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  Spook Who Sat By The Door, The Racial Tensions
Year: 1973
Director: Ivan Dixon
Stars: Lawrence Cook, Janet League, Paula Kelly, J.A. Preston, Paul Butler, Don Blakely, David Lemieux, Byron Morrow, Jack Aaron, Joseph Mascolo, Elaine Aiken, Beverly Gill, Bob Hill, Martin Golar, Jeff Hamilton
Genre: Drama, Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: This Senator is worried because he has lost a lot of support recently, and his assistants tell him this is down to his African American voters deserting him after an ill-advised speech about crime. To remedy this, he decides to make a new speech advocating the recruitment of a black agent to the all-white C.I.A. which may be the epitome of tokenism but is the kind of gesture that will make the powers that be look good. Not that the candidates are under any illusions, and get together to decide to do as well as each other in the trials - all except one, Dan Freeman (Lawrence Cook).

And Freeman is the troublemaker, although he doesn't show his true colours to the agency bosses, but he does instigate a turn of events which even now would raise eyebrows that anybody would make a film with this subject matter. If you fancied a bit of consciousness raising in the America of the nineteen-seventies, then the book to get was not so much The Anarchist's Cookbook or its ilk, it was Sam Greenlee's novel The Spook Who Sat By the Door, which especially among urban blacks reluctant to bow down to the white authorities was essential reading. That was thanks to its plot, which detailed the uprising against the government by the downtrodden oppressed.

They being the African Americans, and watching this now what strikes you is how nobody in it is a character who happens to be black or happens to be white, as their skin colour is a statement of their politics. You couldn't be ambivalent here: if you were white you'd better watch out, because the blacks were no longer going to put up with your bullshit and take back the streets. So what we had here was essentially a civil war movie, except it was American Civil War Part II if you like, a prediction for what was just around the corner for this superpower as it was destroyed from the inside: the white establishment's worst nightmare, basically. Which made it all the more surprising the film was released to cinemas at all (though not so surprisingly it was taken out of them pretty quickly).

That said, whatever you thought about the fallout from the United States civil rights struggles of the previous decade, there was still free speech allowed there, and perhaps it was more significant that it was released to little fanfare: really, the novel had more impact, and that wasn't banned. The plot starts out with the obviously intelligent Freeman learning the tricks of the C.I.A. trade, and accused of being an "Uncle Tom", but then that insult preoccupied practically everyone in the movie, honestly hardly a scene goes by without it spoken. Anyway, once Freeman has graduated to a demeaning office job inside the agency, he begins to draw up his plans under their noses to set off the revolution, and teach the black men of Chicago that crime against their brothers and sisters is not the way forward.

Nope, crime against whitey is the way forward, and soon there are some very well staged scenes of riots and social unrest considering what a low budget this had: cops getting attacked, cars overturned, home made bombs going off, and the insurgents even get hold of guns to increase the heat under the ruling class. This was the second film directed by former Hogan's Heroes star Ivan Dixon, who with his previous Trouble Man was one of the few blaxploitation directors to actually be black; he went on to hours of TV series direction which was a pity because he showed flair here especially in the action scenes, but the fact remained Trouble Man was the better film. With every character here obsessed with race no matter what colour they were, there's a monomania to this which becomes wearying; you might not have expected that from such incendiary themes, but with all the violence there's not much constructive about Freeman's crusade. What were they planning after they'd left their cities in ruins? Music by Herbie Hancock, which offers a valuable sheen of professionalism.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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