Monday, August 24, 2015

UPTIGHT (1968)

In Cleveland, days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a group of black activists sets out to steal a large shipment of guns and ammo. Johnny (Max Julien) comes to get the help of his friend Tank (Julian Mayfield), but Tank begs off, claiming to be too drunk to help—though clearly he's also depressed, due not just to the assassination, but also lack of money and the sad state of his personal life, which involves a former girlfriend who is raising a child alone. During the robbery, Johnny shoots a guard who later dies, and the cops are after him in force. Tank winds up getting much of the blame for the fiasco, and his former friends and associates turn their backs on him. In desperate need of cash, Tank winds up informing on Johnny for a reward. Johnny winds up killed by the cops, and when Tank goes on a spending spree at a local bar, the activists realize what he's done, sealing his fate.

This is based on the 1935 John Ford film THE INFORMER, set during the period of the Troubles in Ireland, and it follows the trajectory of that film closely. The Informer was shot on a low budget, with director John Ford using shadows and fog to hide the shoddy sets, and making a minor masterpiece of atmosphere. Here, nighttime location shooting on the streets of Cleveland gives the movie a similarly effective look. Most reviews compare Uptight unfavorably to The Informer, but I found this to be a compelling and well-acted update of, though certainly not a replacement for, the Ford film. Mayfield (pictured), like Victor McLaglen in the 1935 film, comes off as both sympathetic and pathetic, and delivers an strong anchoring performance—all the more remarkable for the fact that this was his only major film role; he was primarily a writer and a civil rights activist. Good performances are also given by Ruby Dee as Tank's ex, Raymond St. Jacques as the militant leader, and Roscoe Lee Browne as a gay police informer who Tank blames for his own actions. The street scene in which the cops come looking for Johnny is exceptionally well done. Some critics note that the focus on racial politics takes away from a focus on character, but I thought the film had a good balance of the two. This crops up nowhere but is available on DVD from Olive Films. [DVD]

1 comment:

JSB said...

Yet another interesting connection between Irish history and the Civil Rights movement. I wasn't aware of this film, though I liked The Informer (great cast!) as well as the Liam O'Flaherty novel which was its source.