Queen of Katwe



Walt Disney Pictures/ESPN Films/Mirabai Films

Directed by Mira Nair

Produced by John Carls/Lydia Dean Pilcher

Screenplay by William Wheeler

Based on “The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster” by Tim Crothers

If you’ve been reading my reviews on a regular basis you’ll doubtless have noticed that there are words I use sparingly. That’s because I believe in the power of words and I believe that for them to have the proper impact and for people to sit up and pay attention to them, you have to use them when the situation calls for its use. To use words willy-nilly to describe everything robs them of their power. For instance, the birth of a baby is ‘amazing.’ A ham sandwich is not.

So when I use words like ‘superlative’ ‘uplifting’ and ‘inspirational’ to describe QUEEN OF KATWE you can be sure I don’t use those words lightly. Just go back and look at the reviews I’ve written for movies I’ve seen this year and see if you can find any of those words. I defy you. And that’s because no other movie I’ve seen this year deserves to be described as such. QUEEN OF KATWE is one of the best movies of the year and that people aren’t talking about it more utterly staggers me. Especially since people are screaming at the top of their lungs about the lack of diversity in movies. Here’s a movie with rich, vibrant characters in a setting we rarely see in movies depicted with such depth and detail with a story so improbable that it has to be true and the movie goes virtually unnoticed.

I have to admit I was somewhat confused upon seeing ESPN Films listed in the opening credits as one of the production companies but as the movie went on, I understand why they were involved. QUEEN OF KATWE is a sports story, one that we’ve all seen before. You’ve got your underdog who triumphs against all odds to become a champion. But it’s the protagonist, her environment and her sport of choice that makes this particular sports story unique.

10 year old Phiona Mutesi lives in the slum township of Katwe, outside of Kampala, Uganda. Her widowed mother Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) is struggling to ensure that her children do not fall victim to the street. She’s already lost her eldest daughter, Night (Taryn Kyaze) who has wearied of the unending drudgery of simply trying to make enough money to eat for one more day and taken up with a sleazy hustler with a flashy motorcycle. Phiona and her two brothers are all she has left and she means to see that they have a better life.


That better life comes in a most unexpected fashion. Curious as to where her brother sneaks off to, she follows him to a youth ministry and meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) who coaches soccer and teaches chess. Phiona is intrigued and wants to learn how to play. Robert senses she’s got something special and he isn’t wrong. It turns out that while the rest of his students are truly remarkable, Phiona is quite simply magic. There’s no other way to put it. She can see moves so far in advance that Robert claims only chess masters with years of experience can do what she can do. Robert subsequently fast-talks Phiona and his other students into chess tournaments against students at fancy private schools. The privileged students who come from family with money and position look down their noses at the slum kids. Until the slum kids, led by Phiona’s devastating talent, beat the pants off of anybody fool enough to sit across a chess board from them.


As Phiona’s reputation continues to grow she competes in more tournaments, even travelling to other countries. And as she is exposed to life outside of Katwe and sees how other people live, it creates yearnings and desires inside of her she never had to deal with before. Although Robert assures her that chess can be the bridge to a new life, Phiona doesn’t see how this can be and it’s going to take her own acceptance of her spiritual strength and awareness of the power of her intelligence in order for her to make changes in the life of her and her family.


It’s been far too long since I’ve seen a movie driven so well by the characters and such rich characters they are. Usually I single out a movie’s MVP but I honestly can’t do it with this one. Lupita Nyong’o commands the screen every minute that she’s on it and her Harriet is a woman of intense, towering pride and protectiveness. She’s the type of mother that doesn’t say “I love you” to her children. She shows it by putting food in their stomach, clothes on their back and looking out for their safety. And you may say that’s harsh and cruel but Katwe is a harsh and cruel place for adults and children alike.


But here’s one of the things I like most about QUEEN OF KATWE. Yes, Phiona and her family live in a slum of grim desperation and poverty but the movie neither beats us over the head with it nor sugarcoats the environment. As a result, Katwe and its people are almost like another character in the movie. It’s one of the most vibrant, lively settings I’ve seen in a movie recently and I wanted to know more about the people who live there, that’s how much this movie drew me in.

