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James Earl Jones is Johnny Williams, an African-American housepainter and war veteran who would rather daydream and write poetry than work. His marriage to Mattie (Cicely Tyson), a brutal struggle for survival on the mean ghetto streets, is complicated by the revelation that she is dying of cancer and the return of "war hero" son Jeff. Angry with the "white man's" military-industrial complex and frustrated by his parent's grand expectations, Jeff has actually been kicked out of officer training school. Hearing that he is back on the street, Jeff's unruly friends invade Johnny's home and pressure his son to join them in a robbery. Violence erupts, tearing the tightly knit family apart. Based on a Tony Award winning play by Joseph A. Walker first performed by New York City's Negro Ensemble Company in 1972, The River Niger is a touching and poignant snapshot of a mid-20th Century African-American family. Director Krishna Shah soaks up the authentic locations and memorable characters with observational camerawork that captures the ambience of live theater. Featuring superlative performances by James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson and Louis Gossett Jr, The River Niger delicately balances lyrical flights of dialogue with the harsh realities of impoverished urban living.

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ALP5471 River Niger DVD (1976/James Earl Jones/Cicely Tyson/Louis Gossett, Jr.) $5.99