*In the 25 years since it’s release, it’s safe to say that anyone who has seen “The Five Heartbeats” has a favorite scene.
Whether it’s the fictional singing group’s a cappella triumph amid a hostile audience and fierce competition or the infamous 9 to 5 confrontation with Hawthorne James’ Big Red Davis and Bird, the charismatic lead singer of Bird and the Midnight Falcons played by Roy Fegan, the 1991 musical drama has more than enough to make fans change their choice scene with each viewing.
When asked what about his favorite “Five Heartbeats” moment, Michael Wright (aka Eddie King Jr.) cited two well-known scenes that are familiar to movie watchers.
“That one in the alley when I do ‘Nights Like This I Wish Raindrops Would Fall’ and also the scene where Harry [Lennix’s character Dresser] beats me up and kicks me after the death of our manager,” Wright told EURweb.“[Those] were were the most apathetic, if you will, anti-heroic scenes. The apathy of those scenes resonated with me as an actor.”
Like many “Heartbeats” devotees, it was a challenge for Leon Robinson to nail down one scene as his favorite. Nevertheless, he picked a touching part from the film’s final minutes that struck a nerve with him.
“Wow. There’s so many scenes, so many great scenes in this movie,” said Robinson, who played J.T. Mathews, the brother of Robert Townsend’s character, Duck. “But I’d say there’s this one scene that sticks out to me that would have to do with my character. It would be the end of the movie when I call my son over and I call him Duck. It’s the culmination of everything we went through and it’s appropriate. It’s at the end of the movie. That’s when you’re supposed to feel that way.” [Laughs]
“I would agree with Leon. There’s so many wonderful scenes,” added Townsend, who directed, co-wrote and co-starred in “The Five Heartbeats.” “I mean I couldn’t pick one, but I would say the scene at the Apollo when we’re singing and everything goes wrong and we jump off the stage and we do it a cappella. As a director, I love the scene because there’s 20 million different things going on, you know what I mean.”
Townsend’s love for the Apollo scene stems from the layers he and “Five Heartbeats” co-writer Keenen Ivory Wayans put into into it in order for it to connect with filmgoers. For motivation, Townsend alluded to movies that have a similar concept but ultimately failed to deliver for him. As a movie watcher, Townsend mentioned that the winners in those films didn’t have much that blew him away.
“When Keenen and I were writing the scene, I was like ‘Oh we gotta have the world against them. We got the music, but then let’s have the music drop out and then let them go a cappella. And then I want to layer the world with so much confusion while the song is still going on.’ So for me, when I write, when Keenen and I work together and we’re writing, that was a scene where we kept finding layers to the scene,” Townsend said. “So we say, ‘You know what? Instead of doing a big speech to introduce Big Red, let’s see his face for the first time in the audience and we don’t know who he is. Hey, let’s put Flash in the audience because later on, him and Eddie are gonna get into a scene. So he should be in the audience watching them like he’s stealing Eddie’s moves. Oh. Let’s have Cookie [Bird’s girlfriend] first talk trash, but then let Eddie’s singing get to Cookie. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.’
“So it was all those layers that we were thinking and I felt at the end of that scene, they really did win the competition…That particular number is so satisfying because you’re watching them fight and you see them lose and everything is against them and they pull it out. And they pull it out. And then all of a sudden, there they are and then it all comes together and you see this family being born.”
Robinson isn’t the only one to have an attachment to that last scene. James was equally moved by the reunification of the Heartbeats after all the personal and professional highs and lows the fictional group experienced.
“My favorite scene in that move is that very last scene in the movie when they’re at the house with the picnic. You have five black men who had their troubles with each other, their ups and downs, with each other. At the end of the day, those five black men come together and still support each other. And not only that, their women stayed with them through all the troubles they had,” the actor shared while going deeper with his love for “The Five Heartbeats” as a whole.
“How many times did we see black men in that situation onscreen? Extremely unique. That’s why that film is so important to me. Because we see each other as we truly are as opposed to the way we’re constantly being portrayed in film and television and books. We’re so negative all the time. Yes, we have our problems with each other, but what can you accomplish in today’s world is we stick together. And that’s what that film is about for me. That’s why that film is so important for me. It shows us as we really and truly are as opposed to what people pretend for us to be.”
While James and Robinson are partial towards the final scene, don’t look for it to rank high with Tico Wells, who found himself shifting into an older version of his character, Choir Boy, for that particular “Heartbeats” moment.
