6.7/10
1,488
34 user 20 critic

Watermelon Man (1970)

R | | Comedy | 27 May 1970 (USA)
An extremely bigoted white man finds out the hard (and somewhat humorous) way what it's like being a black man, firsthand!

Director:

Melvin Van Peebles

Writer:

Herman Raucher
Reviews
Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 1 win. See more awards »

Photos

Learn more

More Like This 

Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

A black American soldier is demoted for fraternizing with a white girl in France.

Director: Melvin Van Peebles
Stars: Harry Baird, Pierre Doris, Christian Marin
Bellyful (2000)
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 3.2/10 X  

A closed-minded conservative couple masquerade as liberal do-gooders in late 60's France. With orders piling up at their bistro, The Full Belly, Loretta and Henri, self-described "pillars ... See full summary »

Director: Melvin Van Peebles
Stars: Andréa Ferréol, Jacques Boudet, Meiji U Tum'si
Comedy | Musical | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.3/10 X  

Film version of Melvin Van Peebles' Broadway musical. A pair of devil-bats take human form and crash a Harlem house party in an attempt to break it up. But somehow, their attempts to ruin the party fail.

Director: Melvin Van Peebles
Stars: Thomas Anderson, Jay Van Leer, Robert Dunn
Crime | Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.5/10 X  

After saving a Black Panther from some racist cops, a black male prostitute goes on the run from "the man" with the help of the ghetto community and some disillusioned Hells Angels.

Director: Melvin Van Peebles
Stars: Melvin Van Peebles, Simon Chuckster, Hubert Scales
Super Fly (1972)
Action | Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  

The daily routine of cocaine dealer Priest who wants to score one more super deal and retire.

Director: Gordon Parks Jr.
Stars: Ron O'Neal, Carl Lee, Sheila Frazier
Night Monster (1942)
Certificate: Passed Adventure | Drama | Horror
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

Kurt Ingston, a rich recluse, invites the doctors who left him a hopeless cripple to his desolate mansion in the swamps as one by one they meet horrible deaths.

Director: Ford Beebe
Stars: Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Leif Erickson
The Hunted (1948)
Certificate: Passed Crime | Drama | Film-Noir
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  

A police detective investigating a jewel robbery discovers evidence that points to his girlfriend as the culprit, although she claims she was framed. He arrests her anyway, and she is ... See full summary »

Director: Jack Bernhard
Stars: Preston Foster, Belita, Pierre Watkin
Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

An actor limited to stereotypical roles because of his ethnicity, dreams of making it big as a highly respected performer. As he makes his rounds, the film takes a satiric look at African American actors in Hollywood.

Director: Robert Townsend
Stars: Robert Townsend, Craigus R. Johnson, Helen Martin
Certificate: GP Comedy | Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.9/10 X  

A federal agent attempts to make some real money before the alcohol ban is lifted so he sets his sights on the whiskey cache of an old army buddy.

Director: Richard Quine
Stars: Patrick McGoohan, Richard Widmark, Alan Alda
Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

A man who has struggled personally has conflicts with his upwardly mobile lawyer brother and well to-do fiance and is reluctantly to be the best man at their wedding.

Director: Charles Burnett
Stars: Everett Silas, Jessie Holmes, Gaye Shannon-Burnett
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

Martin Scorsese interviews his mother and father about their life in New York City and the family history back in Sicily. These are two people who have lived together for a long time and ... See full summary »

Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Catherine Scorsese, Charles Scorsese, Martin Scorsese
Comedy | Sci-Fi | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

When the overworked and stressed-out White House presidential shrink runs away, the CEA and the FBR scramble to retrieve him before he could be abducted by various competing foreign intelligence services.

Director: Theodore J. Flicker
Stars: James Coburn, Godfrey Cambridge, Severn Darden
Edit

Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Godfrey Cambridge ... Jeff Gerber
Estelle Parsons ... Althea Gerber
Howard Caine ... Mr. Townsend
D'Urville Martin ... Bus Driver
Mantan Moreland ... Counterman
Kay Kimberly Kay Kimberly ... Erica
Kay E. Kuter ... Dr. Wainwright
Scott Garrett Scott Garrett ... Burton Gerber
Erin Moran ... Janice Gerber
Irving Selbst Irving Selbst ... Mr. Johnson
Emil Sitka ... Delivery Man
Lawrence Parke Lawrence Parke ... 1st Passenger
Karl Lukas Karl Lukas ... Policeman #2
Ray Ballard Ray Ballard ... 3rd Passenger
Robert Dagny Robert Dagny ... 2nd Passenger
Edit

Storyline

Jeff Gerber, an insurance agent, lives in a typical suburban neighborhood. He is also both racist and a fitness freak. But Jeff's bigoted world of taunting and harassing black people on and off the job is turned upside down when his skin inexplicably turns dark overnight. As Jeff tries to come to terms with this unexplained phenomenon that has befallen him, he soon becomes the victim himself when all of his friends and neighbors suddenly shun and harass him. This puts a strain on his marriage and loyal wife Althea, who begins to crack under the pressure. When all medical attempts to change his skin back to his former color fail, Jeff accepts that Kharma has caught up with him. Jeff tries to see the light of being a persecuted black man in this cruel and segregated world with the help of some of some new black friends, some of whom were people he, as a white man, taunted and harassed. Written by matt-282

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

A very funny thing happened to Jeff Gerber. It won't happen to you, so you can laugh. See more »

Genres:

Comedy

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
Edit

Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

27 May 1970 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Night the Sun Came Out See more »

Filming Locations:

Burbank, California, USA See more »

Edit

Box Office

Budget:

$1,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
Edit

Did You Know?

