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Cornbread, Earl and Me Blu-ray Review

Cornbread, Earl and Me (1975) movie poster Cornbread, Earl and Me

Theatrical Release: May 21, 1975 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Joseph Manduke / Writers: Ronald Fair (novel Hog Butcher); Leonard Lamensdorf (screenplay)

Cast: Moses Gunn (Benjamin Blackwell), Rosalind Cash (Sarah Robinson), Bernie Casey (Officer Larry Atkins), Madge Sinclair (Leona Hamilton), Laurence Fishburne (Wilford Robinson), Thalmus Rasulala (Charlie), Antonio Fargas (One-Eye), Logan Ramsey (Deputy Coroner), Vince Martorano (Officer John Golich), Charles Lampkin (Fred Jenkins), Stefan Gierasch (Sgt. Danaher), Stack Pierce (Sam Hamilton), Tierre Turner (Earl Carter), Jamaal Wilkes (Nathaniel "Cornbread" Hamilton)

Buy Cornbread, Earl and Me from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD

As someone who has liked both basketball and movies for most of my life, I have long been familiar with the title Cornbread, Earl and Me. There are only a few dozen basketball movies out there and I've seen most of them, but this 1975 one had eluded me. Still, I knew that it was this that gave longtime Boston Celtic and 1981 NBA Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell the nickname "Cornbread"
that has been used interchangeably with his first name since his college days. This week's Blu-ray release of Cornbread by Olive Films gave me a chance to finally discover what is also noteworthy for being the theatrical debut of a 13-year-old Laurence Fishburne, who is given an "introducing" credit as "Laurence Fishburne III."

First of all, Cornbread is less a basketball movie than it is an urban social justice one. In its first half-hour, though, it's all about basketball because Nathaniel "Cornbread" Hamilton (UCLA alum and future NBA All-Star Jamaal Wilkes, not terribly more comfortable than most athletes trying to act) is all about basketball. Cornbread is the best baller in his unnamed city and in two weeks, he's about to start college on an athletic scholarship. The children of the neighborhood admire Cornbread's prowess on the blacktop, including best friends Earl (Tierre Turner) and, the titular "Me", Wilford Robinson (Fishburne).

Cornbread is a good kid in a bad neighborhood and he sees basketball as his family's ticket out of poverty. But, one rainy day, after a visit to Cornbread's favorite store for his favorite drink in the world (orange soda), a bet that he can run home in 25 seconds ends up with him shot dead by police, who have mistaken him for the fleeing suspect in a violent armed assault.

Nathaniel "Cornbread" Hamilton (Jamaal Wilkes) helps his supposed cousin/certain admirer Wilford Robinson (Laurence Fishburne) with his jump shot in "Cornbread, Earl and Me."

Cornbread's parents (Madge Sinclair and Stack Pierce) want to clear their son's name in a civil lawsuit against the city, even though lawyer Benjamin Blackwell (top-billed Moses Gunn) warns them how difficult such an undertaking will be. Soon, police officers are showing up to intimidate potential witnesses, threatening a store owner (Charles Lampkin) with some planted marijuana and threatening Wilford's mother (Rosalind Cash) with cutting off the welfare she's been receiving for a bogus heart condition.

Adapted from Ronald Fair's 1966 novel Hog Butcher, Cornbread is inevitably quite dated. It's lathered in a funky '70s score that makes it feel like a cousin to "Sanford and Son." As they still are today, films back then with primarily African-American casts were tailored primarily for African-American moviegoers and attendance likely reflected that.

By today's standards, certain dramatic sequences in the film seem ridiculous and over the top. But clearly, the themes of race relations and police brutality remain relevant and the film's treatment of them is pretty admirable. Nevertheless, it is kind of stunning how much rawer and more realistic depictions of race and class issues would become when you compare this to something like Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, released just fourteen years later. Obviously, these are very different kinds of movies, with the PG-rated Cornbread designed to be something kids on summer vacation might go see. Lee's '80s and '90s films do seem to be shaped by Cornbread and other movies from this era like it.

Earl Carter (Tierre Turner) takes the witness stand to testify under duress.

Most of Cornbread's cast will not be eminently recognizable for someone who didn't grow up in the '70s. Though you might think this was a career-launching performance for the young and charismatic Fishburne, he wouldn't be seen in anything else for a few years because that's how long it took for Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now to be finished. His career has been so varied and winding: a recurring role as Cowboy Curtis on "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" in the back half of the '80s, then playing father to Cuba Gooding Jr. (who is just 6 years his junior) in Boyz n the Hood. But he has endured as an actor both younger and more accomplished than most people realize.

Wilkes (who is credited as Keith Wilkes) never acted again, save for a 1981 episode of "Trapper John, M.D.", a show that many cast members guest-starred on. Antonio Fargas, best known as Huggy Bear on "Starsky and Hutch", plays One-Eye,
an eye-patched local hood who wants Cornbread to run numbers for him. The film supplies one of the first theatrical credits of Madge Sinclair (playing Cornbread's mother), an actress who would go on to star in "Trapper John" for its second through seventh seasons and also hold roles in "Roots", Coming to America, and The Lion King before passing away in 1995.

Producer and lone screenwriter Leonard Lamensdorf never worked on any other film, but he -- or someone else sharing his name -- seems to have had a somewhat distinguished career as a writer of recent fiction after decades in law and real estate. Director Joseph Manduke alternated between film and television in the '70s and '80s, which may somewhat explain the film's small screen feel. He has been out of the business for a while, though evidently he teaches or taught at USC's School of Cinema.

Released to DVD in 2001 by MGM, who later bundled it in a 2009 "Soul Cinema" Double Feature with Cooley High, Cornbread reached Blu-ray and returned to DVD this week from Olive Films.

Cornbread, Earl and Me Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
2.0 DTS-HD MA Mono (English)
Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: June 21, 2016
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.95
Also available on DVD ($19.95 SRP)
Previously released as MGM DVD (October 16, 2001) and in Soul Cinema Double Feature with Cooley High (September 1, 2009)
Blue Keepcase


For a low-budget film that turned 40 last year, Cornbread, Earl and Me looks pretty solid on Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 presentation exhibits a little wear and tear early on and seems to be lacking sharpness or displaying excess grain at times. But the element stays fairly clean and stable, while preserving those unmistakably '70s color schemes. Sound is offered in a fine monaural 2.0 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack whose most prominent feature is that score. English subtitles, not always a given from the studio, are gladly provided here, though you shouldn't need to consult them unless you have a hearing problem.

The cover art and top menu image for "Cornbread, Earl and Me" are black and white, but the film is not.


The Blu-ray's only extra is, appropriately enough, Cornbread's original theatrical trailer (2:29). Presented in HD, the preview, which curiously both hides and spoils Cornbread's fate, likens the movie to the recent dramas Sounder and Claudine.

The static, silent, black and white menu adapts part of the cover art. The disc does not support bookmarks, nor does it resume unfinished playback.

An insert showing off the Olive Films catalogue with a chance to join the company mailing list joins the Cornbread-sporting disc in the plain blue keepcase.

Wilford's mother (Rosalind Cash) struggles to cheer up the boy (Laurence Fishburne) after his hero is killed.


Though plenty dated and not very compatible with today's dramatic stylings, Cornbread, Earl and Me holds up as a reasonably compelling, agreeable, and still very relevant tale of fighting for social justice in the wake of tragedy. Sure to be the movie's only one, Olive Films' Blu-ray gets the job done with a fine feature presentation and the trailer.

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Reviewed June 25, 2016.

Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1975 American International and 2016 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Olive Films.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.