While enjoying themselves at Madame Zenobia's club on Saturday Night, Steve Jackson (Poitier) and Wardell Franklin (Cosby) are held up by robbers who raid the club, taking Steve's wallet as a result. Upon realizing that a winning lottery ticket worth $50,000 is in the wallet, they set out to find the crooks themselves. Determined to retrieve the ticket, they search for it using the help of gangster Geechie Dan Beauford (Belafonte), who wants to defeat his rival Silky Slim (Lockhart). Using their wit, perseverance, and fearlessness, Steve and Wardell devise a plan to get the ticket using the help of both gangsters, in the hopes that it will pay off for them.
Main castSir Sidney Poitier as Steve Jackson, a steel mill worker and tamed family man. He is confident and flirtatious, and he will often take up challenges posed by his best friend Wardell. His wallet was stolen by Silky Slim at Madame Zenobia, which contained the lottery ticket.
Bill Cosby as Wardell Franklin, a taxi driver and Steve's best friend. He has a carefree attitude, and will often act impulsively when presented with thrilling and exciting situations. He persuades Steve to go to Madame Zenobia's, and later to visit Sharp Eye Washington.
Harry Belafonte as Geechie Dan Beauford, a short-tempered gangster. Although he is tough and stubborn, he is also easily persuaded when money is involved. His rival is Silky Slim.
Calvin Lockhart as Silky Slim, a lead gangster and rival of Geechie Dan. Driven by money, he and his crew rob everyone at Madame Zenobia's estate and steal cash and jewelry, including Steve's wallet. Like his rival, he is also persuaded in situations where he is promised money.
Supporting castFlip Wilson as The Reverend
Richard Pryor as Sharp Eye Washington
Rosalind Cash as Sarah Jackson
Roscoe Lee Browne as Congressman Dudley Lincoln
Paula Kelly as Leggy Peggy/Mrs. Lincoln
Lee Chamberlin as Madame Zenobia
Johnny Sekka as Geechie's Henchman
Lincoln Kilpatrick as Slim's Henchman #1
Don Marshall as Slim's Henchman #2
Ketty Lester as Irma Franklin
Harold Nicholas as Little Seymour
Paul Harris as Police Officer
Uptown Saturday Night was made by Warner Bros. in the midst of the blaxploitation film era. Movies such as Cleopatra Jones and the Shaft series had been released by the same company.
Poitier had reached the height of his career during the 1960s. He and Harry Belafonte were considered to be the biggest black male entertainers of the time period. Poitier became the first African-American man to win an Academy Award for his role in Lilies of the Field. He also starred in In the Heat of the Night, which won Oscar awards for Best Picture and Best Director.
Throughout his career, Poitier was frustrated with how Hollywood was trying to portray the black man in film and television. This was one of the things that led him to direct films during the blaxploitation era. His first directed film was Buck and the Preacher, where he starred with Belafonte. Poitier then directed Uptown Saturday Night and its sequels, Let's Do It Again and A Piece of the Action.
The characters in the film, while different in their motives and demeanor, all have a sophisticated and classy appearance in the black community (with the exception of Sharp Eye Washington). Poitier made it a point to represent black actors on screen in an elegant way, which contrasted the image of Blacks that were often thought of in Hollywood. During his career, he refused a role if the character had negative stereotypes, and chose to play characters who were "dignified, proud, and ethical". African-American men in the film carried themselves in a poised, calm manner in all situations. This is most notable with Steve Jackson, who is well-mannered and cautious. Critics have noted on Poitier's pattern of his characters. "In all his films, [Poitier] was educated and intelligent. He spoke proper English, dressed conservatively, and had the best of table manners."
Double-consciousness is briefly portrayed in the film, particularly with Congressman Lincoln and Leggy Peggy. While running for re-election, Congressman Lincoln dresses and sets his office in a conservative manner to appeal to the white majority in order to keep his power. When informed that his guests are black, he immediately switches to an Afrocentric presence by reversing his painting and putting on clothes with African fabric. It is also shown shortly after when his wife Leggy Peggy enters the conversation between him, Steve, and Wardell. She begins to use vernacular dialect toward Steve and Wardell, to which Congressman Lincoln states his disapproval in a condescending manner. The monologue that follows reflects double-consciousness in the form of tokenism, where she expresses her frustration of representing herself in a setting of the majority.
The film was filmed during the blaxploitation era, where women's sexuality in movies was known to be liberated. Coffy was released in theaters in the same year, where the title character was defined by her appearance. Although Uptown Saturday Night did not show female characters as explicitly as Coffy, they were shown in a sexually-suggestive manner. Particularly, sexual liberation was present when Steve and Wardell arrived at Madame Zenobia's party. Women were very playful with the men, and their evening gowns showed a fair amount of skin. Another example lies at the beginning of the film, with the interaction of Steve and Sarah Jackson, his wife. While the two of them are reminiscing in the kitchen about when they first met, Steve keeps referencing her butt, to which she responds "Don't you men ever think about something else besides behinds?" This reinforces physical attraction being the primary source of attraction in regards to the female. In spite of this, both Steve and Wardell treat their wives with respect, which highlights a positive message of equality within their marriages.