Trivia

D'Urville Martin not only plays the credited role of the Bus Driver, but also participant in the Yacht Club "riot" scene. See more »

Quotes

Jeff Gerber: I would like to see Abe Lincoln about this equality bullshit.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Lakeview Terrace (2008) See more »

Soundtracks

Where Are The Children
Written by Melvin Van Peebles
Performed by Estelle Parsons
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

 
A pointed skewering of racism with yummy grotesque flavoring
1 July 2005 | by BrandtSponsellerSee all my reviews

In Watermelon Man, director Melvin Van Peebles expresses complex ideas about race and racism in a sophisticated but humorous way. At that, however, if you do not have a strong taste for grotesques--in a formal sense ("outlandish or bizarre; ludicrous or incongruous distortion")--you may not enjoy the film as much as I did. It is something of a surreal, occasionally psychedelic caricature, but as such, it does what all good caricature should do--it emphasizes the truth without being strict realism or "naturalism".

Watermelon Man is the story of Jeff Gerber (Godfrey Cambridge). He's something of a strange dweeb who nevertheless has a stereotypical white-bread suburban existence. He's got a wife, two preadolescent kids, a nice home with a manicured lawn, and so on. He's also something of a health nut (although humorously, Cambridge wasn't exactly in great shape when they shot the film). As the film opens, he's busy exercising while his wife is trying to capture a few more minutes of sleep. He regularly uses a sun lamp. He takes the bus to his insurance salesman job, but instead of catching it right down the street, he races it through the neighborhood every day, the goal being to beat it to the last stop before it gets on the highway.

Jeff presents himself as happy-go-lucky and quite a joker, but he's a bit obnoxious and boorish, plus he shows himself to be racist and a male chauvinist, although he's not exactly gung ho about sleeping with his wife.

Just as we're learning about Jeff's routine, something unusual happens--he wakes up in the middle of the night as a black man. At first he thinks it's a nightmare, but it doesn't go away. He blames it on the sun lamp. He blames it on food he's ingesting. The bulk of Watermelon Man has Jeff trying to at first conquer, then later deal with his newfound "problem".

If you've seen both films, you might find it odd that Van Peebles made Watermelon Man before Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971). Unlike Sweet Sweetback, which is intriguing in its own way, but not near as good of a film artistically and technically, the direction in Watermelon Man is finely nuanced and sophisticated, the cinematography is crisp and attractive and technical elements such as sound are superb. I suppose this might be an interesting lesson in how crucial budget and "legitimacy" can be for film-making. It gives access to the finest materials and resources, including a large stable of professionals with narrow specialties. At that, however, Watermelon Man is not nearly as respected now as Sweet Sweetback because of what Sweet Sweetback represents, both ideologically and influentially in the film industry. Sweet Sweetback was something of a revolutionary (and very psychedelic) cry for African-American rights, and it helped launch not only the blaxploitation craze of the 1970s, but also fiercely independent film-making.

Yet, Watermelon Man is just as unique and important in what it has to say about race, even if it's not violent or pornographic, and not bizarre in the same way. Once Jeff becomes black, everything about his life changes. There isn't a person around who doesn't relate to him differently, with many having a polar opposite reaction to him--both his white friends (and family, of course) and his black acquaintances (they weren't friends, exactly, when Jeff thought he was white). Everyone wants to exploit his newfound state, including his boss. Van Peebles makes a sly transition from the beginning to the end of the film that goes from white-bread sitcom to something of a militant blaxploitation flick in a way that you barely even notice.

A large part of what makes Watermelon Man so odd is Godfrey Cambridge. His performance is way over the top and consistently bizarre, but for some of us, in some contexts (such as for me in this context), this kind of bizarre, over the top material works extremely well--in fact, I tend to prefer this to realism. The other performances are at least interesting, even if they're not all good in a conventional wisdom evaluation, but Cambridge really carries the film.

Equally bizarre and a bit disturbing is Cambridge's make-up as a white man. The make-up is extremely well done--it's difficult to picture Cambridge as he really looks underneath it all, but given the character's disposition, Cambridge as a white man comes off as freakish to say the least.

Van Peebles' direction is extremely admirable. He's not afraid to take all kinds of thrilling chances, including such unusual moves as quick pans to go from character to character in a conversation and odd intrusions of psychedelia, such as the scene that suddenly starts flashing different negative exposure images, or the scene that stops to insert commentary that resembles silent film intertitles.

Van Peebles also did the music here, as he did in Sweet Sweetback, and it's just as weird. Near the end of the film, there's an extended version of a song that rips-off "Heard It Through The Grapevine" that features a vocal that even The Residents would raise an eyebrow to. Again, I love weird stuff, so I was happier than a pig in, um, mud.

If there's anything less than satisfactory about Watermelon Man, it's that it engenders sadness that Van Peebles wasn't able to talk the helm more often. He made a controversial move in this film by changing the ending in the original script, as he rightfully should have done (Columbia originally wanted an "it was all a dream" ending, which would have been ridiculous and insulting, to say the least), and that, combined with his independent production of Sweet Sweetback the following year, didn't exactly put him on Hollywood's successful brownnoser list.


34 of 41 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 34 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Free Movies and TV Shows You Can Watch Now

On IMDb TV, you can catch Hollywood hits and popular TV series at no cost. Select any poster below to play the movie, totally free!

Browse free movies and TV series

Stream Trending TV Series With Prime Video

Explore popular and recently added TV series available to stream now with Prime Video.

Start your free trial



Recently Viewed