This past Christmas my son got me a Mill Creek box set called Awesomely Cheesy Movies. 100 movies on 24 disks, it’s actually a combination of two of their earlier released sets, “The Swinging Seventies”, and “The Excellent Eighties”.
For those of you who may not be familiar with these Mill Creek sets, they are generally comprised of public domain or made-for-television movies that are reproduced without embellishment, enhancement, or extras and are sold in large collections for very low prices. This means that the quality on them can be quite variable, and they often show signs of age and wear. Nonetheless, there are often hidden gems amongst what can be large swaths of dross.
Anyway, I’ve decided to wend my way through this collection, starting with the first movie on the first disk of the 70s collection, then the first movie in the 80s set, then back to the 70s, and so on, and see just what turns up. If nothing else, it should be interesting. Come along, won’t you?
The good news is: Lee Marvin is always a bad-ass.The bad news is: He’s stuck trying to be a bad-ass in The Klansman.
The complete and utter wrong-headedness of this movie is obvious from the very beginning, but I wasn’t completely convinced of how terrible it was going to be until about thirty minutes in, when Bobby Poteet, whose wife Nancy (Linda Evans) has been raped on a country back road – presumably by a black man – comes to Lee Marvin’s sheriff Track Bascomb to tell him he’s leaving town. But not with his wife. It seems Poteet can’t take the stares of his fellow citizens whom he knows must be wanting to ask him what it’s like to be with his wife who has – no, not who has been raped – who has “been with a black man”. What bothers him most, though, Poteet goes on to say, is that she just doesn’t seem to care. “She’s got no shame.” When asked where he will go, Poteets responds that he doesn’t know. All he knows is that he will be going by Greyhound. “Just like the n*ggers,” he says, laughing at how low his life has gotten. He then goes on to lament “Dammit! Why did this thing have to happen to me?” He then leaves, but before he does, he hands the sheriff an envelope, asking his to give it to his wife. Inside is his life insurance policy and $34. “I divided it up. Half for her, and half for Greyhound.”
Do I really have to go into everything that is wrong with this scene? No, I didn’t really think so. But just in case you think this is an isolated incident, perhaps try to give it something of a spin by saying maybe it’s just one man blaming his wife in a misguided attempt to process the grief he is feeling over what has happened, we cut to the net scene, which takes place in the town’s church, where the preacher is railing against the downfall of family values and blaming it on “them with the mark of the black beast” who are intermingling with their children and the goo upstanding citizens. Enter Nancy Poteet, who is met not with comfort and concern for her well-being by these upright citizens, but with shock and outrage that she would dare to show up and sully them with her tainted presence. “How can you push yourself on these good Christian folks?” she is asked. An the preacher tell her from the pulpit that if she has any decency lin her she will leave. The, when she expresses her outrage at being blamed for what was done to her, she is forcibly dragged from the church,
Oh, did I happen to n\mention that all of this is taking place in Wallace County, a fact we are informed of in the opening shot which focuses on a “drive safely” sign?
Yeah, to say that The Klansman is not exactly a subtle discussion of the state of race relations in the south in the seventies is more than a mild understatement.
The movie also takes an odd turn when it comes to the mayor/head klansman (“Hell, I’m the damn Exalted Cyclops.”) explaining his motivations. In a discussion with the sheriff (who apparently everyone in the town turns to to lend an unsympathetic ear). Interestingly, he isn’t driven by some pathological hatred of blacks as a race – he doesn’t see them as inferior or anything like that. Well, he probably does, actually, he definitely does, but that main motivation behind his actions is money.
Because of the black/white conflict, as he calls it, the blacks are leaving the south and moving north. “They’re moving to Chicago, they’re joining the army so they can get a fifteen hundred dollar bonus.Then they go to Germany for two years and become ski instructors! And what happens to me? I gotta replace ’em with whites. But no self-respecting white will do grunt labor for what I pay the n*gger.”
That’s right, his business is suffering because all the black folks are leaving this wonderful town to become ski instructors in Germany.
Yeah, I’m like you. I got absolutely no response to this.
Oh, and just for the record, according to the mayor, he’s not the heavy in all this “If you wanna know who the heavy is,” he says, “I’ll tell ya. It’s the system. And we’re all of us caught up in it.”
All of this, and we still haven’t even gotten to our other two leads in the film. Richard Burton co-stars as Breck Stancill, a virtual hermit living on a mountain on the outskirts of town, and the only white person in town who seems to be on the side of the blacks and willing to stand up to the rest of the town.
Burton’s involvement in the film is especially interesting, considering that he was so drunk through most of the shooting that director Terence Young had to shoot most of his scenes sitting down because he was too drunk to stand up. Not that Lee Marvin was exactly sober during filming either. However, no matter how drunk either of them might have been, reports are that they both showed up to the set on time and were ready with their lines. And honestly, drunk Lee Marvin and Richard Burton are still better actors than so many other when they’re stone cold sober.
O.J. Simpson also takes a turn (his first acting role) as Garth, a black man who decides he has had enough of the town and the klan, and takes matters into his own hand. He gets a shotgun and begins to take out the klansmen one by one, eventually leading to a full-blown shootout.
Oh, and then there’s the ending. Oh, my, the ending. I’m completely tempted to just go ahead and spoil this film by outlining it, but no, if there;s anyone out there who might be intrigued enough to check out this train wreck, I don’t want to take all of the “thrills” away from you. Suffice to say I feel sure that there’s supposed to be some kind of symbolism or message being given, but if so, it completely escapes me.
Actually considering the talent both in front of and behind the camera, there’s only one reason for this movie to be as bad as it is, and what it all really comes down to is the script. Well, that and the basic ideas behind it. I can’t imagine what the people behind it were thinking, but the end result that they have produced is so completely offensive that even if they were trying to perhaps make a good point, it gets completely lost in the abhorrent scenario.
Here’s your trailer:
Up Next: The Excellent 80s Disk 1 Movie 1: Intimate Agony – General Hospital’s Anthony Geary discovers herpes!