Claudine (1974)


Diahann Carroll was not the first choice for the title role in John Berry's Claudine (1974), a single mom of six living in Harlem and trying to keep body and soul together on public assistance. The great Diana Sands (A Raisin in the Sun) was originally cast but bowed out when she was diagnosed with cancer. She asked Carroll (TV's Julia) to do the picture, a fresh and refreshing film of a woman caught in a familiar Catch 22 created by the "system" that penalizes welfare recipients for actually working. Unable to make enough to provide for her children, Claudine lies to social service workers about having a job as a maid. It's while working that she meets a kind and cheerful garbage collector Rupert, played by James Earl Jones. Claudine is cautious after being loved then abandoned before but not nearly as wary as her children, who dislike her friend immediately. Eventually, they warm up to him but, as so often happens in life and the movies, reversals and set backs are visited upon the couple and old wounds are exposed anew and no one manages the disappointment well, but none less well than Claudine's oldest, Charles, played by Lawrence Hilton-Jackson (later of Welcome Back, Kotter). The final reel is poignant and, yes, a little sentimental but it works. Both Carroll and Jones are wonderful in this lovingly charming film that wore its dignity like a crown. Carroll was nominated for an Oscar for her performance. She didn't take home the statue but the film is certainly a winner. Recommended..

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