The River Niger (1976)

R | 112 mins | Drama | 7 April 1976

Director:

Krishna Shah

Cinematographer:

Michael Margulies

Editor:

Irving Lerner

Production Designer:

Seymour Klate

Production Company:

River Niger Film Group
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HISTORY

The music credits include the acknowledgement, "Special thanks to Steve Gold." The actor who played "Chips" is credited as "Theodore Wilson" in the opening credits and "Teddy Wilson" in end credits.
       As reported in the 29 May 1973 HR, producer Sidney Beckerman purchased the rights to Joseph A. Walker’s Broadway play, The River Niger, from the Negro Ensemble Company. Filming was planned for autumn 1973 in New York City, with several members of the theatrical cast reprising their roles. This would be Beckerman’s first independent production since his departure from heading Allied Artists Pictures Corporation. The 26 Nov 1973 HR reported that Beckerman acquired the rights for an undisclosed amount, “well into six figures.”
       A 2 May 1975 DV news item stated that principal photography was scheduled to begin 10 May 1975 “in and around” the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA. The 5 Jun 1975 HR, which stated that filming was underway, listed a budget of more than $800,000. The 26 Dec 1975 HR announced that principal photography was completed in nineteen days, at a cost of approximately $750,000. Beckerman’s co-producer, Isaac L. Jones, acquired financing through Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Corporations (MESBIC) in New Orleans, LA; San Francisco, CA; Newark, NJ; New York City; Detroit, MI; and Hartford, CT. Jones stated that this was the first major film to be financed with MESBIC capital. An article in the 6 Jun 1975 HR described Beckerman’s frustration when soliciting funds for the production, despite his record of successful films. He explained that the film industry ... More Less

