From The Warner Archive: Two Films Featuring Jim Brown

The Warner Archive recently released two great 1970s flicks featuring the legendary Jim Brown: …tick…tick…tick…, 1970 (dir. Ralph Nelson) and The Slams, 1973 (dir. Jonathan Kaplan). While both films feature Jim Brown in strong leading roles, they are quite the opposite of each other. In one he plays a newly elected sheriff of a southern town, in the other a criminal who’s just been sent to prison and decides to break out. The films both have different tones as well. One is a rather subdued look at race relations in post-Civils Rights Movement America and the other is a straight up jive-ass blaxploitation film. But they are both a barrel of fun.

Jim Brown is such a great actor. Watching these films back to back I had a revelation: I think that Denzel Washington started his career as an heir to Sidney Poitier and has recently shifted to being an heir to Jim Brown. This is not a bad thing.

…tick…tick…tick… was directed by Ralph Nelson, who some years earlier directed Poitier to a Best Actor Oscar in Lilies of the Field. Its basic plot seems as though it was going to go down a much more exploitative path, but with the deft direction of Nelson, it instead remains a taut race relations drama. I’m pretty sure it got greenlit in the wake of something like In The Heat of the Night (also with Poitier) winning Best Picture a few years earlier. That film was made in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement, and thus is much grittier. While this film doesn’t shy away from racial tensions – both racists whites and vice versa – its ending harkens to the hopeful message of someone like Martin Luther King, Jr., though he was already dead before the film’s release.

Brown kind of reminded me of Steve McQueen in this film. He’s tough and he’s on the side of justice. All he wants to do is do his job. At one point he says to an overzealous Bernie Casey, “I am the sheriff. Not the white sheriff. Not the black sheriff. Not the soul sheriff. Just the sheriff.” It was a powerful line delivered perfectly.

Speaking of Bernie Casey, he’s only in the film for a bit (this was his second screen appearance), but he is quite wonderful as always.

George Kennedy plays the previous sheriff, who was voted out of office in favor of Brown. Like Brown, his character believes in justice – for all. He wants to help Brown do his job, but can’t at first out of cowardice. As the film progresses their relationship evolves organically into a partnership. I wish they’d done more films together; their on-screen chemistry is brilliant.

I think every classic actor went through an old southern curmudgeon phase. Ladies and gentlemen, Fredric March. March is so great as the town’s mayor. He was clearly having fun with this role and just letting loose. It actually reminded me more of the kind of gaiety and levity he brought to the screen in his pre-code comedies like Design For Living. If you’re a March fan, this film is a must.

So as …tick…tick…tick… is a weighty race relations drama, The Slams is the jive-talking blaxploitation film you expect it to be. Before I get into anything else, I must praise Luther Henderson’s score because it is brilliant. I’ve actually not seen many (maybe any?) other films of this genre (not even Shaft! I know, I fail), but I will say I enjoyed this film so much more than I thought I would. I love all the jive-talk (they say “jive” and “jive-ass” a lot). It’s just a load of fun.

Brown is much gruffer in this film. Then, of course, he is playing a convict in this film so that’s expected. But he is no dummy; he stole 1.5 million dollars and he is the only one who knows where it is. The film begins with the heist (and some really fabulous edits that align perfectly with bitchin’ music cues) and the rest of the film is basically people trying to get the money and Brown trying to escape from prison. It all works marvelously.

The incomparable Judy Pace plays his girlfriend, who repeatedly has to explain to people that she does not, in fact, turn tricks. She is so beautiful and fierce in this movie. I was in awe every time she graces the screen. And her chemistry with Brown is smokin’ hot.

Ted Cassidy (known to many as Lurch on the television series The Addams Family) is Brown’s main adversary in “the slams,” and their constant battling provides much of the film’s action. He is so freaking tall. So. Tall.

Veteran character actor Frank DeKova plays Brown’s main alley in “the slams.” He knows everyone and has everyone in his pocket – including the warden and the deputies.

Quinn K. Redeker as the warden only appears in a handful of scenes, but he steals the show every time. He makes the best facial expressions ever.

Any movie with a Dick Miller cameo is aces in my book. If you don’t know who Dick Miller is, I pity you son. Stop reading this and google him. Educate yourself. Bask in his glory.

Lastly, I just have to discuss Andrew Davis’s brilliant night photography during the escape sequence of the film. There are few things I love more than exquisite night photography. Yessir.

Disclaimer: These reviews are based on review discs given to me by the Warner Archive, though the opinions are all my own.


About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on March 27, 2012, in Classic Film, DVDs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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