971 would have us believe that a black man can not play an angel nor an alien. Denzel's portrayal of an angel in The Preacher's Wife was equally as engaging as this movie was simply by the stereotype-bashing of the screenwriters.

Brother John was a little too "dark" in his approach to be a obedient modern-day Ben Elohim (angel) on a mission. Too materially substantial ('human form') to be a disobedient version too. IMHO a visiting advance scout 'alien' actually only exists in the human mind of a Hollywood sci-fi screenwriter. Therefore Brother John fits that bill quite well. However, I can't understand how an alien would know when his folks were dying nor why he would have any dealings with them after realizing his Earth mission. I also don't know why his passport would be so revealing since BJ was so stealthy and so well trained in the espionage trade-craft of a 007 type shadow-warrior of the 70's - karaté chops and all.

I found this movie to be so well thought out despite the predictable love scenes. I would think that Kinoy was trying to deliver a profound message to Americans as he is to the entire world in his new 2005 film about the Papalcy (Pope and Catholic church) called "Magnificat".

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SnoopyStyle27 September 2019
Doc Thomas (Will Geer) recounts the story of John Kane to his District Attorney son Lloyd who is more concerned about unions coming to their small Alabama town. John (Sidney Poitier) had left town as a teen and never maintains any contact but he seems to know to come back home whenever a family member is about to die. His sister is dying and he has returned. The local police suspects that he's labor agitator but Doc suspects different.

This needs to be Poitier's movie. It can't spend that much time from the other points of view. By halfway, I started rooting for Poitier to do something interesting. It doesn't help that he seems to be a very passive character and the other half of the movie is about white people being confused about him. Poitier does get into a fight. It's the not best fight choreography but it does lead to a haunting exchange with Louisa MacGill. Her desperation is devastating. It's really the only great scene in the film. There is good potential for a Twilight Zone episode but the movie devolves into a waiting game. The audience is simply waiting for John's nature to be revealed so that they can go home.
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Heavenly angel or Black Power agent
Chase_Witherspoon13 October 2012
Heavy handed allegory gets a tick for its ambition and casting, but the momentum and pace is severely soporific with long passages of seemingly endless staring and close-ups of eyeballs where words should be present. Poitier returns to his home town to attend the funeral of his sister, but following a series of evangelical interventions in the town's struggling labour relations, many come to believe that he may be the second coming. Predictably, there are those in the redneck town who want to lynch him for impersonating Christ (potentially an opportunistic charlatan), while others hope he can reverse the disturbing trends and save lives.

Local doctor played by Will Geer initially greets Poitier with scepticism but opens his mind to the possibilities; his son played by Bradford Dillman, on the other hand is cynical of Poitier's intentions which local sheriff Ramon Bieri believes are to agitate the local black community into industrial disputation for better treatment and wages. Lincoln Kilpatrick, Richard Ward and Paul Winfield play local oppressed workers who come to trust Poitier and his unconventional wisdom.

Grainy colour tones and heavy doses of symbolism create an eerie atmosphere, but I felt the film never quite hit the mark, languishing somewhere between fantasy and melodrama. But then perhaps the low key treatment is what makes it a memorable and original little title (and one that appears now long forgotten). Low key but worth a look.
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