Theme Song: Elmer Bernstein does a really good and extremely hard to find funk-jazz-soundtrack fusion thing here. Criminally out of print, the only real way to hear any of this can be found on Youtube.
Interesting Dated References: Racial tensions.
Best Line: “To hell with the white man.”
Social Context: There’s tons of it here, but it all applies to the 60s and the south, and I’m just a white kid from the midwest who grew up in the 80s/90s so I shouldn’t even try to act like I understand what issues are being addressed. That’s more respectful than trying to talk about it and act like I can relate like some more liberal types would do.
Summary: The Liberation of L. B. Jones is a very confusing movie for a few reasons. First of all, it was an exploitation/blaxploitation movie a few years ahead of its time and before said genre was even in full swing. Secondly, it was filmed on what are obviously Hollywood sets in a very Hollywood environment, thereby giving it the feel of a bad play. Thirdly, it was one of the last movies directed by a man who was viewed as a Hollywood Studio filmmaker. As a result of all this, it was treated like a boring Hollywood movie by everyone who saw it and was later disregarded by many in the exploitation/blaxploitation circles. If you changed any one of these factors, The Liberation of L. B. Jones would be regarded as one of the classics in the aforementioned genres, right up there with In The Heat of The Night. I guess to sum it up in a way that makes sense, The Liberation of L. B. Jones has a cheesy 1960s feel with what is clearly a very 1970s story line, at least as far as movie making goes.
The movie begins with a young Yaphett Kotto jumping off of a train with nothing but a cigar box containing a gun inside, and he is immediately harassed by two police officers. They ask him a few questions and then send him on his way. Then out of nowhere comes the awesome Elmer Bernstein soundtrack. At the train station we see a well-to-do Lee Cobb greeting his nephew (Lee Majors) and his wife (Barbara Hershey). Cobb is a wealthy southern lawyer whose characters name is, get this, Oman Hedgepath. People’s names suck now, don’t they? Mike, John, Tyler, Xander, Kiernan. Give me a room full of Oman’s any day. The nephew is fresh from law school and is going to study under his uncle. I can’t believe how slim Kotto looks. He buys some groceries from a guy and gets in an argument after the grocer sees the gun. It pops off without incident, though, and he moves on. There are a whole lot of racial overtones going on as well.
Back at the law offices, the two whites are getting situated when in walks L.B. Jones who is played by Roscoe Lee Browne. Jones wants to get divorced from his hot wife because she has committed adultery. In the next scene we see Kotto finally arrive at his home, which is also a restaurant/bar. When Kotto confronts his mom it becomes apparent he’s been away for a long time. Back at the law offices the nephew convinces Cobb to take the divorce case L.B. Jones presented.
L.B. is the town undertaker and owns a successful business. Apparently this is a matter of resentment amongst a lot of the town whites. His wife is also a 22-year-old tramp who is having an affair with a white cop and she’s flaunting it quite freely in his face.
If anyone can make sense of this dance scene, be my guest. We get some more background about Kotto who was away for 13 years, and how he’s come back to take revenge on someone. His mom and the dancing guy try to dissuade him from doing so. The incident that spurred this revenge streak is never clarified, though. Obviously he was wrongly convicted for something.
Meanwhile, L.B. negotiates with his wife about why she hired a lawyer to contest the divorce. She berates him and tells him how her cop lover is twice the man he’ll ever be. Roscoe Lee Browne, who plays L.B., does an excellent and understated job with his character. I’m telling you, it’s the terrible sets that ruined this movie. So the main conflict going on here: L.B. wants the divorce because his wife is having an affair with a white cop. If people find out the white cop is having the affair with the black woman, it will cause trouble for the cop. Therefore, Cobb is trying to dissuade him from going to trial with the divorce in order to save everyone some trouble in a town where racial tensions seem to already be at a boiling point. L.B. will not heed advice and demands the case proceed. After L.B. leaves, Cobb explains to his nephew he once fell in love with a black woman, even came to see her as “a real person.” This is supposed to add a layer of tension to the plot, but the monologue comes off a little heavy-handed. The gist of it is that Cobb feels he has no right to call out the cop (Willie Joe) when he did the same thing.
The main point here is no one is willing to confront the racism stuff. Willie Joe then goes to confront his lover because she won’t go along with the divorce. He beats her up and threatens her with a gun. She tells him she’s pregnant by him, though, which I guess explains why she wants to stay married to the wealthy undertaker.
