Starring: Bernie Casey, Paul Winfield, Robert Hooks and Melvin van Peebles
Rated: Not Rated Drama
Set in the mid-1970s, The Sophisticated Gents centers upon the brotherhood relationship shared by nine African-American men who bonded during their childhood when they were members of “The Sophisticated Gents” sports club.
The club was founded by their coach, Charles “Chappie” Davis (Sonny Jim Gaines), to actively involve the boys in their inner city, Los Angeles community. Promoting excellence in sports but also in character, the boys grew to be hardworking and accomplished, whether in blue collar labor, community leadership, business or crime.
The members of The Sophisticated Gents are Shurley Walker (Bernie Casey), a bartender seeking to purchase the Greek-owned establishment where he works; factory workers Richard “Bubbles” Wiggins (Paul Winfield) and Cudjo Evers (Rosey Grier); entrepreneur Ezra “Chops’ Jackson (Robert Hooks); professor and author Clarence “Claire” Henderson (Ron O’Neal); city official Kenneth “Snake” Dobson (Thalmus Rasulala); playwright Ralph Joplin (Dick Anthony Williams); actor D’Artagnan “Dart” Parks (Raymond St Jacques); and pimp Walter “Moon” Porter (Melvin Van Peebles).
The Sophisticated Gents create a weekend event, including a banquet, testimonial dinner and Black Arts festival, honoring Chappie and their twenty-five years together. However, it is discovered that all is not what it seems, especially when former childhood outcast-turned-police officer, Detective “Swoop” Ferguson (Albert Hall) continues to doggedly harass the Gents about its members.
What truths will be discovered? Are The Sophisticated Gents, as adults, still so close-knit, to face them and overcome any obstacles? Viewers will anxiously view it to learn how it ends!
The Sophisticated Gents was based upon the 1976 novel, The Junior Bachelor Society, authored by award-winning and best-selling author, John A. Williams. Van Peebles adapted it as a screenplay and also co-produced the film.
Well-received, this three-part miniseries was completed in 1979 but premiered on NBC in 1981. Aside from the males stars, actresses who also co-starred as wives of the Gents were Janet MacLachlan (“Diane Walker”); Ja’net Dubois (“Onetha Wiggins”); Alfre Woodard (“Evelyn Evers”); Rosalind Jackson (“Christine Jackson”); Denise Nicholas (“Pat Henderson”); Joanna Miles (“Sandra Dobson”); Marlene Warfield (“Lil Joplin”); and Bibi Besch (“Simone Parks”). Rounding out the cast are legendary actors Robert Earl Jones (“Big Ralph Joplin”) who stars as Ralph’s father; Matthew “Stymie” Beard (“Mickey Mouse”), who works in the Papadopoulos-owned nightclub with Shurley; and Beah Richards (“Mae Porter”), who features as Moon’s naïve but optimistic mother. Van Peebles’ real-life son, Mario, has a cameo role portraying “Nicholas Dobson”, the son of Snake and Sandra.
There are many appealing elements in this film, especially its well-developed storyline. It featured many Blacks who starred in Blaxploitation films of the 1970s. This is true for eight of the nine who star as The Sophisticated Gents: Jacques in Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970); Van Peebles in Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971); Casey in Hitman (1972); O’Neal in Superfly (1972); Hooks in Trouble Man (1972); Rasulala in Cool Breeze (1972); Winfield in Gordon’s War (1973); and Williams in The Mack (1973). However, what is really special about The Sophisticated Gents is that it was a wonderful vehicle that allowed these actors to showcase their diverse talents and professional training beyond the many negative stereotypes that all too often are portrayed and promoted in films.