Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Klansman

Paramount released this notoriously tasteless, inept, and unintentionally hilarious racial melodrama, but not proudly. Richard Burton, whose performance is terrible (producer Bill Shiffrin said Burton didn’t deserve to be paid), was so drunk during shooting that, years later, he had no memory of meeting co-star Lee Marvin, with whom he shares many scenes. Best of all is the stolid Burton’s clumsy karate fight with equally uncoordinated Cameron Mitchell, which remains funny no matter how many times you see it.

As with Paramount’s later release MANDINGO, THE KLANSMAN is based on a novel (this one by William Bradford Huie) and features major stars humiliating themselves in an overwrought stew of sleazy sex, violence, and racial epithets. The slurring Burton (CLEOPATRA) plays Breck Stancill, a rich liberal landowner who allows poor African-Americans to squat rent-free on his Alabama mountain. This pisses off the locals, many of whom, including the mayor (THE BIG LEBOWSKI’s David Huddleston), are members of the Ku Klux Klan. Trying to stay neutral in the heated confrontation between blacks fighting for their voting rights and whites trying to block them is local sheriff “Big Track” Bascomb (Marvin, who claimed he and Burton never received their full salary), who is kinda racist, but is willing to live and let live.

Samuel Fuller (VERBOTEN!) was the original writer and director before being replaced by Millard Kaufman (BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK) and Terence Young (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE), respectively, in those roles. It’s difficult to know who to blame for THE KLANSMAN’s most sordid moments, which include the castration of a black man wrongly accused of raping white Linda Evans (MITCHELL), Bascomb covering up racist deputy Butt Cut Cates’ (Mitchell) rape of black virgin Lola Falana (LADY COCOA), and O.J. Simpson (!) sneaking around and shooting the white men responsible for his friend’s murder. By the time Marvin has smeared the blood from Falana’s busted hymen across Mitchell’s face, you may be in the mood for a Silkwood shower.

One thing’s for sure: once you’ve seen THE KLANSMAN, you’ll never forget it. No movie with Lee Marvin mowing down the Ku Klux Klan with a machine gun can be all bad. The Staples Singers perform the opening song, and Shiffrin somehow convinced name actors to wallow in this mire, including THUNDERBALL’s Luciana Paluzzi (dubbed by Joanna Moore) laughably miscast as a small town police clerk named Trixie. She’s at least as convincing as Oroville, California’s performance as Atoka County, Alabama.

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