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The Klansman
(a.k.a. The Burning Cross &
KKK)
(1974)
 

Director: Terence Young                     
Cast:
Lee Marvin, Richard Burton, O.J. Simpson


One of my pet projects is working on a book about the movies of O.J. Simpson - more specifically, the haunting scenes in these movies that seem connected to events with him in the mid 1990s. (In case you missed the news, he was accused of killing his ex-wife and her boyfriend.)

This is what I have so far:

The Cassandra Crossing: O.J. eats dinner with a fork and a knife.

C.I.A.: The first shot of O.J. shows him exhausted and sitting in his car early one morning. A cop goes up to him.

COP: Rough night?
O.J.: Yeah.....

The Klansman: O.J. plays a guy living in the southern half of The United States. He kills more than one person, causing further unrest in an area frequented with racial conflicts and violence. At one point, he's in a vehicle that looks like a white Bronco if you squint your eyes and overlook the parts of the vehicle that are painted blue. In the vehicle, he crouches down and hides from the cops looking for him, while holding a gun, and while someone beside him drives him away from the law. The law eventually does catch up with him, and the law knows what he did. O.J. gets away with murder neverless, but realizes that he can't stick around his home anymore and leaves the general area.

Yeah, I'm just kidding about this supposed project. But to tell the truth, I feel uneasy about making jokes about this movie. That's because The Klansman was a fairly ghastly viewing experience. It's not just a bad movie in the usual ways a movie is bad (bad acting, bad directing, etc.), but it is repugnant in its racial tone. Perhaps the movie or its message wasn't meant to be racist, but it is filled with characters spouting off so many racist comments and doing so many racist acts, the movie quickly becomes racist in these PC times. However, I am surprised that even in the 1970s, filmmakers were able to get away with making this movie, and others like Mandingo or its sequel Drum. There's absolutely no way you could get away with making a movie like The Klansman today.

The Klansman was produced by a whopping seven producers, and Samuel Fuller was the original director but soon left. He still deserves much of the blame, for he co-wrote the script, using the tired and offensive plot of a white woman being raped and the white townspeople choosing a scapegoat black man to be their intended lynching victim. Along the way, O.J. several times stops to come out of hiding in the woods to pick off a Klansman with his rifle at regular intervals to keep the audience awake. Also on this journey, we are treated to a castration, an attempted rape, another rape, beatings, ample use of the "n" word used in colorful ways, as when a churchgoer comments on the first raped girl ("I smell n____r on her!") Finally, everything is resolved during a climatic shotgun shoot-out, where almost everyone is killed. The end, but not before the closing credits tell us, "We would like to thank the citizens of Oroville for their enthusiastic help and cooperation in the making of this film."

It's true that The Klansman does have some unintentional humor, most notably with the performance of Richard Burton, trying and failing to play a Southern aristocrat. He constantly stumbles over his lines, and seems drunk whenever he has any dialogue. He is also put through some ridiculous activity, especially a scene where his character uses karate on a redneck. Maybe Jackie Chan got the idea for his Drunken Master movies from this film. Marvin (as the Atokla County sheriff) puts on a "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" performance - he almost seems interested in what's happening in his scenes. Cult favorites Linda Evans and Cameron Mitchell show up during the movie and add some camp value. As for Simpson...what do you say about a movie when O.J. gives one of the better performances?

But as one critic said of Mandingo, "You'll hate yourself in the morning for laughing yourself silly." Even though the above humor isn't offensive by itself, surrounded by all that repulsive activity it loses a lot of laugh power, not helped by the fact that the total amount of this unintentional humor is only a few minutes. I pretty much just hated myself period for watching this movie, and it deserves to be labeled as "unknown". Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like it will completely become unknown; that's because the copyright of The Klansman seems to have expired, and hundreds of copies of the movie (in one of the two alternate titles) are now waiting for you at the video bargain bins at your local Wal-Mart or K-Mart. Let the buyer beware.

