‘Uptown Saturday Night’
Many of the Black-themed films that filled American theaters in the ’70s were raunchy and R-rated, but Poitier had hits in that era with three PG caper comedies, which he directed and starred in alongside Bill Cosby and a host of A-list African American entertainers. The first in this loose trilogy was “Uptown Saturday Night,” with Poitier and Cosby playing buddies who go on an all-night odyssey through their neighborhood — encountering colorful characters played by the likes of Belafonte, Flip Wilson and Richard Pryor — while searching for a stolen lottery ticket.
‘The Wilby Conspiracy’
One of Poitier’s first feature films was a 1951 adaptation of Alan Paton’s best seller, “Cry, the Beloved Country,” an unusually forward-thinking exposé of the horrors of South African apartheid. Poitier returned to that theme 24 years later with “The Wilby Conspiracy,” a chase thriller in which he plays a revolutionary on the run from the authorities with a sympathetic white buddy (played by Michael Caine). Though essentially an action picture, the movie does a fine job of making injustice come alive. Poitier and Caine would later team up again for the 1997 TV movie “Mandela and de Klerk,” dramatizing apartheid’s last days.
Poitier made some baffling professional choices during the ’80s and ’90s, when he rarely acted, and directed more than his share of duds. But it’s hard to fault him for joining Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, David Strathairn and River Phoenix for the ensemble adventure-comedy “Sneakers.” As a former C.I.A. agent aiding a team of well-meaning super-hackers, Poitier makes good use of his iconic screen presence, representing one of the last sparks of ’60s idealism in an increasingly synthetic age.
‘The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn’
One of Poitier’s last screen performances was in this 1999 TV movie, in which he plays an intensely private, self-sufficient, elderly Georgian whose mental competency is questioned when he refuses to sell his land. Noah Dearborn is the kind of character Poitier played throughout his career — skilled, stubborn and deeply decent — but it says something about how the culture changed during his lifetime that his race is no longer the defining element in his story. That’s a direct consequence of how Poitier spent his career defying stereotypes and fighting to bring layered Black individuals to the screen.