By Brian Lafferty
April 24, 2012 (San Diego) – Alfred Hitchcock once opined that a great film requires three things: the script, the script and the script. I would also add a fourth element, the title. A movie’s title need not be catchy, but it must hook the potential moviegoer while describing what it’s about. It could be as simple as Titanic or it could be as long as The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain.
To give you a good idea of what I mean, let me tell you the standard protocol when choosing to review DVDs and Blu-Rays. The studio sends out a press release and the marketing agency relays it to whoever is on their press list. In the case of Warner Archive Collection titles, I am allowed to select up to three review copies, which are then sent to me.
Within a relatively recent batch of new Warner Archive Collection titles – most of which featuring football star turned actor Jim Brown – my eyes glanced down and saw the film …tick…tick…tick… It would have been foolish to select a title based solely on the title. It did have my attention, however, and when I read the plot description, I was sold. All thanks to the title.
…tick…tick…tick... is about the simmering tensions of a small Southern town when incumbent white Sheriff John Little (George Kennedy) is defeated fair and square by black opponent Jimmy Price (Jim Brown). The mostly white locals are displeased. Price faces resentment and threats, exacerbated when he jails a rich man’s white son for the vehicular manslaughter of a little girl. Meanwhile, the bored Little and his family – particularly his little daughter – are taunted by the cruel, bigoted townspeople over his defeat.
The film plays as if screenwriter James Lee Barrett – whose credits include The Greatest Story Ever Told and Smokey and the Bandit – came up with a list of events and assembled the entire script from those ideas. The majority of …tick…tick…tick… consists of isolated individual events instead of one unified narrative.
At first discombobulated, I quickly adjusted. While almost all of these isolated moments don’t congeal into a whole, all of them pack an emotional wallop. They simmer with tension and suspense before ending with a Muhammad Ali caliber punch.
One such illustrative scene is when Price finishes his first day of work. It’s night and his pregnant wife waits in the car. Both are alone. Price discovers someone damaged the car so they can’t drive. Meanwhile, with all the hate bubbling up, something horrible could happen to him and his vulnerable wife. The tension builds. What does he do? He gets into a police cruiser, blares the siren, and – for a few minutes – drives all over town, waking people up to show he’s the boss and refuses to be intimidated.
The acting is a biggest weakness. Everybody except Fredric March (in his second-to-last role as the Mayor) looks uncomfortable and unconfident in front of the camera. This surprisingly made it difficult for me to buy Jim Brown as the Sheriff, but I eventually did; Brown walks the walk, but he can’t talk the talk. Both he and Kennedy deliver their lines stiltedly and sometimes apprehensively.
The film has been given a fine remaster by the Warner Archive Collection. The frame is frequently sun-baked with blazing, scorching bright sunlight. It’s “sweaty” and stifling, although this is offset by slight darkness.
…tick…tick…tick… is overbroad in its depiction of racism and comes on a bit strong. Slurs are routinely uttered and screenwriter Barrett lathers on the hate. The film tells you nothing about racism that you don’t already know. It is, however, a powerful film. Rarely has my heart beat so hard and so fast, and for so long.
…tick…tick…tick… is available only through manufacture-on-demand from the Warner Archive Collection. You can order it here.
A Warner Archive Collection release. Director: Ralph Nelson. Screenplay: James Lee Barrett. Original Music: Jerry Styner. Cinematography: Loyal Griggs. Cast: Jim Brown, George Kennedy, and Fredric March. 97 minutes. Rated G(!).