Not all the films made by American International Pictures with black casts were action films. The legendary indie studio made the screen explode with Pam Grier, Jim Brown and Fred Williamson, But they also released dramas during the early ’70s that dealt with life in the inner city. Cornbread, Earl and Me tells us about a family that’s dreaming of a bright future only to watch it implode in a severe case of mistaken identity.
“Cornbread” Hamilton (Keith Wilkes) lives and breathes basketball. He sleeps with his balls and dribbles around the house. He’s got plenty of talent as the top high school player. He’s about to leave home for a major college career. He’s still hitting the local asphalt court playing above the rim. There’s still temptations in the neighorhood. The local hustler (Starsky and Hutch‘s Antonio Fargas) reminds Cornbread that he can make more money running his numbers than playing in the pros. Which was probably true in the NBA back before billion dollar TV contracts. Cornbread wants to make his family proud. Plus he can’t let down the kids that includes Wilford Robinson (The Matrix‘s Laurence Fishburne) and friend Earl Carter (Bucktown‘s Tierre Turner). He and the kids take shelter in the local convenience store when a rainstorm hits. They’re drinking orange sodas unknowing that down the block a woman has been attacked and the cops are in pursuit. Cornbread makes a bet with the hustler that he can get home so fast that he can run between the raindrops. During Cornbread’s dash down the sidewalks, the cops mistake him for their suspect. When he doesn’t stop, guns are drawn. In the aftermath the neighborhood explodes. Things get uglier when the police want to claim Cornbread was the attacker so they can “solve” the case. His parents are willing to sacrifice all to prove their son wasn’t a criminal.
The film doesn’t get caught up too much in a white versus black story like Do the Right Thing. The cops that shoot at Cornbread are white and black (including Never Say Never Again‘s Bernie Casey). This is about authority not wanting to admit to being wrong because they don’t want to pay the price. The cops threaten all witnesses because they don’t want people to shut up and the case to stay closed. The film is not inflammatory so much as exploratory. A majority of the film deals with the aftermath of an incident which too many films would merely have as the last scene before the credits roll. This is about the toll on all those involved whether it be legal or emotional.
Wilkes is not a great actor. He’s a little clumsy with his words especially when compared with the teenage Laurence Fishburne. But all is forgiven when he hits the court and plays so smoothly with other guys. There’s a reason his nickname was Silk. He won plenty of titles with UCLA, the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers. Fishburne proves to be a major find as he holds his own against Moses Gunn, Rosalind Cash, Madge Sinclair and Thalmus Rasulala. He’s the one bound for bigger things at the end of the movie. Cornbread, Earl and Me stands out as a fine film for such a stellar cast.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The transfer looks fantastic. The details of downtown Los Angeles pop on the screen with the extra resolution. The audio is DTS-HD MA Mono. The levels bring out the bounce in the basketball. Donald Byrd’s score gets underneath the tension as the lawsuit and investigation heats up. The movie is subtitled in English.
Trailer (2:29) sets up the film like a good point guard.
Olive Films presents Cornbread, Earl and Me. Directed by: Joseph Manduke. Screenplay by: Leonard Lamensdorf. Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Tierre Turner, Jamaal Wilkes, Antonio Fargas. Running Time: 93 minutes. Rated: PG. Released: June 21, 2016.
Tags: Cornbread Earl and Me, Laurence Fishburne