Madina Nalwanga is utterly charming as Phiona and she, along with the other young actors in the movie are a real treat to watch from start to finish. Keeps your eyes out for Ethan Nazario Lubega as Benjamin as he steals every scene he’s in. A lot of the humor in the movies comes from Benjamin who seems at times to have just a touch of excessive anxiety he has to deal with, poor little guy.

If this movie had been made back in the 1960s (I know it couldn’t have been but just bear with me while I make my point, okay?) Robert Katende would have been played by Sidney Poitier but since it was made today, we get the next best thing in David Oyelowo and believe me when I say that I don’t use the comparison lightly. Oyelowo plays Robert as a charming man of understated determination and total devotion to the kids he teaches. He has many obstacles to overcome to get Phiona and his kids to these tournaments and he does it with an honesty and grace that can’t help but win over everybody he talks to. Including Harriet who smells a scam somewhere in here and in a really touching scene, Robert has to win her over.


So here’s your homework assignment for the weekend. Set aside time to go see QUEEN OF KATWE. Take the whole family. You might have a little trouble finding it (the theater Patricia and I saw it in only had ONE showing for the entire day.) But trust me, it’s worth it. QUEEN OF KATWE has outstanding performances and a story that we need now more than ever. We’re seeing examples of the worst of humanity fighting like rabid dogs for what they think is their right to lead this country and the people supporting them aren’t much better. So it’s easy to think that humanity is going to hell in a red-hot handbasket. QUEEN OF KATWE will remind you that the world is full of extraordinary people who are good and honest and give you hope that we’re all going to be just fine. I can’t recommend this movie enough.


2hrs 4 minutes


The Birth of A Nation



Fox Searchlight Pictures

Screenplay by and Directed by Nate Parker

Based on a story by Nate Parker and Jean McGianni Celestin

Produced by Nate Parker/Kevin Turen/Jason Michael Berman/Aaron L. Gilbert/Preston L. Holmes

“Aren’t you tired of slave movies?” “Why can’t we make anything else except slave movies?” “But I don’t want to see another slave movie.” “When I go to the movies I just want to turn my brain off and be entertained.”

That usually was what I heard from some of my friends of color whenever the subject of THE BIRTH OF A NATION came up. Funny how I never hear any of my Jewish friends complaining when a new movie about The Holocaust is in theaters. Slavery is The Holocaust of the African-American in America and me; I don’t think we can talk about it enough. Slavery is woven into the very fabric of America’s DNA and until and unless we all decide to be honest about that fact and deal with it, we’re always going to have racial issues. But, everybody’s movie choices are their own and if you don’t want to see THE BIRTH OF A NATION, God Bless. There’s always another Kevin Hart comedy or all-black remake of a twenty year old Lifetime thriller that is more to your movie-going taste, I’m sure.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that THE BIRTH OF A NATION is more of a biopic than anything else. If for nothing else the movie should be seen if just to get acquainted with Nat Turner if you don’t know much about him and be encouraged to do more reading about him on your own. Nat Turner led a slave rebellion in the summer of 1831 that caused the deaths of nearly three hundred people, black and white. We do get to the viciously bloody rebellion but before that we spend a lot of time with Nat Turner and grow to understand why he led this rebellion as he is a complicated man who lives in several worlds at once.


There’s the slave world he lives in and his complicated relationship with his white childhood friend Sam Turner (Armie Hammer) who becomes his master when they grow into adults. As a child, Nat learns how to read thanks to the benevolence of Sam’s mother Elizabeth (Penelope Ann Miller.) The only book she’ll allow him to read is The Bible and this leads to Nat’s spiritual growth as he becomes a man of faith, living in the world and word of God, preaching to his fellow slaves on his plantation at first. But then, other plantation owners persuade Sam to bring Nat around to preach to their slaves, figuring that he’ll preach them to be good, docile Tobys.