“It’s not one of my favorite scenes in terms of trying to figure out how far in age did we get. It’s a little sketchy for me. That part is a little sketchy for me, particularly for myself,” the actor stated about the scene, which was filmed early “before we even really knew our characters.” “I think I was trying to dance like an older man …I think it works for the audience, but for me as an actor, looking at it, I’m like, ‘Dude. You’re in your 50’s now and you don’t be acting like that.’ But it’s subjective because some of us age better than others. Some of us take care of ourselves better than others. I’m not so impressed with my performance at that point. The barbecue scene was shot early on before we even really knew our characters and that was tough, working in reverse.”
While a favorite scene may not be found, Wells did replace it with his favorite song from “The Five Heartbeats,” “In the Middle.”
“It’s when we were in the ‘70s and we had Flash. This is when we had these pink suits on and we got the dancing girls with us and everything like that. That song just hit me in some kind of way. And we only did a snippet of it in the movie. The song on the album is just…. it just, it just, it just got me. I liked all the music. I like all of the music, but that one song, man. We were running and giving each other high fives and stuff and dancing with the girls and just the excitement of it. I love it,” Wells explained as he went into Wright’s favorite scene as a foreshadowing of what was to come.
“There’s one scene where we finished a show and Flash is with us and Eddie King comes with his old costume and he’s all tore down. And there was one moment where I just said ‘Here is my card’ and I gave him this pat on his shoulder, like ‘I can’t do nothing for you right now, but give me a call.’ If you think about it, it’s foreshadowing us being at the church later. That little moment of ‘Here’s my card’ gives a subliminal through line of what happened because in a movie of five people you gotta try to write for, moments have to tie the whole story together.”
For Lennix, the scene involving the funeral of the Heartbeats’ manager, Jimmy Potter, was one that stood out as he noted how “satisfying” it was to see Jimmy’s wife Eleanor slap the man who had her husband killed after Jimmy threatened to expose Big Red’s illegal activities.
“I think it’s when the funeral, Jimmy’s funeral, happens and Big Red comes in and Eleanor, you know, slaps him. [Laughs] I love that scene,” “The Blacklist” star stated. “I just think it’s the kind of crux of the entire story. I think it encapsulates everything within it. That’s probably, I find, the most satisfying piece of it.
“I think a close second, though, is when Eddie jumps down into the orchestra section of the audience when we’re doing ‘A Heart is a House,” when we all sort of coalesce, Lennix continued. “That’s extremely satisfying to me as well because it’s a musical moment as much as it is a plot point.”
While he appreciates and enjoys the songs from the movie, Fegan’s favorite “Heartbeats” scene offers a dose of realism in relation to the relationship between blacks and the police during the time period of the film.
“You know [the Billy Valentine-featured Dells hit] ‘Nothing but Love.’ First of all it’s a classic song. It’s an invigorating song when Choir Boy takes it to the next level with his high notes. But it became a very powerful song when they used it in the station wagon scene, when they got stopped by the police officers, where they don’t look like singers [and have to] sing something,” said Fegan.
“Back in the day in the ‘60s, when you got pulled over by the cops and you were black, you were in trouble. Whether you did something wrong or right, it didn’t matter. And I felt that that was such a powerful scene, that they had to prove that they were singers. Creatively, dramatically, one of the strongest, most powerful scenes in the movie. I’m sure it stirred up so many memories and so many horrid memories for elders over 50, over 60. The realism of having to sing something that is a joyful moment when you sing, but you had to do it under duress.”
“It was so powerful. It was sad. It was scary. It was dark. It literally was dark and anything could’ve happened. And so I was moved by that scene. It was one of my favorite scenes,” he continued. “And to this day, I know people are still very much moved by drama. It is so much easier to make someone cry or move someone emotionally than it is to make them laugh. To move someone indefinitely emotionally is very difficult because then you’re pulling out things that are deep down in there.
“That scene pulled out some of the deep dark pain that black people have gone through throughout history and still go through today. Of being stopped by the police. Being stopped by the police, whether its wrong or a right stop, is a frightening experience because you just don’t know what they’re gonna do. Being stopped by the police in the ‘60’s with a carload full of black people is even more frightening. And having to sing your way out of it to prove you’re a group is frightening. So it moves me heavily.”
The cast’s favorite scenes come as Townsend revealed via Twitter that he is to trying to have a documentary on the making of “The Five Heartbeats” done by the end of the year.
Now that you know “The Five Heartbeats” stars’ favorite scenes from the much-beloved film, what say you? Do you share the same scene as the film’s lead actors or is there an unmentioned scene that you love the most?
Weigh in below: