Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 1967. Otto Preminger Films. Screenplay by Horton Foote, Thomas C. Ryan, based on the novel by Bert Gilden, Katya Gilden. Cinematography by Loyal Griggs, Milton R. Krasner. Produced by Otto Preminger. Music by Hugo Montenegro. Production Design by Gene Callahan. Costume Design by Estevez. Film Editing by Tony de Zarraga, Louis R. Loeffler, James D. Wells. Golden Globe Awards 1967.
Dramatically inept yet strangely riveting tale of racism in the American south, a surprisingly uneven affair by director Otto Preminger. Greedy Michael Caine is hoping to cash in big when he strikes a deal with a Yankee canning company to sell his wife’s sprawling Georgia plantation to them. The hitch is that there are key pieces of land within her property that don’t belong to her, one owned by her cousin (John Phillip Law) who has just come to back from the war to wife Faye Dunaway (making an impressive entrance into the big leagues) and their four children, and the other to Fonda’s black mammy (Beah Richards) and her son (Robert Hooks). The cajoling, coercing and eventual threatening that Caine does to convince these two to sell inspires Law and Hooks to go into partnership, turns Fonda against the one woman she loved the most and gets the racist townsfolk all up in arms about keeping things the old southern way. Richards and Hooks had acquired the land when it was sold to them to keep it out of Yankee hands during more vulnerable times, the resentment of the impoverished and defeated South providing the tense undercurrent to this entire affair. While the characters are charismatic enough to keep you invested in the story, the film does suffer from the strange inclusion of foolish caricatures (such as George Kennedy‘s ridiculous sheriff) and weak turns of plot that are the result of trying to get too many narrative strands into one movie. It’s too long for what it’s trying to accomplish but too small to be a Giant-like epic, hampered further by bad miscasting (Caine is not convincingly American, Fonda is not convincingly Southern, Law is just not very good) but blessed with a few strong moments (many of them involving a lovely Diahann Carroll). It’s a mess, and Preminger proves that no one should make movies about the South except people from there (cause he seems to think it’s one big luscious newspaper cartoon), but goshdarnit if I wasn’t anxious to see how it turned out.