It has the opposite effect since because gets to travel to other plantations where the treatment of slaves is truly and horrendously barbaric. Nat’s inner struggle with his faith in the face of such raw brutality and savagery is what sets this movie apart from other movies with similar themes. There’s also a very interesting added layer in that we see slaves who are not that far removed from their African culture and indeed, have integrated tribal rituals and ancestral rites into their Christian beliefs. Nat embodies this as he has visions both Christian and African as if they are both working in his soul. It’s a layer that’s not explored enough for me but it does provide religious fuel for THE BIRTH OF A NATION that powers the engine of Nat Turner’s eventual breaking point and his transformation from man of God to bloody-handed revolutionary leader using The Bible’s words no longer as loving instruments of peace but as swords of war.


If there’s any flaw with THE BIRTH OF A NATION it’s that we spend too much time with Nat Turner. I was on good footing about his beliefs, his feelings and his thoughts and Nate Parker most likely won’t win an Academy Award for Best Actor but he should. As the adult Nat Turner he’s on screen for most of the movie’s running time to the detriment of the other characters in the movie, I felt. Most of whom we really don’t get to know all that well with the exception of Roger Guenveur Smith as Isiah, a house servant who tries to counsel Nat away from his plan and Jackie Earle Haley as Cobb, a slave catcher. I’ve enjoyed the work of Mr. Smith and Mr. Haley for many years now. They’re actors who guarantee that when they’re on screen, you can’t take your eyes off them. Mark Boone Junior provides what little comedy relief we get in the movie as the boozehound Reverend Walthall. Gabrielle Union is also in there somewhere in what amounts to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo.


Usually I end my reviews with asking you the question should you see the movie or not. THE BIRTH OF A NATION is a movie I would venture to guess that most of you have made up your mind about already and have either seen it or passed it by so that question is moot. Me, I enjoyed it. Not as light entertainment to waste a couple of hours. I’ve seen enough of those movies this dismal movie year. THE BIRTH OFA NATION is an intelligent, historic biographical drama that I appreciated for not being “just another slave movie.” Yes, the character of Nat Turner is still a controversial one and some may criticize me for characterizing Nat Turner as much an authentic American hero as any other, black or white that you can name. But be mindful that his revolution began with the same spirit as America’s revolution to break from England. He also wanted to be free.

120 Minutes

Rated R

Scream And Scream Again



American International Pictures

Directed by Gordon Hessler

Produced by Max Rosenberg/Milton Subotsky/Louis M. Heyward

Written by Christopher Wicking

Based on the novel “The Disoriented Man” by Peter Saxon

As the opening credits of SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN play out, we’re watching a fit young man jogging through what presumably is a park in London. He sure seems like a healthy bloke which is why it’s a surprise when he suddenly grabs his heart and collapses. He wakes up lying in a hospital bed. A nurse comes into his room and tends to him but refuses to answer his questions. She leaves. The bloke tries to sit up in bed but something’s not quite right. He pulls back the covers to see that one of his legs has been amputated below the knee. Quite understandably he screams bloody murder.


We will revisit this unlucky chap during the course of the movie’s 95 minute running time and each time we do, he’ll be missing another limb. When Tom Deja and I discussed SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN on a “Better In The Dark” episode we both admitted how we felt guilty watching this movie and laughing at the guy’s plight because after awhile it’s like the blackest of black comedies. Every time the poor bastard goes to sleep, he wakes up missing a limb.


But we’ve got other things going in the movie. In fact, there are three totally separate stories going on that on the surface seem to be unrelated to each other. In one, Peter Cushing is a highly placed official working for the government of an unidentified European totalitarian county that is clearly supposed to be based on Nazi Germany. One of his junior officers has apparently mastered the Vulcan neck pinch so well that he can kill people with it. He’s moving up the ladder of power, killing the higher-ups as he does so.


In the second story Dr. Browning (Vincent Price) is a brilliant research physician specializing in limb and organ transplants who is questioned by the police. They’re looking for a serial rapist/killer who apparently has vampiric abilities. Two of Dr. Browning’s assistants have fallen victim to the fiend and needless to say even though the good doctor claims no knowledge at all of how this could be so, the police find him highly suspicious.


