Lola Falana and Roscoe Lee Browne in "The Liberation of L.B. Jones"TCD/Prod.DB / Alamy Stock Photo

日本一本一道经典视频Amazon Prime has recently made available a 1970 movie, “The Liberation of L. B. Jones,” which, if not an unmitigated artistic masterwork, does offer an illuminating view of history and also a disturbingly accurate picture of what hasn’t changed in America in the intervening half century. Based on a 1965 novel, “,” by Jesse Hill Ford (who wrote the film’s script with Stirling Silliphant), it was the last movie directed by William Wyler, who made his first features in the mid-nineteen-twenties. Wyler was a reserved filmmaker—theatrically precise as a director of actors and meticulous, if fussy, as a creator of compositions—and he had trouble sharing in the hectic tenor of the times. But he was discerning in his choice of subjects, and, as in “The Liberation of L. B. Jones,” impassioned in his presentation of them.

The film is set in the (fictitious) small town of Somerton, Tennessee (based on the town of Humboldt, where Ford was from, and where some of the filming took place). There, a young black man, Sonny Boy Mosby (Yaphet Kotto), returns, after a dozen years’ absence, bearing a handgun with which he plans to kill a white police officer who’d brutalized him when he was thirteen. The town’s most prosperous black resident, L. B. Jones (Roscoe Lee Browne), the middle-aged owner of Somerton’s “colored” funeral parlor, hires the town’s most prominent citizen, a white attorney named Oman Hedgepath (Lee J. Cobb), to represent him in divorce proceedings. L. B. wants to divorce his much younger wife, Emma (Lola Falana)—a black woman, she is having an affair with Willie Joe Worth (Anthony Zerbe), another white police officer. But Hedgepath—who’s also a local official, the town attorney—has a problem: because Emma plans to contest the divorce (she wants a big chunk of L. B.’s money), Willie Joe will be named as a corespondent, and the public knowledge that he’s having an affair with a black woman will cost him his job and make him an outcast in Somerton’s white community. Though the attorney represents a black client, he considers himself a representative of the town’s white population over all, and it’s their well-being, not his client’s, that concerns him.

The drama of the film lies in Hedgepath’s effort to protect Willie Joe—by doing his best to get his own client, L. B., to drop his divorce suit. Which is to say that its subject is the unequal access to legal redress on the basis of race—and the entire nexus of injustices, indeed the reign of violence, that such inequity entails. “The Liberation of L. B. Jones” depicts post-Jim Crow life in a nonetheless white-supremacist America. Public accommodations are desegregated—all people come in through the same doors—but social life is utterly segregated, and racism remains endemic and unchallenged. The town’s white people use the N-word as often as “howdy” and call black men of any age “boy.” Moreover, power remains completely in the hands of the town’s white residents. The mayor, the police officers, and the attorney are white, and there’s no suggestion whatsoever that the legal right to vote has meant much in practice to the town’s black residents, or that anything like evenhanded justice prevails.

On the contrary, Somerton’s reign of injustice is an ugly nexus of racism and misogyny. Somerton’s white men—at least, some of them, and ones with power—view young black women as their legitimate prey, and the entire violent mechanism of (in)justice is organized to enable their sexual privilege and sexual violence. The film presents an array of racist injustices that involve the legal establishment as well as the police, who arrest with impunity any black person on nonexistent charges; the town’s white people brandish the law as a standing threat to black residents. Merely seeing two white officers march a young black man, his hands cuffed behind his back, into the folksy local police station is a horror to observe, and the horror of the moment proves all the more consequential in the course of the action.

日本一本一道经典视频L. B., a cautious and practical businessperson, is nonetheless burdened by the painful memory of a suppressed civil-rights protest in the town and haunted by its aftereffects; his own effort to honor that memory and redress that wrong plays a major role in the story. The movie’s view of resistance to political racism goes beyond demonstrations, though: “The Liberation of L. B. Jones” evokes the question of when a black person’s killing—and, for that matter, the premeditated killing—of a police officer is morally justified. Wyler doesn’t get close to the perspective of the town’s black residents, or channel the furies, both righteous and monstrous, at the story’s core—his sense of drama is all too literal, and he renders the performances blatantly emblematic. Nonetheless, the film is sufficiently confrontational, its incidents sufficiently agonizing and infuriating, to reflect back at viewers a frank, bitter, and outraged political diagnosis.

The movie’s political substance wasn’t lost on viewers of the time; the most important reviews that it got weren’t from critics but from audiences. The for “The Liberation of L. B. Jones” cites contemporary references to reports that some viewers feared a “race riot” after a screening; that a pipe bomb went off in a Bronx theatre where it was playing; and that “disturbances” after showings at U.S. Army bases led to its ban there. The same entry details the life of Ford, the book’s author, who wrote the novel on the basis of real-life events and people in his home town—which rendered him a pariah there. Soon after the movie’s release, Ford—who still lived in Humboldt—killed a black man whom he suspected of criminal intent. (The case is discussed in and was in the early seventies.) Anne Cheney wrote a of Ford, which was published in 1996; the story of Ford, and of Humboldt, looks ripe for another movie—a documentary.