The music credits include the acknowledgement, "Special thanks to Steve Gold." The actor who played "Chips" is credited as "Theodore Wilson" in the opening credits and "Teddy Wilson" in end credits.
       As reported in the 29 May 1973 HR, producer Sidney Beckerman purchased the rights to Joseph A. Walker’s Broadway play, The River Niger, from the Negro Ensemble Company. Filming was planned for autumn 1973 in New York City, with several members of the theatrical cast reprising their roles. This would be Beckerman’s first independent production since his departure from heading Allied Artists Pictures Corporation. The 26 Nov 1973 HR reported that Beckerman acquired the rights for an undisclosed amount, “well into six figures.”
       A 2 May 1975 DV news item stated that principal photography was scheduled to begin 10 May 1975 “in and around” the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA. The 5 Jun 1975 HR, which stated that filming was underway, listed a budget of more than $800,000. The 26 Dec 1975 HR announced that principal photography was completed in nineteen days, at a cost of approximately $750,000. Beckerman’s co-producer, Isaac L. Jones, acquired financing through Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Corporations (MESBIC) in New Orleans, LA; San Francisco, CA; Newark, NJ; New York City; Detroit, MI; and Hartford, CT. Jones stated that this was the first major film to be financed with MESBIC capital. An article in the 6 Jun 1975 HR described Beckerman’s frustration when soliciting funds for the production, despite his record of successful films. He explained that the film industry was unreceptive to quality African-American films, because of inadequate sales strategies and the belief that such films had limited commercial appeal, not “overt racism.” According to the 13 Jul 1975 NYT, Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones and Lou Gossett accepted reduced salaries in exchange for shares of the profits, and several members of the cast and crew offered to work for less than their standard rate. Regarding the crew, Jones stated, “We would have hired more blacks, but it was shocking to find how few blacks there are in the unions.” Although major studios originally rejected The River Niger, they competed for the distribution rights, according to NYT . Cine Artists Pictures was announced as worldwide distributor in the 19 Feb 1976 DV.
       The 1 Oct 1975 DV reported that Gayla and Paula Cook of Cook Productions were suing Beckerman, attorney Norman Simmons, Gulf South Venture Corporation, The River Niger Film Group, Robert Aulston and Asante Productions for $8 million. Cook Productions, originally designated to finance and produce the film, charged the defendants with “fraud, breach of contract, defamation and slander.”
       The River Niger premiered in Chicago, IL, on 2 Apr 1976, according to the 26 Feb 1976 HR. While the film received positive reviews from the 25 Mar 1976 HR, the 10 May 1976 Box, and the 7 Apr 1976 LAHExam, the 25 Mar 1976 DV, described the film as “talky, pretentious, and lacking in visceral excitement.”
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
10 May 1976.
---
Daily Variety
2 May 1975.
---
Daily Variety
1 Oct 1975.
---
Daily Variety
19 Feb 1976.
---
Daily Variety
25 Mar 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 May 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Nov 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jun 1975.
p. 3, 7.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jun 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Dec 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Feb 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Feb 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 1976
p. 2, 7.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
7 Apr 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
18 Jan 1976
p. 1, 26-28, 30, Pt. IV.
Los Angeles Times
7 Apr 1976
p. 11.
New Republic
3 Apr 1976.
---
New York
26 Apr 1976
p. 72.
New York Times
13 Jul 1975.
---
New York Times
15 Apr 1976
p. 28.
Playboy
Jun 1976.
---
Variety
25 Feb 1976.
---
Variety
31 Mar 1976
p. 15.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Sidney Beckerman/Isaac L. Jones present
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Gaffer
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Assoc ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward
MUSIC
Mus wrt and performed by
Mus prod by
WAR performer
WAR performer
WAR performer
WAR performer
WAR performer
WAR performer
WAR performer
Rec eng
Re-mixing eng
Mus coord for River Niger Film Group
SOUND
Sd ed
Loc rec
Dolby consultant
Boom op
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
Based on an idea by
Based on an idea by
Spec contribution
Spec contribution
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Hair stylist
Makeup
Personal hairdresser to Miss C. Tyson
PRODUCTION MISC
West African artifacts from the collection of
West African artifacts photog by
Scr supv
Casting
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Asst to the prods
Prods secy
COLOR PERSONNEL
Color by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play The River Niger by Joseph A. Walker (New York, 27 Mar 1973).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Ghetto Warriors
Release Date:
7 April 1976
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Chicago, IL: 2 April 1976
Los Angeles opening: 7 April 1976
Production Date:
10 May--early June 1975 in Los Angeles, CA
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby System®
Color
Duration(in mins):
112
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In the Watts district of Los Angeles, California, housepainter-poet Johnny Williams celebrates the imminent homecoming of his son, Jeff, a navigator for the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command, at Dulcey’s Bar. Johnny’s close friend, Jamaican physician Dr. Dudley Stanton, disputes the value of “the white man’s Air Force” and of bringing children into the world, but Johnny advises his friend that “thinking is the white man’s sickness.” The two men arrive at Johnny’s home, where Ann Vanderguild, a young South African nurse, waits by the door with her luggage. She is there to surprise Jeff, whom she met in Canada. Johnny impresses Ann with his talent for composing verse spontaneously. His wife, Mattie, arrives moments later, exhausted from carrying groceries. Her alcoholic mother, Wilhelmina Brown, is concerned about Mattie’s health and recommends that she see a doctor. Dudley and Mattie arrange for an examination at his office, even though Wilhelmina calls him “a quack.” Ann volunteers to make dinner for Mattie, and asks to spend the night. Mattie offers her the sofa bed in the living room, despite Wilhelmina’s drunken protests. While Ann prepares dinner, Chips, a disciple of militant leader Big Mo Hayes, enters the kitchen. Anticipating Jeff’s return home that evening, Chips tells Ann that Jeff should expect a visit from Big Mo at midnight. When he grabs her bottom, Ann threatens him with a rolling pin, but he counters with a switchblade and threatens her with rape. Ann remains defiant and Chips leaves. Hours later, Ann is awakened by Big Mo and his followers, demanding to see Jeff. Despite ... +


