Don't Play Us Cheap

EW reviews two Melvin Van Peebles DVDs

Two years after Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song burned through American theaters, Melvin Van Peebles channeled the same energy into the movie musical, with inspired, if scattered, results. In Don’t Play Us Cheap, two ”devil-bats” (Joe Keyes Jr. and Avon Long) vainly try to bust up a Harlem house party, but fall prey to their victims’ infectious energy. Although Van Peebles’ direction is needlessly showy (jagged jump cuts, abrupt zip-zooms), the movie still bewitches — who can resist a song called ”You Cut Up the Clothes in the Closet of My Dreams”? The Story of a Three Day Pass was Van Peebles’ first feature, and, oddly, his most cohesive. Harry Baird plays a black GI whose romance with a white Frenchwoman (Shoot the Piano Player‘s Berger) threatens his hopes for promotion. Though heavily influenced by the French New Wave, the film showcases plenty of Van Peebles’ characteristic fury, especially in the scene where Baird’s mirror image accuses him of being an Uncle Tom. EXTRAS In his brief Pass intro, Van Peebles recalls exploiting his status as a French writer to snag a filmmaking grant in France, while Cheap comes with the singularly bizarre 21-minute documentary ”The Real Deal (What It Was…Is!)”: Van Peebles drops his pants in a vacant Paris lot, fondles a naked woman with a bag on her head, and occasionally drops a making-of detail or two — not the most informative of supplements, but a perfect guide to Van Peebles’ inner world. Cheap: B Pass: B+

Don't Play Us Cheap
  • Movie
  • 95 minutes