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James A. Verinis
A gloomy vision of the possibility of decent relations between whites and blacks anywhere, including the South. Undertaker L.B. Jones, the richest black man in his county of Tennessee, is divorcing his wife for infidelity with a white policeman. Taking a stand against racism, he is greeted with a hostile bunch of Southern bigots and other various stereotypes. Written by Sterling Silliphant ("In the Heat of the Night"). Director William Wyler's final film. Written by
This is a sad film about personal weaknesses. The storyline has several weak points too, but on the whole I should think the movie does a great director like William Wyler justice and is still watchable today. There is a certain similarity with the Oscar winning In the Heat of the Night. The screenplay is by the same author, Stirling Silliphant.
The Liberation of L. B. Jones really belongs to the African American cast, the whites' performances do pale in comparison. Roscoe Lee Browne plays the well-to-do undertaker who is cheated by his wife with a white policeman. He gives his character a quiet dignity that lasts throughout the story, up to the bitter and sad end. Yaphet Kotto's portrayal of an angry young man who comes to town with a score to settle is equally intense and convincing. Both Browne and Kotto have a few very good scenes in which they act by themselves. They both seize the chance to give their characters real depth. Lola Falana is convincing as the amoral undertaker's wife and there is a good supporting cast. I fondly remember a small, well acted scene at the beginning with an elderly lady who regularly visits the undertaker's show room to have a look at the coffin for which she pays instalments.
The white population is, it seems to me, much more stereotypical. The only really interesting figure here is the town's most important lawyer, played somewhat stiffly by Lee J. Cobb. He is a racist against his better judgment. His unlawful actions to protect white criminals seem like a reflex, not coming from the brain but rather from the spinal cord.
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