The Klansman Blu-ray Review

Are we the baddies?

There’s credibility in any argument asking for The Klansman to be entered onto a “worst films” list. Not for its plain, TV movie-of-the-week direction or the stumbling accent of Richard Burton, who, reportedly, downed bottles of booze each day on the set.

Rather, Klansman’s release, tailing the Voting Rights Act, so muddles its messaging as to endure as a pro-KKK document. In some aspects, it’s a fascinating studio artifact – this isn’t an independent studio run-off, instead a product of Paramount.

Parts of it resonate. Residents of a small Alabama town leer at protesters speaking up for equal rights, a rare moment of authentic tact which genuinely depicts the Klan as a boil on society. Rape victims become derided by the community (if eventually succumbing to melodrama), and the startling racist hypocrisy would seem too implausible were the same line of thought not spoken today.

Then comes Lee Marvin (one of two lawmen in the piece). His character is drawn as an ambivalent peace keeper, neither for nor against scenes of murder or rape – and he’s the hero. Klansman confronts social injustice with an abysmal depiction of race and race relations. Not even ironically comical, merely hurtful, it’s a reprehensible film, seeking further division. If Disney’s Song of South was deemed too racist for contemporary release, then where on the racism scale does Klansman fall? Spoiler: significantly lower.

There’s no earnest attempt at honesty, no dialog or legitimacy

Were even a shred of decency hiding underneath The Klansman’s surface, there’s the strewn narrative contending with business interests, family drama, romance, vote grabbing, and OJ Simpson running roughshod through the town as a black vigilante. None of it connects. Klansman never appears to know where it’s going next, finally concluding on an atrocious finale, inconclusive enough as to solve nothing. Klansman is a shameful, haggard production that toils between making the Klan despicable heroes and all poor black men gun-toting avengers.

This isn’t a film just of its time, much as the brassy ‘70s score suggests otherwise. Even in 1974, so close to a volatile time in America and right as black voices found a cinematic home, Klansman dumped this story of racial unrest at the worst time and worst place. There’s no earnest attempt at honesty, no dialog or legitimacy. It’s not even qualified as part of violent exploitation cinema, instead written without any comprehension of the issues it purports to reflect. Klansman merely agitates two sides as if wishing for additional conflict, an insult to anyone who stood up for their rights.

Video

Not only unappealing at its base, but also unappealing to see. Klansman fell into the public domain, so credit to Paramount for letting this artifact expire. Olive Films presents this one on Blu-ray, a dire presentation with DVD-level resolution and blown out contrast. It’s doubtful better masters exist for this dud.

Clumpy grain runs through the entire feature, poorly resolved from a source clearly not ready for Blu-ray. Faded black levels hide nothing, leaving the shadows swarming with artifacts. The obvious day-for-night cinematography doesn’t help.

In daylight, blotchy patches of contrast leave images blown out. Although color seems pure (certainly offering strong primaries), many fall to bleeding light. Forget definition too. Either the contrast ruined it or the resolution wasn’t enough to find any.

Audio

Obvious frequent dubbing aside, the cheap, faded dialog summarizes the DTS-HD track included here. While the score’s low-end is oddly pure, the treble breaks down from age, wavering and hard to listen to. The opening track, “The Good Christian People,” fluctuates in clarity while an entire brass section is lost with the age.

Extras

Since The Klansman is forgotten, you’ll find no extras on this disc.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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