Don't Play Us Cheap (1973):

After pulverizing stylistic conventions in Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Melvin Van Peebles could only go back and piece the narrative shards together. Not that his follow-up, an adaptation of his own popular Broadway musical-comedy, is anywhere near Bazinian: despite the one-set constraints, Van Peebles still manages to continually carve the plot -- two devil bats materialize in human shape at a raucous Saturday night Harlem party, bent on souring the fun -- via changes in stock, spastic zooms, superimpositions, constant ruptures between sound and image. Barely released, the film's irrepressibly ethnic vaudeville is irreplaceable Soul Capsule circa 1973: former Ikette Joshie Jo Armstead doing "You Cut Up the Clothes in the Closet of My Dreams," Esther Rolle laying down the law with "It Makes No Difference," Cotton Club staple Avon Long running around, Joseph Keyes' uvula-flaunting "I'm a Bad Character," toothpick-legged ingénue Rhetta Hughes' mock-pliant "My Man," George (Ooppee) McCurn letting his gospel basso soar. Less incendiary in its polemics than Watermelon Man or Sweetback, the film is just as concerned with exploring tensions within black culture, its harmony threatened by elements of class, religion, the male image, even the myth of malevolent tricksters. (For a more subtly stylized treatment of similar themes, devilish intruder included, see Charles Burnett's splendid To Sleep With Anger.) Also with Mabel King, Thomas Anderson, Robert Dunn, and Frank Carey.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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