In the third story, Christopher Lee is the chief of an unnamed British intelligence service who finds himself dealing with the political/diplomatic fallout when one of his spy planes has either been shot down or accidentally crashed in a certain unidentified European totalitarian country.


And while we bounce back and forth between these three seemingly unrelated stories, we keep revisiting that poor bastard in the hospital bed who is trapped in the world’s worst game of Operation!

If you’ve never seen SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (and I highly recommend you seek it out if you never have) when you see it for the first time you can be forgiven for thinking that this movie must have been put together by a film editor who A: Was high as a cooter on crack and booze when he worked on this. B: Was pissed at the studio or C: Just didn’t give a shit about his job. Because since Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price never share a single scene together, the movie plays out for most of its running time as if the film editor took three different movies; one starring Mr. Lee, one starring Mr. Cushing and one starring Mr. Price then haphazardly edited scenes from each of those movies into one. And yeah, you read that right. The three stars of the movie never share a scene together. Mr. Lee and Mr. Price appear on screen together for maybe a minute at the film’s very end.

But here’s the twist: the three separate plots do eventually converge and when they do, you may find yourself nodding your head as I did the first time I saw it and saying; “Okay, that’s a bit of alright.” This is the kind of movie where you shouldn’t even bother trying to play the game of what’s going to happen next or attempt to figure out where the movie is going or how it’s going to end. Trust me; it’s impossible to do that with SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Just sit back and enjoy where it takes you. It’s science fiction, it’s black comedy, its horror, it’s a political/paranoia/conspiracy thriller and it’s Highly Recommended.

95 Minutes

Rated R

The Black Cat

Poster - Black Cat, The (1934)_02.jpg


Universal Pictures

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer

Produced by E.M. Asher

Screenplay by Peter Ruric

Story by Edgar G. Ulmer/Peter Ruric 

You want to know how twisted 1934’s THE BLACK CAT is? Besides the Satanism cult, human sacrifice and necrophilia fetishism? Mollyfoggin’ Bela Lugosi is the hero of this movie. Seriously. When you’re a character in a movie and you have to depend on Bela Lugosi to save your ass then you know the situation has gotten so far out of control it ain’t even funny. But then again, considering that the bad guy in THE BLACK CAT is Boris Karloff, maybe it is appropriate that Bela be the one to come to your rescue.

Bela Lugosi actually did play the hero in the 12 chapter cliffhanger “The Return of Chandu” but it’s this movie that I always point to as his best performance in a heroic role and it’s a shame he didn’t get to do it more because Bela Lugosi plays a very sympathetic hero in THE BLACK CAT. But he also is able to project an air of menace that makes even the American couple he befriends shy away from him. He may be the good guy but that doesn’t mean he’s a good guy.


The American couple caught in the middle of the bizarre hijinks to come is newlyweds Peter and Joan Alison (David Manners and Julie Bishop). They’re on honeymoon in Hungary (was Hungary the honeymoon destination for American newlyweds in 1934?) and share their train compartment with the mysterious Hungarian psychiatrist Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi.)

During a curiously touching moment where Werdegast lovingly strokes the hair of the sleeping Joan, he’s caught by Peter who sensing the despair in the older man says nothing and instead listens to his story of how he went to war, leaving his wife, who looked very much like Joan behind at home.  Werdegast has spent the last 15 years in a prison camp and is on his way to see his old friend, the brilliant architect Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff). Poelzig has built his futuristic Art Deco mansion on the ruins of Fort Marmorus which Poelzig commanded during the war and where Werdegast served.

After leaving the train, Werdegast, his servant and the Alisons share a bus which crashes and they all end up at Poelzig’s mansion. It’s here that the plot really kicks in as Werdegast informs Poelzig that he knows Poelzig betrayed the fort to the Russians and intends to avenge their dead comrades. If that wasn’t enough, Poelzig also stole Werdegast’s wife Karen while Werdegast was a prisoner of war. And it gets way kinkier than that. Karen Werdegast died two years after Poelzig married her, telling her that her husband was dead. Poelzig then raised her daughter, also named Karen (Lucille Lund) until she was of age and then he married her.


