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
The "novel" this is based on was according to the author, almost entirely true, only the names were changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. This underlying truth plays out strongly here. I must stop to say the plot synopsis has nothing to do with the film. This is not a mystery with a "who did it" structure and it is not a courtroom justice or injustice movie. The events play out in sequence and we jump from character to character so that it remains, every bodies story, so to speak. We aren't allowed to distance ourselves from the story by taking the look from the good lawyer or cops perspective after the fact. Yaphet Kotto among many, probably gives the best performance. The photography and the score both seem a bit dated, though each have their strong moments, otherwise this doesn't date at all. The characters motives, good and bad, are clearly laid out and well performed. There are a few moments of technical slop, some optical blow ups of shots in the middle of dialog scenes and a couple of lazy zooms that would not have appeared in a Wyler film a few years before that, but in every other way this shows him still at the top of his game. It's a shame that he stopped making films after this. He himself considered it a strong film and he seems to have more or less expected that it would anger people (white ones that is) when it was released. His usual skill with actors is in evidence and there is some interesting use of sound to help tell the story at crucial moments. Very powerful stuff all around.
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