Symbolism In the film, the lottery ticket is a symbol of economic prosperity for African-Americans. The decisions that Steve makes on trying to get his ticket back—from hiring a con-artist without doing a background check, to hanging on top of Silky Slim's car in an effort to get his briefcase—reflect a greater meaning of self-determination for economic freedom. The same symbolism is represented in diamonds. When Silky Slim robs the estate and tells Madame Zenobia to hand over her diamond necklace, her reaction displays a loss of power and confidence, rather than fear itself. It also explains why rivals Geechie Dan and Silky Slim briefly work together toward the end of the movie. These elements convey a message that above all else, economic freedom is imperative to a greater life.
Uptown Saturday Night grossed $7,400,000 in the U.S., surpassing its production cost of $2,500,000. It was on the list of top 50 highest grossing films at #3, just three months after its release. The film received mixed-to-positive reviews upon release. Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote "Uptown Saturday Night is essentially a put-on, but it's so full of good humor and, when the humor goes flat, of such high spirits that it reduces movie criticism to the status of a most nonessential craft".
Paul D. Zimmermann of Newsweek magazine writes "Poitier is not an inventive comic talent - he is erratic behind the camera and amiable but not funny in front of it. When the funny set pieces stop, the film sputters - but not before delivering a carnival of fine comic characters." From Variety: "Actor Poitier also dampens the proceedings with a bland, comically mistimed performance that suffers greatly in comparison to Cosby's fast-living rendition of his carefree buddy." Walter Burrell of Essence magazine stated "one walks away a bit dissatisfied...One is left with the feeling these great talents could have sued a vehicle more suited to their abilities."
Shortly after the film's release, NBC commissioned a pilot for a sitcom version of Uptown Saturday Night, starring Cleavon Little and Adam Wade, playing the respective roles played by Cosby and Poitier in the film. The pilot did not sell, though it was seen on NBC during the summer of 1979 as part of Comedy Theater, one of many showcases featuring unsold pilots.
Although indirect, the sequels are Let's Do It Again (1975), and A Piece of the Action (1977). They also garnered mixed reviews from critics, partly due to the fall of the blaxploitation era.
Let's Do It Again (1975) was written by Richard Wesley and directed by Sir Sidney Poitier. The first sequel to Uptown Saturday Night features Poitier and Cosby again on the same screen as Clyde Williams (Poitier) and Billy Foster (Cosby). Many members of the previous film return and play different roles, including Lee Chamberlin and Calvin Lockhart. The film relies primarily on slapstick comedy, compared to Uptown Saturday Night which had verbal wit comedy. The film was met with mostly negative reviews. Stephen Klain of the Independent Film Journal wrote "As he did in the previous film, Poitier had given himself relatively little to do as an actor, preferring to let the camera linger on Cosby, who lets all stops out." Richard Eder of The New York Times stated "The movie's main strength is Bill Cosby, who looks like a starved sheep in wolf's clothing, as is shifty and woebegone at the same time." In spite of reviews, it grossed $11,800,800 in North America, surpassing Uptown Saturday Night in revenue.
A Piece of the Action (1977) was written by Charlies Blackwill and directed by Sir Sidney Poitier. The third of a trilogy of action films directed by Poitier, he and Bill Cosby return as Manny Durrell and Dave Anderson. Like its predecessor, it primarily uses slapstick comedy. It gained fairly positive reviews from critics. David Ansen of Newsweek magazine wrote "Corny and hip, cynical and sentimental, formulaic and funky, A Piece of the Action may have a medicinal intent, but it goes down like ice cream soda." It grossed $6,700,000 domestically.
The music for Uptown Saturday Night was written by composers Tom Scott and Morgan Ames. It was produced and arranged by Van McCoy. It was released in late 1974, with a duration time of 6 minutes and 23 seconds. The opening song is very upbeat, with themes of self-preservation and happiness. The recurring song throughout the film and credits convey self-determination, a motive that reflects the Black Power movement, with the lyrics "I gotta hold on".
In 2002, it was announced that Will Smith and his production company, Overbrook Entertainment, had secured the rights to the trilogy for remakes to star Smith and to be distributed by Warner Bros. Smith stated that he hoped to get Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence and other famous African-American stars to be in the films. In 2012, it was reported that Adam McKay will direct the remake, based on a script by Just Go with It screenwriter Tim Dowling, with Smith and Denzel Washington in the leads. There have been no updates since early 2014, when Nicholas Stoller was re-writing the screenplay, with McKay, Smith and Washington still attached.