1974’s “The Klansman” is an appalling experience that no one should ever have to endure the torture of sitting through.
While the topic of racism can be conversational but insightful if done properly (as shown in “Do the Right Thing”), “The Klansman” opts to focus the perspective on the rich white folks that are conflicted about the Klan’s involvement in their society.
The result of the film’s conflicted tone results in it feeling like a recruiting video for the Klan.
Undoubtedly, this may still peak some curiosity, but be forewarned – it is an excruciating waste of time and will only make you feel terrible for all involved.
Poor Lee Marvin (“Prime Cut”), who got stuck in the role of Sheriff Track Bascomb, signed a contract to the picture when it was supposed to be directed by Samuel Fuller (“White Dog”). When Fuller left the project, Marvin was unable to get out of the contract – an issue that was made apparent in his lackluster performance.
The performance is not entirely his fault, since the screenplay created a lousy character in the villain, Bascomb, who is part KKK sympathizer and hater, making the character not a straight villain or hero.
Why would an audience be interested in this character? They simply wouldn’t be.
The mighty keep falling in this movie, which features a frequently drunk-on-the-set Richard Burton (“Becket”). The site of seeing this Shakespearian actor at the lowest point in his life is enough to leave anyone heartbroken.
He is the rich hero that opposes the Klansman in town and is using his money to fight the good fight. While it is a sloppily-played noble character, it is ultimately a dumb idea to make a movie about black power over the white man.
It does manage to have one black hero, played with much mediocrity by O.J. Simpson. This was an early movie in his career, and he does not have enough screen time to determine if he had the acting chops.
If the acting and message don’t sicken you, then an overly brutal rape scene in the middle of the film will certainly do the job. The scene is needlessly over the top, but sheds light on the moral background of one of the main characters.
Can this film get any worse? Well, if you last long enough, you can witness the battle of the senior citizens, as Burton faces against a KKK sympathizer played wretchedly by Cameron Mitchell (“Space Mutiny”). The fight is one of the most pathetic and feeble that one can witness.
One is left wondering how this movie’s script was approved by Paramount and then was able to attract a star-studded cast that never asked questions about the making of this production.
Simply put, “The Klansman” (or “The Burning Cross”) is a pathetic use of celluloid that ran the grind-house circuit after it flopped at the box office. If you still must see it, be glad it is not in a grind-house theater with homeless junkies and prostitutes all around.