Goodness. I am reviving the “Cult Movie of the Week” category for a minute based strictly on this film. I am also seeking out the book it’s based on, as well as the soundtrack. I was sucker-punched by Herbie Hancock’s future funk interpretation of a Spy/Espionage movie score. I was in love when I heard the cut that featured a bass guitar overdubbed in reverse!!!
The Chicago roots of the film run deep: from the setting (Chicago) to where the movie was shot (Gary, IN with a smattering of Chicago shots in the stew). They roots extend to the man behind the soundtrack (Hancock was born and raised in Chicago) and to the author (Sam Greenlee still lives on Chicago’s South Side).
Author Sam Greenlee’s novel (that the film is based on) was originally published in 1969. Based on the premise of a Social Worker turned lone Black CIA agent who goes rogue and ultimately trains a Chicago street gang to be an elite squad of guerrilla warriors dead-set on fighting for a Black Revolutionary War in America, the novel was difficult to get published in the mainstream press. So it’s no wonder that (according to Greenlee) although the film was shot locally, the City of Chicago did not okay it, so shots of the 63rd Street El had to be commandeered. Most everything else was shot across the Lake in Gary, Indiana (the city’s first Black Mayor was in office at the time).
The movie was directed by Ivan Dixon who, to me, is best known as the sigh-inducing male lead in the righteous 1964 movie “Nothing But a Man”. He also guest starred in two episodes of the original “Twilight Zone” that are both worth seeking out.
According to a recent article by Nina Metz in the Chicago Tribune:
“Shortly after it opened in theaters, the film vanished altogether — pulled by its distributor, some allege, bowing to pressure from the FBI. The narrative, about disciplined efforts to take down The Man through brain power and armed revolts, was intentionally controversial, and it doesn’t take a leap of the imagination to presume the film made those in certain corridors of power nervous enough to “disappear” the movie altogether.
For years it was only available on bootleg video. In 2004, the actor Tim Reid tracked down a remaining negative stored in a vault under a different name (“When they want to lose something, they lose it,” Reid told the Tribune at the time) and released it on DVD. It still remains largely unknown to the general public, an artifact from the blaxploitation era that defies most of the genre’s cliches.”
I love a good conspiracy theory every now and again. Jive on!
As part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, this Saturday meet Tim & Tom… a “Salt & Pepper” comedy team born in the hotbed of sixties Chicago…
Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen met for the first time in tumultuous 1968 Chicago. As the heady promise of the sixties sagged under the weight of widespread violence, rioting, and racial unrest, two young men – one black and one white – took to stages across the nation to help Americans confront their racial divide: by laughing
“While the country was wracked by the civil rights movement, a sexual revolution, and a controversial war, these friends took the stage as the first—and so far, only—black and white comedy team. Together they spent five years touring the country, facing unabashed racism, occasionally violent hecklers, and cheering crowds. Reid went on to star in the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati and create the influential Frank’s Place, and Dreesen spent 30 years in stand-up, including 15 years as Frank Sinatra’s opening act. The duo returns to the stage to tell their stories and reflect on a lifetime of unique experiences. Ron Rapoport moderates.”
Where & When:
DuSable Museum of African American History
740 East 56th Place
Chicago, IL 60637
Saturday, October 17th 2pm-3:00pm
Educators & Students: FREE
The book entitled Tim & Tom: An American Comedy
in Black & White is published by University of Chicago Press.
Here’s the original caption that accompanied the above shot:
25 Oct 1967, Evanston, Illinois, USA — Northwestern Homecoming Queen…Daphne Maxwell, 19, of New York, has good reason to flash that bright smile; she was named Northwestern University’s Homecoming Queen October 20th. Daphne, a sophomore who is studying design, is the first Negro ever to be named Homecoming Queen. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
You heard that right: the second Aunt Viv from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air… the one you said you didn’t like as much as the first one… she was the FIRST black homecoming queen at Northwestern. Wow. Much respect for that one. She was also a well known model in the late sixties who was featured in a 1969 Life Magazine issue that heralded “Black Models Take Center Stage” as the cover story. She also starred in Frank’s Place: an 80s TV series that was (and is) highly revered in the black community.
According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, “Frank’s Place…. deserves a continuing place in programming history. It did, as Tim Reid [Daphne’s husband and co-star] told New York Times reporter Perry Garfinkel, present blacks not as stereotypes but as “a diverse group of hard-working people.”
NOTE: According to a fairly recent article in the Times-Picayune (out of New Orleans):
‘Frank’s Place’ DVD on the way
Monday, November 10, 2008
By Dave Walker
A DVD release of “Frank’s Place,” the New Orleans-set sitcom that aired on CBS in 1987 and 1988, is apparently growing closer.
No timetable is set, but star and co-creator Tim Reid said he has convinced CBS to allow him to release the show’s 22 episodes on DVD. However, purchasing rights to the music used in the series is still prohibitively costly.