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The Five Heartbeats (1991)

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The story of the rise and fall of an African American vocal group.

Director:

Robert Townsend
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1 win. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Robert Townsend ... Duck
Michael Wright ... Eddie
Leon ... J.T.
Harry Lennix ... Dresser
Tico Wells Tico Wells ... Choirboy
Diahann Carroll ... Eleanor Potter
Harold Nicholas ... Sarge
Tressa Thomas ... Duck's Baby Sister
John Canada Terrell John Canada Terrell ... Michael 'Flash' Turner
Chuck Patterson Chuck Patterson ... Jimmy Potter
Hawthorne James ... Big Red
Roy Fegan ... Bird
Troy Byer ... Baby Doll (as Troy Beyer)
Carla Brothers Carla Brothers ... Tanya Sawyer
Deborah Lacey ... Rose
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Storyline

In the early 1960's, a quintet of hopeful young African American men form an amateur vocal group called The Five Heartbeats. After an initially rocky start, the group improve, turn pro, and rise to become a top flight music sensation. Along the way however, the guys learn many hard lessons about the reality of the music industry with it's casual racism and greed while the personal weaknesses of the members threaten to destroy the integrity of the band. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <kchishol@execulink.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | Music

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

29 March 1991 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Los Heartbeats See more »

Filming Locations:

Los Angeles, California, USA See more »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

$8,750,400
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby SR

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The lives of several performing R&B groups and artists inspired this film: The Dells, The Temptations, Frankie Lymon and Sam Cooke according to Robert Townsend in a Mademe Noir Interview. Townsend says the crux of the story was based on the breakup of the Temptations which was an event he took personally. See more »

Goofs

When JT and Flash are singing "Just in Case"; both of their mouths are moving when they recite the lyrics "... come back to me." Except only Flash's voice is actually heard. See more »

Quotes

Eddie: Can't nobody sang like Eddie King Jr!
See more »


Soundtracks

Oh What a Night
Written by Marvin Junior & Johnny Funches (as John Funches)
Performed by The Dells
Courtesy of MCA Records
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User Reviews

"No matter how hard it gets..."
28 December 2000 | by cchaseSee all my reviews

By now, every film buff knows the legendary story about the plucky, tenacious indie filmmaker who maxed out all his credit cards to realize his celluloid dreams. Spike Lee was one of the directors most associated with the tale, as he completed SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT. Another was Robert Townsend, who made the hysterically biting satire HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE, about the African-American experience in Tinseltown.

Once that film became a surprise success, Townsend finally found himself a respected talent, and chose his next project accordingly. He decided to chronicle the long, hard road to success traveled by a black singing group, through several decades of triumph and tragedy. Using the personal experiences of the legendary R & B group The Dells as a blueprint, (they also served as technical advisers), Townsend hammered out a screenplay with friend and colleague Keenan Ivory Wayans, and THE FIVE HEARTBEATS is the result.

Though the film contains moments so overwrought with melodrama that they threaten to slip into parody, the issues of racism, class distinctions, greed, payola, and the ever-present lure of sex, drugs and excess that accompany celebrity status are never treated casually or simply glossed over.

Whatever plot points the script may sometimes seem to stumble over, the talented cast, lead with steadfast confidence by actor/writer/director Townsend, never miss a note or a beat, especially when helped along by a great soundtrack, supervised by jazz/funk/R&B great Stanley Clarke. Every performance is remarkable, with special mention going to the underrated Michael Wright as Eddie, the group's talented and troubled lead singer, to Leon as the group ladies' man, (whose good looks and talent have landed him in several other similar high-profile roles), and to the overlooked Hawthorne James as the malevolent "Big Red," the epitome of a man who has completely sold himself, body and soul, to the dark side of success.

Townsend also manages not to forget that between the dramatic moments, what makes a great musical is great MUSIC; songs that remind us why even though the concept of people suddenly bursting into fully orchestrated tunes defies logic, the pure, giddy sense of fun and enjoyment we derive from such moments are why musicals are a genre that simply refuse to die.

Nowhere in HEARTBEATS is it more apparent, than when Townsend and actress/singer Tressa Thomas team up on a show-stopping number called "We Haven't Finished Yet," as Duck, Townsend's character, struggles to write a song, getting some unexpected and able-bodied help from his baby sister, who nearly brings down the house! It's moments like this that make musicals memorable, and in a niche that can never have too many well-rendered stories about groups from "back-in-the-day," THE FIVE HEARTBEATS is a genuine classic that can be recommended not just to black audiences, but to moviegoers of any background who love good stories about music and musicians.


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