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(aka "I Crossed the Color Line" or "Brutes")

 

directed by Ted V. Mikels
USA 1966

 

In THE BLACK KLANSMAN, Richard Gilden plays Jerry Ellsworth in light-skinned blackface, but his character dawns whiteface to infiltrate the Klu Klux Klan after his daughter is killed in a church bombing and a young man is murdered for patronizing a white coffee shop after the passing of the Civil Rights amendment. Undercover as white building contractor/California klan founder John Ashley, Ellsworth flies to the south and targets local klansman Rook (Harry Lovejoy, THE NAKED VENUS) as his way of getting to the others, but his cover may be blown when his white girlfriend Andrea (Rima Kutner) turns up in town in search of him. Things get even more complicated when Farley (Jakie Deslonde), the brother of the murdered black man, brings in Harlem gangster Raymond (Max Julien, star of THE MACK and writer of CLEOPATRA JONES). Neither as offensive or schlocky as either of the incendiary titles suggest, THE BLACK KLANSMAN (well, I CROSSED THE COLOR LINE) means to mean well (although even the original advertising suggests that the crossing is being done by Ellsworth's white girlfriend rather than being descriptive of his infiltration of the clan; director Ted V. Mikels played it straight while producer Joe Solomon was all about the proto-blaxploitation ballyhoo). The script was by Art Names and James T. Wilson, two academic friends of Mikels that also scripted his film GIRL IN GOLDEN BOOTS (Names was bitten by the movie bug and worked on sound on several more exploitation pics as well as directing SNAKES which was co-written by Wilson). The violence is brutal but not lingering and there's a theme song that summarizes the plot for you. Gilden is as earnest in his performance as the script is in its convictions, but his character's epiphany that he could "pass for white" will probably evoke equal titters as his "I am a negro" to his white girlfriend when she talks about settling down and having kids (his "It is I!" self-unmasking is also unintentionally funny). The "voice of reason" preacher and grieving mother characters are just as obligatory in is film as they are in any other vigilante film (regardless of whether the hero feels any vindication in the end). Some of the supporting performances are stiff so some meaningful exchanges are rather uneven. Julien is memorable as the gangster and his "theatrical" performance energizes the middle third of the film (from which Ellsworth is absent, as is most of our emotional involvement). Byrd Holland not only did the make-up (including Gilden's) but also had a supporting role, as did producer Solomon (who Mikels did not want on the set at any other time.) Supporting actor Gary Kent soon made a name for himself in exploitation titles including SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS and the awful eighties slasher THE FOREST while Ray Dannis worked with Mikels again in THE CORPSE GRINDERS along with Gilden. Cinematographer Robert Caramico later shot Richard Blackburn's visually sumptuous low-budget vampire fairytale LEMORA - which also featured special make-up by Holland - while sound recordist Austin McKinney worked concurrently as a cinematographer and later shot Boris Karloff's final four Mexican/American co-productions.

Eric Cotenas

Poster

Theatrical Release: June 1966 (USA)

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DVD Review: Code Red - Region 0 - NTSC

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

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Distribution

Code Red

Region 0 - NTSC

Runtime 1:26:57
Video

1.78:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.0 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Subtitles none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Code Red

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
• Audio Commentary by director Ted V. Mikels
• Audio Commentary by make-up artist Byrd Holland
• Blacks Like Me: Unmasking Richard Gilden (4:3; 17:44)
• Theatrical Trailer (16:9; 0:44)
• Alternate THE BLACK KLANSMAN title card (4:3; 1:46)
• Trailers for THE BLACK GESTAPO (4:3; 0:29), MEAN JOHNNY BARROWS (4:3; 1:42), and DR. BLACK AND MR.
• HYDE (4:3; 2:21)

DVD Release Date: 18 January 2011
Amaray

Chapters 11

 

Comments

Although the cover and menus refer to this under the release title THE BLACK KLANSMAN, the anamorphic, progressive, dual-layer transfer bears the original title I CROSSED THE COLOR LINE. The transfer is quite attractive given the budget and the source seems to have been well-cared-for (the film may have been processed to favor grayer highlights for the sake of Gilden's make-up). Some of the night scenes look soft - and the torches create a lot of lens flare - but that is likely a fault of the otherwise fine noirish cinematography. English mono audio is fine.

As with some of Code Red's other surprising titles on which it bestows the full special edition treatment, THE BLACK KLANSMAN gives us two audio commentary tracks: the first, with director Ted V. Mikels and the other with make-up artist/co-star Byrd Holland (who also contributed a commentary track to Media Blasters' TERROR CIRCUS - the authorized version of the film released in bootleg retail DVD form as BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD - on which he did the make-up effects and which was prepared for DVD by Code Red) moderated by Lee Christian. Holland is more lively but Mikels is more informative. A menu option is available for a documentary on white people who act black, but clicking on it reveals a screen that tells us that the documentary's creator reneged on his agreement to include it on the disc despite signing a contract. There is also an interview with amiable actor Richard Gilden, the film's alternate THE BLACK KLANSMAN title card (which appears on an action background while the original credits appear on a shaded plain background), the short theatrical trailer, and trailers for other blaxploitation Code Red releases available and forthcoming.

  - Eric Cotenas

 



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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

 

 

Distribution

Code Red

Region 0 - NTSC

 

 




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