This often-funny film fails to sustain its premise through its entire length. Cambridge is hilarious in his role, but many of the gags are cliched, uninspired, and just what one might have expected from the situation. In order to work, comedy must offer surprises. Cambridge, a bigoted
white insurance agent, is married to Parsons and is the father of Garrett and Moran. (Regrettably, Cambridge's whiteface makeup is not very convincing.) The family's life is a placid one with all the usual suburban problems, none of which can compare with what is about to happen to Cambridge. One
morning he wakes up to find that, due to some bizarre inner occurrence in his body, he is now totally and irrefutably a black man! At first, he thinks he might have remained under his sun lamp for too long, then he frantically attempts to wash off the pigment with hot showers, skin lighteners, and
milk baths, all to no avail. Suddenly, Cambridge knows how it is to be the butt of bigotry. His physician, Kuter, suggests that Cambridge might feel more comfortable consulting a black doctor. His neighbors take up a collection in order to get Cambridge to leave the area, fearful that his presence
will drive real estate prices down and cause an influx of other blacks. Caine, Cambridge's boss at the insurance agency, can't believe his eyes when a black Cambridge walks in, so he consults his optometrist. Later, when Caine realizes what's happened, he decides Cambridge might be used to tap the
lucrative black insurance market. Meanwhile, Cambridge feels somewhat better when he gains acceptance from other blacks, notably bus driver Martin and counterman Moreland (appearing in what was reputed to be his 310th film). Cambridge's curvy Norwegian secretary, Kimberly, who never had anything
beyond a perfunctory boss-steno relationship with him, is suddenly attracted to him, and Cambridge sees that this reverse bigotry is also distasteful. At the conclusion, after Parsons has taken the children and moved to her mother's home in Indiana, Cambridge decides to accept his new identity and
moves into a black neighborhood, tosses aside his conservative togs, opens an insurance agency of his own, and registers to join a self-defense unit for blacks.
WATERMELON MAN has problems in balancing its serious themes with its plentiful humor. The combination of the two ends up like oil and water, greatly lessening the film's impact. The film marked Van Peebles' debut as a major studio director and it was also one of the first films done by a black
director in the modern era. Van Peebles later did SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG with the money he made from this one. Cambridge was a gifted comedian who showed that he could act in this film as well as in several others, including COTTON COMES TO HARLEM; COME BACK, CHARLESTON BLUE; and SCOTT
JOPLIN (the last was released after his death in 1976, at the age of 43). Were it not for some profanity and a few questionable scenes, this would be an excellent film to have children watch to learn about the evils of racism.
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- Rating: R
- Review: This often-funny film fails to sustain its premise through its entire length. Cambridge is hilarious in his role, but many of the gags are cliched, uninspired, and just what one might have expected from the situation. In order to work, comedy must offer su… (more)