It’s Martin Luther King Jr day here in the USA – which means, TV programming highlights on the “black experience” in America, amongst other kinds of celebrations.
While flipping through TV channels this morning, I had to stop on TCM (Turner Classic Movies), thanks to an image of Jim Brown, in a sheriff’s hat, in the drivers seat of an oldie of some sort. Not immediately certain of what the film was, I of course looked it up – Ralph Nelson’s 1970 crime drama “…tick…tick…tick…,” which starred Brown as an African American man elected sheriff of a racially-divided rural county in Mississippi. Elected thanks to a healthy turnout of black voters, he finds himself, as expected, on the receiving end of much hostility from the county’s racist white establishment, which hinders his ability to properly do his job. He gets some support from the former county sheriff (who’s white, played by George Kennedy), who wrestles with doing the right thing, while also maintaining a public face and relationship with his community. Things come to a head when the black sheriff imprisons the white son of a wealthy land-owner, and each key character is essentially forced to pick a side.
I only caught the tail-end of the movie, but I’ve seen it before, so no loss there. A film considered quite provocative for its time, it’s also available on various home video platforms, so look for it there.
What did get my attention are the films that TCM has scheduled for the rest of the day – one film especially, which I haven’t seen before. I mentioned it on this blog a couple of years ago, after I just happened upon it, while researching for another post at the time. It wasn’t available on home video then, and still isn’t available on home video now, sadly. Unless someone out there knows something that I don’t. I searched all home video formats before typing up this post, and found no sign of a release.
With that said, if you haven’t seen the film either, and you’re interested, as I am, you should know that, today, starting at 2pm, it will be on TCM, so take advantage and see it; or set your DVRs to record it, if you won’t be home. I most certainly will be watching. I might even live-tweet it! At the very least, expect me to share a word or two about it some time after I do see it.
The film is called “One Potato, Two Potato,” a 1964 film directed by Larry Peerce (his directorial debut), which centers on the relationship between a white mid-western woman in Ohio, and the black man she remarries, after her white husband leaves her and their child, a young daughter. When her ex-husband discovers that she’s married a black man, he fights her for custody of their child.
The below courtroom scene appears to be the tail end of the film, but there’s enough there (as well as in the few other short clips from the film I located) to captivate. The climax of the story is a highly emotional courtroom sequence in which the woman’s angry ex-husband charges that the child’s welfare is threatened by the environment created by her marriage to a black man.
The film screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1964, and I read one review from a writer who was actually present for that screening, who stated that, when it ended, the entire audience sat in silence, speechless, because they were emotionally drained!
Given the time this was made and released, given the story it tells, it must have been quite a pot-stirrer.
The film’s star Barbara Barrie, won the Cannes award for Best Actress. Co-starring along with Barrie were Harry Bellaver, Bernie Hamilton (who played the black man she remarries), and Robert Earl Jones – James Earl Jones’ father.
Bernie Hamilton, whom I wasn’t at all familiar with before learning about this film, would go on to co-star in many more movies, as well as TV shows, into the 1980s. He died in 2008.
The film was directed on what is said to have been a shoestring budget, from a screenplay penned by Raphael Hayes and Orville H. Hampton, who were both nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1965.
Again, by all accounts, it’s not available on any home video format. I checked. It doesn’t even appear to be on VHS. Surely, someone has the film on some home video format, old or current.
TCM’s archives say that the film was last broadcast on that channel in 2010 (according to their website anyway), so, again, this might be your only opportunity to see it, if you’re interested. Today, at 2pm.
You should also know that, before “One Potato, Two Potato,” starting at noon today, TCM will screen “The World, The Flesh and the Devil” (1959), the Harry Belafonte drama/thriller made in 1959. Belafonte stars in the film with Inger Stevens (a white woman) and Mel Ferrer (a white man) as 3 strangers who find each other in a post-apocalyptic New York City, in which they are seemingly the only 3 survivors, and the tensions that rise amongst them. I won’t say anymore, for fear of giving plot details away. Check it out starting at noon today, on TCM, if you haven’t seen it. Not a great film, but worth seeing even if only for the first act or so, as Belafonte emerges after being buried in a cave-in, and he roams the streets of a strikingly deserted New York City, in search of other survivors, as he tries to survive himself.
Worth noting, the film was an independent production, financed by Belafonte’s own company, Harbel Productions.
Also, as this was the pre-Civil Rights era, Belafonte was restricted in how his character interacted with the white woman on screen. Obviously, Hollywood wasn’t ready to test the waters with intimate scenes of an interracial romance. But even as chaste as it was, “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil” was boycott by some theatres in the South, and in one case, a showing in Georgia was reportedly halted because of erupting racial tensions in the audience.
Interestingly enough, the film would later inspire an unofficial remake from New Zealand, titled “The Quiet Earth” (1985), a post-apocalyptic drama where three survivors (two men, one woman) of a malfunctioning science project learn to get along despite racial and personal differences.
As for the rest of TCM’s MLK Day lineup, following “One Potato, Two Potato,” at 4pm, “The Learning Tree” will screen; at 6pm “Glory;” at 8pm “The Defiant Ones;” and at 10pm “To Sir With Love;” and at midnight, finishing off the Sidney Poitier trifecta, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
Watch 4 clips from “One Potato, Two Potato” below: