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Case Number 23592: Small Claims Court

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Warner Bros. // 1970 // 97 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // March 30th, 2012

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All Rise...

Judge P.S. Colbert feels his biological clock beating the hell out of him.

The Charge

"A black sheriff on the way up. A white sheriff on the way out. Two men with nothing in common but the hate that surrounds them."

The Case

First off, it's hot enough in Colusa County, Mississippi to fry an egg on the sidewalk. Saloon owner Junior (Dub Taylor, Bonnie and Clyde) is proving this point just as Sheriff John Little (George Kennedy, The Naked Gun) drives up for a word with him. The sheriff wants to know about the back room Junior occasionally rents out for meetings. Is there any connection to the young black man who was found severely beaten on the side of the road the night before, his forehead emblazoned with a white KKK brand? Junior hotly denies the charge, pointing out there's no proof of any such connection.

"Not yet," the Sheriff coolly replies.

"Unless my calendar's a liar, this is your last day in office," Junior retorts.

True enough; John Little lost his re-election bid, and his replacement, Jim Price (Jim Brown, The Running Man), is what most of the locals would politely refer to as a "Cull-uhd fella."

Have mercy, things are about to get a whole lot hotter up in here!

Episodic to the extreme, …tick…tick…tick… stirs a simmering cauldron of racial prejudice and rural politics in a squeaky clean town that looks more like Mayberry, R.F.D. than the economically-depressed deep south. The screenplay by James Lee Barrett (The Green Berets) works so hard at keeping the ratio of good and bad characters evenly distributed between the white and black characters that one can easily imagine the pages breaking out in a sweat.

Producer-Director Ralph Nelson (Lilies of the Field) makes some bizarre choices, none more than his decision to let an upbeat, orchestrated version of Glen Campbell's "Gentle On My Mind" play over a scene wherein Price pursues of a remorseless child murderer through the backwoods. Then again, the man also deserves credit for keeping this parable from descending into preachiness.

The cast is superb and entirely devoid of any weak links. The characters fall neatly into two camps: brothers and good ol' boys. Women are merely pawns in this game; a particularly galling development, considering the talent on tap here. Oscar-nominee Lynn Carlin (Faces) languishes as Little's sad, sweet, and ever-supportive wife, while Janet MacLachlan (Sounder), playing the pregnant Mrs. Price, scores a bulls-eye in the precious few scenes she's given to play.

Though his career would eventually devolve into self-parody due to too many cardboard action pictures, George Kennedy's performance is exquisitely layered and complex, equal to (though much different from) his role in Cool Hand Luke that got him an Oscar. In one of his final films, Oscar winner Fredric March (The Best Years of Our Lives) puts a uniquely superior stamp on his role as longtime Colusa County mayor Jeff Parks, accomplishing the seemingly Herculean task of convincing us that an old Southern political dog can learn new tricks.

Rarely recognized with awards for their work, any film buff worth his or her salt knows you can't do much better than calling on character actors Don Stroud (Bloody Mama) and Bernie Casey (Brian's Song) when you're looking for cinematic troublemakers. And you may not be able to place a face with the name, but if you're a movie lover, you've seen veteran Clifton James who specializes in playing redneck southern lawmen. Though he doesn't play a lawman here, the power of this performance ought to make the Academy ashamed for failing to recognize it.

What about sports legend turned film star Jim Brown? After all, …tick…tick…tick… is his vehicle, right? Right on! Brown has knocked me out so many times over the years, I can't believe how skilled a leading man he'd become in his tenth feature. With the possible exception of the criminally ignored Original Gangstas, this is Brown at his peak.

Normally, I'd be complaining that such a hidden film gem deserved better than an Made-On-Deman (MOD) release, but the Warner Archive has done a stand-up job with this standard definition 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The Dolby 2.0 mono track is almost as good, but these Midwestern ears missed a heavily accented line or two. SDH subtitles would have been appreciated. An original TV spot is the only bonus feature. But who's complaining?

Essentially dismissed as lightweight fluff in 1970 (I mean, how seriously do we take a G-rated tale about this subject?) the film has aged remarkably well. What must have seemed like sheer fantasy at the time—a black man put in charge following a fair election—has now become reality, giving …tick…tick…tick… an eerie sense of prescience.

The Verdict

You're kidding…right?

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 91

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.40:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Rated G
• Action
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• TV Promo


• IMDb

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