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...tick...tick...tick...
(1970)
 

Director: Ralph Nelson              
Cast:
Jim Brown, George Kennedy, Fredric March


When I was reviewing Have A Good Funeral, My Friend... Sartana Will Pay last week, I mentioned how sometimes we come across a scene in a movie that feels absolutely perfect. By a coincidence, ...tLadies! Put this image on your computer desktop!ick...tick...tick... not only has a perfect feeling scene, but it's also at the very beginning of the movie. The first thing we see is a shot of the blazing sun, and all we hear is a "...tick...tick...tick..." on the soundtrack. As the ticking continues, we cut to a close-up shot of an egg being cracked on concrete. The egg starts to cook silently before our eyes. We cut to shots of sweaty, dumb-looking faces of people watching the egg silently. Flies buzz quietly. Everyone stays still, sweating as they watch.....just watch.

This scene is not just perfect in how it grabs you in, but setting up the story that's about to start. From these few quiet seconds, we know instantly that we are in the South, in the grueling heat, in a community of people who may not exactly be rocket scientists. Also, showing the strength of this scene alone is a good way to summarize the general strength of ...tick...tick...tick... That is, its strength lies in individual moments spread throughout, and not, as in other good movies, several strong elements intertwined together and working as a whole. There are some definite problems with the screenplay here, problems that prevent it from becoming a greater movie than it is. Still, though I found parts of the movie lacking, I was never bored while watching it, and I was interested in how everything was going to resolved. I think that counts for something, and makes the movie a worthy, though undemanding, diversion, should it ever be broadcast during a lazy Sunday.

We may not be in Baker County anymore, but the redneck spirit is just as strong in Colusa County, and a tempest is brewing up there as well. In the county there was recently an election for county sheriff, which resulted in long time sheriff John Little (Kennedy) being voted out of office. History was made during the Brown takes a lost red light back to its district election; due to Northerners coming into the county to help round up the black vote, the new sheriff, Jim Price (Brown), is a black man - and the white community is generally outraged about a black being their sheriff. John isn't thrilled about losing his job, but hands it over without a fight. However, he soon is struggling with being inactive and the fact that the white community thinks he's a coward for not fighting for his job. At the same time, Jim is under stress from harassment both minor and major, and does not appreciate John's effort when he steps in to save Jim from harm, for he's determined to do his job without help.

The timer has definitely been set for what seems to be a major explosion of some kind down the road. Surprisingly though, this is not where the story leads to. In fact, I kind of hesitate to say there is a central story of some kind, because there is no prime focus here. Instead, the movie essentially is a collection of vignettes seen from two perspectives. We see Jim's life at work and at home, and we see John's life as he stays at home, wondering what he should do with his life, and if he should get involved in protecting Jim. Occasionally the two men do interact with each other as they do their respective duties, but in general they are not together. Until past the halfway point, there's no real reoccurring theme that becomes strong enough to be called a central story or a major plot element; the storyline is really meandering until then, and you wonder what the point, if any, the movie is trying to make. Even when a major plot point does start to develop (around a jailed drunk driver and his powerful and rich father determined to get him released), it comes out slowly from the vignette structure. This plot point itself is not exactly original, and its somewhat less developed than usual. Not only that, but it has a climax that's very hard to swallow (especially considering what has just gone on beforehand). To top it off, afterwards, where it seems the movie should end, the movie goes on for ten more redundant minutes, telling us nothing that a good editor would have kept.

Another problem I had with the script was that it refuses to give us a glimpse into Jim's mind. What is his past? Why did he make the gutsy decision to run for sheriff? Why is he determined to hang on despite the objections of his wife? We never find out these things, nor get a clue. The mThe reason why elderly Southern gents are so grumpy is that they always have to wear those silly ties and white hatsovie almost seems afraid of giving him a bigger personality, almost as if the filmmakers were afraid that showing depth might show some flaws Jim has, and that the audience at the time might object to showing a major black character with some fault. Maybe they were trying to make him perfect in the way Sidney Poitier played Virgil Tibbs in In The Heat Of The Night (which probably inspired this movie.) I don't find fault with the way Jim Brown acts; in this limited role, he does a good job, giving his character an air of authority and strength, and acts so cool that I really don't think I once saw a bead of sweat on his brow. He also gives this character the likeability the script doesn't provide.

The script does improve with fleshing out the other characters, and combined with some very good acting, creates some characters that are harder to forget once the movie is over. It's interesting how this combination is able to makes some minor characters instantly loathsome in front of our eyes; for example, though the drunk driver gets maybe a few minutes screen time in total, I was surprised at just how much fury he provoked in me during one of his rare appearances. (I hoped for the worst harm to happen to  him.) Besides Brown, there are two other major performances in the movie of note. George Kennedy, years before he started slumming it in B movies, gives a solid performance here. His character is not the typical redneck Southern sheriff, but someone more balanced in mind. On the surface, he's accepting of his job loss ("The law is the law"), but he can't always hide his frustration, at one point blurting out, "I wasn't voted out because I was a bad sheriff - I was voted out because I was not colored!" We really get a full look at this character, and though we sense his frustration, we also at the same time see that he's a pretty decent man. One other performance of note comes from March, as the cantankerous mayor, who always makes a good impression during his sporadic appearances. He's also not a stereotype - he's old-fashioned, but has a good deal of common sense going on in his head. He also has one of the best scenes in the movie, where he has an actual conversation with his servant of 18 years for the first time. It's warm and humorous.

There are a few other scenes played with a touch lighter than you'd think, and I was glad that the movie wasn't going to play every Pool cues and Kennedy's gaze - I don't like where this is going!scene dead serious, for the tone would have been glummer. Granted, the premise of the movie is serious, but it's not uncommon in real life to find something a little humorous in a desperate time, even if you are afraid to laugh at the time. It's little moments, humorous or not, where ...tick...tick...tick... has its strength. Though the parts may be stronger than the whole, there are a lot of these parts spread throughout that make you keep you interested in the movie. I won't soon forget the strained atmosphere at Jim's house on his first day of work. Nor will I forget the site of Jim driving up to the police station, and finding many of the county's white citizens waiting outside quietly and watching... just watching.... Though these moments may do little to nothing for the story, each one grabs you attention, and when they are all put together, make for a fairly interesting diversion.

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See also: The Black Godfather, The Klansman, Out Of Sync

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