In the Watts district of Los Angeles, California, housepainter-poet Johnny Williams celebrates the imminent homecoming of his son, Jeff, a navigator for the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command, at Dulcey’s Bar. Johnny’s close friend, Jamaican physician Dr. Dudley Stanton, disputes the value of “the white man’s Air Force” and of bringing children into the world, but Johnny advises his friend that “thinking is the white man’s sickness.” The two men arrive at Johnny’s home, where Ann Vanderguild, a young South African nurse, waits by the door with her luggage. She is there to surprise Jeff, whom she met in Canada. Johnny impresses Ann with his talent for composing verse spontaneously. His wife, Mattie, arrives moments later, exhausted from carrying groceries. Her alcoholic mother, Wilhelmina Brown, is concerned about Mattie’s health and recommends that she see a doctor. Dudley and Mattie arrange for an examination at his office, even though Wilhelmina calls him “a quack.” Ann volunteers to make dinner for Mattie, and asks to spend the night. Mattie offers her the sofa bed in the living room, despite Wilhelmina’s drunken protests. While Ann prepares dinner, Chips, a disciple of militant leader Big Mo Hayes, enters the kitchen. Anticipating Jeff’s return home that evening, Chips tells Ann that Jeff should expect a visit from Big Mo at midnight. When he grabs her bottom, Ann threatens him with a rolling pin, but he counters with a switchblade and threatens her with rape. Ann remains defiant and Chips leaves. Hours later, Ann is awakened by Big Mo and his followers, demanding to see Jeff. Despite the fact that Jeff is not due back until morning, they insist on waiting. Ann demands that they leave, eliciting another threat from Chips. Johnny and Dudley enter, and Johnny immediately recognizes “Little Mo Hayes,” Jeff’s childhood friend. Mo introduces his followers: Gail, his girl friend, Chips, Skeeter, and the newest member, Al. Johnny invites them to come back at noon for Jeff’s reception, but Mo refuses to leave so Johnny threatens the group with a rifle and a hand grenade. Afterward, Wilhelmina sleepwalks through the house in search of her hidden bottle of whiskey. Later, when Jeff arrives home, he and Ann make love. The next day, Dudley suspects that Mattie’s cancer has returned and promises biopsy results the following Friday. Mattie asks him not to reveal her condition to Johnny, but Dudley informs Johnny the same day. Meanwhile, Skeeter, a drug addict, begs for heroin from Al, who first demands information on the death of a policeman named Buckley. Skeeter is unable to identify the killer, but believes that the murder was justified, saying that Buckley gave heroin to schoolgirls in exchange for bizarre sexual favors. They are approached by Chips, whom Skeeter identifies as a necrophile, and the three men arrive at the Williams house in search of Jeff. When Ann opens the door, Chips attempts to rape her at gunpoint but Jeff overpowers him. Jeff trains the gun on Chips as he and Ann return him to Mo’s “office,” an abandoned shack behind a parking lot. Mo greets Jeff warmly and apologizes for Chips’s behavior. The two friends argue about the revolution that Mo is working to incite; Jeff dismisses the concept as misguided 1960s idealism, and prefers to effect change by becoming an attorney. As the argument escalates, Jeff criticizes Mo’s immaturity, and for having an addict and a pervert as his “generals.” Afterward, as Jeff and Ann relax at an arcade, they are approached by Gail. She begs Jeff to help Moe, who is confused and is “about to snap.” Despite her disapproval of Mo, Ann pledges their support. On the walk home, Jeff asks Ann to marry him. When they reach the house, Jeff surprises Mattie and Wilhelmina with his early arrival and the news of his engagement. Later, at the reception, an inebriated Johnny insists that Jeff wear his uniform. Jeff refuses, revealing that he failed officer training school and had been discharged several weeks earlier, but he was unable to tell his parents because they were so proud of him. Johnny is disappointed and leaves the party to wander the streets, as Jeff searches in vain for his father. The following Friday, Dudley informs the family that Mattie has inoperable cancer, though it may be treatable through other means. However, Mattie is more concerned about Johnny’s wellbeing than her own. Meanwhile, Johnny composes a poem in a room above Dulcey’s Bar. Later, Gail asks for Jeff’s help in finding a traitor among Mo’s followers, and he reluctantly agrees to monitor the phone at a local bowling alley. Johnny returns home on Friday, injured from an altercation with a pair of thugs, and has a violent fit of temper when Dudley explains Mattie’s condition. Mattie calms him by saying that her life has been all she ever wanted it to be. Several days later, Mo and his group prepare to bomb a construction site, and both Skeeter and Al stop to make phone calls beforehand. Gail monitors Skeeter’s call to a heroin dealer, while Jeff listens to Al’s call to the police. When the police raid the construction site, Skeeter is wounded and Mo shoots an officer in self-defense. Back at the Williams home, Johnny reads the poem that he has written for Mattie, “The River Niger.” Later, while Mattie rests upstairs, the house is invaded by Mo and his followers, who want Dudley to treat Skeeter’s wound. Within seconds, the house is surrounded by the police. Addressing the occupants via bullhorn, Lt. Staples gives them five minutes to surrender. When Chips identifies Al as the traitor, Al holds the group at gunpoint, admitting that he is a policeman on a mission to find Officer Buckley’s killer. Jeff takes credit for the murder, even though he was in Canada at the time. Johnny aims a gun at Al and both men fire. Johnny is badly wounded, but Al is killed instantly. Awakened by the noise, Mattie runs to Johnny’s side as he instructs Mo to blame him for the shooting, along with the group’s other crimes. Johnny tells Mattie not to keep him waiting, then dies. While Dudley is grief-stricken, Mattie composes herself and tells Jeff to let the police in. She callously instructs the others to follow Johnny’s orders. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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