I can always count on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to introduce me to interesting films. I like to go thru their lineup each week and search for new (to me) titles. This happened recently with the 1970 drama Tick…Tick…Tick.
In Tick, Jim Price (Jim Brown) is elected as the first black sheriff of Colusa, a small southern town. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t go over well with the white population. They don’t want this “boy” as their sheriff. They’re lined up outside the police station on his first day, ready to attack. His deputies promptly quit on him. And things get worse when Sheriff Price has to arrest John Braddock (Robert Random) a rich white man charged with committing vehicular manslaughter. Luckily, Jim has John Little (George Kennedy) the former sheriff on his side, as well as Mayor Parks (Frederic March).
It would be easy to dismiss this movie as a knock off of In the Heat of the Night. The Best Picture Oscar winner came out two years before Tick and it explores similar themes: black men placed in roles of authority in a racially divided south are met with challenges and have to prove themselves. In a funny coincidence, Tick’s screenwriter, James Lee Barrett, went on to create the TV version of In the Heat of the Night in 1988.
But Tick isn’t trying to be ITHOTN. It stands out on its own with a compelling story. There are also three strong leading men. Brown, a former professional football player, easily makes the transition into acting. Kennedy plays the hurt and disappointment of a man who has suddenly been ousted from a job he truly cared about. And veteran film star, March, provides both comedy and a masterful presence as the cantankerous Mayor Parks.
Director Ralph Nelson does a wonderful job of creating the feel of this tense overheated southern town. The sweat practically drips of the screen into your living room (or theatre, if you’re lucky to catch a screening). I also appreciated the fantastic chase scene where Sheriff Price has to run down an elusive Braddock. The camera stays with Brown as he practically flies across the screen.
If I have a complaint about the movie, it would be that the story wraps up a little too easily. I wouldn’t have minded a couple of more beats before we got to the conclusion. I’d also say the roles for the women are very limited. They don’t have much to do and are portrayed as nagging wives, screeching harpies, or worse, victims. But these faults don’t take away from an overall enjoyable film.
Big points for the soundtrack, made up of Tompall and the Glaser Brothers songs. They contribute to the flavor of the film. The best of the bunch is “California Girl (And the Tennessee Square)”. A pure toe tapper with a Thoreau reference tossed in!