Werdegast informs Poelzig that he will wait until the Alisons have left and then they will settle their score. Poelzig offers his old friend a new game: they’ll play chess for Joan Alison. If Werdegast loses, she’ll become a human sacrifice for Poelzig’s Satanic cult. If Werdegast wins he can take the Alisons and Karen away with him. The two men sit down to play but the game will end in a conclusion far stranger and horrifying than either of them could ever imagine…


Even though this movie claims to be inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s; “The Black Cat” there’s absolutely nothing of that tale in here. Werdegast has a phobic horror of cats and no matter how many he kills (by my count he kills at least three) Poelzig always seems to have another prowling around. I remember watching this movie when I was a kid on PBS. Thank Odin there was somebody there in Programming who apparently loved Universal horror movies, “Dr. Who” and samurai movies. THE BLACK CAT had a profound effect on me because even though we never see anything truly horrifying, the aberrant behavior demonstrated throughout the film is disturbing enough. There’s a lot of dark, twisted psychological horror here, backed up with outstanding visual design and terrific B&W photography that looks even better in HD. I recently watched this movie on Turner Classic Movies and it was like watching a movie that had been made this year. The soundtrack is also memorable as it’s made up entirely of classic music selections, the most notable being the use of ‘Dies Irae’ during a scene where Poelzig leads Werdegast through the lower levels of his mansion and details the rules of the game they will play.


If you’ve never seen it before and you call yourself a horror movie fan then you need to see THE BLACK CAT at your earliest opportunity. It stars two true Icons of the genre and it teams them in one of the best horror movies ever made. It doesn’t have blood or gore but it has atmosphere, character and intense psychological fears and terrors that I really will believe will stay with you long after you finished watching it. THE BLACK CAT is a masterpiece of the genre. I’ve provided a link below you can check it out for yourself if you’re so inclined.

Deepwater Horizon



Participant Media/DiBonaventura Pictures/Summit Entertainment/Closest to the Hole Productions/Leverage Entertainment

Directed by Peter Berg

Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura/Mark Vahradian/Mark Wahlberg/Stephen Levinson/David Womark

Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan/Matthew Sand

Story by Matthew Sand

Based on “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours” by David Barstow/David Rohde/Stephanie Saul

If Irwin Allen had made DEEPWATER HORIZON he’d have given us an all-star cast made up up of up and coming young actors, a handful of faces familiar from TV and half a dozen Old Time movie stars who had been big back in the day and now were in the twilight of their careers. He’d have saddled them all with various eccentricities and personal problems that would have padded out the movie’s running time until we got to what we paid our money to see: the actual apocalyptic disaster. We would then have spent the rest of the movie trying to figure out who was going to live and who’s going to die.

What does all this have to do with my review? Not a blessed thing. It’s just that my attention wandered during the first hour or so of the movie and when it does while watching a movie my mind just goes off into wherever. Don’t get me wrong…it’s not that the movie was boring me. But we get a lot of technobabble in that first hour as the crew members of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig talk shop. The crew talks like people who know the subject they’re talking about intimately and so it’s almost like they have their own language. The movie doesn’t slow down to explain to us, the audience what they’re talking about so a lot of what they were discussing went over my head. But that gives the movie an almost documentary feel as it’s as if we’re eavesdropping on private conversations.

And I don’t mean to make light of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster which released millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and where eleven crewmen lost their lives. While drilling, pressure control systems failed, causing an uncontrollable blowout, releasing crude oil that in turned caused an explosion. The explosion was so fierce and so huge it was visible 40 miles away. The movie DEEPWATER HORIZON depicts the events leading up to and causing the explosion and the struggle of the rig’s crew to escape.

