One of the first films to depict the life of an urban black family in the 1970’s, Claudine is boosted by a strong script and excellent acting. Written by Lester Pine and Tina Pine, it’s directed by John Berry, blacklisted in the 1950’s for his supposed involvement with the communist party. Berry helmed Claudine after more than twenty years exiled in France. The films star Diahann Carroll earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in 1974.

Claudine (Carroll) is a single woman on welfare who works on the sly to support her six children. She works long hours as a housekeeper for a wealthy, white woman who doesn’t respect her and pays her little. She has no time for a social life. However, when she meets a vivacious garbage collector, Roop (James Earl Jones), she is immediately smitten (the two have sex on their first date). Though Claudine doesn’t expect it, their relationship quickly goes from casual fun to something serious. That’s when the trouble starts. It seems the welfare system doesn’t look kindly on women marrying and creating family units. What’s to become of this couple and her six kids?

The story is universal and could have been done about families of any descent. After a humiliating experience with the welfare bureau’s auditing and “deducting” binge which would be the norm for a family like this, Claudine and Roop follow their hearts, deciding to marry; blending their family, no matter the cost or additional hardship. If there’s a villain in the film, it’s the welfare system.

Despite her situation, Claudine refuses to be a victim of her situation. Her journey through daily life is accompanied by Gladys Knight & the Pips’s rousing soul soundtrack, which was written and produced by Curtis Mayfield and features songs full of biting humor (“Mr. Welfare Man”) and poignancy (“Make Yours a Happy Home”). Whatever it takes, Claudine is determined to carve out a life for her and her kids.

The performances in this film are stellar. Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones bring a sense of realism and decency to their characters, making it easy for viewers to sympathize with them. Another highlight is Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (Welcome Back Kotter) in his film debut as Claudine’s oldest child, Charles. An activist, he is determined to fight for positive social change in the black community, even if some of his beliefs go against his mother’s.

A somewhat dated product of the 1970’s, Claudine has all the expected stereotypes, but John Berry has some fun with the urban milieu and gets as much mileage out of Claudine’s fight with the welfare system as possible. The scenes where the kids help hide the “good” stuff from the social worker are all too realistic. There’s a sharp knowing attitude to these characters that makes them sympathetic in any decade.

Sourced from a new 4K restoration, the Criterion Collection’s 1080p transfer of Claudine is excellent, boasting a sharp image from start to finish while maintaining the film’s gritty feel. The color balance is particularly impressive. Strong black levels and natural skin tones shine throughout. The yellows, browns, and reds that dominate the film’s color palette pop nicely. All signs of damage have been removed.

The films original mono track is presented as a PCM track for this release. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise. Sound effects and the soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield and Gladys Knight & the Pips are given faithful representation as well. pops, hisses and other anomalies aren’t an issue.

English SDH subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio Commentary with actors Diahann Carroll, James Earl Jones, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, filmmaker George Tillman Jr. and Dan Pine, son of screenwriters Lester & Tina Pine: Carried over from a previous DVD release, the participants share memories of making the film and their characters.
  • Robert Townsend on Claudine (HD, 30:56) In this newly filmed conversation the actor/filmmaker and film programmer Ashley Clark discuss the film and its significance.
  • 1974 AFI Master Seminar featuring Diahann Carroll (HD, 21:57) Accompanied by stills and illustrations, Carroll discusses her career and the making of the film.
  • Uncovering John Berry (HD, 19:54) Newly filmed for this release, film critic Imogen Sara Smith discusses the career of the director.
  • Foldout: Featuring an essay by critic Danielle A. Jackson.