Then the Random Dancing Girl strikes again. Only this time it’s for L.B. and he keeps hallucinating it’s his ex-wife. Then the cops are shown raping a black woman because she wants her husband out of jail. Again, really heavy stuff, but the overwhelming 60s cheesiness of the film is a little off-putting.
Willie Joe tries to confront L.B. about the divorce case and “reason” with him. Kotto is semi-involved because his mother is friends with L.B.. Willie Joe hollers a bunch at L.B., but he’s really hard to understand. Basically he tries to warn L.B. to drop the case. Also, Kotto is stalking this farmer guy.
Isn’t he handsome? I really think Kotto made the mistake of doing too much 80s schlock and everyone forgot what a good actor he was. The farmer he is hunting must be the man who wronged him. As he stalks him, he takes aim but does not fire his gun.
Unfortunately, the redneck cops eventually get the best of L.B., and on the eve of the divorce court date they pull him over and chase him into a junkyard. This is a very well done scene in which L.B. realizes he can’t run from the whites anymore and has to confront them. All the cowardice and complacency he exhibited earlier evaporates as he just walks out in front of the cops after hiding for a spell. The cops shoot him because he refuses to call off the divorce.
L.B. is then found hanging in the junkyard and Kotto covers up his body in a well-shot emotional scene. Kotto mumbles to himself about how, “When the time came I didn’t do nothing.” I assume he’s referring to when he was going to kill the white retired cop/farmer who wronged him. Cobb then gets a call that L.B. is dead and suddenly becomes a race activist as he stops the cops from wrongly convicting L.B.’s friend as the killer.
And for some reason the cops show Cobb the taser they used to get the false confessions. This leads to Willie Joe (played by Anthony Zerbe) giving a rather good performance. I think he was Dog Boy in Cool Hand Luke. Since Cobb himself feels guilty for loving what he calls a “negro woman,” he lets Willie Joe go and doesn’t pursue any charges against the cops. There’s no real logic to this and it actually lessens the impact of the movie, but whatever, like I said at the beginning, this movie is flawed.
This corruption affects everyone. The nephew sees the corruption and decides to split town. And Kotto then becomes revitalized and decides to finally take revenge on the retired cop who beat him up as a youngster, since he has now seen justice is never served.
Just when you think the gun is finally going to come into play, Kotto sort of pushes him into a hay bailer. Not only is that pretty graphic for the end of an early exploitation/blaxploitation film, but it’s also pretty graphic for 1969:
They even show the dummy body being pulled in and everything. Then, in the extremely awesome closing scene, we see the nephew and his wife leaving on the same train as Kotto. Once the camera zooms in on Kotto, the closing choir music is replaced by the sound of the hay bailer chugging away.
So yeah, this was directed by William Wyler who has a ton of movies under his belt, including: Roman Holiday, The Big Country, Ben-Hur, Funny Girl, etc. This was one of his last efforts.
Poster and Box Art: So the above poster is pretty boring. In fact it looks terrible. The soft pastel coloring and stuff just do nothing for me. However, you will notice the totally awesome logo-type and image accompanying at the bottom. See, this is when movies featured not only a poster, but a logo with an awesome icon/image. These logo/icon/images were then used on all one color printed materials and small newspaper ads because back in the day photos looked like shit when they were reduced too small. As a result, there’s all these awesome icon things that you find on posters back in the day. Anyway, the above poster was obviously aimed to cater to women.
This one on the other hand seems aimed at racists and people who liked the color magenta. Maybe that’s the same audience. This poster is way stronger than the first one though.
This one seems aimed at wife beaters, but again, they are really showcasing the awesome logo-type and icon image on the right.
This Spanish/Italian poster really seems to be capitalizing on something, but I’m not sure what. Without a doubt this poster would not have flown in America.
And look here, someone had to go in and do a nice painting of the photo for the above poster. Can you imagine a time when a photo was less desirable than a nice hand rendered painting? That would be awesome.
As always the polish/german poster fucking rules. I know it’s been awhile since I posted a polish poster, but it’s been awhile since I reviewed a movie that got one.
Not only that, but this movie has 2 polish posters. This one is even better. Weird fist-hat-cop-thing.