We see the disaster through the eyes of Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) who in one of the better scenes early on the movie gives BP executive Don Vidrine (John Malkovich) an impressive list of everything that’s wrong with the rig. Vidrine’s more concerned that they’re behind schedule and over budget. None of which matters to Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) an Old School oil driller whose mantra is that “BP may own this rig but it belongs to me.” We get some family time with Mike and his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter before he goes to work on that fateful day. And for all of you who constantly whine about spoilers are advised that 90% of the family time scenes we saw in the trailers are in the movie.


The best part of the movie happens when things go to hell, the rig blows up and everybody is scrambling around trying to escape. On a purely technical level this movie is astonishing. I would hate to think that director Peter Berg (and where the hell is my sequel to “The Rundown,” dammit?) and his production crew went out and actually built an oil rig just to blow it up for a movie but damn if it doesn’t look like that’s exactly what the maniacs did. DEEPWATER HORIZON is one of those movies I look at and I’m honestly surprised that people weren’t actually killed during filming. There’s fire everywhere, mud spraying from every crack, seam and hole and if it isn’t mud it’s oil. And even the water doesn’t provide safety because it’s covered in flaming oil.


But still, DEEPWATER HORIZON  is unengaging on the emotional level. I never once forgot I was looking at a movie and found myself admiring it more for the CGI special effects and the stunt work than the performances. This brings me back to Irwin Allen. Hokey as it may have been to assign each character in his disaster movies with an eccentricity or personal problem, it was a form of shorthand to get us to know and sympathize with the characters. There’s only three of them we really get to know here in DEEPWATER HORIZON as the rest of the characters are actually pretty thin and after the explosion, they’re covered in oil and mud and we can’t tell them apart anyway. So when they die the emotional impact is blunted because we’re not sure who it was that just died.


Kurt Russell walks away with the acting honors in this one as damn well he should because Kurt Russell walks away with the acting honors in any movie he’s in. That’s The Law. Mark Wahlberg and Kate Hudson are likeable enough but they’re not trying very hard to stretch their acting talents here. John Malkovich has been playing sarcastic villains for so long he should have the trademark on it (unless Jeremy Irons has beaten him to it)


So should you see DEEPWATER HORIZON? It’s a completely undemanding movie that’s perfectly acceptable as a time waster if you find find yourself with a couple of hours to kill. It’s not a bad movie at all. Just one that you don’t have to rush out and see. Go see it for the mind blowing spectacle of the special effects as they’re best appreciated on the big screen. They’re the real stars of this movie.

107 Minutes



Rio Conchos



20th Century Fox

Directed by Gordon Douglas

Produced by David Weisbart

Screenplay by Joseph Landon and Clair Huffaker

Based on the novel “Guns of Rio Conchos” written by Clair Huffaker

Music by Jerry Goldsmith

You tell me that there’s a movie or television show with Richard Boone in it and I’m watching it. Period. Richard Boone was probably the first man crush I ever had, thanks to “Have Gun With Travel.” My father never missed an episode and when it came on he would holler for me to come watch it with him. I fell in love with the show and with Richard Boone. It took me a long time to figure out why I enjoyed watching him on screen. He is a hero that looks, sounds and sometimes has to act like a villain. Take his character of Paladin in “Have Gun Will Travel.” He dresses all in black and that, along with his thin mustache and air of quiet menace he looks like the classic Western villain. But Paladin is truly a heroic, noble man on a knightly quest in the Wild West. Yes, he hires himself and his gun out for pay but his aim is to see that justice is done. A lot of the DNA of Paladin is in my character of Dillon, that’s how much I admire and like the character and Richard Boone.

Richard Boone is also among that brotherhood of actors I call Old Time Tough. Before he found success in acting, Mr. Boone worked as an oil rigger, a bartender and served in the United States Navy during World War II, seeing combat on three ships in the Pacific. He’s a guy who very easily can convince you he’s a tough guy on screen because he was one in Real Life.

