Beginning today and continuing all month long, we’ll celebrate Black History Month by spotlighting a classic Black film daily. With a rich tradition of quality “underground” films, our desire is to reintroduce you to many stories that we feel need to be seen. First up is a fantastic look at race in 1970s America in the satirical comedy, “The Landlord.”
The Landlord (1970)
Stars: Beau Bridges, Lee Grant, Pearl Bailey, Diana Sands and Louis Gossett, Jr.
Plot: At the age of twenty-nine, Elgar Enders (Bridges) “runs away” from home. This running away consists of buying a building in a black ghetto in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. Initially his intention is to evict the black tenants and convert it into a posh flat. But Elgar is not one to be bound by yesterday’s urges, and soon he has other thoughts on his mind. He’s grown fond of the black tenants and particularly of Fanny (Sands), the wife of a black radical; he’s maybe fallen in love with Lanie (Bey), a mulatto girl; he’s lost interest in redecorating his home. Joyce (Oscar-nominated Grant), his mother has not relinquished this interest and in one of the film’s most hilarious sequences gives her Master Charge card to Marge (Bailey), a black tenant and appoints her decorator.
Social Significance: Director Hal Ashby’s story was cutting edge for it’s time with razor-sharp racial jabs done in very effective satirical tone. Ashby got amazing performances from Sands, Gossett, Bailey, Marki Bey and Melvin Stewart as the militant Professor Dubois.
Why It’s On the List: Even after close to forty years, the film’s politics hold up exceptionally well. The film dealt with issues of class, color and liberal guilt. Also, many of the actors that appeared in this film would later star in other 1970’s iconic films such as “Superfly,” “Sugar Hill” and “The Spook Who Sat By The Door.”
Little Known Fact: The film reunited Sands and Gossett, who initially appeared together as a couple in “A Raisin in the Sun.” Sands, who was supposed to play the lead in “Claudine” but took ill, would die several years later. Gossett would go on to win a Best Supporting Actor for “An Officer and A Gentlemen.”
Film’s Best Line: “Do you know what NAACP means? It means that n****s ain’t always colored people!” – Elgar Enders stating to his stunned white-bread family during dinner.