Picks and Pans Review: Uncle Tom's Cabin
updated 06/15/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 06/15/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT
In this, the first modern movie rendition of the long-ignored novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, the black characters are fully drawn and warm; they're not weak and subservient in their souls; they're not stereotypes—they are not, in other words, Uncle Toms. Instead, in this show, it's the white characters who are made to look wimpy, twinkie or dumb, just shallow stick figures. Now there's justice for you. Harriet Beecher Stowe's influential 1851 novel tells two stories: Phylicia (Cosby) Rashad runs away from her plantation to save her son from sadistic slave trader Frank Converse. But her fellow slave, Avery (Spenser: For Hire) Brooks in a fine performance as Uncle Tom himself, is sold to Converse, then to Bruce Dern and finally to the utterly evil Edward (The Equalizer) Woodward as Simon Legree. The production does a surprisingly good job of portraying the meanness of slavery and a better job of letting its victims show strength in the midst of their suffering. But Uncle Tom's Cabin is still a melodrama, carrying with it all the flimsy, cardboard baggage the word implies. The women swoon. The men strut. The plot takes more sudden, dizzying turns than a West Virginia highway. And the kid characters—Little Eva, Topsy and Christopher—are insufferable twits who deserve to be spanked. Other than that, this Uncle Tom's Cabin isn't as bad as the book's reputation would lead you to expect.