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‘To Sleep With Anger’ (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 26, 1990

Charles Burnett, whose 1977 film "Killer of Sheep" just made the Library of Congress keeper list, spins a yarn suitable to Allhallows' Eve in the amusingly macabre "To Sleep With Anger." Blending African, African American and Indian myths, Burnett looks at what happens when the devil comes disguised as a long-term house guest -- who cuts his toenails in the parlor.

Danny Glover, impressive as ever, has the pivotal role of Harry Mention, a mischievous outsider who disrupts the relationships -- most of them unhealthy -- among three generations of a black middle-class Los Angeles family. A two-faced charmer, Harry is based on the folkloric tradition of the Trickster, a scamp who arrives on the scene to force crisis and resolution. He's more about balance than good or evil.

When Harry arrives on Gideon's (Paul Butler) front porch, he is warmly welcomed by the patriarch and his wife, Suzie (Mary Alice), a hard-working, God-fearing couple who attempt to pass on their traditions to their adult sons. Junior (Carl Lumbly) and his wife share his parents' beliefs, which are thought backward by his buppie brother, Babe (Richard Brooks), and Babe's wife (Sheryl Lee Ralph). And the longer Harry stays, the more volatile the relations between the generations, the brothers, the couples and even the neighbors.

Burnett, who returns here to his roots, to the stories his Mississippi grandmother once told him, has essentially created a rather wonderful portrait of this strong and -- when all is said and done -- loving family. Though it's extremely slow going at times, "To Sleep With Anger" offers a universal look at familial dynamics, articulated from a uniquely black, warmly poetic perspective.

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