(director: Paul Bogart; screenwriters: Pierre Marton/story by Richard Alan Simmons; cinematographer: Fred Koenekamp; editor: Walter Thompson; music: David Shire; cast: James Garner (Quincy Drew), Lou Gossett Jr. (Jason O’Rourke), Susan Clark (Ginger), Ed Asner (Plunkett), Brenda Sykes (Naomi), Royal Dano (John Brown), George Tyne (Bonner), Andrew Duggan (Calloway), Juanita Moore (Viney), Parley Baer (Mr. Claggart), Henry Jones (Sam); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harry Keller; WB Archive Collection; 1971)

The seemingly tasteless pic survives on its genial humor, the likability of the popular lead actors and the director’s light touch.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Paul Bogart (“Marlowe”/”Class of ’44″/”Torch Song Trilogy”) shot the pic during the peak days of the Black Panthers and America’s youth cultural revolution. He directs this Hollywood comedy western with great skill, even though it’s a superficial satire on slavery that’s told through the eyes of a pair of interracial con artists. The seemingly tasteless pic survives on its genial humor, the likability of the popular lead actors and the director’s light touch. It’s written by Pierre Marton, and is based on a story by Richard Alan Simmons.

In 1857, in the pre-Civil War border states of Kansas and Missouri, white con artist Quincy (James Garner) pretends to be the master of his black slave Jason (Lou Gossett Jr.). In reality Jason was born a free man in New Jersey, and the two confidence men go from town-to-town in Missouri with Quincy repeatedly selling Jason and soon after freeing him and splitting the money. Things change for the pair in Kansas, where there’s a heated referendum over Kansas’ admission to the Union as a slave or Free State. In this unstable political climate, Quincy falls for the pickpocket con artist Ginger (Susan Clark) while Jason falls for the slave Naomi (Brenda Sykes), who is being sold at the same slave auction. Jason convinces Quincy to buy her, and it cost him a $1,000. The group is then separated when abolitionist John Brown (Royal Dano) and his followers liberate the slaves. When Quincy follows the wagon tracks to try and reunite with Jason and Naomi, Ginger gets lost. Quincy also must contend again with the ruthless runaway slave hunter and dealer Plunkett (Ed Asner), who tries again to buy Jason. Then plantation owner Calloway (Andrew Duggan) holds the slaves in his plantation, after made aware of the ‘skin game’. The climax is an attempt to free the free plantation slaves by Quincy and the reunited Ginger, along with the freed slaves.

The film is a mine field of improbabilities it delicately dances around with nimble skill; but its efforts to find relevancy in its con man hustling bigots seemed strained, as it reaches more for comedy than to voice anything more than predictable objections to America’s racist practices at the time.