The Klansman

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The Klansman
Directed byTerence Young
Written byMillard Kaufman
Samuel Fuller
Based onnovel by William Bradford Huie
Produced byWilliam D. Alexander
Bill Schiffrin
Howard Effron
Joe Inger
Michael Marcovsky
Rosemary Christenson
Peter A Rosie
Alvin Bojar
Jerry Levy
Daniel K. Sobol
StarringLee Marvin
Richard Burton
O. J. Simpson
CinematographyLloyd Ahern
Edited byGene Milford
Music byStu Gardner
Dale O. Warren
Distributed byParamount Pictures[1]
Release date
  • October 25, 1974 (1974-10-25)
Running time
112 min.
Budget$5 million[2]

The Klansman (also known as Burning Cross)[3] is a 1974 American drama film based on the 1967 book of the same name by William Bradford Huie. It was directed by Terence Young and starred Lee Marvin, Richard Burton, O. J. Simpson (in his feature film debut), Lola Falana and Linda Evans.[4]


In a small town in the South, Sheriff Track Bascomb breaks up a crowd of black and white men molesting a black woman. He visits Breck Stancill, a local land owner who is politically liberal.

White woman Nancy Poteet is sexually assaulted and beaten by a black man. Sheriff Track Bascomb tries to find the guilty party while Ku Klux Klan members – including Bascomb's deputy, Butt Cutt Cates – take matters into their own hands.

Members of the Klan – not wearing their uniform – approach a bar frequented by blacks. They chase after two men, one of whom is Garth. Garth escapes but his associate is captured, castrated and shot by the Klan.

Loretta Sykes, a black woman who grew up in the town, returns home. She is approached by members of the civil rights movement. They try to get Breck Stancill involved.

Nancy Poteet's husband leaves her and she finds herself an outcast in the town. She is befriended by Stancill.

Garth dresses up as a Klansman and kills one of the vigilante gang who killed his friend. At a funeral for the dead man, held by the Klan, Garth shoots another Klansman from a tree.



The novel was published in 1967. Film rights were purchased by the Robert Leder Company for $100,000. Originally TV director Don Stewart was meant to direct and Chuck Connors was going to star as the sheriff.[5]

Film rights were bought by a black film producer, William D. Alexander, who formed a company, The Movie People, to make the film[6] and reportedly spent a year putting it together. Bill Schiffrin who sometimes acted as Sam Fuller's agent[7] said he put the film together. The first draft of the script was done by Sam Fuller. It was rewritten by Millard Kaufman.[8] Schiffrin says Kaufman "distorted" much of what Fuller wrote. "I wanted Fuller", he said.[6]

Schiffrin says Terence Young was hired as director at the insistence of the European investors.[6] Young was best known for his work on the James Bond films. In a bit of stunt casting, he hired Luciana Paluzzi, who had played Bond villain Fiona Volpe in Thunderball, as Trixie in this film. The studio had American Joanna Moore dub in Paluzzi's lines. Schiffrin says he wanted Moore to play Paluzzi's role originally. "I never thought an Italian should play a Southern girl."[6]

"The day Young was hired I should've left the show", said Schiffrin. "Four times during filming I wasn't speaking to Young."[6] Fuller claimed Paramount had a prior commitment with Italian partners as a payback for a prior deal and when Young came on the film Fuller walked off the project[9]

Alexander obtained a $1 million guarantee from Paramount. The rest was raised from various banks and tax shelters in the US and Europe.[6]

Richard Burton was to be paid $40,000 a week for ten weeks work plus a percentage. Lee Marvin got 10% of the profits.[6]


Although Simpson appeared in an unreleased 1973 film called Why?, this film marks his acting debut.[10]

Filming took place in Oroville,[11] California, just outside Sacramento. Burton and wife Elizabeth Taylor stayed in a rented house in town.[12] "It's enchanting here", Burton told the press during filming. "It reminds me of my old valley in Wales."[2]

Richard Burton allegedly drank so much alcohol during the making of this film that many of his scenes had to be shot with him seated or lying down, due to his inability to stand. In some scenes, he appears to slur his words or speak incoherently.[13] Burton later said that he could not remember making the film. Simpson said "There would be times when he couldn’t move".[14]

Burton gave a young girl in town, Kim Dinucci, a $450 diamond ring and arranged for her to get a small walk-on part in the film as Lee Marvin's daughter. This made national news.[2][15]

Burton went to the hospital after filming and was treated for bronchitis.[16] While he was staying there it was announced Burton and Taylor would be getting divorced.[17] Burton ended up staying in the hospital for six weeks.[18]

Walter Schiffrin later said Burton should not have been paid "at all considering the performance he gave. He was... drinking three quarts a day. He didn't know what town he was in let alone what film". Schiffrin says that, in contrast, Lee Marvin "was highly helpful throughout the shooting".[6] Simpson said that despite being incapacitated, Burton "could change the meaning of a scene with just his voice. I studied that. We used to play a game: try to ignore Richard Burton when he's talking. It's impossible".[14]

Aldo Tonti, the cinematographer who had worked on Reflections in a Golden Eye, was also the cinematographer on this film, though he was not credited.

