Screenplay: Samuel Fuller
Release: Olive Films
Release Date: 2-21-2017
Boy it sure is nice to have historical documents like this Terence Young picture, The Klansman, to look back upon and see just how bad life used to be for people-of-color in the south. What great, unimaginable bounds we have made for the future of the country. Is this clichéd, sarcasm doing anything for you?
When I opened my package from Olive Films and slid this disc out I was immediately apprehensive about what I was about to watch. The credentials on it are top notch, Lee Marvin, Richard Burton, O.J. Simpson (his first role), and Linda Evans. Direction by Terence Young, of James Bond fame, and words by one of the greats, Samuel Fuller. And racism, lots and lots of racism. This film would give Django Unchained a run for its vulgar money.
The Klansman, based on the novel by William Bradford Huie, relays the story about a small town in Atoka County, Alabama. There the ku klux klan are still the primary social force. The film opens with a gang of good-ole-boy white men entertaining themselves by having a mentally handicapped African-American attempting to rape an African-American woman. The sheriff, played by Lee Marvin, is derelict in his duty by just disbursing the crowd rather than arresting every one of them. My blood pressure did not waste much time piquing while watching this one.
Marvin sends the handicapped man away trusting that he could get home on his own and gives one of the thugs a ride to his wife. Later that evening the already aroused black man happens across a white woman, Linda Evans, alone in her broken-down car and he rapes her.
This is not the first time on this site, and I doubt it will be the last, when I go off on the rails suggesting that one of the weakest plot devices an author can use is sexual assault. Sure, it is easy, and it can, sadly, spike memories in viewers heightening their filmgoing experience, but that does not make it any less cheap.
The idea that Linda Evans was assaulted, along with an already scheduled civil rights march, spins the town up into a frenzy. Linda Evans sleaze back husband leaves her, leaves town, because he cannot imagine living as the guy whose wife has had interracial sex. Marvin soon takes Evans to a tree farm run by Richard Burton to help her get back on her feet.
Throughout the film, O.J. Simpson’s character is going around murdering crackers to get revenge on seeing many of his friends murdered by the clan. To gain retribution for the rape of a white woman, and the murder of some of the white pals, some racist Klansmen kidnap Burton’s friend and viciously rape her in a dark warehouse.
This is a very difficult movie. The language is harsh and the violence is plenty. The key performances were well done. The strength of this picture is two-fold. First, and superficially, the soundtrack is dynamite. There is a lot of great soul licks peppered throughout under the ruse of, what I would assume, mixing southern and northern exploitation flicks. I am reminded of Herschell Lewis southern roughie exploitation and the gritty Detroit Blaxploitation. Married well to ramp up the intensity of the story.
The story, and the script specifically, is the other high point. There are four opposing forces throughout. First you have the town, a group of live and let live (if white is better), and the racist, bigot, Klansmen, who are afraid of what they see as the loss of their way of life. On the other side, most the POC in the film appear to align with the Martin Luther King Jr method of peaceful demonstration while Simpson’s character embodies the Malcolm X treaties of meeting force with force. All of this is centered around Lee Marvin’s character, a white man with unknown but assumed allegiances while still accepting a peaceful coexistence with the POC in his community. Again, the sexual assault is weak as is the princess in peril story line, but the overarching story is valuable.
While this film is not very well known, it is incredibly important to be able to show people that we really have not come as far as we like to believe that we have. We have a long way to go and I can only hope that pieces of art like The Klansman may be able to help, even if it only a small amount.
The only thing really holding this film back from my highest recommendation is that there are no supplemental features. We have become spoiled by them and they are absent. That said, I strongly recommend this disc, it looks great.
You can order the film directly from Olive.
Director: 8 – Cinematography: 6 – Edit: 5 – Parity: 2 – Main performance: 9 – Else performance: 4 – Score: 10 – Sound: 6 – Story: 10 – Script: 9 – Effects: 6 – Design: 5 – Costumes: 6 – Keeps interest: 10 – Lasting: 5