UPTIGHT (Jules Dassin, 1968)

Jules Dassin interrupted his train of diversions and melodramas starring wife Melina Mercouri to make a movie that mattered to him: Uptight, a version of Liam O’Flaherty’s novel The Informer, about the Irish Rebellion, but this time transported to Cleveland, Ohio, slums (on-location shooting) and focused on African-American revolutionary unrest. Uptight is topical. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee; the film’s action is set only a few days later. (Dassin’s film was released later the same year.) Once peaceful like King, a disillusioned, angry cell of blacks plots violence against America. Gypo Nolan has become Tank Williams, who has been tossed out of the organization as unreliable and who informs on best friend Johnny Wells, who participated in the theft of guns that ended in the shooting death of a guard. Tank’s reward from the police: $1000.
     Comparisons with John Ford’s The Informer (1935) are unavoidable. Both films are dark and at least borderline expressionistic, but while Ford’s film is powerful despite a talky patch or two, and piercingly poetic at its finest moments, Dassin’s film moves like sludge and generates neither power nor poetry. It is murky prose. Whereas Victor McLaglen’s Gypo is tremendous, Julian Mayfield’s Tank is lame and inconsistent; little about him registers. Some of the nighttime scenes are bluesy and evocative, but the film doesn’t hold together. Ford’s brilliant film haunts like few others since the advent of sound.
     The script is by Dassin, Mayfield and Ruby Dee, who is also in the cast. There are some nifty lines: “You haven’t got a revolution. A revolution is a plan, not a gun.” “When you are born black in this country, you are born dead.” “Whitey is the Mother of Violence.”
     Uptight definitely has its moments.

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