Friday, February 15, 2013

The Klansman 1974


"Hell, I'm The Damned Grand Exalted Cyclops !"

     The Klansman (the on screen title is simply Klansman) is a movie you kinda have to grudgingly admire for all the wrong reasons. It seems amazing that a major studio like Paramount would actually put their name to something like this, but then again this is the same Paramount that were behind Mandingo (1975 - which played in a double feature with The Klansman) and Mandingo's even more jaw dropping sequel Drum (1976). Most likely Klansman is right up there at the top for a seedy major motion picture with the most exploitation elements in it.  Though its intentions were most likely good, its fails miserably with its message and is such a train wreck of a movie that's it stands as one of the greatest bad movies of the decade (and for the 70's that's saying something).
    Featuring a once in a lifetime cast including Lee Marvin, Richard Burton, Cameron Mitchell, Lola Falana, Linda Evans, Luciana Paluzzi, David Huddleston and O.J. Simpson, the movie went thru a bunch of re-writes before shooting. This is one of the reasons original director Sam Fuller dropped out, although his name still appears in the credit as a co-screenwriter. James Bond director Terence Young was brought in as a replacement and that might help explain the out of left field casting of the dubbed here Italian actress Luciana Paluzzi who had appeared in Thunderball (1966). Fuller supposedly wanted the KKK more up front in story (with Marvin as a member who redeems himself at the end).
    Lee Marvin plays the town sheriff Track Bascomb while Burton plays Breck Stancill, a local landowner/ Civil Rights activist who incurs the wrath of the Klan. O.J. is a black militant who's starts picking off the local white supremacists with a sniper rifle and Huddleston is the local head of the KKK (and has a Confederate flag tablecloth).

    The main plot point is a woman (Linda Evans) who is raped whereupon all the townsfolk (although a specific location is never given Alabama seems to be the state) jump to the conclusion that a black man was the culprit and the ensuing events that escalate all the way to downbeat ending complete with a huge gunfight that has Marvin mowing down the KKK with a Thompson sub machine gun. The local folk are all portrayed broadly in full "redneck" mode (among them Dragnet regular Vic Perrin) with the worst being a scenery chewing deputy played by Cameron Mitchell who's name is (I kid you not) Butt Cutt Cates.  The soundtrack features two songs by The Staple Singers and is based upon a novel written by William Bradford Huie, a journalist who was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
    Marvin and Burton were both reportedly drunk during most of the filming and and while Marvin does a decent job of holding it together, its really sad to see Burton stumble thru this. He's accent seems to consist of a Southern/Welsh mumble that fades in and out. The fight he has with Cameron Mitchell (complete with Burton's hilarious attempt at Kung Fu) is something that has to be seen to be believed. If you haven't yet,  PLEASE watch him in his two short scenes (just a few minutes time) in 1962's The Longest Day as an RAF Pilot to see what a brilliant actor he was in his prime (and while your at it watch Lee Marvin in John Boorman's Point Blank from 1967).              
 Just for its seer whacked out lunacy its really worth a watch. By the looks of things on Amazon Paramount has allowed this to fall into the public domain as there are bunches of no brand DVD's out there (and beware most of which are the cut TV version). I viewed this on a DVDr by way an old VHS I had taped off Cinemax years ago which is the full theatrical version.

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