It’s a damn shame he never became as big a movie star as he deserved to be because every movie performance I’ve seen in him has been entertaining and when he’s on screen I simply cannot take my eyes off him. RIO CONCHOS is his movie from start to finish and it’s one of the best Westerns I’ve ever seen. It’s a favorite of mine and I take every opportunity to turn people onto it whenever I can. Hence this here review. Now attend while I serve up the obligatory plot synopsis:

Jim Lassiter (Richard Boone) is an ex-Confederate Major waging his own private one-man war against the Apache Nation. Apaches raped and murdered his wife and daughter and since then he has slaughtered Apaches with such viciousness that they sing songs and tell stories about him to scare their children. Lassiter kills a raiding party of Apache and acquires from them a U.S. Army repeating rifle. Soon after Lassiter is arrested by U.S. Army Captain Haven (Stuart Whitman) and his second-in-command, Buffalo Soldier Sgt. Franklyn (Jim Brown) who want know where he got the rifle.


Turns out that Haven was in charge of a large shipment of the repeating rifles that were stolen from him. Haven’s superior officer Colonel Wagner (Warner Anderson) makes a deal with Lassiter. If he’ll help Haven destroy or recover the rifles, he’ll turn him loose. Lassiter is uninterested until he finds out that it’s his former commanding officer Colonel Theron Pardee (Edmond O’Brien) who is making a deal with the Apache for the rifles. You see, Pardee’s contact with the Apache is one of their chiefs, Bloodshirt (Rodolfo Acosta). And Bloodshirt is the Apache who desecrated and killed his family. Lassiter figures that if he helps Haven get to Pardee that will get him to Bloodshirt. Lassiter agrees to the deal. But only if he can take along Juan Luis Rodriguez (Tony Franciosa) a Mexican outlaw whose clownish demeanor disguises an extraordinary resourceful and dangerous man with both knife and gun. When they’re in the guardhouse together Rodriguez tries to defend his killing of a man as self-defense. Lassiter snorts in derision and says; “A man who can shoot the way you do, its murder.” Lassiter’s argument if that Haven can have a man of his own to watch his back, he should have one as well.


And so the four men set out on their damned, doomed mission to find Colonel Pardee and Bloodshirt with a wagon of gunpowder and repeating rifles. The plan being that they let Pardee find them under their guise of being Army deserters looking to make a quick buck. Pardee didn’t get the nickname of ‘The Gray Fox’ for nothing, though. Our boys find that out real quick when their plan goes south even quicker.


RIO CONCHOS is an uncompromisingly brutal Western. The protagonists don’t particularly like each other a whole lot and spend most of their time together trying to figure out how to double-cross each other to achieve their own goals. It is interesting to see how Lassiter and Franklyn grow to respect each other, to the point where they join together to make the ultimate sacrifice. Richard Boone owns this movie from start to finish and commits to the truth of his character. There’s a startling scene where he’s prepared to let Apaches burn to death and when thwarted, attempts to murder an Apache baby. But it’s a testament to his acting skill that while we don’t identify with Lassiter or his murderous blood rage, we can understand it.


Stuart Whitman is one of those actors who have never much impressed me but he does here. Haven is a straight up Army man, committed to his duty from start to finish. Tony Franciosa, who is an Italian, has the decidedly un-PC role of playing a Mexican here and if you watch the movie you’ll just have to overlook his attempt to do a Mexican accent and go with it.

Even though this is Jim Brown’s first movie you can see here why he became a major movie star as his career progressed. Even when he’s in a scene where he has nothing to say or do he’s a presence that radiates power and confidence. We know he’s in the scene even though he’s just standing there. That’s a quality that can’t be taught. It’s just something you have or you don’t and Jim Brown definitely has it. RIO CONCHOS is worth seeing not just for Richard Boone’s performance but Jim Brown’s as well. It’s a movie that should be better known to Western fans and I hope that my review will steer you in its direction if you’ve previously passed it by. Highly Recommend.


107 Minutes





Directed by Ralph Nelson

Produced by James Lee Barrett and Ralph Nelson

Written by James Lee Barrett

tick…tick…tick was made 46 years ago and if we were as truly as enlightened and progressive a society as we like to believe we are then we would look at this movie today and be horrified that once upon a time Americans of one skin color treated other Americans with different skin color in such disgracefully disgusting ways. tick…tick…tick would be looked upon and regarded as a quaint cultural artifact depicting a period of American history that no longer exists. The fact is that the issues at the heart of tick…tick…tick are issues that are still unresolved and still being dealt with in 2016 says something about our society and us a human beings, I think. First and foremost, its entertainment, one with a solid story backed up by good performances. But it’s also got something to say about America in 1970 and what it says still resonates today.