One more thing: I don't know why this movie is called The Klansman; that's simply because there's more than one of those coneheads in this movie.
 
 


UPDATE 1: Concerning that possible copyright expiration, William Norton sent me the following explanation:

"Paramount STILL owns the film. BUT the cheap copies you see at K-Mart are actually AIRLINE or TV prints, as sometimes when a film has multiple producers, they can claim the right to the TV or the airline prints, as their excuse is "it isn't the uncut theatrical print" so it gets "bootlegged" by these fly by night video companies. These K-mart prints are missing all the violence, nudity, and most of them end with Lee Marvin SURVIVING the film, as they don't show him getting shot and dying at the end."

This reminded me that I've seen this practice before with other movies. For example, the movie Joe is available uncut on MGM/UA Video, but the cheap copies you find in bargain bins are from the cut TV print.


UPDATE 2: "Sandra" told me this about the movie:

"The story I heard (somewhere) is that not only was Richard Burton drunk in all his scenes (Liz had just kicked him out and he was making a valiant effort to drink himself to death.) But so was Lee Marvin.  A couple of years later, they encountered one another at a party and their host said "Of course, you two have met." and they both said "No.", because they had no memory of making The Klansman.  One explanation for their non-stop bender is that they had read the script, though neither of them needed an excuse to drink."


UPDATE 3: Larry Matthews told me the following:

"Hi, I just stumbled across your web page - in search of a review of The Klansman. I am sure you wonder why I care! But I care as I have just bought a copy of the film and it is UNCUT with all of the obnoxious stuff still there. All 3 rapes, castration, killings, etc that you know and love.

"Why am I interested in this movie? No, I am much against the Klan! BUT I was there when it was shot in the Spring of 1974 in Oroville, California. What a disappointment! Oroville was really "up" for this big name movie to be made in our little town. BUT when it premiered in Oroville there was UNIVERSAL DISGUST about it. I bought it just recently as I grew up in Oroville and wanted to know how much of the territory I would recognize. BOY, THERE WAS A LOT! That in itself is worth the cost of the movie, as some of the scenes used in the movie have changed drastically.

"I also had a black friend of mine in the riot scene. I saw the riot demonstration scene shot and reshot several times with the director yelling a lot. Then I also saw the scene where the man was shot by OJ Simpson and lay there on the street corner. I had some still pictures of him with the blood on his back and of Lee Marvin and his Atoka County Sheriff's car next to the courthouse in Oroville. Sadly I lost all of the pictures.

"The REAL sad thing about this movie is that it could have been a good one with a lot of beautiful scenery from the area if they would have cut out the graphic violence, the extreme language and improved some of the acting. Sad to say that the one chance that Oroville had to make it big was blown by a bad movie!"


Thanks very much for that information. For those who see the movie at a video store or some other video retailer, and wish to know if it is the uncut version or not, check the video box. If it is a Paramount Video release, it's the uncut version. (It can also be purchased at Amazon.)


UPDATE 4: "Pearce" sent this along:

"Was just reading your entertaining review of that piece of crud The Klansman. I was a bit taken aback when you put most of the blame on the great cult director Sam Fuller, especially given the strong and unsubtle anti-racist elements of some of his movies, eg Shock Corridor and White Dog. This is from the trivia section of the IMDb:

"Sam Fuller submitted a screenplay that was almost completely different from what was filmed. Among other things, the Lee Marvin character was not a sheriff, but a KKK leader whose racist viewpoint is completely changed around. However, Paramount got nervous by the provocative nature of the screenplay and ordered it rewritten, infuriating Fuller (who left the project because of this) and Marvin (who wanted out but had already signed a contract.)"

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS, uncut version)
Check for availability on Amazon (Blu-Ray)
Check for availability on Amazon (Download)
Check Amazon for Lee Marvin Biography

See also: Chino, An Enemy Of The People, Out Of Sync

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