Post-production difficulties[edit]

Lee Marvin later said his character was meant to be a war hero and had a son who did not want to go to West Point. There was a subplot where Burton's character sided with the son. All this was cut from the final film. In addition, Marvin was not paid a final $50,000 owed to him.[6]

While the film was being edited at Sam Goldwyn Studios, the studios caught fire.[19]

At the last minute, one of the investors failed to come up with the money so Marvin and Burton were not paid their full salary and Paramount put a lien on the film.[6]

Fuller said he later met Terence Young when both were members of the Festival du Film Policier de Cognac. Though Fuller originally had a grudge against Young, he was won over by Young's insistence that he had never read the original script and had only accepted the direction of the film to pay debts. Fuller admired his honesty.[9]


Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "a thoroughly clumsy adaptation of William Bradford Huie's novel", adding that the filmmakers "effectively defuse the very real drama by so lovingly depicting the horrors that one comes to suspect their motives. As the movie progresses, the events comes to seem less and less urgent and particular to a specific time and place, and more and more like the automatic responses to the demands of cheap, easy melodrama."[20] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety declared it "a perfect example of screen trash that almost invites derision ... There's not a shred of quality, dignity, relevance or impact in this yahoo-oriented bunk".[21] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film one star out of four and called it "a tawdry rip-off of a half-dozen films: In the Heat of the Night, The Liberation of L.B. Jones, tick ... tick ... tick ... what's amazing about this drivel is that Lee Marvin and Richard Burton lent their talents to it. They must have been offered a very sweet deal, because The Klansman is pure demagogery [sic?]".[22] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times slammed the film as "one of those sleazy, exploitative, incompetent pieces of motion picture waste which makes you suddenly unsure that film reviewing is a fit occupation for a grown man ... If any frame of the film carried a convincing sense of the real tensions, fears, hatreds and tempers of the rural American South you might be able to forgive some of the rest. But the acting is so amateurish in the lesser roles as to be comical and the dialogue in the major roles is unplayable."[23] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "the sort of film that raises only academic questions. Could the original source, a novel by William Bradford Huie, have been as terrible as the movie? Probably not, but it must have given the screenwriters, Millard Kaufman and Sam Fuller, a few ugly situations to kick around, like a castration and a pair of interracial rapes and a shootout with the Ku Klux Klan, and they've proceeded to kick them around like champion Hollywood hacks, leaning hard on the exploitation elements and reducing characterization and social analysis, if there were any, to a bare minimum".[24]

Alexander, Young and Burton were meant to make a film with Robert Mitchum and Charlotte Rampling called Jackpot but it was never made.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ AllMovie
  2. ^ a b c "Burton: Bringing Gold to Oroville: The Observer". The Washington Post. 11 Apr 1974. p. D17.
  3. ^ BFI
  4. ^ FilmAffinity
  5. ^ Weiler, A.H. (31 Dec 1967). "The Klan Rides Again". New York Times. p. 57.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Forget the Credit; They'll Take Cash". Los Angeles Times. 9 Dec 1974. p. f16.
  7. ^ Fuller, Samuel (2002). A Third Face. Borzoi Books. p. 471. ISBN 0-375-40165-2.
  8. ^ Weiler, A.H. (13 Jan 1974). "News of the Screen: Lumet Directing A Christie Story Selected Shorts: 'Bugsy' Coming". New York Times. p. 61.
  9. ^ a b Fuller, Samuel (2002). A Third Face. Borzoi Books. p. 473. ISBN 0-375-40165-2.
  10. ^ AFI|Catalog
  11. ^ O.J. Simpson – Tonight Show – 1979 (YouTube). NBC. 2017-12-23 [1979].
  12. ^ Elizabeth Taylor Confesses 'Pure Animal Pleasure' for Richard Burton in Steamy Love Letter ABC News
  13. ^ Lentz, Robert J. (2000). Lee Marvin: His Films and Career. McFarland. p. 148. ISBN 0-7864-2606-3.
  14. ^ a b Cahill, Tim (1977-09-08). "O.J. Simpson: A Man for Offseason". Rolling Stone.
  15. ^ "Burton's Ring of Fans Grows in Oroville". Los Angeles Times. Mar 24, 1974. p. 2.
  16. ^ "THE SOUTHLAND: End to Pasadena Fund Cutoff Seen". Los Angeles Times. Apr 8, 1974. p. a2.
  17. ^ "Reconciliation Fails, Divorce Planned: Liz, Burton to End 10-Year Marriage---Again". Los Angeles Times. 26 Apr 1974. p. a3.
  18. ^ Kerwin, Robert (29 Sep 1974). "Alas, poor Burton". Chicago Tribune. p. h25.
  19. ^ "3 Sound Stages Will Be Rebuilt, Executive Says: Studio to Carry On With Production in Spite of Major Fire". Los Angeles Times. May 7, 1974. p. 3.
  20. ^ Canby, Vincent (November 21, 1974). "Screen: 'The Klansman', a Deep South Melodrama". The New York Times. p. 54.
  21. ^ Murphy, Arthur D. (November 6, 1974). "Film Reviews: The Klansman". Variety. p. 20.
  22. ^ Siskel, Gene (November 20, 1974). "The Klansman". Chicago Tribune. section 3, p. 6.
  23. ^ Champlin, Charles (November 13, 1974). "'Klansman': Film Without a Clue". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 20.
  24. ^ Arnold, Gary (November 26, 1974). "Questioning 'The Klansman'". The Washington Post. p. B7.

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