In the American Deep South, white residents go into panic mode when an African-American man (Jim Brown, The Dirty Dozen) is unexpectedly elected sheriff of their tight-knit community. Fearing a bloodbath, the outgoing sheriff (George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke) and Town’s Mayor (Fredric March, The Best Years of Our Lives) decide to give a hand to the new sheriff.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“I’m the sheriff. Not the white sheriff. Not the black sheriff. But, THE SHERIFF!”
…tick… tick… tick… is a gripping, provocative and still topical thriller that manages to avoid most cliches associated with race-relations movies. It is refreshing to see a message-movie that doesn’t take the obvious road. …tick… tick… tick… isn’t 100% effective, but I admired its gutsy and unorthodox approach to oft-explored cinematic topics.
…tick… tick… tick… was directed by Ralph Nelson (Lilies of the Field), who is best known for making movies with strong social messages. Nelson was much less polished than fellow message-filmmakers like Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) and Stanley Kramer (The Defiant Ones), but this is exactly why I tend to like his films. Nelson’s rough edges add greater realism to manufactured situations.
While watching …tick… tick… tick…, I felt Nelson was trying to make his own version of Norman Jewison’s classic 1967 thriller In the Heat of the Night. The two movies have a lot in common. To this day, Jewison’s movie is considered one of the best thrillers of all time, but Nelson’s film is no less deserving of praise. The movie unfolds in a rather curious manner, with characters and situations bucking expectations at every turn.
Most interesting is how the movie explores tribalism and identity politics. White constituents freak out when the black sheriff is elected because they think he is going to retaliate against them for the injustices committed during the Jim Crow era.
On the flip side, the black community expects the new lawman to look after them. Everyone is shocked when the new sheriff decides to apply laws fairly and equally. The film suggests that people aren’t interested in equality as much as they are interested in power. Is this a realistic or cynical view of human nature? You decide.
Jim Brown, George Kennedy and Fredric March make a strange but fascinating trio. Ex-athlete Brown isn’t much of an actor, but he does an excellent job here. Brown has gravitas and the role of the dignified sheriff fits him like a glove. Brown is completely believable as a decent, proud and brave man who just wants to do a good job.
Kennedy is great as a no-nonsense lawman who only wants to do the right thing. And in one of his last movie roles, March excels as a racist but pragmatic politician. The rest of the cast includes Lynn Carlin (Faces), Don Stroud (The Amityville Horror), Clifton James (Sheriff J.W. Pepper in Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun) and Janet MacLachlan (Sounder) as Brown’s devoted wife.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
…tick… tick… tick… gives viewers a lot to think about: it’s a thinking person’s thriller. Even the film’s “happy ending” is loaded with all sorts of complex ideas and emotions. …tick… tick… tick… also has a handful of good songs. Recommended to viewers looking for something provocative and different. Color, 100 minutes, Rated R.