New Releases 2/21/17

THE KLANSMAN (1974)

THE KLANSMAN is pure sleaze, a rather reprehensible film that I can only recommend to those who are curious about its reputation. Personally, a film covering somewhat similar ground that Roger Corman directed, THE INTRUDER, is light years better and far less questionable with its intentions.  With THE KLANSMAN, the story begins when Nancy Poteet is raped inside her car one night by an unseen assailant. The locals in town get word that it was a black man who committed the crime. This riles the numerous Klan members in Atoka County and they set about finding the rapist. Enraged, a small group of klansmen chase after two young black men and brutally kill one of them. The other, Garth, manages to escape. Amidst much violence between racists townsfolk and a group fighting for equal rights, Garth sets out to kill the group of men responsible for his friends death. Meanwhile, the Klan attempt to force a crippled white man out of town sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement while the sheriff is torn between doing what's right for either himself, or the town.  Lee Marvin plays Track, the sheriff in this here town. His friend Breck Stancill (Richard Burton) lives on a big house on a big piece of property in the hills above the small town, but delights in posting posters intended to rattle the cages of the local KKK members, which include the town's mayor (David Huddleston, portraying the same kind of racist he lampooned the same year in Mel Brooks Blazing Saddles) and deputy sheriff Butt Cutt Cates (Cameron Mitchell).

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 this vile 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 which somehow manages to elicit very little reaction.  I think by that point, I was in need of a shower.  It’s not that exploitation films don’t have a place on a cinephile’s shelf, but this is not a good one.  Lee Marvin gives it his all, as he has a tendency to do, and there’s no doubt that someone like Quentin Tarantino could find artistic merit in what takes place in this revenge tale, but I struggled to justify its laborious running time and downright nasty spirit at the core.  At least the transfer is crisp and sharp, but that’s about the only compliment I can give for a lurid, difficult film to stomach.  

The Movie Itself:  D
Transfer:  B+

THE LAST BEST YEAR (1990)

As a child of the 80s, I was more of a homebody than I’d care to admit.  I didn’t really get sucked into soap operas like my mother did, but I loved a good made-for-TV drama.  Any true story interested me immediately, and more often than not, I would find myself invested.  There’s no denying that the storytelling of TV movies often operate on manipulative tactics that pull at the heartstrings, but that never mattered to me.  And as of late, I’ve been eager to revisit favorites or ones that were well-received at the time.  When Olive announced that they were releasing this gem on DVD, I was immediately excited to give this a look.  I heard about it based on the cast, and with the recent passing of one of its stars, I had this feeling I would warm up to it.  

Jane Murray (Bernadette Peters) is a single career woman who loses her married lover and her future.  She then learns she has liver cancer around the same time, giving stronger meaning to the whole “when it rains it pours” approach to life when so many bad things happen at once.  Cancer is an easy go-to conceit when it comes to hooking in an audience, especially if he or she have been through the disease personally or via a family member.  Where this film takes a turn for the better is how it approaches the subject matter, through empathic conversation and acceptance of one’s mortality. Wendy Allen (Mary Tyler Moore) is the psychologist who accepts Jane as a patient reluctantly, fearing the experience will disrupt her orderly life and trigger the pain she felt as a child when her own father died of cancer.  David Rintels wrote and produced this heartfelt ABC movie, drawing from the experiences of his psychotherapist wife, Victoria Riskin, who gets executive producer's credit here.

THE LAST BEST YEAR is a pleasant, compassionate, tear-jerking portrayal of the progressive bond presented by these two women brought together by tragedy, each finding solace from the other as the dying Jane seeks to put her life in order and Wendy attempts to confront her own demons.  For fans of the HBO show, IN TREATMENT, this is a must-see.  The two lead performances make this a treasure in of itself, and as expected, Olive’s transfer of the film is impeccable.  THE LAST BEST YEAR is the best example of melodrama done with care and precision.  And it’s certainly an experience that earns the recommendation of “Make sure to bring your box of Kleenex.”  

The movie itself:  B
Transfer:  B+