The lack of big name stars is, if anything, a plus in making this one of the most powerful movies ever made about racism. Based on Faulkner's novel and filmed on location near the writer's native Oxford, MI, Brown's film features more than 500 people, only a small portion of whom were
professional actors. Hernandez plays Lucas Beauchamp, an elderly black man who owns his own property, something the locals resent. The police arrest him for the murder of a townsman because he was discovered near the body and the revolver he carried had just been fired. On the way to jail he spots
Chick (Jarman), a young white lad with whom he is friendly. He asks Chick to get Stevens (Brian), the boy's attorney uncle, to come to the jail. Despite Chick's pleas, Stevens resists the idea of defending Lucas, knowing he'll be ostracized by the townspeople if he does. Crawford Gowrie (Kemper),
brother of the dead man, spreads the word, and the lawyer becomes a pariah as Gowrie rouses the rabble to lynch Beauchamp. The jailed man, though, has his story, which involves a beating he suffered at the hands of the victim. Lucas' supporters grow as Chick and Miss Habersham (Patterson) help dig
up the dead man's coffin to prove that Lucas' gun was not the murder weapon. When the corpse is found instead in a quicksand swamp, even the dead man's father (Hall) has his doubts. Finally the canny Sheriff Hampton (Geer) uses a ruse to catch the real killer and the lynch-hungry mob is confronted
with its own bigotry.
The most chilling scene in the movie is a lengthy sequence which cuts from the people of Oxford gleefully assembling (not unlike the crowd to see the man trapped below ground in THE BIG CARNIVAL) at the jail for a lynching to shots of music playing and kids eating ice cream. Everyone is in a jolly
mood, in direct contrast to the grisly plans they have for the prisoner. This is not a pretty story and it does not exactly feature the people of Mississippi in a flattering light. Brown must have had a silver tongue to convince so many locals to play in the film, when one considers how they are
portrayed. After many years of seeing stereotyped blacks on screen, Hernandez's role was a revelation as he stood up to the charges with pride and dignity. Patterson is equally marvelous in one of the finest roles of her lengthy career.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: The lack of big name stars is, if anything, a plus in making this one of the most powerful movies ever made about racism. Based on Faulkner's novel and filmed on location near the writer's native Oxford, MI, Brown's film features more than 500 people, only… (more)