If you love musical dramas as much as I do, then you're probably a fan of director Robert Townsend's ambitious, 1991 movie "The Five Heartbeats."
Townsend co-wrote "The Five Heartbeats" with Keenan Ivory Wayans. The film is loosely based on the lives of legendary artists and groups such as Jackie Wilson, The Four Tops, The Temptations, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Frankie Lymon, Sam Cooke and The Dells.
"The Five Heartbeats" is a fictional story about an African-American 1960ish soul music group and their rags to riches road to stardom.
The motley crew consists of co-founder and leader, Duck, (Townsend). Duck keeps things on track for the guys and also narrates the film.
Eddie (Michael Wright) is the standout lead singer, but is shortchanging his life and career by using drugs. J.T.(Leon), is Duck's older brother. He loves music but the ladies even more. Dresser (Harry J. Lennix) lives for the spotlight and his flashy dance moves and clothes which are always a big hit with audiences. Choirboy (Tico Wells) is happy to be a part of the group even though his minister father lays a guilt trip on him about R&B being "the devil's music."
The careers all start out promising, thanks to the guidance of their manager, Jimmy Potter (Chuck Patterson), his wife Eleanor (Diahann Carroll) and the group's choreographer Sarge (Harold Nicholas).
However, when The Five Heartbeats sign a recording contract with a shady record owner named Big Red (Hawthorne James), the young men learn a quick lesson about just how sleazy some music honchos can be.
Big Red is a shyster and steals from his artists. He's so corrupt that he even schemes with Eddie (Wright) to get Jimmy, their manager, out of the picture so he can have full control of the group.
Townsend piles on the drama with several clichéd, but involving storylines ranging from complicated romances and racism to drugs and murder.
Not only does the "The Five Heartbeats" benefit from some solid acting from Leon, Harry J. Lennix and Tico Wells, but also from its music. The film's soundtrack—released on Virgin Records—features original music by various artists, notably, the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductees, The Dells who inspired Townsend to make the film. The Dells songs, "A Heart is A House For Love" and "Stay In My Corner" appear on the soundtrack. The Dells actually sang and recorded the vocals which in turn the actors lip synched. Other memorable tracks include: After 7's "Nights Like This" and The Five Heartbeat's "Nothing But Love" and Baby Stop Running Around" from Bird & The Midnight Falcons.
"The Five Heartbeats" is a thought provoking and entertaining glimpse into black music and culture. It's also a film that has earned and wears its cult classic title well and why it's N2Entertainment.net's "Old School Video Pick" for January 2013.