Released by: Olive Films
Released on: February 21st, 2017.
Director: Terence Young
Cast: Richard Burton, Lee Marvin, O.J. Simpson, Lolo Falana
Year: 1974 Purchase From Amazon
Track Bascomb (Lee Marvin) is the Sheriff in charge a backwoods county in Alabama and, sadly, he's got his hands full. See, thanks to the efforts of Ku Klux Klan member Mayor Hardy Riddle (David Huddleston), the hooded bastards' membership seems to be on the rise as of late. This means that Bascomb, like it or not, is probably going to have to do something about this. Enter Breck Stancill (Richard Burton), sworn enemy of the KKK ever since his grandfather was killed by them way back when. As an election is coming up, Riddle rallies the troops to stir up some trouble with the local black population in an attempt to keep them away from the poles.
Things get even more intense when a white woman named Nancy Poteet (Linda Evans) is raped one night. The Klansmen, who include a man named Butt Butt Cates (Cameron Mitchell) - who just so happens to be Bascomb's deputy - accuse a local black man of having committed the crime, but they have no proof whatsoever. This doesn't sit well with Garth (O.J. Simpson). Understandably fearing for his life, heads deep into the woods to hide while the KKK get together a lynching party. A Garth makes the occasional commando run out of the woods to snip some Klansmen, well, it doesn't take long before they decide to retaliate. The bastards in white, led by Butt Butt, kidnap and rape a black woman named Loretta Sykes (Lola Folana), things go from bad to worse forcing Bascomb into violent action.
This was a notoriously troubled production right from the start. Samuel Fuller worked on the script and was originally intended to direct but wound up walking away from the project early on when Paramount had has script rewritten . Richard Burton was drinking so heavily on set that he had to be sitting down for most of his scenes because he couldn't stand up. Once the production wrapped he was hospitalized, he reportedly drank three bottles of vodka a day during the shoot. By all accounts, Marvin wasn't much better. With two of the leads having fallen into as deeply into the bottle as Marvin and Burton did, it's amazing that director Terence Young was able to wind up with a film as coherent as this one is. It's a conflicted picture to be sure, unable to decide if it has a serious social message or if it is just a trashy exploitation picture (hint: it's a trashy exploitation picture!) but at least it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Interestingly enough, the movie was, at the time, the biggest budgeted production ever put together by an African American producer - that's right, William Alexander, the guy behind all of this, was a black dude, which makes the picture's misguided politics a little easier to stomach and a fair bit harder to take seriously. Misfires don't come a whole lot better than this!
Why is that? Because for all its many flaws - and it is a picture riddled with flaws - The Klansman is at least an entertaining watch. Oh, it's trashy, especially that scene where 'Butt Butt' rapes poor, pretty Loretta as his hooded minions look on and gawk at it - but the film has no trouble holding out attention. There was probably a message in here at one point, it would be interesting to read Fuller's original story (as it posited that Bascomb was actually a Klansman himself) and compare it to what we wound up with, but that message is tossed out in favor of plenty of scenes of burning crosses, white hooded fiends and, by the time it's all done a grizzled (if hammered) Lee Marvin mowing down bad guys with a machine gun in only the way that a grizzled (if hammered) Lee Marvin can.
The cast are an odd bunch. Marvin is actually alright here. This isn't his best work but the guy's got enough screen presence to pull it off. Burton, on the other hand, is an obvious mess and his 'Southern accent' hysterically bad. Mitchell sleazes it up - and he's named Butt Butt, which you have to laugh at - while Folana is quite good in her part. Throw in a supporting effort from none other than O.J. Simpson as a woods loving Black Panther type commando and this one winds up offering up a whole lot of politically misguided politics and wonky performances.
The Klansman debuts on Blu-ray from Olive Films in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer on a 25GB disc framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and generally speaking it looks very good. Some scenes are softer looking than others, but this looks to be the way that they were shot rather than an issue with the transfer itself. The image is clean, showing a nice and natural amount of film grain but very little actual print damage, while color reproduction is spot on. Black levels are also quite good here and there are no obvious signs of noise reduction or edge enhancement. This is a solid, film-like presentation.
The English language DTS-HD Mono track is of perfectly fine quality. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow and the score sounds alright. Sometimes things sound just a tad flat but it's never a problem. Hiss and distortion are never an issue and the levels are properly balanced throughout. Optional English subtitles are provided.
There are no extras on the disc outside of a static menu and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
If ever there was a movie crying out for some behind the scenes dirt or a detailed commentary, it's The Klansman. That didn't happen here, unfortunately, but Olive Films has presented this misguided bastard child of seventies drive-in cinema in very nice shape. Definitely a product of its time, the movie is a bit of a fabulous disaster but it's nothing if not entertaining.
Click on the image below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!