Beginning in the early 1960s five friends, Duck Matthews (Robert Townsend – The Mighty Quinn, I’m Gonna Git You, Sucka), Eddie King Jr. (Michael Wright – The Interpreter), J.T. Matthews (Leon Robinson – Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Ali), ‘Dresser’ Williams (Harry J. Lennix – Ray, The Matrix Revolutions), and ‘Choirboy’ Stone (Tico Wells – Universal Soldier) form a singing group called The Five Heartbeats and start entering themselves in local talent contests in Harlem. They do not have much success until they hook up with manager Jimmy Potter (Chuck Patterson – Hair). Jimmy’s wife Eleanor (Diahann Carroll – Porgy and Bess) is not happy that he is back in the music industry, but he sticks with the boys. Ernest ‘Sarge’ Johnson (Harold Nicholas – Tap, Tin Pan Alley) is hired to help the group with their choreography and they improve quickly.
The Five Heartbeats start winning talent shows and are signed to the Big Red record label by Big Red Davis (Hawthorne James – Amistad, Speed) himself. Once the group records their first single they enjoy a meteoric rise to the top of the charts. Money, recognition and success come in large amounts to the five, but not without a price. The five have to learn about excess, competition and racism along the way. These things all end up contributing to the break-up of this highly successful band.
Despite the fact that overall this is a great film, there are some moments of over-the-top melodrama as well. It seems as if director/screenwriter/actor Robert Townsend finds himself victim to the same tendency towards excess as does his characters. This tendency, however, is not enough to take away the viewer’s enjoyment of the film. It is an entertaining one full of good acting performances.
Obviously a film based on this subject has to be rated on its music and The Five Heartbeats is full of great tunes. Director Townsend remembers that the music really has to be the essence of a movie of this sort. The Motown-inspired originals are just as good as the classic Motown hits themselves. A highlight is the duet between Duck and his little sister (Tressa Thomas – Flatliners) on the number “We Haven’t Finished Yet”. R&B legend Stanley Clarke supervised the soundtrack, which explains the high quality. This musical film reminds us how good and fun this genre can be if done well.
-Meet the Five Heartbeats
-In the Studio
-The Director’s Process
-Eddie Griffin Outtake
-Behind the Scenes on the Set
-Original Publicity Campaign