Thursday, July 25, 2013

"Classics" A review of: "The Black Klansman"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: “Classics” A review of “The Black Klansman”

By: Brian Cotnoir

Just keep in mind that someone thought
that this was a good idea for an actual film.
     What.  The.  Frick?!  Did I read the title of this film correctly?  The Black Klansman?  The BLACK Klansman!  All right, I hope you’re all as intrigued as I was when I first read the title of this film and watched it for the first time.  So the 1966 blaxploitation (which was also released under the title “I Crossed the Color Line”) is the story of a black musician living in LA, named Jerry Elsworth, who gets a call from his hometown in the Deep South, and is told that his young daughter (from a previous relationship) was set on fire and killed in an attack by the Ku Klux Klan.  Jerry is distraught over the death of his daughter and vows to get his vengeance.  Jerry is black, but he is a very light skinned black and figures that with a little make up, a wig, and a fake ID he can pose as a white man and infiltrate the KKK and get his revenge.    

Is it a white or is it a black
it's Pat...I mean Jerry.
That has got to be one of the most ridiculous plots to a film I have ever seen.  There are a lot of issues in this film—both good and bad—that I must address.  First of all, if I was a black man, the last thing I’m going to do is go anywhere near the KKK; I can’t tell if Jerry is supposed to be brave or just plain crazy?  The actor who plays Jerry, is named Richard Gilden, and he is very light-skinned, so it makes some sense that he could pass for a white man, but I couldn’t help but wonder throughout the film if he was just a light-skinned black man or if he was actually white?  I honestly could not tell.  I’ve tried to find pictures of him on-line, but all pictures I find of him are in black and white (ba dum ching!).  So I don’t know if he actually is a black actor or if he was just playing a black actor.       
How about a little emotion there, Richard?
Richard Gilden is a very montone actor in this film.  He rarely breaks from his mildly-disgruntled-customer-waiting-in-the-checkout-line tone of voice.  Seriously, when he first gets the news that his daughter was killed by the Klan, he talks about it like his car was just towed.  He doesn’t show any emotion until his white girlfriend says something to him, and then he proceeds to choke her because she’s a “white woman”.  Oh, and you can also tell how old this film really is because Jerry managed to sneak a loaded handgun in his luggage on the plane.  You know with all the craziness and gun violence around the world today, I just found that part to be very funny.            
     As a person with a B.A. in History, I can appreciate the historical significance of this film.  It was made in 1966, at the height of the American Civil Rights movement, and this film did show a fairly accurate reflection of how life was at that time, and showed a lot of “radical” and different ideas.  Jerry was a black man who is in a relationship with a white woman, only two years before this film was made, the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that no state could ban or make interracial marriage illegal.  Not only is Jerry dating a white woman, but he attacked her in a fit of rage.  Those are some radical political statements this film was making for its time.       
Well that's just rude.
I also really like the scenes early on in the film that take place in the Deep South that show how so many people were resistant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings that no state could have segregated, or “separate, but equal”, sections in diners, bus stations, public schools.  There’s a scene where the black minster’s younger brother shows him a newspaper clipping saying that the courts say whites can’t discriminate against blacks anymore, and the minister tells his naïve younger brother that those words don’t mean crap, and that the white people in town aren’t going to change any time soon and welcome him with open arms in town.  He ignores the warnings from his older brother and goes into a diner and orders a cup of coffee, which he does not receive, and that night he is killed by the Klan for going into their diner.  There’s another part in the film I like, where the black residents of the town are having a mass at their place of worship, and you can hear the Klan outside making a raucous and shouting threats at the people, but they just ignore their words and only sing louder as an attempt to drown at the Klan’s hate speech.        
      I also like how Jerry had to work to get into the Klan.  He goes to office of the Klan’s leader in town, Mr. Rourk, and says that he is an architect named John Ashley from Los Angles who wants help staring up a Klan in California.  Mr. Rourk initially denies having anything to do with the Klan and insists to Mr. Ashley, that he has the wrong person.  Jerry’s persistence eventually pays off, Mr. Rourk and the other Klan members believe him to be sincere.  It’s at this point Jerry learns about the Klan really operates, and he ends up getting more details on the attack the night his daughter was killed, so he can figure out which member is the one responsible for her death.                                      
Alternative Film Poster
    There’s one more part of the film I want to talk about, just because I thought it was an interesting twist to the plot.  The black Minister hires a group of thugs from Harlem to come down and help them with their cause.  The thug’s ideas for the blacks in town are pretty basic.  Arm them and attack the Klan.  The thugs go to a rally and open fire on the Klan, but that only leads to more violence against the blacks in town, and then they realize they have to cut their ties from the Harlem gangsters, but now it appears that the gangsters are here to stay.  
    I would say that this movie is definitely a 2 ½ out of 4 stars.  It has a lot of interesting points to its plot that could make for some interesting retrospective discussions on the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, among other things.


  1. If nothing else, it sounds way more intersting that the black shop girl passing as a white showgirl in Imitation of Life. Good history to boot!

  2. Richard Gilden is indeed a white actor who played a black actor in this movie.