…tick… tick… tick… (1970)
Director: Ralph Nelson
Writers: James Lee Barrett
Starring: Jim Brown, George Kennedy, and Fredric March

The Plot: In a small southern county during the midst of the civil rights movement, trouble begins to brew. Jim Price (Jim Brown) is a well educated black man who is encouraged to run for sheriff by a group of civil rights activists. When he actually manages to win, due to the dense population of African Americans, he faces a new and more dangerous hurdle. The local white population, who aren’t accustomed to seeing a black man in power, aren’t willing to give up such a position without a fight. Price must continually deal with the threat of violence on a daily basis, and must also hire a all new police department with a new set of deputies. Amongst the locals affected by Jim Price’s recent election is the previous sheriff himself, John Little (George Kennedy). Little, who respects the law and doesn’t share the same racist sentiments of his friends and neighbors, finds himself confronting his own bitterness. He feels bad for Price and realizes that this man is looking at a danger that seems insurmountable. When a young teenager from out of town runs down a little girl and kills her in cold blood, Price is dealt a tough hand as he must arrest a white man who just happens to have a very powerful father. With the tension brewing, this small southern town is only days away from exploding.

The Review
The Blaxploitation genre is all too often unfairly judged by those who simply aren’t familiar with the great span of films that can, and should, be included within this vast library of films. When audiences hear the term Blaxploitation their minds are likely filled with visions of Jim Kelly, sporting an absurdly large afro, kicking bad guys in the face. If not that particular vision, maybe they just think about the Son of Dolemite skits from Mad TV which perfectly exemplified the very worst that the genre ever provided. As is usually the case though, making harsh judgments based upon limited information will only help further ignorance. Although there were far more genre pictures made underneath the Blaxploitation umbrella, there were still a great number of well crafted and important dramas made within this time frame as well. …tick… tick… tick… is a socially conscious look at the racial dynamics of the late 1960s and 70s. As a film it fits in well with other spectacular works from this era such as In the Heat of the Night and Across 110th Street. Although the action is sporadic, which might scare away some genre-fans, the film is wholly well crafted and stands out as one of the most inspiring and positive message-films to come out of the racially provocative climate of 1970s filmmaking.

The Blaxploitation title is a misnomer and it generally causes more confusion than is necessary. Although these were films that often featured some form of genre conventions, they were not all a part of the “exploitation” subgenre of the time. With films such as J.D.’s Revenge, which saw the classic Jekyl and Hyde story brought to life for a different audience, there was a definite feeling of genre pastiche, but there was also a great deal of quality within the storytelling. These weren’t all cheap exploitation films in the same manner as Dolemite, many of these films gave black actors the first spotlight in their professional career. With that newly found attention they could take the ball and run with it. Although Jim Brown had already found some success in acting before …tick… tick… tick…, the film certainly shows the young actor finding his own voice and delivery. This is no doubt due to veteran director Ralph Nelson being at the helm. He allows the quiet and mild-mannered Brown to really settle into his role and shows off his best traits. While not as flamboyant as Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Jim Brown was equally as charismatic in his own way. While I’ve not enjoyed him in action capers that require him to be boisterous and over the top, such as in Slaughter, he really fits the mold of a reserved and stoic leading man. In the role of Jim Price, Brown finds the perfect vehicle to show off all of his best qualities.

The rest of the cast are all very solid in their roles, but its the dynamic between Jim Brown and George Kennedy that holds the true power of the entire film. Although the film could be seen as being naive to a fault, and I’ll get to that shortly, I think there are many moments throughout the movie that seem to capture a great deal of truth. George Kennedy’s character of John is the second main “hero” within the story and his role is far from conventional for a title such as this one. He plays a man who is as every bit a “good ol’ boy” as the rest of his hate-filled constituents, but he is a man who is battling his own ways. Throughout the movie we hear his wife use racially derogatory terms for Jim Price (Jim Brown), we see his family being harassed for what is seen to be cow-towing to a black man and we watch this character endure his own inner torment at being bested in the election for a new sheriff. In the earliest scenes of the movie we watch as John prepares for his last day as sheriff. We hear him discuss with his wife how he plans on showing the new sheriff around the office, showing him where the files go and giving him the main tour, but when the time comes and he looks into this black man’s eyes he finds himself unable to do anything but walk out. Despite being a good man on the inside, he can’t put away his own prejudices and he must then come face to face with his own weaknesses. The majority of the picture, from John’s point of view, finds himself battling with this weakness and shows him trying to become the man he thinks that he has always been.

The character of Jim Price is every bit as interesting in his own manner. A properly trained officer who never stood a chance at even becoming a deputy due to his race, he takes up the sheriff’s position after a Northern special-interest-group gets involved and gives him the encouragement to run. Price is a man of conviction, and although he realizes the dangers involved in this job he can’t let the opportunity pass him by. Jim Brown plays the role in a quiet manner that gives weight to his performance when placed alongside the well-trained veteran George Kennedy. Although these two actors don’t share a great amount of screen time with one another, in the scenes that they do share both actors bring a sense of history between one another to the table. They work within the environment and a sense of social climate is prevalent throughout the movie. Although the movie tends to be so hopeful about improved race relations that it borders on naivete, the actors bring a sense of realism to the film and its easy to get behind these characters and root for the protagonists. This spirit of goodwill is felt throughout the picture and elevates it above many films of a similar type. You can feel this in George Kennedy’s character, or even in the role of the mayor. In a more conventional film these characters would have likely been villains, but in this film they are simply men coming into confrontation with change… and they are ultimately receptive to their new way of life.

The Conclusion
While it may not be a perfect film, …tick… tick… tick… is a movie that is fairly unique. There are some who will scoff at its hopeful attitudes and less than demonizing look at Southern racial clashes during the civil rights age, but in the context of the 1960s/70s it seems that this sort of hope was needed in order to escalate the waves of change that would someday come about. A very solid film that I highly recommend. It receives a four out of five.

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