The theatrical origins of Purlie Victorious are evident in this screen adaptation of Ossie Davis' play and this is in part why the movie is so much fun. This is a lyrical comedy DVD where words absolutely sing out loud. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee shine as Reverend Purlie and his protegee Lutiebelle. Purlie Victorious also features Alan Alda, of MASH fame, in his first film role, and Sorrell Booke (of Dukes of Hazard). MPI Home Video has released one of the great classics of Black American cinema on a crisp, almost perfectly clean DVD.
Purlie Victorious opens and closes with Reverend Purlie Judson at Big Bethel church leading a funeral service. The back walls to the church open to flash back on how the dead guy got there. It seems Reverend Purlie came back to Cotchipee with a scheme to get a 500 dollar inheritance owed to his cousin Bee so he can buy a building from local cotton king and landlord Captain Cotchipee and lay the foundation for Big Bethel Church. This scheme involves his protegee, Lutiebelle (played by Ruby Dee) impersonating Cousin Bee and Aunt Missy and Gitlow (Godfrey Cambridge) vouching for her.
Alan Alda plays Charlie, the bleeding heart liberal (seems Alda was typecast early on in his career) son of Captain Cotchipee (Sorrell Booke) with a rather weird southern redneck accent. He is Purlie's childhood friend and secretly supports Purlie Victorious Judson in his quest.
Godfrey Cambridge plays Gitlow Judson, Captain Cotchipee's Uncle Tom foreman and Purlie Victorious' relative. Story has it Godfrey Cambridge got a lot of flack for taking on this subservient role but a lot of the movie's funniest lines are his, such as when Lutibelle (Ruby Dee) asks, "Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel?" and Gitlow answers, "Lions is one thing. White folks is another!"
You could probably read a lot of civil rights references and metaphor in Purlie Victorious but is is, first and foremost, an original comedy that sometimes borrows from the silent movie (such as in the chase scene) and often ridicules the old Southern gentry. It may be a bit difficult for a modern audience to relate to some of the movie's themese but the comedy is still definitely there.
This is a brilliantly written Black comedy. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee are great in the lead roles while the supporting cast, especially Godfrey Cambridge, almost steal the show.
The special feature on Purlie Victorious is a short interview with Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee filmed in 1972. It is more a curiosity than relevant to the movie.