Sheriff John Little (George Kennedy) of Colusa County, Mississippi is working his last day on the job. He lost the last election to Jim Price (Jim Brown) who is going to take over as Colusa’s first black sheriff. The white citizens of Colusa aren’t making Little’s last day easy for him, either. He’s regarded with contempt by them, most of whom he’s grown up with. They think he should have fought harder to keep his job. Indeed, the town’s leading racist and most powerful citizen, D. J. Rankin (Clifton James) tells Little that if Little had decided to ignore the lawful results of the election and keep his position, the local chapter of the KKK would have supported him. But Little doesn’t want that. At heart he’s a good man who believes in the law. He turns over his badge, gun and office to Price and settles down to live the life of a retired man of leisure.


Jim Price isn’t having a smooth transition to his new job. The white deputies who worked for Little refuse to work for a black man and quit. One of them (played by the always dependable Don Stroud) even attempts to goad Price into a gunfight by not turning in his gun and wearing it openly around town, saying he wants to be the first white man in the South to shoot a black sheriff dead. Price’s wife, Julia (Janet MacLachlin) hates the whole thing and in her mind has already counted her husband as being dead and buried. The town mayor (Fredric March) flat out tells Price to not do anything or make any decisions without clearing it with him first.


But Price goes ahead and makes a decision when a six year old white girl is killed by a drunk driver. The driver, John Braddock (Bob Random) is the son of the most powerful men in the neighboring county and has every confidence that his father will get him out. By force if necessary. The senor Braddock does come to the Colusa jail and tries to order Price to let his son out and is turned away. He vows to return with an army.

With no other recourse left to him, Price has to reluctantly accept Little’s help and accepts him as his deputy. The two men now have to work together to try and persuade the black and white citizens of Colusa to stand together with them to see that justice is done.


tick…tick…tick was directed by Ralph Nelson who directed one of my favorite westerns; “Duel at Diablo” and what the two movies share in common is the theme of men who don’t like each other being forced to work together. It was written by James Lee Barrett who adapted the movie “In The Heat of The Night” for television and tick…tick…tick does share a lot of themes with that movie. They’d make for a great double feature for home viewing.

Jim Brown holds the center of the movie in that way that only Jim Brown can. Whenever he’s in a scene he owns that scene, no doubt about it. But the acting honors here are shared by George Kennedy and Clifton James. George Kennedy was actually a much better actor than he gets credit for and tick…tick…tick is a good showcase for his talents. And it’s such a shame that Clifton James is always remembered as the buffoonish J.W. Pepper from the James Bond movies “Live And Let Die” and “The Man With The Golden Gun.” He’s actually extraordinarily good in dramatic roles and in this one he hangs in the background for much of the movie, projecting quiet menace. His character is the type of man who because he wields so much power he doesn’t have to go around saying or doing much. Because when he does speak or move, it means something. Fredric March has a terrific scene where he invites his black butler of eighteen years to come into his study, share a brandy with him and talk honestly about the relationship they’ve had. It’s a scene that’s not only funny but powerful because it’s rooted in the truth of their respective places in their society as a black man and a white man. Bernie Casey is also in this one in a small but pivotal role and it’s always enjoyable to watch him work on screen. Especially with Jim Brown and I only wish they had done more film work together.

Although the movie ends on a hopeful note it also acknowledges that the racial issues it has explored are not solved. 46 years later they’re still not solved and that what makes tick…tick…tick still relevant. It’s not light entertainment but it is a movie that is absolutely worth your time to watch.

100 Minutes

Rated G

Be advised that The ‘N’ Word is used casually and extensively in this movie by both white and black characters. So if you’re sensitive to its use in a fictional narrative don’t say I didn’t warn you.